Archive for October, 2009


Understanding Genesis

October 30, 2009

Stories of Genesis: Creation of the Animals and Creation of Adam by Paolo Uccello about 1424-1425

A few more reading selections from John Randall Sachs in his wonderful little book,The Christian Vision of Humanity:

The Creation Stories in Genesis
In the form it finally attained in exilic and post-exilic times, Genesis 1-11 provides a kind of prologue to the story of Israel’s liberation and election by God. Looking backward from Israel’s experience of God’s action in creating and saving it as a people, and composed from different traditions, it presents God as the utterly transcendent Creator and Lord of the entire cosmos.

The Yahwist tradition, commonly dated about the tenth century B.C.E., is the first to combine Israel’s national epic with mythic stories about primeval history. It has its own particular vocabulary (including the use of the divine name “Yahweh”), a refined literary style and is characterized by well-developed theological reflection.

The Priestly tradition, which dates from about the sixth century B.C.E., is attributed to the priests of Jerusalem. Its style is somewhat clipped, abstract and repetitive in comparison with the Yahwist tradition. It evidences a concern for detail and contains material greatly influenced by the community’s life of worship. Both traditions, however, recognize the source, unity and meaning of the entire cosmos in its relationship with God. The Promise made to Abraham and the later Covenant with Israel are seen as intrinsically related to God’s plan for all humanity. The powerful hand which led Israel out of Egypt is not merely one among many which appears one day, in one land, in the course of time. The power of that outstretched arm encompasses all time and places from the very beginning. It is the same arm which alone stretched out the heavens and made all things (Isaiah 44:24). For Israel, absolutely no dimension of existence lies beyond the creating and liberating activity of God.

On one level, these stories offer explanations for different aspects of the human condition as we experience it, in the same way that the myths of Israel’s neighbors did. But on a more fundamental level, they are concerned with the establishment of relationship. They are not meant to be reports about what actually happened “in the beginning,” in the long ago past. They mean to speak about the God from whom and with whom the world now and always has life and future. This makes speaking about creation and creatureliness very different from speaking simply about existence or contingency.

In fact, the biblical stories about creation are best understood as answers of faith, born of Israel’s experience of God, to the basic and terrifying questions raised by our threatened, contingent existence. It is God and God alone whose hand holds back both Pharaoh’s charioteers and the primal watery chaos, leading God’s creatures to fullness of life and freedom. It is only in relationship with this God that the world and those who dwell in it can find real life, life that lasts:

See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity. If you obey the commandments of the Lord your God that I am commanding you today, by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees, and ordinances, then you shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, I declare to you today that you shall perish; you shall not live long in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Deuteronomy 30: 15-20

God the Creator
If we turn to the opening chapters of Genesis, we find two different creation stories, each with something to say about the meaning of creation and creatureliness. The first is part of the Priestly tradition (from the sixth century B.C.E.) and the second is from the earlier Yahwist tradition (tenth century B.C.E.). According to the Priestly account, creation is understood to be the work of the Spirit/Word of God. God’s Spirit is moving over the deep and God’s mighty Word goes forth to create.

In the Hebrew text, we find the word bara used to denote this unique, divine creative activity. It is used later to refer to God’s creation of a people in the Exodus out of Egypt and the Covenant on Sinai. In both cases we hear how God forms and gives reliability to what is dark, empty and chaotic. The Yahwist describes the Creator as one who planted a garden in Eden and brought forth human creatures to care for it.

The creation stories, therefore, are not talking about an almost magical act by which God makes something from nothing, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat or a bouquet of flowers from thin air. They focus, rather, on the divine power which forms, orders and sustains life.

Unlike many other mythical accounts of creation, Genesis does not offer us a picture of a great cosmic battle. There are no stupendous labors, no Herculean feats. God merely speaks and it is done. Because of the power of God’s Word and because creation is the expression of God’s desire and purpose, we can approach the world with confidence and hope in spite of the darkness and chaos which seem to threaten life. The world is reliable because it comes from God. It has a hope and a future because it is related to God.

It was later theology, appealing to 2 Maccabees 7:28, which said that God created the world “from nothing.” This means that the world receives its entire being and constitutive identity from God, not from itself or from anything other than God. We are utterly dependent upon God. To be is to come to be from and with others, hence the “ex” in existence. Just as I owe my existence to other persons, the cosmos as a whole owes its being and life to an other, God. Moreover, God is not merely the one who started it all going, but the one who at every moment holds it in existence. The most basic dimension of reality is this relationship.

The expression “creation from nothing” points to the mystery of being and of our contingency, which occasionally registers in our feelings of wonder and awe. In the last analysis, there is no reason why there is anything at all, except God’s gracious and free act. The cosmos of which we are a part is intended and desired by God. It is neither necessary nor arbitrary, a product of chance or chaos. The sovereign freedom with which God creates means that life is a gracious gift. I am invited to interpret my own experience of the indebtedness of existence as gift and grace.

But there is a second point which a bit of reflection on the notion of creatio ex nihilo reveals. In understanding reality as related to God in this radical way, Christian faith also believes that there is absolutely nothing in the nature of created reality which could be a constitutive principle of separation from or contradiction to God. While Paul’s words to the Romans were written in another context, they are nonetheless beautifully appropriate here:

For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38fl.

The Goodness of Creation
An attitude of realistic confidence and hope is rooted in the belief that because God created it and sustains it, the finite world is good. For God, and therefore presumably for us, it is good that there is something which is not God. The Priestly account of creation is like a litany. Over and over we hear a refrain which reminds us how good the creatures are found to be by their creator, until finally we read, “And God saw everything God had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31).

Indeed, one of the first major theological tasks which faced the church in the second and third centuries was to defend its belief in the goodness of God’s creation against the gnostics. One thing which the many diverse forms of gnosticism share is the conviction that the created world, precisely as material, could not really be the work of God, who is pure spirit. Whether the result of a primordial battle in the spiritual heavens, or the work of a divine-like demiurge, the world is bad. Redemption is conceived of as liberation from the created world and its evil materiality.

For biblical faith, on the contrary, the world is a good place in which to be. It is precisely where God places us and it is where God wishes to be in relationship with us. God does not wish to save us from the world. God wishes to save the world, and us humans who are a unique part of it, from the sin which threatens to destroy it and for which we are responsible. This is the whole point of the story about the “fall” of the first humans in Genesis 2-3. Faced with the reality of suffering and evil, the Yahwist tells us that human sin, not an evil or indifferent God, is to blame. This is how the Bible introduces us to the real story it has to tell, the story of how God has been at work saving the world.


The Theology of the Body Debate: The Pivotal Question by Christopher West

October 28, 2009

pope_john_paul_ii_in_prayer1Christopher West, one of the popularizers of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body, has followed up a controversial appearance on Nightline with an essay that captures some of the key points of understanding John Paul II’s marvelous series of teachings. West’s approach has been criticized by Dawn Eden. Her comments here.

Reading selections follow:

Of Which Man Are We Speaking?
The pivotal question as I see it is this: What does the grace of redemption offer us in this life with regard to our disordered sexual tendencies? From there, the questions multiply: Is it possible to overcome the pull of lust within us? If not, what are we to do with our disordered desires? If so, to what degree can we be liberated from lust and how can we enter into this grace? Furthermore, what does it actually look like to live a life of ever deepening sexual redemption?

It is abundantly clear from both Catholic teaching and human experience that, so long as we are on earth, we will always have to battle with concupiscence – that disordering of our passions caused by original sin

Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants. It is a deprivation of original holiness and justice, but human nature has not been totally corrupted: it is wounded in the natural powers proper to it, subject to ignorance, suffering and the dominion of death, and inclined to sin – an inclination to evil that is called concupiscence”. Baptism, by imparting the life of Christ’s grace, erases original sin and turns a man back towards God, but the consequences for nature, weakened and inclined to evil, persist in man and summon him to spiritual battle. Catechism of the Catholic Church 405

“When we made our first profession of faith while receiving the holy Baptism that cleansed us, the forgiveness we received then was so full and complete that there remained in us absolutely nothing left to efface, neither original sin nor offenses committed by our own will, nor was there left any penalty to suffer in order to expiate them. . . . Yet the grace of Baptism delivers no one from all the weakness of nature. On the contrary, we must still combat the movements of concupiscence that never cease leading us into evil “
Catechism of the Catholic Church  978

“Yet certain temporal consequences of sin remain in the baptized, such as suffering, illness, death, and such frailties inherent in life as weaknesses of character, and so on, as well as an inclination to sin that Tradition calls concupiscence, or metaphorically, “the tinder for sin” (fomes peccati); since concupiscence “is left for us to wrestle with, it cannot harm those who do not consent but manfully resist it by the grace of Jesus Christ.” Indeed, “an athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1264

Conversion to Christ, the new birth of Baptism, the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Body and Blood of Christ received as food have made us “holy and without blemish,” just as the Church herself, the Bride of Christ, is “holy and without blemish.” Nevertheless the new life received in Christian initiation has not abolished the frailty and weakness of human nature, nor the inclination to sin that tradition calls concupiscence, which remains in the baptized such that with the help of the grace of Christ they may prove themselves in the struggle of Christian life. This is the struggle of conversion directed toward holiness and eternal life to which the Lord never ceases to call us.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1426

A Fierce Battle
The battle with concupiscence is fierce. Even the holiest saints can still recognize the pull of concupiscence within them. Yet, as John Paul II insisted, we “cannot stop at casting the ‘heart’ into a state of continual and irreversible suspicion due to the manifestations of the concupiscence of the flesh… Redemption is a truth, a reality, in the name of which man must feel himself called, and ‘called with effectiveness’” (TOB 46:4).

Many people seem to doubt this “effectiveness” and thus conclude that the freedom I hold out is beyond the realm of man’s possibilities. From one perspective, these critics are correct. “But what are the ‘concrete possibilities of man’?” John Paul II asks. “And of which man are we speaking? Of man dominated by lust or of man redeemed by Christ” (Veritatis Splendor 103)? For those dominated by lust, what I hold out is impossible. But those who enter the “effectiveness” of redemption discover “another vision of man’s possibilities” (TOB 46:6).

The Cry of the New Evangelization
I humbly invite all those who question what I teach about liberation from concupiscence to take a closer look at the teaching of John Paul II on the matter (see especially TOB 43:6, 45:3, 46:4, 46:6, 47:5, 48:1, 48:4, 49:4, 49:6, 58:7, 86:6-7, 101:3-5, 107:1-3, 128:3, 129:5). It is a point of utmost importance. Indeed, in a very real way, debates about what we are capable of in the battle with concupiscence take us to the crux of the Gospel itself. “This is what is at stake,” John Paul II maintained, “the reality of Christ’s redemption. Christ has redeemed us! This means he has given us the possibility of realizing the entire truth of our being; he has set our freedom free from the domination of concupiscence” (Veritatis Splendor 103).

Oh, what a powerful proclamation! If we listen carefully to it, it seems we can almost sense John Paul II’s participation in the potency with which Christ proclaimed the words of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, … to comfort all who mourn, … to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of despair” (Isaiah 61: 1-3; see also Lk 4:18-19). John Paul II, it seems, was precisely the herald “anointed by the Lord” to bring the good news of liberation to our sexually enslaved world. Let all who are thirsty come – come and drink the water of life (see Rev 22:17).

What is the alternative to an effective sexual redemption? If man remains bound by his lusts, is he even capable of loving with a pure heart? Marriage, in this view, comes to be seen and lived as a “legitimate outlet” for indulging our disordered desires and the celibate life comes to be seen and lived as a life of hopeless repression. And we end up “holding the form of religion” while “denying the power of it” (2 Tim 3:5). “Ne evacuetur Crux!” – John Paul II exclaims, “Do not empty the Cross of its power!” (see 1 Corinthians 1:17). “This,” he said, “is the cry of the new evangelization.” For “if the cross of Christ is emptied of its power, man no longer has roots, he no longer has prospects: he is destroyed” (Orientale Lumen 3).

Mature Purity
The teaching of John Paul II is clear: liberation from concupiscence – or, more precisely, from the domination of concupiscence (John Paul II used both expressions) – is not only a possibility, it is a necessity if we are to live our lives “in the truth” and experience the divine plan for human love (see TOB 43:6, 47:5). Indeed, Christian sexual ethos “is always linked . . . with the liberation of the heart from concupiscence” (TOB 43:6). And this liberation is just as essential for consecrated celibates and single people as it is for married couples (see TOB 77:4).

It is precisely this liberation that allows us to discover what John Paul II called “mature purity.” In mature purity “man enjoys the fruits of victory over concupiscence” (TOB 58:7). This victory is gradual and certainly remains fragile here on earth, but it is nonetheless real. For those graced with its fruits, a whole new world opens up – another way of seeing, thinking, living, talking, loving, praying. But to those who cannot imagine freedom from concupiscence, such a way of seeing, living, talking, loving, and praying not only seems unusual – but improper, imprudent, dangerous, or even perverse.

Why, we should ask ourselves, does such a cloud of negativity and suspicion seem to hover over the realm of sexuality? The distortions of sin are, of course, very real. But through the grace of redemption, can our sexuality not become in our practical, lived experience the realm of the sacramental and the holy? Can it not become the realm of a truly sacred conversation? “To the pure all things are pure,” St. Paul said (Titus 1:15). But to those bound by lust, even the pure seems impure. Oh, how tragic when we label as ugly that which is beautiful!

Some people say the redemption of the body is something reserved only for the resurrection at the end of time. While it is certainly true that the fullness of our redemption awaits us only in the final resurrection, John Paul II insists that the “‘redemption of the body’ …expresses itself not only in the resurrection as victory over death. It is present also in the words of Christ addressed to ‘historical’ man … [when] Christ invites us to overcome concupiscence, even in the exclusively inner movements of the human heart” (TOB 86:6).

And here we enter the tension of what theologians call the “already – but not yet” of redemption. The not yet aspect means we must be cognizant of the many distortions of our fallen nature and the ease with which we can be lured into temptations. The already aspect means there is also a power at work within us which is able to do “far more than we ever think or imagine,” as St. Paul said (see Ephesians 3:20). Both truths must be held together.

When it comes to questions of sexuality, it seems that many teachers and spiritual advisors focus almost exclusively on the not yet. We can hear so much about the “dangers” of sexuality that we conclude there is no escape from the ever present risk of sin. John Paul II is very critical of this kind of “determinism in the sexual sphere,” as he called it in a pre-papal essay. Such determinism tends “to limit the possibility of virtue and magnify the ‘necessity of sin’ in this sphere.” John Paul II’s approach, however, entails “the opposite tendency,” as he himself wrote. It upholds “the possibility of virtue, based on self-control and sublimation [which means to raise up, make sublime]” (“The Problem of Catholic Sexual Ethics,” Person and Community, p. 286).

The Journey of the Interior Life
Virtue, however, in the full Christian sense of the term, is only possible as we journey through the “purgative” way of the interior life and into what the mystical tradition calls the “illuminative” and “unitive” ways. It is here, in these further stages of the journey, that we discover “mature purity.” In the purgative stage, purity basically means “avoiding the occasion of sin” by “gaining custody of the eyes.” This is a very important step on the journey. But it is an essentially “negative” step, John Paul II says, in as much as it involves learning how to say no to lustful passions and learning how to abstain from unchastity. John Paul II, in keeping with the authentic tradition of the Church, teaches that there is much more to the virtue of purity than this.

In the language of St. Thomas Aquinas, a person who can successfully restrain himself from sin is “continent” but not yet virtuous. Continence falls short of virtue since virtue presupposes a right desire, and this is lacking in the continent person (see Summa, Prima Secundae, q. 58, a. 3, ad 2). As the Catechism observes, “The perfection of the moral good consists in man’s being moved to the good not only by his will but also by his ‘heart’” and even “by his sensitive appetite” (CCC 1770, 1775). Human virtues do not suppress or tyrannize our passions. They “order our passions… They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life” (CCC 1804).

“The task of purity,” as John Paul II observed, “is not only (and not so much) abstaining from ‘unchastity’ and from … ‘lustful passions’.” In the illuminative and unitive stages of the journey, we discover “another function of the virtue of purity… another dimension – one could say – that is more positive than negative” (TOB 54:3). In this “positive” dimension, we come to experience “a singular ability to perceive, love, and realize those meanings of the ‘language of the body’ that remain completely unknown to concupiscence itself” (TOB 128:3). We “come to an ever greater awareness of the gratuitous beauty of the human body, of masculinity and femininity” in such a way, John Paul II wrote, that other people “not only regain their true light … but, so to speak, they lead us to God himself” (Memory and Identity, p. 30).

This is “the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:21) to which Christ invites us all. Admittedly, it is a very different vision than that with which many Catholics are familiar. Perhaps it’s simply that “unfamiliarity” that causes some to doubt its authenticity. For those who have been formed to think primarily in terms of the “dangers” of sexuality and the “constant risk of sin,” I invite you to meditate prayerfully on the following hope-filled words of John Paul II. Of course, they refer not only to the sexual sphere, but are certainly inclusive of that sphere, as he indicates.

With the passage of time, if we persevere in following Christ our Teacher, we feel less and less burdened by the struggle against sin, and we enjoy more and more the divine light which pervades all creation. This is most important, because it allows us to escape from a situation of constant inner exposure to the risk of sin – even though, on this earth, the risk always remains present to some degree – so as to move with ever greater freedom within the whole created world. This same freedom and simplicity characterizes our relations with other human beings, including those of the opposite sex… Christ, supreme Teacher of the spiritual life, together with all those who have been formed in his school, teaches that even in this life we can enter onto the path of union with God… [This union allows us to] find God in everything, we can commune with him in and through all things. Created things cease to be a danger for us as once they were, particularly while we were still at the purgative stage of our journey. (Memory and Identity, pp. 29-30)

Theology of the Body Is Nothing New
The fundamental message of the TOB is nothing new. In essence, it’s what the saints and mystics have been telling us for centuries about the “great mystery” of Christ’s infinite love for his Bride, the Church. Yet John Paul II has penetrated that same Mystery with new clarity, new insight, new depth – giving us a new language with which to reach the modern world with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Still, relatively few in the Church know enough about John Paul II’s “new language” to employ it in their efforts to communicate the faith


A Most Catholic Vindication

October 27, 2009

Pope-Paul-VI b

Maureen Dowd has a winner, this week’s most emailed opinion column from the NY Times, her attack on the Catholic Church called “The Nuns’ Story.”

In 2004, the cardinal who would become Pope Benedict XVI wrote a Vatican document urging women to be submissive partners, resisting any adversarial roles with men and cultivating “feminine values” like “listening, welcoming, humility, faithfulness, praise and waiting.”

Nuns need to be even more sepia-toned for the über-conservative pope, who was christened “God’s Rottweiler” for his enforcement of orthodoxy. Once a conscripted member of the Hitler Youth, Benedict pardoned a schismatic bishop who claimed that there was no Nazi gas chamber. He also argued on a trip to Africa that distributing condoms could make the AIDS crisis worse.

Nice. At another point in the article she takes another shot at the Church over condom distribution: Maybe the church shouldn’t be so obdurate on condoms.

There are so many things wrong with the article I can only choose two to respond to. The first relates to the Pope’s comments on condoms and AIDS that Dwight G. Duncan, a professor at Southern New England School Of Law, addressed in column titled Piling On The Pope.

“On the plane taking him to Africa for the first time as pope, Benedict XVI fielded some questions last week from reporters, including one about the spread of AIDS there and whether the position of the Catholic Church was unrealistic and ineffective. The Pope said that he would say the opposite, that “the scourge [of AIDS] cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality; in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness — even through personal sacrifice — to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.”

Western media pundits reacted like Dracula when confronted by a crucifix: The New York Times dogmatically pontificated: “Grievously wrong! ‘There is no evidence that condom use is aggravating the epidemic and considerable evidence that condoms, though no panacea, can be helpful in many circumstances.” A Washington Post “Catholic” commentator headed his column, “Impeach the Pope,” and stated, “the cardinal sin of the Catholic Church — a literally deadly sin, if ever there was one — is its opposition to birth control.” The National Catholic Reporter ran a story headlined, “Gay Catholic Groups Condemn Pope’s Statements in Africa on Condom Use,” and quoted the communications director of Call to Action as saying:

“To this day, the Vatican bans the use of condoms by Catholics, This is just morally wrong.”

Condoms, it turns out, are a sacred cow. Condom is King. The modern secular dogma is that sex is all about having fun, and that the possibility of having children as a consequence, or contracting a serious life-threatening disease, needs to be nipped in the bud by a flexible shield of body armor that could easily be mistaken for a balloon. Problem is, life is more complicated than that. Sex is deep and mysterious and intrinsically related to life and death and love and selfishness. It’s not all fun and games and can’t be fixed with a rubber band-aid. So when the pope suggests that condoms aren’t the answer he must be shouted down, even or especially when what he says is true.

Dr. Edward C. Green, author of five books and over 250 peer-reviewed articles, is the director of the AIDS Prevention Research Project at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies. He is not a Catholic, but an agnostic. He told National Review Online last week that “the Pope is correct; or put it a better way, the best evidence we have supports the pope’s comments…Condoms have been proven to not be effective at the ‘level of population.’”

There is, Green says, a consistent association shown by our best studies, including the U.S.-funded ‘Demographic Health Surveys,’ between greater availability and use of condoms and higher (not lower) HIV-infection rates. This may be due in part to a phenomenon known as risk compensation, meaning that when one uses a risk-reduction ‘technology’ such as condoms, one often loses the benefit (reduction in risk) by ‘compensating’ or taking greater chances than one would take without the risk-reduction technology.” I can understand this: how often a diet soda will give me an excuse to indulge in potato chips or chocolates or whatever!

Green continued: “The best and latest empirical evidence indeed shows that reduction in multiple and concurrent sexual partners is the most important single behavior change associated with reduction in HIV infection rates…” This is what the pope called “the humanization of sexuality in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another.” As Dr. Green wrote in First Things last April, “Christian churches — indeed, most faith communities — have a comparative advantage in promoting the needed types of behavior change, since these behaviors conform to their moral, ethical, and scriptural teachings. ‘What the churches are inclined to do anyway turns out to be what works best in AIDS prevention.”

On March 10, Pope Benedict published a letter to bishops concerning the remission of the excommunication of the Lefebvrite bishops, another recent instance of the media piling on the pope. In it, he commented on the reaction of some who “openly accused the Pope of wanting to turn back the clock….: an avalanche of protests was unleashed, whose bitterness laid bare wounds deeper than the present moment.”

He mentioned St. Paul’s advice in Galatians 5:13-15, “surprised at the directness with which that passage speaks to us about the present moment:

‘Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love be servants of one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you are not consumed by one another.’.. .Should we be surprised that we too are no better than the Galatians? That at the very least we are threatened by the same temptations? That we must always learn anew the proper use of freedom? And that we must always learn anew the supreme priority; which is love?” The same comment could be made about the current contretemps over condoms.”

The second is much broader, the implicit rejection (not only by Dowd but by overwhelming numbers within and without the Church) to Humanae Vitae, the encyclical by Paul VI that celebrated its 40th anniversary last year. Mary Eberstadt is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and wrote this then and if you didn’t get a chance to read it then, pass through some of these Reading Selections and review it now. As Archbishop Chaput has commented, if Paul VI was right about so many of the consequences deriving from contraception, it is because he was right about contraception itself: Much of this is devastating to Dowd’s cynical commentary but until Cafeteria Catholics begin practicing the Theology of the Body and living a Catholic sexuality, it is no surprise that she probably has a large number of Americans who probably agree with her.

This is what we, as Catholics, need to tell her and to live the truth of:

To be human means to be-in-relation, to be-with. Even more pointedly, it is something which is radically from others. It is essential that we recognize our real relationality, a truth often obscured by classical theology which, following Boethius, stressed the radical individuality of persons (the human being is an “individual substance of a rational nature”). This truth has also been forgotten by much modern thought since the Enlightenment, which stressed the freedom, rights and autonomy of the individual human subject. What and who my real “self” is, is a mystery which is constituted by the mystery of others.

This means that my humanity is something always profoundly greater, even other, than I am. Sexual differentiation highlights this. Scholars in a variety of disciplines have begun to take seriously what the poets and song writers have always told us: men and women seem to experience and understand reality in some remarkably different ways. Christian theology has tended to ignore this, treating human “nature” independently of its sexual concretization. While there is much that we can say about being human which is true about both men and women, perhaps we are only now beginning to realize that there is much which cannot be said quite so simply. Each of us, male or female, must realize the fact that there is another mode and experience of being human which is different from, and not reducible to, one’s own. There is another way of being human which remains inaccessibly mysterious.

Therefore, no human being can claim to experience or understand the mystery of what it means to be human only from his or her humanity. The real humanity of each person, male or female, is something that points beyond itself to a real other. This is a paradox. Male and female are not simply accidental characteristics of human being; neither are they two different creatures. They are irreducibly different in one humanity.

This, it seems to me, expresses something of the mystery of God and about our relationship with God. The mystery of the sexually other human is a symbol of the absolute mystery of God’s other-ness and of our relatedness to and transcendence towards God as our final personal wholeness and fulfillment. Our humanity is essentially ecstatic, other-directed. We are whole and entire only in our relationships with others: both human others and with God, that divine Other.
From The Christian View of Humanity by John Sachs

The above is Catholic Truth.

Reading Selections from The Vindication of Humanae Vitae by Mary Eberstadt

A Laughingstock
That Humanae Vitae and related Catholic teachings about sexual morality are laughingstocks in all the best places is not exactly news. Even in the benighted precincts of believers, where information from the outside world is known to travel exceedingly slowly, everybody grasps that this is one doctrine the world loves to hate. During Benedict XVI’s April visit to the United States, hardly a story in the secular press failed to mention the teachings of Humanae Vitae, usually alongside adjectives like “divisive” and “controversial” and “outdated.” In fact, if there’s anything on earth that unites the Church’s adversaries — all of them except for the Muslims, anyway — the teaching against contraception is probably it.

To many people, both today and when the encyclical was promulgated on July 25, 1968, the notion simply defies understanding. Consenting adults, told not to use birth control? Preposterous. Third World parents deprived access to contraception and abortion? Positively criminal. A ban on condoms when there’s a risk of contracting AIDS? Beneath contempt.

“The execration of the world,” in philosopher G.E.M. Anscombe’s phrase, was what Paul VI incurred with that document — to which the years since 1968 have added plenty of just plain ridicule. Hasn’t everyone heard Monty Python’s send-up song “Every Sperm Is Sacred”? Or heard the jokes? “You no play-a the game, you no make-a the rules.” And “What do you call the rhythm method? Vatican roulette.” And “What do you call a woman who uses the rhythm method? Mommy.”

Cafeteria Catholics and Humanae Vitae
As everyone also knows, it’s not only the Church’s self-declared adversaries who go in for this sort of sport. So, too, do many American and European Catholics — specifically, the ones often called dissenting or cafeteria Catholics, and who more accurately might be dubbed the “Catholic Otherwise Faithful.” I may be Catholic, but I’m not a maniac about it, runs their unofficial subtext — meaning: I’m happy to take credit for enlightened Catholic positions on the death penalty/social justice/civil rights, but of course I don’t believe in those archaic teachings about divorce/homosexuality/and above all birth control.

Thus FOX News host Sean Hannity, for example, describes himself to viewers as a “good” and “devout” Catholic — one who happens to believe, as he has also said on the air, that “contraception is good.” He was challenged on his show in 2007 by Father Tom Euteneuer of Human Life International, who observed that such a position emanating from a public figure technically fulfilled the requirements for something called heresy. And Hannity reacted as many others have when stopped in the cafeteria line. He objected that the issue of contraception was “superfluous” compared to others; he asked what right the priest had to tell him what to do (“judge not lest you be judged,” Hannity instructed); and he expressed shock at the thought that anyone might deprive him of taking Communion just because he was deciding for himself what it means to be Catholic.

A Modern Morality Tale
“He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh,” the Psalmist promises, specifically in a passage about enjoying vindication over one’s adversaries. If that is so, then the racket on this fortieth anniversary must be prodigious. Four decades later, not only have the document’s signature predictions been ratified in empirical force, but they have been ratified as few predictions ever are: in ways its authors could not possibly have foreseen, including by information that did not exist when the document was written, by scholars and others with no interest whatever in its teaching, and indeed even inadvertently, and in more ways than one, by many proud public adversaries of the Church.

Forty years later, there are more than enough ironies, both secular and religious, to make one swear there’s a humorist in heaven.

The Four Warnings
Let’s begin by meditating upon what might be called the first of the secular ironies now evident: Humanae Vitae‘s specific predictions about what the world would look like if artificial contraception became widespread. The encyclical warned of four resulting trends:

1. A general lowering of moral standards throughout society;
2. A rise in infidelity;
3. A lessening of respect for women by men; and
4. The coercive use of reproductive technologies by governments.

In the years since Humanae Vitae‘s appearance, numerous distinguished Catholic thinkers have argued, using a variety of evidence, that each of these predictions has been borne out by the social facts. One thinks, for example, of Monsignor George A. Kelly in his 1978 “Bitter Pill the Catholic Community Swallowed” and of the many contributions of Janet E. Smith, including Humanae Vitae: A Generation Later and the edited volume Why Humanae Vitae Was Right: A Reader.

An Irony Within An Irony
Although it is largely Catholic thinkers who have connected the latest empirical evidence to the defense of Humanae Vitae‘s predictions, during those same forty years most of the experts actually producing the empirical evidence have been social scientists operating in the secular realm. As sociologist W. Bradford Wilcox emphasized in a 2005 essay: “The leading scholars who have tackled these topics are not Christians, and most of them are not political or social conservatives. They are, rather, honest social scientists willing to follow the data wherever it may lead.”

Consider, as Wilcox does, the Nobel Prize-winning economist George Akerlof. In a well-known 1996 article in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, Akerlof explained in the language of modern economics why the sexual revolution — contrary to common prediction, especially prediction by those in and out of the Church who wanted the teaching on birth control changed — had led to an increase in both illegitimacy and abortion. In another work published in the Economic Journal ten years ago, he traced the empirical connections between the decrease in marriage and married fatherhood for men — both clear consequences of the contraceptive revolution — and the simultaneous increase in behaviors to which single men appear more prone: substance abuse, incarceration, and arrests, to name just three.

Along the way, Akerlof found a strong connection between the diminishment of marriage on the one hand and the rise in poverty and social pathology on the other. He explained his findings in nontechnical terms in Slate magazine: Although doubt will always remain about what causes a change in social custom, the technology-shock theory does fit the facts. The new reproductive technology was adopted quickly, and on a massive scale. Marital and fertility patterns changed with similar drama, at about the same time.

Negative Effects On Children And Society
To these examples of secular social science confirming what Catholic thinkers had predicted, one might add many more demonstrating the negative effects on children and society. The groundbreaking work that Daniel Patrick Moynihan did in 1965, on the black family, is an example — along with the critical research of psychologist Judith Wallerstein over several decades on the impact of divorce on children; Barbara Dafoe Whitehead’s well-known work on the outcomes of single parenthood for children; Sara McLanahan and Gary Sandefur’s seminal book, Growing Up with a Single Parent; and David Blankenhorn’s Fatherless America, another lengthy summarization of the bad empirical news about family breakup.

Numerous other books followed this path of analyzing the benefits of marriage, including James Q. Wilson’s The Marriage Problem, Linda Waite and Maggie Gallagher’s The Case for Marriage, Kay Hymowitz’s Marriage and Caste in America, and Elizabeth Marquardt’s recent Between Two Worlds: The Inner Lives of Children of Divorce. To this list could be added many more examples of how the data have grown and grown to support the proposition that the sexual revolution has been resulting in disaster for large swaths of the country — a proposition further honed by whole decades of examination of the relation between public welfare and family dysfunction (particularly in the pages of the decidedly not-Catholic Public Interest magazine). Still other seminal works have observed that private actions, notably post-revolution sexual habits, were having massive public consequences; Charles Murray’s Losing Ground and Francis Fukuyama’s The Great Disruption come especially to mind.

All this is to say that, beginning just before the appearance of Humanae Vitae, an academic and intellectual rethinking began that can no longer be ignored — one whose accumulation of empirical evidence points to the deleterious effects of the sexual revolution on many adults and children. And even in the occasional effort to draw a happy face on current trends, there is no glossing over what are still historically high rates of family breakup and unwed motherhood….In sum, although a few apologists such as Stephanie Coontz still insist otherwise, just about everyone else in possession of the evidence acknowledges that the sexual revolution has weakened family ties, and that family ties (the presence of a biologically related mother and father in the home) have turned out to be important indicators of child well-being — and more, that the broken home is not just a problem for individuals but also for society. Some scholars, moreover, further link these problems to the contraceptive revolution itself.

Contraception Causes Abortion
Consider the work of maverick sociobiologist Lionel Tiger. Hardly a cat’s-paw of the pope — he describes religion as “a toxic issue” — Tiger has repeatedly emphasized the centrality of the sexual revolution to today’s unique problems. The Decline of Males, his 1999 book, was particularly controversial among feminists for its argument that female contraceptives had altered the balance between the sexes in disturbing new ways (especially by taking from men any say in whether they could have children).

Equally eyebrow-raising is his linking of contraception to the breakdown of families, female impoverishment, trouble in the relationship between the sexes, and single motherhood. Tiger has further argued — as Humanae Vitae did not explicitly, though other works of Catholic theology have — for a causal link between contraception and abortion, stating outright that “with effective contraception controlled by women, there are still more abortions than ever. . . . Contraception causes abortion.” (See PayingAttentionToTheSky here)

The Population Bomb: Discredited Overpopulation Science
Just as empirical evidence has proved that the sexual revolution has had disastrous effects on children and families, so the past forty years have destroyed the mantle called “science” that Humanae Vitae‘s detractors once wrapped round themselves. In particular, the doomsday population science so popular and influential during the era in which Humanae Vitae appeared has been repeatedly demolished.

Born from Thomas Robert Malthus’ famous late-eighteenth-century Essay on Population, this was the novel view that humanity itself amounted to a kind of scourge or pollution whose pressure on fellow members would lead to catastrophe. Though rooted in other times and places, Malthusianism of one particular variety was fully in bloom in America by the early 1960s. In fact, Humanae Vitae appeared two months before the most successful popularization of Malthusian thinking yet, Paul R. Ehrlich’s The Population Bomb — which opened with the words: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over. In the 1970s and 1980s hundreds of millions of people will starve to death in spite of any crash programs embarked upon now.”

If, as George Weigel has suggested, 1968 was absolutely the worst moment for Humanae Vitae to appear, it could not have been a better one for Ehrlich to advance his apocalyptic thesis. An entomologist who specialized in butterflies, Ehrlich found an American public, including a generation of Catholics, extraordinarily receptive to his direst thoughts about humanity.

This was the wave that The Population Bomb caught on its way to becoming one of the bestsellers of recent times. Of course, many people with no metaphysics whatsoever were drawn to Ehrlich’s doom-mongering. But for restless Catholics, in particular, the overpopulation scare was attractive — for if overpopulation were the problem, the solution was obvious: Tell the Church to lift the ban on birth control.

It is less than coincidental that the high-mindedness of saving the planet dovetailed perfectly with a more self-interested outcome, the freer pursuit of sexuality via the Pill. Dissenting Catholics had special reasons to stress the “science of overpopulation,” and so they did. In the name of a higher morality, their argument went, birth control could be defended as the lesser of two evils (a position argued by the dissenter Charles Curran, among others).

Less than half a century later, these preoccupations with overwhelming birth rates appear as pseudo-scientific as phrenology. Actually, that may be unfair to phrenology. For the overpopulation literature has not only been abandoned by thinkers for more improved science; it has actually been so thoroughly proved false that today’s cutting-edge theory worries about precisely the opposite: a “dearth birth” that is “graying” the advanced world.

Overpopulation Science: A Grotesque Error
In fact, so discredited has the overpopulation science become that this year Columbia University historian Matthew Connelly could publish Fatal Misconception: The Struggle to Control World Population and garner a starred review in Publishers Weekly — all in service of what is probably the single best demolition of the population arguments that some hoped would undermine church teaching. This is all the more satisfying a ratification because Connelly is so conscientious in establishing his own personal antagonism toward the Catholic Church (at one point asserting without even a footnote that natural family planning “still fails most couples who try it”).

Fatal Misconception is decisive proof that the spectacle of overpopulation, which was used to browbeat the Vatican in the name of science, was a grotesque error all along. First, Connelly argues, the population-control movement was wrong as a matter of fact: “The two strongest claims population controllers make for their long-term historical contribution” are “that they raised Asia out of poverty and helped keep our planet habitable.” Both of these, he demonstrates, are false.

Even more devastating is Connelly’s demolition of the claim to moral high ground that the overpopulation alarmists made. For population science was not only failing to help people, Connelly argues, but also actively harming some of them — and in a way that summoned some of the baser episodes of recent historical memory:

The great tragedy of population control, the fatal misconception, was to think that one could know other people’s interests better than they knew it themselves. . . . The essence of population control, whether it targeted migrants, the “unfit,” or families that seemed either too big or too small, was to make rules for other people without having to answer to them. It appealed to people with power because, with the spread of emancipatory movements, it began to appear easier and more profitable to control populations than to control territory. That is why opponents were essentially correct in viewing it as another chapter in the unfinished business of imperialism.

Coercive Contraceptive Technology
The forty years since Humanae Vitae appeared have also vindicated the encyclical’s fear that governments would use the new contraceptive technology coercively. The outstanding example, of course, is the Chinese government’s long-running “one-child policy,” replete with forced abortions, public trackings of menstrual cycles, family flight, increased female infanticide, sterilization, and other assaults too numerous even to begin cataloguing here — in fact, so numerous that they are now widely, if often grudgingly, acknowledged as wrongs even by international human-rights bureaucracies. Lesser-known examples include the Indian government’s foray into coercive use of contraception in the “emergency” of 1976 and 1977, and the Indonesian government’s practice in the 1970s and 1980s of the bullying implantation of IUDs and Norplant.

Should governments come to “regard this as necessary,” Humanae Vitae warned, “they may even impose their use on everyone.” As with the unintended affirmation by social science, will anyone within the ranks of the population revisionists now give credit where credit is due?

Deforming Relations Between The Sexes
Perhaps the most mocked of Humanae Vitae‘s predictions was its claim that separating sex from procreation would deform relations between the sexes and “open wide the way for marital infidelity and a general lowering of moral standards.” Today, when advertisements for sex scream from every billboard and webpage, and every teen idol is sooner or later revealed topless or worse online, some might wonder what further proof could possibly be offered.

But to leave matters there would be to miss something important. The critical point is, one might say, not so much the proof as the pudding it’s in. And it would be hard to get more ironic than having these particular predictions of Humanae Vitae vindicated by perhaps the most unlikely — to say nothing of unwilling — witness of all: modern feminism.

Yet that is exactly what has happened since 1968. From Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem to Andrea Dworkin and Germaine Greer on up through Susan Faludi and Naomi Wolf, feminist literature has been a remarkably consistent and uninterrupted cacophony of grievance, recrimination, and sexual discontent. In that forty-year record, we find, as nowhere else, personal testimony of what the sexual revolution has done to womankind.

Consider just what we have been told by the endless books on the topic over the years. If feminists married and had children, they lamented it. If they failed to marry or have children, they lamented that, too. If they worked outside the home and also tended their children, they complained about how hard that was. If they worked outside the home and didn’t tend their children, they excoriated anyone who thought they should. And running through all this literature is a more or less constant invective about the unreliability and disrespect of men.

The signature metaphors of feminism say everything we need to know about how happy liberation has been making these women: the suburban home as concentration camp, men as rapists, children as intolerable burdens, fetuses as parasites, and so on. These are the sounds of liberation? Even the vaunted right to abortion, both claimed and exercised at extraordinary rates, did not seem to mitigate the misery of millions of these women after the sexual revolution.

Coming full circle, feminist and Vanity Fair contributor Leslie Bennetts recently published a book urging women to protect themselves financially and otherwise from dependence on men, including from men deserting them later in life. Mothers cannot afford to stay home with their children, she argues, because they cannot trust their men not to leave them. (One of her subjects calls desertion and divorce “the slaughter of the lambs.”) Like-minded feminist Linda Hirschman penned a ferocious and widely read manifesto in 2005 urging, among other bitter “solutions,” that women protect themselves by adopting — in effect — a voluntary one-child policy. (She argued that a second child often necessitates a move to the suburbs, which puts the office and work-friendly conveniences further away).

Woman (Hear Me Roar) And The Unreliable Man
Beneath all the pathos, the subtext remains the same: Woman’s chief adversary is Unreliable Man, who does not understand her sexual and romantic needs and who walks off time and again at the first sashay of a younger thing. What are all these but the generic cries of a woman who thinks that men are “disregarding her physical and emotional equilibrium” and “no longer considering her as his partner whom he should surround with care and affection”?

Perhaps the most compelling case made for traditional marriage lately was not on the cover of, say, Catholic World Report but in the devoutly secular Atlantic. The 2008 article “Marry Him!” by Lori Gottlieb — a single mother who conceived her only child with donor sperm rather than miss out on motherhood as she has on marriage — is a frank and excruciatingly personal look into some of the sexual revolution’s lonelier venues, including the creation of children by anonymous or absent sperm donors, the utter corrosiveness of taking a consumerist approach to romance, and the miserable effects of advancing age on one’s sexual marketability.

Gottlieb writes as one who played by all the feminist rules, only to realize too late that she’d been had. Beneath the zippy language, the article runs on an engine of mourning. Admitting how much she covets the husbands of her friends, if only for the wistful relief of having someone else help with the childcare, Gottlieb advises: “Those of us who choose not to settle in hopes of finding a soul mate later are almost like teenagers who believe they’re invulnerable to dying in a drunk-driving accident. We lose sight of our mortality. We forget that we, too, will age and become less alluring. And even if some men do find us engaging, and they’re ready to have a family, they’ll likely decide to marry someone younger with whom they can have their own biological children. Which is all the more reason to settle before settling is no longer an option.”

The Pill’s Bastard Child: Pornography
To these and other examples of how feminist-minded writers have become inadvertent witnesses for the prosecution of the sexual revolution, we might add recent public reflection on the Pill’s bastard child, ubiquitous pornography.

“The onslaught of porn,” one social observer wrote, “is responsible for deadening male libido in relation to real women, and leading men to see fewer and fewer women as ‘porn-worthy.’” Further, “sexual appetite has become like the relationship between agribusiness, processed foods, supersize portions, and obesity. . . . If your appetite is stimulated and fed by poor-quality material, it takes more junk to fill you up. People are not closer because of porn but further apart; people are not more turned on in their daily lives but less so.” And perhaps most shocking of all, this — which with just a little tweaking could easily have appeared in Humanae Vitae itself: “The power and charge of sex are maintained when there is some sacredness to it, when it is not on tap all the time.”

This was not some religious antiquarian. It was Naomi Wolf — Third Wave feminist and author of such works as The Beauty Myth and Promiscuities, which are apparently dedicated to proving that women can tomcat, too. Yet she is now just one of many out there giving testimony, unconscious though it may be, to some of the funny things that happened after the Pill freed everybody from sexual slavery once and for all.

That there is no auxiliary literature of grievance for men — who, for the most part, just don’t seem to feel they have as much to grieve about in this new world order — is something else that Humanae Vitae and a few other retrograde types saw coming in the wake of the revolution. As the saying goes, and as many people did not stop to ask at the time, cui bono? Forty years later, the evidence is in. As Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver observed on Humanae Vitae‘s thirtieth anniversary in 1998, “Contraception has released males — to a historically unprecedented degree — from responsibility for their sexual aggression.” Will any feminist who by 2008 disagrees with that statement please stand up?

The Lambeth Conference Of 1930 And The Rise Of The Modern Gay-Rights Movement
The adversaries of Humanae Vitae also could not have foreseen one important historical development that in retrospect would appear to undermine their demands that the Catholic Church change with the times: the widespread Protestant collapse, particularly the continuing implosion of the Episcopal Church and the other branches of Anglicanism. It is about as clear as any historical chain can get that this implosion is a direct consequence of the famous Lambeth Conference in 1930, at which the Anglicans abandoned the longstanding Christian position on contraception. If a church cannot tell its flock “what to do with my body,” as the saying goes, with regard to contraception, then other uses of that body will quickly prove to be similarly off-limits to ecclesiastical authority.

It makes perfect if unfortunate sense, then, that the Anglicans are today imploding over the issue of homosexuality. To quote Anscombe again:

If contraceptive intercourse is permissible, then what objection could there be after all to mutual masturbation, or copulation in vase indebito, sodomy, buggery (I should perhaps remark that I am using a legal term here — not indulging in bad language), when normal copulation is impossible or inadvisable (or in any case, according to taste)? It can’t be the mere pattern of bodily behavior in which the stimulation is procured that makes all the difference! But if such things are all right, it becomes perfectly impossible to see anything wrong with homosexual intercourse, for example. I am not saying: if you think contraception all right you will do these other things; not at all. The habit of respectability persists and old prejudices die hard. But I am saying: you will have no solid reason against these things. You will have no answer to someone who proclaims as many do that they are good too. You cannot point to the known fact that Christianity drew people out of the pagan world, always saying no to these things. Because, if you are defending contraception, you will have rejected Christian tradition.

By giving benediction in 1930 to its married heterosexual members purposely seeking sterile sex, the Anglican Church lost, bit by bit, any authority to tell her other members — married or unmarried, homosexual or heterosexual — not to do the same. To put the point another way, once heterosexuals start claiming the right to act as homosexuals, it would not be long before homosexuals start claiming the rights of heterosexuals.

Thus in a bizarre but real sense did Lambeth’s attempt to show compassion to married heterosexuals inadvertently give rise to the modern gay-rights movement — and consequently, to the issues that have divided their church ever since. It is hard to believe that anyone seeking a similar change in Catholic teaching on the subject would want the Catholic Church to follow suit into the moral and theological confusion at the center of today’s Anglican Church — yet such is the purposeful ignorance of so many who oppose Rome on birth control that they refuse to connect these cautionary historical dots.

Rethinking By Protestants
The years since Humanae Vitae have seen something else that neither traditionalist nor dissenting Catholics could have seen coming, one other development shedding retrospective credit on the Church: a serious reappraisal of Christian sexuality from Protestants outside the liberal orbit.

Thus, for instance, Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, observed in First Things in 1998 that “in an ironic turn, American evangelicals are rethinking birth control even as a majority of the nation’s Roman Catholics indicate a rejection of their Church’s teaching.” Later, when interviewed in a 2006 article in the New York Times Sunday magazine about current religious thinking on artificial contraception, Mohler elaborated: “I cannot imagine any development in human history, after the Fall, that has had a greater impact on human beings than the Pill. . . . The entire horizon of the sexual act changes. I think there can be no question that the Pill gave incredible license to everything from adultery and affairs to premarital sex and within marriage to a separation of the sex act and procreation.”

Mohler also observed that this legacy of damage was affecting the younger generation of evangelicals. “I detect a huge shift. Students on our campus are intensely concerned. Not a week goes by that I do not get contacted by pastors about the issue. There are active debates going on. It’s one of the things that may serve to divide evangelicalism.” Part of that division includes Quiverfull, the anti-contraception Protestant movement now thought to number in the tens of thousands that further prohibits (as the Catholic Church does not) natural family planning or any other conscious interference with conception. Such second thoughts among evangelicals are the premise of a 2002 book titled Open Embrace: A Protestant Couple Re-Thinks Contraception.

Rethinking By The Catholic Youth
As a corollary to this rethinking by Protestants, experience seems to have taught a similar lesson to at least some young Catholics — the generation to grow up under divorce, widespread contraception, fatherless households, and all the other emancipatory fallout. As Naomi Schaefer Riley noted in the Wall Street Journal about events this year at Notre Dame: “About thirty students walked out of The Vagina Monologues in protest after the first scene. And people familiar with the university are not surprised that it was the kids, not the grownups, who registered the strongest objections. The students are probably the most religious part of the Notre Dame. . . . . Younger Catholics tend to be among the more conservative ones.” It is hard to imagine that something like the traditionalist Anscombe Society at Princeton University, started in 2004, could have been founded in 1968.

I Won’t Tattle On My Gay Priest
One thing making traditionalists of these young Americans, at least according to some of them, is the fact of their having grown up in a world characterized by abortion on demand. And that brings us to yet another irony worth contemplating on this fortieth anniversary: what widespread rejection of Humanae Vitae has done to the character of American Catholicism.

As with the other ironies, it helps here to have a soft spot for absurdity. In their simultaneous desire to jettison the distasteful parts of Catholicism and keep the more palatable ones, American Catholics have done something novel and truly amusing: They have created a specific catalogue of complaints that resembles nothing so much as a Catholic version of the orphan with chutzpah.

Thus many Catholics complain about the dearth of priests, all the while ignoring their own responsibility for that outcome — the fact that few have children in numbers large enough to send one son to the priesthood while the others marry and carry on the family name. They mourn the closing of Catholic churches and schools — never mind that whole parishes, claiming the rights of individual conscience, have contracepted themselves out of existence. They point to the priest sex scandals as proof positive that chastity is too much to ask of people — completely ignoring that it was the randy absence of chastity that created the scandals in the first place.

In fact, the disgrace of contemporary American Catholicism — the many recent scandals involving priests and underage boys — is traceable to the collusion between a large Catholic laity that wanted a different birth-control doctrine, on the one hand, and a new generation of priests cutting themselves a different kind of slack, on the other. “I won’t tattle on my gay priest if you’ll give me absolution for contraception” seems to have been the unspoken deal in many parishes since Humanae Vitae.

A more obedient laity might have wondered aloud about the fact that a significant number of priests post-Vatican II seemed more or less openly gay. A more obedient clergy might have noticed that plenty of Catholics using artificial contraception were also taking Communion. It is hard to believe that either new development — the widespread open rebellion against church sexual teachings by the laity, or the concomitant quiet rebellion against church sexual teachings by a significant number of priests — could have existed without the other.

Christian Theologians Across Centuries
During Benedict’s recent visit to the United States, one heard a thousand times the insistence that Humanae Vitae somehow sparked a rebellion or was something new under the sun. As Peter Steinfels once put the over-familiar party line, “The pope’s 1968 encyclical and the furor it created continue to polarize the American church.” On this account, everything was somehow fine until Paul VI refused to bend with the times — at which point all hell broke loose.

Of course, all that Paul VI did, as Anscombe among many other unapologetic Catholics then and since have pointed out, was reiterate what just about everyone in the history of Christendom had ever said on the subject. In asking Catholics to be more like contraceptive-accepting Protestants, critics have been forgetting what Christian theologians across centuries had to say about contraception until practically the day before yesterday.

It was, in a word, No. Exactly one hundred years ago, for example, the Lambeth Conference of 1908 affirmed its opposition to artificial contraception in words harsher than anything appearing in Humanae Vitae: “demoralizing to character and hostile to national welfare.” In another historical twist that must have someone laughing somewhere, pronouncements of the founding fathers of Protestantism make the Catholic traditionalists of 1968 look positively diffident. Martin Luther in a commentary on Genesis declared contraception to be worse than incest or adultery. John Calvin called it an “unforgivable crime.” This unanimity was not abandoned until the year 1930, when the Anglicans voted to allow married couples to use birth control in extreme cases, and one denomination after another over the years came to follow suit.

Seen in the light of actual Christian tradition, the question is not after all why the Catholic Church refused to collapse on the point. It is rather why just about everyone else in the Judeo-Christian tradition did. Whatever the answer, the Catholic Church took, and continues to take, the public fall for causing a collapse — when actually it was the only one not collapsing.

The Consequences Deriving From Contraception
The fundamental issue is rather what Archbishop Chaput explained ten years ago: “If Paul VI was right about so many of the consequences deriving from contraception, it is because he was right about contraception itself.”

This is exactly the connection few people in 2008 want to make, because contraceptive sex — as commentators from all over, religious or not, agree — is the fundamental social fact of our time. And the fierce and widespread desire to keep it so is responsible for a great many perverse outcomes. Despite an empirical record that is unmistakably on Paul VI’s side by now, there is extraordinary resistance to crediting Catholic moral teaching with having been right about anything, no matter how detailed the record.

The Rejection That Broke Paul VI’s Heart
Considering the human spectacle today, forty years after the document whose widespread rejection reportedly broke Paul VI’s heart, one can’t help but wonder how he might have felt if he had glimpsed only a fraction of the evidence now available — whether any of it might have provoked just the smallest wry smile.

After all, it would take a heart of stone not to find at least some of what’s now out there funny as hell. There is the ongoing empirical vindication in one arena after another of the most unwanted, ignored, and ubiquitously mocked global teaching of the past fifty years. There is the fact that the Pill, which was supposed to erase all consequences of sex once and for all, turned out to have huge consequences of its own. There is the way that so many Catholics, embarrassed by accusations of archaism and driven by their own desires to be as free for sex as everyone around them, went racing for the theological exit signs after Humanae Vitae — all this just as the world with its wicked old ways began stockpiling more evidence for the Church’s doctrine than anyone living in previous centuries could have imagined, and while still other people were actually being brought closer to the Church because she stood exactly as that “sign of contradiction” when so many in the world wanted otherwise.

Yet instead of vindication for the Church, there is demoralization; instead of clarity, mass confusion; instead of more obedience, ever less. Really, the perversity is, well, perverse. In what other area does humanity operate at this level of extreme, daily, constant contradiction? Where is the Boccaccio for this post-Pill Decameron? It really is all very funny, when you stop to think about it. So why isn’t everybody down here laughing?


Reading Selections: The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Catholic Priests and Deacons in the United States

October 26, 2009


Dominic Zamora's father Frank, 62, is holding a photograph next to his son, as an 8 year old with catholic priest Michael Baker, who authorities said ranked among the Los Angeles Archdiocese's most prolific child molesters, during his confirmation in 1980.

Dominic Zamora's father Frank, 62, is holding a photograph next to his son, as an 8 year old with catholic priest Michael Baker, who authorities said ranked among the Los Angeles Archdiocese's most prolific child molesters, during his confirmation in 1980.

So much of the debate over the priest scandal has been distorted by the media that it is worthwhile to review what the report actually said. As George Weigel has noted:

“The overwhelming majority of abuse cases was homosexual molestation.  According to press reports, confirmed by the studies of reputable scholars, the most prominent form of clergy sexual abuse in recent decades has involved homosexual priests abusing teenage boys and young men.

It took editors, television personalities, and radio talk-show hosts approximately two and a half months to recognize what print reporters had, in fact, been uncovering for months: namely, that the overwhelming majority of cases of abuse did not involve prepubescent children, but rather teenage boys and young men, often in school or seminary settings. While clinical distinctions (“Fixated ephebophilia,” “regressed” or “stunted” homosexuality) may be helpful for purposes of professional study and therapy, normal English describes such abuse as homosexual molestation.”

 Purveyors of gay culture prefer to call what happened as “pedophilia” but the dirty truth cited below shows otherwise. Weigel has written elsewhere:

Pedophile priests – in the classic sense of men who habitually abuse prepubescent children – are not the majority of cleric sexual abusers; they are, in fact, a small minority of malfeasant clergy, although they are arguably the most loathsome form of the clerical sexual predator. That the shorthand of “pedophilia crisis” was being used …months after even gay activists were conceding that the overwhelming majority of the abuses reported involved homosexual men molesting teenage boys or young males suggested that the moniker “pedophilia crisis” served agendas other than factual accuracy. Were the crisis of clerical sexual abuse to be described accurately – as a crisis whose principle manifestation was homosexual molestation – other questions about gay culture might well be raised.

Background of the Report
In December 2002, Kathleen McChesney, Director of the OCYP (Office of Child and Youth Protection), approached the president of John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Gerald Lynch, Ph.D., to discuss the feasibility of the college conducting the first of the two mandated studies, as established by the Charter. The college was selected because it is a secular institution, with a national reputation in the fields of criminal justice, criminology, and forensic psychology.

President Lynch convened a group of faculty with relevant expertise who met with Kathleen McChesney and representatives of the USCCB (United States Conference of Catholic Bishops) to discuss the framework for the study on the nature and scope of child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic Church. After a number of discussions, a contract was signed by USCCB and the Research Foundation of the City University of New York on behalf of John Jay College to conduct the study. Funding for the study was provided by the USCCB, with oversight by the National Review Board. The overall purpose of the study was to provide the first-ever, complete accounting, or census, of the number of priests against whom allegations of child sexual abuse were made and of the incidents alleged to have occurred between 1950 and 2002.

To guide the study, Kathleen McChesney, on behalf of the USCCB, gave the College a specific set of questions to be answered, which defined the scope of the study. The questions focused on four specific areas of concern. The first category involved information about the alleged offenses themselves (e.g., the number of allegations, the location in which the behavior is alleged to have occurred). Information about the priests against whom allegations were made was the focus of the second category of questions. These included questions about the age, status and duties at the time of the alleged offense, background information about the priest, whether the Church took action in response to the allegation, and what form that response took. The third category focused on information about those who made the accusations (e.g., their age at the time of the offense, their gender, the time between the offense and the report). Finally, information about the financial impact of these allegations on the dioceses and religious communities was requested.

In response to this mandate, a team of criminologists, forensic psychologists, and methodologists drawn from the John Jay faculty John developed three data collection instruments, or surveys. The surveys were pre-tested, revised, and distributed to each of the 202 United States dioceses and eparchies (i.e. Eastern Church dioceses). The Catholic Church in the United States also includes 221 religious orders of men, formally called Religious Institutes of Men. Many of these groups are divided into provinces and include autonomous cloistered communities, monasteries or abbeys. The major superiors, leaders of the religious institutes, agreed to participate and sent the survey materials to the individual provinces or communities, where files on individual priests are kept. As a result, survey responses were submitted by three different types of religious communities: by religious institutes; by provinces of religious institutes; and by autonomous monasteries or abbeys. In this report, all three kinds of communities will be referred to as religious communities, to be understood in contrast to the dioceses and eparchies.

The John Jay College faculty developed detailed procedures to ensure complete confidentiality of the survey responders, which are discussed in chapter 1.2. The faculty worked with the USCCB to maximize compliance with the survey by actively responding to questions and developing procedures to ensure that state-level confidentiality laws were not violated by any institution participating in the study. Surveys were returned by 195 of the 202 dioceses and eparchies, which constitutes a 97% compliance rate. Surveys were returned by approximately 60% of religious communities representing 80% of the religious priests in the United States.

Prevalence Of Sexual Abuse Of Youths Under 18 By Catholic Priests And Deacons
A paramount concern for all involved with the study has been the determination of the prevalence of the problem in the Catholic Church in the United States. The survey responses make it clear that the problem was indeed widespread and affected more than 95% of dioceses and approximately 60% of religious communities. Of the 195 dioceses and eparchies that participated in the study, all but seven have reported that allegations of sexual abuse of youths under the age of 18 have been made against at least one priest serving in ecclesiastical ministry in that diocese or eparchy. Of the 140 religious communities that submitted surveys, all but 30 reported at least one allegation against a religious priest who was a member of that community.

Total Number Of Priests
Researchers asked each diocese, eparchy and religious community to provide the total number of priests who were active, or serving in ministry, between 1950 and 2002 so that the number of the accused could be presented as a part of an overall total. In our effort to understand the scope and distribution of the problem for the dioceses and eparchies, researchers collected information on the region, a geographical division of the Catholic Church, the number of Catholics per diocese, and the number of parishes per diocese. Dioceses and eparchies were asked to indicate these numbers by choosing one of ten equal ranges for the number of Catholic communicants and the number of parishes. The range, i.e., 88,501 – 122,000, 122,001 – 170,000, and so forth, in Catholic population, was used to ensure confidentiality of each study participant. Religious communities were grouped into ten equal groups by their total membership and clerical membership, as reported in the Official Catholic Directory 2002. These different ways of looking at the scope of the problem were used to examine the extent of sexual abuse of youths under 18 by Catholic priests and deacons.

Allegations Of Child Sexual Abuse
Dioceses and eparchies reported that allegations of child sexual abuse had been made against 4,692 priests and deacons for incidents that took place while these men were serving in ecclesiastical ministry. Individual survey forms were submitted for 4,557 of these priests. Of these, some surveys had to be eliminated because the victim’s was 18 or older or the date of the alleged incident was prior to 1950 or after 2002.

Religious communities reported that allegations of sexual abuse had been made against 647 priests who were members of their communities. Dioceses reported additional religious priests, for a study total of 929 religious priests.

Total Number Of Catholic Priests Accused Of Sexual Abuse Of Children
When the multiple surveys for the 143 priests who were the subject of allegations in more than one diocese or religious community are condensed to a single record, the total number of Catholic priests and deacons in the United States who have been accused of sexual abuse of children is 4,392.

When dioceses are grouped by the fourteen geographical regions of the Church, the average percent of all incardinated priests in a region’s dioceses to have been accused of sexual abuse is consistent: all regions averaged between 3% and 6% of priests accused. • If the total number of priests in religious communities who have had allegations made against them is presented as a percentage of all religious priests in ministry, as estimated form the study data, the percentage accused of child sexual abuse is 2.7%.

The consistency of the findings in dioceses across the United States is remarkable: whether region, number of Catholic communicants or number of parishes is used to array the dioceses, the results show allegations of sexual abuse have been made against 2.5% to 7% of diocesan priests. Similarly, whether religious priests are ranked by overall membership of religious clerical membership, the percent of priests in communities who have been accused ranges from 1% to 3%, or approximately half of that of the diocesan priests.

To estimate the percentage of all priests in ecclesiastical ministry between 1950 and 2002 who have been the subject of allegations requires a reliable overall total of priests in ministry during that time period. This calculation was done two different way—first by using the data collected through the Diocesan and Religious Order Profiles and then by using the estimates produced by the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate1. These different methods both yielded the same statistic: approximately 4% of Catholic priests and deacons in active ministry between 1950 and 2002 have been accused of the sexual abuse of a youth under the age of 18. Surveys for 90% of the priests and deacons reported to have had allegations of child sexual abuse included the year of ordination. If the yearly ordination totals for diocesan priests accused are compared to the overall number of diocesan priests ordained in that year, the percentages of accused priests range from a maximum of almost 10% in 1970, decreasing to 8% in 1980 and to fewer than 4% in 1990.

Extent Of The Problem Of Sexual Abuse
These prevalence estimates alone do not describe the extent of the problem of sexual abuse. Another way to understand the extent of the problem is to ask how many incidents of sexual abuse were alleged to occur each year of the study period or, alternatively, to ask how many priests were accused in each year. This distribution of alleged abuse events over time shows the pattern of the reported sexual abuse. When the incidents recorded in the surveys are tallied for each year of occurrence (of each incident), the resulting figure shows that 75% of the events were alleged to occur between 1960 and 1984. This result should be considered together with the declining percentage of priests ordained in each year. Additionally, understanding about sexual abuse and the treatment of sexual offenders has changed markedly between 1950 and 2002, and as a result both reporting and response to the problem are like to have been affected.

Characteristics Of Offending Priests 1
Priests who have allegations of sexual abuse of minors are a heterogeneous group of individuals. This is also the case with the general population of child sexual abusers, who have no consistent pattern of age, socioeconomic status, race or psychological problems. The purpose of this chapter is to explain the characteristics of these priests, including their demographic characteristics (e.g., age at time of ordination and offense), their status in the Church, any behavioral and psychological problems they have experienced and any criminal penalties resulting from the allegations of abuse. The study produced a number of interesting findings:

  • The majority of priests with allegations of abuse from 1950-2002 were ordained between the 1950s and 1970s.
  • The majority of priests with allegations of abuse are diocesan. Religious priests have slightly more than half as many allegations as diocesan priests. Additionally, religious priests have fewer multiple allegations and fewer allegations of “severe” offenses (e.g., those with penetration).
  • Surveys indicated that some priests with allegations of sexual abuse also showed a variety of behavioral problems, the most common of which were personality problems.
  • Few incidents were reported to the police. It is possible to speculate that one reason for this is because of the delay in reporting of abuse; consequently, the abuse was alleged beyond the statutes of limitation in many instances.
  • When allegations were made to the police, they were almost always investigated, and about one in three priests were charged with a crime. Overall, few priests with allegations served criminal sentences; only 3% of all priests with allegations served prison sentences. The priests with many allegations of abuse were not more likely than other priests to be charged and serve prison sentences.

Characteristics Of Offending Priests 2
Mental health and treatment professionals have found that it is not uncommon for those who engage in child sexual abuse to demonstrate other behavioral and psychological problems as well. Studies on co-occurrence of sexual offending and other problems have consistently found high rates of personality dysfunction1 as well as major mental disorders such as anxiety or depression. Similarly, alcohol or substance abuse problems are frequently present among those who engage in child sexual abuse. Studies which have examined clergy who sexually abuse minors with co-occurring problems have found them to exhibit fewer psychological problems than other sex offenders. However, methodological limitations preclude firm conclusions about groups of clergy who offend.

To examine the co-existence of child sexual abuse and other problems, the study instruments inquired about other types of problems that were evident from a priest’s files. The question asked specifically about whether the priest had a history of abuse that was either indicated in the record or known to the diocese; whether he had a history of substance abuse; whether there had been questions raised about his fitness for ministry and whether he had manifested other behavioral problems. Records of 1,400 priests and deacons, nearly one in three of those against whom allegations of sexual abuse of a youth under 18 were made, showed a history of substance abuse, questions about his “fitness for ministry” or behavioral problems.

According to information contained in Church records, very few priests accused of sexual abuse had themselves been victims of abuse. It should be kept in mind, however, that unless a priest self-disclosed his own prior abuse or it had been specifically raised as an issue, there might not have been an indication of abuse in Church files. Of the 4, 392 priests and deacons, 279, or 6.8% of the total number, were reported to have been abused (see Table 3.4.1 for breakdown of this number by type of abuse). Of these, a smaller number, 67 reported multiple forms of abuse. Almost half of the priests whose records indicated prior sexual or physical abuse also suffered verbal and emotional abuse.

Nature Of Child Sexual Abuse In The Catholic Church
The study produced some important findings about the nature of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

  • Unlike in the general population, more males than females were allegedly. In fact, there was a significant difference between genders, with four out of five alleged victims being male.
  • The majority of alleged victims were post-pubescent, with only a small percentage of priests receiving allegations of abusing young children.
  • The allegations of sexual abuse involved a variety of sexual acts, and most of the priests involved were alleged to have committed multiple acts per victim. Indeed, much of the sexual abuse reported involved serious sexual offenses.
  • According to the allegations of sexual abuse, the most frequent context of the sexual incidents occurred during a social event. Additionally, many of the priests with allegations of abuse socialized with the family of the alleged victim.
  • The most common place of occurrence was the residence of the priest though incidents of abuse allegedly occurred in a wide variety of locations.

Whatever the motivation of men to sexually abuse children, the abuse is less likely to occur if there are fewer opportunities for the abuse to happen. This chapter paints a picture of priests who are friendly with the families of their alleged victims and who spend much social time with those they allegedly abused. Several of the priests allegedly bought gifts or gave other types of enticements (e.g., let the youths drive cars or took them to sporting events) to those who made allegations against them. Thus, like in the general population, child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church appears to be committed by men close to the children they allegedly abuse. Many appear to use grooming tactics to entice children into complying with the abuse and the abuse frequently occurs in the home of the alleged abuser or victim.

Response From Dioceses And Religious Communities
The response to the allegations of child sexual abuse by the bishops, major superiors and other priests who were presented with the problem was first shaped by the timing of the allegation. When all allegations are considered, only one in four allegations was made within ten years of the incident that gave rise to the allegation. Half of all allegations were made between ten and thirty years after the incident and the remaining 25% were reported more than 30 years after the incident.

Study data provided the researchers with two ways to understand the responses to allegations of child sexual abuse undertaken by dioceses and religious communities—responses to the formal survey questions and the notes and explanations that were added by those who completed the incident-level Victim Surveys. The Victim Survey questions addressed investigations, the results of those investigations and the actions prompted by the results. The handwritten notes on both Cleric and Victim Surveys were recorded and coded into a credibility scale to indicate whether the Church files on an individual priest reflected a conclusion that the allegation about his actions was credible or not credible.

The actions and responses of the Church to allegations are various and multiple: an individual priest may have been counseled, evaluated, provided with treatment, suspended, or limited in his priestly capacity. These actions are present whether the allegation was found to be or not to be credible or substantiated, but with different distributions. The survey data results for actions taken as a result of the allegations of child sexual abuse include the following: • The Diocesan and Order Profiles reported that 298 priests and deacons had been completely exonerated. No surveys were completed for priests who were exonerated, and these individuals are not included in the study statistics.

  • The handwritten annotations on the surveys indicated that for 1,671 priests the allegations were thought to be credible, and not credible for 345 priests.
  • 9,281 Victim Surveys had information about an investigation. In 6,696 cases, or 72%, an investigation of the allegation was carried out.
  • Of the alleged incidents investigated by the dioceses and religious communities, a definitive result of the investigation was reported for 5,681 cases. Of these cases, 4,570, or 80%, were substantiated; 1,028, or 18%, were unsubstantiated; 83, or 1.5%, were found to be false. Priests were reported to deny the allegations in 56 cases. Of the investigations that did not produce a definitive result, in many cases the priest was deceased at the time of the allegation or the investigation was ongoing at the time the survey was submitted to the study.
  • When all Cleric Surveys are considered, 27% of all priests subject to an allegation had their ministry restricted by a superior. The figures that follow show the distribution of responses and actions by the Church to allegations of abuse. The percentages apply to the number of surveys within each subgroup that had a response.

Reading Selections (3) from Pope John Paul II’s Apostolic Letter AUGUSTINUM HIPPONSENSEM

October 23, 2009


Twenty three years ago Pope John Paul II noted the importance of St Augustine of Hippo by issuing an Apostolic Letter on the 16th Centenary of the Conversion of St Augustine. The scope of the Letter is long, comprehensive and exhaustive dealing with many aspects of a great, towering and complex individual. I’ve been taking up various sections of the letter here and in earlier posts.

Freedom And Grace
Even to indicate briefly the various aspects of St. Augustine’s theology would be an infinite task. Another important, indeed fundamental aspect, linked also to his conversion, is that of freedom and grace. As I have already mentioned, it was on the eve of his conversion that he grasped the responsibility of the human person in his actions, and the necessity of the grace of the sole Mediator, whose power he felt in the moment of the final decision, as the eighth Book of his Confessions eloquently testifies. His personal reflections and the controversies he later experienced, particularly with the followers of the Manichaeans and the Pelagians, offered him the opportunity to study more deeply the individual facets of this problem and to propose a synthesis, although this was done with great modesty because of the highly mysterious nature of the problem.

He always defended freedom as one of the bases of a Christian anthropology, against his former coreligionists, against the determinism of the astrologers whose victim he himself had once been, and against every form of fatalism; he explained that liberty and foreknowledge are not incompatible, nor liberty and the aid of divine grace. “The fact that free will is aided, does not destroy it; but because it is not taken away, it is aided.” And the Augustinian principle is well known: “He who made you without your participation, does not justify you without your participation. He has made you without your knowledge; He justifies you if you will it.”

With a long series of biblical texts, he demonstrates to those who doubted this compatibility, or upheld the contrary view, that freedom and grace belong to divine revelation and that one must hold firmly to both of these truths. Few are capable of grasping this compatibility in its profundity, for this is an exceedingly difficult question which can cause many people anxiety, because while defending liberty one can give the impression of denying grace, and vice versa. One must therefore believe in their compatibility just as one must believe in the compatibility of the two entirely necessary offices of Christ, who is at once savior aid judge, for it is on these two offices that freedom and grace depend: “If then God’s grace does not exist, how does He save the world? And if free will does not exist, how does He judge the world?”

The Necessity Of Grace And Prayer
On the other hand, Augustine insists on the necessity of grace, which is the same thing as the necessity of prayer. To those who said that God does not command what is impossible, and that therefore grace is not necessary, he replied that “God does not command what is impossible; but when He commands, He exhorts you to do what you can and to ask for what you cannot do,” and God gives help so that the command becomes possible, since “He does not abandon us unless we abandon Him first.”

The doctrine of the necessity of divine grace becomes the doctrine of the necessity of prayer, on which Augustine insists so much, because, as he writes, “it is certain that God has prepared some gifts even for those who do not pray, such as the beginning of faith; but other gifts only for those who pray, such as final perseverance.”

Grace is therefore necessary to remove the obstacles that prevent the will from fleeing evil and accomplishing what is good. These obstacles are two in number, “ignorance and weakness,” but especially the latter because “although it begins to be clear what is to be done and what goal is to be striven for…one does not act, one does not carry it out, one does not live well.” Augustine calls this helping grace “the inspiration of love so that we may carry out in holy love what we have recognized…must be done.

The two obstacles of ignorance and weakness must be overcome if we are to breathe the air of freedom. It will not be superfluous to recall that the defense of the necessity of grace is, for Augustine, the defense of Christian freedom. Starting from Christ’s words, “If the Son sets you free, then you will be truly free” (John 8:36), he defends and proclaims this freedom which is inseparable from truth and love. Truth, love and freedom are the three great good things that fired the spirit of Augustine and exercised his genius; he shed much light on the understanding of these.

Christian Freedom
To pause briefly in consideration of this last good, that of freedom, we must observe that he describes and celebrates Christian freedom in all its forms, from the freedom from error- for the liberty of error is “the worst death of the soul”-through the gift of faith which subjects the soul to the truth, to the final and inalienable freedom, the greatest of all, which consists in the inability to die and in the inability to sin, i.e. in immortality and the fullness of righteousness. All other freedoms which Augustine illustrates and proclaims find their place among these two, which mark the beginning and the end of salvation: the freedom from the dominion of the disordered passions, as the work of the grace that enlightens the intellect and gives the will so much strength that it becomes victorious in the combat with evil (as he himself experienced in his conversion when he was freed from the harsh slavery);  the freedom from time that we devour and that devours us, in that love permits us to live anchored to eternity.

He sets forth the unutterable riches of justification-the divine life of grace, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and “deification”- and makes an important distinction between the remission of sins which is total, full and perfect on the one hand, and on the other hand the interior renewal which is progressive and will be full and total only after the resurrection, when the human person as a whole shares in the divine immutability….

Christian freedom, as I have briefly mentioned, is seen and meditated on in the Church, the city of God, which manifests the fruits of this freedom and, as far as is in her power, makes all people sharers in them, upheld by divine grace. For she is founded on the “social love that embraces all people and wishes to unite them in one justice and peace, unlike the city of the wicked, which divides and sets people against one another because it is founded on “private” love.

Grace That Strengthens The Will
In the case of the grace that strengthens the will, he insists that it operates by means of love and therefore makes the will invincible against evil, without removing from the will the possibility of refusal. Commenting on the words of Jesus in the Gospel of John, “No one comes to me unless the Father draws him” (John 6:44), he writes, “Do not think that you are drawn against your will: the spirit is drawn also by love.” But love, as he also observes, works “with liberal sweetness,” so that “the one who observes the precept with love, observes it in freedom. “The law of freedom is the law of love.”

Augustine teaches no less insistently freedom from time, a freedom that Christ, the eternal Word, has come to bring us by his entry into the world in the incarnation: “O Word that exists before time, through whom time was made,” he exclaims, “born in time although You are eternal life, calling those who exist in time and making them eternal!” It is well known that St. Augustine studied deeply the mystery of time and both felt and stated the need to transcend time in order to exist truly. “That you may be truly yourself, transcend time. But who shall transcend it by his own power? Let Christ lift him up, as He said to the Father: ‘I wish that they too may be with me where I am.’”

Definitions Of Peace
It is good to mention here some of the definitions of peace which Augustine made according to the various contexts in which he was speaking. Starting from the idea that “the peace of mankind is ordered harmony,” he defines other kinds of peace, such as “the peace of the home, the ordered harmony of those who live together, in giving orders and in obeying them,” likewise the peace of the earthly city and “the peace of the heavenly city, the wholly ordered and harmonious fellowship in enjoying God and enjoying one another in God,” then “the universal peace that is the tranquillity of good order,” and finally the order itself that is “the disposition that gives its place to each of the various equal and unequal things.”

“The pilgrimage of Your people sighs” for this peace “from its departure until its return,” and for this peace it works.

Charity And The Ascent Of The Spirit
This brief synthesis of Augustine’s teaching would remain seriously incomplete, if we did not mention his spiritual teaching, which, united closely to his philosophical and theological teaching, is no less rich than these. We must return once more to conversion, with which we began. It was then that he decided to dedicate himself totally to the ideal of Christian perfection. He remained always faithful to this ideal; even more than this, he committed himself with all his power to showing others the path of perfection, drawing both on his own experience and on the Bible, which is for all the first nourishment of piety.

He was a man of prayer; one might indeed say, a man made of prayer — it suffices to recall the famous Confessions which he wrote in the form of a letter to God-and he repeated to all, with incredible persistence, the necessity of prayer: “God has willed that our struggle should be with prayers rather than with our own strength”, he describes the nature of prayer, which is so simple and yet so complex, the interiority which permits him to identify prayer with desire: “Your desire is itself your prayer; and if your desire is continuous, then your prayer too is continuous.” He brings out its social usefulness also: “Let us pray for those who have not been called, that they may be called. For perhaps God has predestined them in such a way that they will be granted and receive the same grace in answer to our prayers”; and he speaks of its wholly necessary link to Christ “who prays for us, and prays in us, and is prayed to by us. He prays for us as our priest; He prays in us, as our head; He is prayed to by us, as our God. Let us therefore recognize our voices in him, and his voice in us.”

He climbed with steady diligence the steps of the interior ascents, and described their program for all, an ample and well-defined program that comprises the movement of the spirit toward contemplation — purification, constancy and serenity, orientation toward the light, dwelling in the light, the stages of charity  –  incipient, progressing, intense, perfect — the gifts of the Holy Spirit that are linked to the beatitudes, the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, the examples given by Christ himself.

If the Gospel beatitudes constitute the supernatural environment in which the Christian must live, the gifts of the Holy Spirit bring the supernatural touch of grace which makes this climate possible; the petitions of the Lord’s Prayer, or in general, prayer which can be narrowed down to these petitions, gives the necessary nourishment; the example of Christ provides the model that is to be imitated; and charity is the soul of all, the source of radiation outwards and the secret power of the spiritual life. It is no small merit of Augustine to have narrowed all of Christian doctrine and life down to the question of charity. “This is true love: that we cling to the truth and live righteously.”

We are led to this by Sacred Scripture, which in its entirety “tells the story of Christ and admonishes us to charity,” and also by theology, which finds its own goal in charity, by philosophy, by pedagogy, and finally by the study of politics.

The Essence Of Christian Perfection: Charity
Augustine located the essence and the norm of Christian perfection in charity, because it is the first gift of the Holy Spirit and the reality which prevents one from being wicked. It is the good with which one possesses all goods, and without which the other goods are of no avail. “Have charity, and you will have them all; because without charity, whatever you have will be of no benefit.”

He indicated all the inexhaustible riches of charity; it makes easy whatever is difficult, gives newness to what has become a habit; it gives irresistible force to the movement toward the supreme Good, because charity is always imperfect here on earth; it frees from every interest that is not God; it is inseparable from humility — “where there is humility, there is charity” — and is the essence of every virtue, since virtue is nothing else but well-ordered love; it is the gift of God. This final point is crucial, because it separates and distinguishes the naturalistic and the Christian concepts of life. “Whence comes the love of God and of neighbor that exists in men, if not from God himself? Because if it is not from God, but from men, the Pelagians have won: but if it is from God, then we have defeated the Pelagians.”

Charity gave birth in Augustine to the anxious desire to contemplate divine things, a desire that belongs to wisdom. He frequently experienced the highest forms of contemplation, not only in his famous experience at Ostia, but in other forms too. He says of himself, “I often do this,” referring to his recourse to the meditation of Scripture so that his pressing cares may not oppress him: “This is my delight, and I take refuge in this pleasure as much as the things I must do permit me to relax…. Sometimes You lead me into an interior sentiment that is utterly unusual, to a sweetness I cannot describe: if this were to reach its perfection in me, I cannot say what that would be, but it would not be this life.” When these experiences are united to the theological and psychological acuteness of Augustine, and to his uncommon talent as a writer, we understand how he was able to describe the mystical ascents with such precision, so that he has been called by many people the prince of mystics.

Reconciling Prayer And Action
Despite his predominating love for contemplation, Augustine accepted the burden of the episcopate and taught others to do likewise, responding thus with humility to the call of our mother the Church. But he also taught through his example and his writings how to preserve the taste for prayer and contemplation among the tasks of pastoral activity. It is worth while to recall the synthesis that he offers us in the City of God, which has become classical. “The love of the truth seeks the holy repose of leisure, but the necessity of love takes on the just duty. If no one imposes this burden, one should spend one’s time in perceiving and grasping the truth: but in this case, the delight in the truth must not be altogether abandoned, lest the sweetness be lost, and necessity become oppressive.” The profound teaching set out here merits a long and careful reflection, which becomes more easy and fruitful if we look to Augustine himself, who gave a shining example of the way to reconcile both aspects of the Christian life, prayer and action, which are apparently contradictory.


Annals of American Law: Demonizing the Church For Filing Chapter 11 Bankruptcy

October 22, 2009
Defrocked Catholic Priest Francis DeLuca

Defrocked Catholic Priest and serial homosexual rapist Francis DeLuca is involved in at least 20 cases against Catholic children.

I recently read an AP article on a sex abuse case that is playing out in Wilmington, Delaware. It notes that Delaware’s Catholic Diocese of Wilmington is the seventh U.S. diocese to file for bankruptcy since accusations erupting seven years ago against Catholic clergy in Boston.

Thomas Neuberger, a lawyer representing 88 purported victims in the case, described the bankruptcy filing as a “desperate effort to hide the truth from the public and conceal the thousands of pages of scandalous documents” from being made public in court.

“This filing is the latest, sad chapter in the diocese’s decades long ‘cover-up’ of these despicable crimes, to maintain the secrecy surrounding its responsibility and complicity in the sexual abuse of hundreds of Catholic children,” Mr. Neuberger said in a statement.

Civil liability is the only recourse for victims of abuse that happened long ago because the U.S. Supreme Court has said states cannot change the statute of limitations for criminal cases.

Mr. Neuberger said the diocese’s action may mean some sick and aging victims — some who claim they were abused when they were as young as eight — could die before getting their day in court. Mr. Neuberger also said he would make court filings in Delaware to “meet this fraudulent tactic with the full and immediate force of the law.” He also vowed to seek out all assets of the diocese and its parishes.

More than 20 Delaware plaintiffs have filed lawsuits against a Francis DeLuca, who served as a priest for 35 years but was defrocked last summer after having been jailed in 2007 in New York for repeatedly molesting his grandnephew.

What the AP article leaves out is that by filing bankruptcy, the diocese can make sure that the total pot of money doesn’t get exhausted by the first handful of victims whose cases come to trial, leaving nothing for the remaining (by some counts) 100+ alleged victims. The bankruptcy court will oversee a process (in which the victims will have a say) that will estimate the total number of present and future damages and try to provide equal payouts for ALL victims.

The Archdiocese has this statement on its website from Rev. W. Francis Malooly, Bishop of the Diocese of Wilmington:

“Our concern throughout the negotiations was that too large a settlement with these eight victims would leave us with inadequate resources to fairly compensate the other 133 claimants, and continue our ministry. It is our obligation to ensure that all victims of abuse by our priests are fairly compensated, not just those fortunate enough to secure earlier trial dates.

The Chapter 11 filing is in no way intended to dodge responsibility for past criminal misconduct by clergy – or for mistakes made by Diocesan authorities. Nor does the bankruptcy process enable the Diocese to avoid or minimize its responsibility to victims of abuse. Instead, the Chapter 11 filing will enable the Diocese to meet its obligations head-on and fulfill its responsibility to all victims.

The Diocese of Wilmington is committed to pursuing the truth because truth heals. Three years ago Bishop Saltarelli, whom we buried here last week, released the names of 18 Diocesan priests who had admitted, corroborated or otherwise substantiated allegations of abuse of minors. It was one of the most detailed voluntary disclosures of its kind in the United States. In all of those cases, the Diocese shared information about abuse allegations with law-enforcement authorities. All eight of the priests who were living at the time of Bishop Saltarelli’s announcement previously had been removed from any ministerial duties, and for all eight priests, the Diocese has initiated or completed the process of laicization, or removal from the priesthood – the harshest punishment that the Church can impose on a priest, short of excommunication.

Moreover, the Diocese has never sought to seal depositions of priests accused of sexual abuse, and it consistently has supported the unsealing of such records. The Diocese also has never sought to seal the priest files it has produced in discovery in the lawsuits. The Diocese itself has publicly corroborated many of the incidents of abuse, and has provided more details about what actions were taken – or, sometimes tragically, not taken – by our officials. All such information is in the court records of the cases scheduled for trial on October 19, and we believe that no significant new facts would have emerged at trial.

My decision to file for Chapter 11 reorganization also was agonizing because it meant that, apart from the psychological and spiritual toll on the abuse victims, there will be significant financial losses for creditors who have faithfully supported us for years. The possibility of such losses has been present from the time that the scope of the claims against us first became clear, but the filing unfortunately makes it a certainty.”

I don’t know whether Thomas Neuberger’s statements are intended to inflame the public outrage over the priest sexual abuse and lay the groundwork for larger settlements which helps to raise his fees. But they do further discredit the Church, if that is at all possible.

Released prisoners with the highest re-arrest rates were robbers (70.2%), burglars (74.0%), larcenists (74.6%), motor vehicle thieves (78.8%), those in prison for possessing or selling stolen property (77.4%), and those in prison for possessing, using, or selling illegal weapons (70.2%). Compared to those rates, rapists, murderers and child molesters do a lot better: Within 3 years, 2.5% of released rapists were arrested for another rape, and 1.2% of those who had served time for homicide were arrested for homicide. These are the lowest rates of re-arrest for the same category of crime.

Sex offenders were less likely than non-sex offenders to be rearrested for any offense — 43 percent of sex offenders versus 68 percent of non-sex offenders. The social costs of a stolen car and an abused child do not compare, however. And one could argue that recidivism rates are only computed for those who get re-arrested. Child molesters are notoriously difficult to catch, relying as they do on the shame and fear of their victims to facilitate their crimes.

And therein lies the conundrum for not only the Church but society as well: how to treat child molesters who are in the grips of their obsessions. The church at one point in its history considered priestly offenders to require therapy and reinstatement – a disastrous policy that has destroyed many dioceses in the U.S. and ravaged parish life. If anything speaks to the helplessness of those who are in the thralldom of their obsessions, is it not the recidivism of Catholic priests? If anyone were capable of recognizing the sinfulness of their behavior and breaking free of it, would it not be a priest? And yet their failure to overcome their sickness lies at the root of the priest scandal.

There are, of course, any number of organizations devoted to validating the sin of child molestation – one thinks of NAMBLA – which amazingly in the last half-dozen years has achieved a main stream recognition of sorts – one of the recent White House “czars” (Kevin Jennings, the safe schools czar) is on record expressing admiration for Harry Hay, a long time radical and NAMBLA icon. Ostensibly, NAMBLA claims that they are dedicated to abolishing age of consent laws. An FBI underground agent was in the organization for three years. He attended two of their national conferences and spoke with many of their members as well as corresponding with about 175 of their members. His testimony:

“At no time during my three-year infiltration was there ever any discussion about modifying age of consent laws, abolishing age of consent laws. Every conversation that I had was about where to go to have sex with little boys, how they could attract little boys, how they could groom little boys. That was their agenda…”

Like many gay organizations who undermine the seriousness and suffering of same sex attractions and campaign against those who seek to free themselves from behaviors that are inimical to their maintaining a Christian identity, pedophiles have organized in ways that seek to mainstream their actions and proclaim their “freedom” to pursue activities that are utterly anti-social and deeply immoral. NAMBLA is one such expression of this movement. Ten years ago it was as outre and shocking as it gets. Now they have admirers in the White House.

Closer to the norm of our treatment of sex offenders who have served their prison sentences is what Florida does or perhaps doesn’t do: for two years, a colony of convicted sex offenders under the Julia Tuttle Causeway has lived in a public health travesty, without water or toilets or electrical service. They sleep in tents, shacks, the back seats of cars in the last realistic address in metropolitan Miami unaffected by city and county sex-offender residency laws. The numbers have been growing steadily as more convicted sex offenders emerge from prison and are consigned to finish out their wretched lives, living like apocalyptic trolls under a bridge. You could have found 52 men there as of March 27, 2009.

We live in a society of extremes and the treatment of sex offenders in our midst seems to display this dichotomy. Establishing regional halfway houses where sex offenders could be monitored and receive continuing therapy of some sort would appear to be a workable solution but the groups who clamor about this issue are infested with the kind of NAMBLA disease that marks so much of our political debate on these issues. Thomas Neuberger, the lawyer demonizing the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington is another who adds nothing to the dialogue or a solution.


A Tribute to Henri de Lubac by Avery Cardinal Dulles

October 21, 2009

Henri_de_LubacA few posts back I did a book recommendation on Henri de Lubac’s The Drama of Atheistic Humanism. I referred to it again in yesterdays post on Doestoevksy’s The Brothers Karamazov. It struck me that I really knew nothing about De Lubac at all, aside from the fact that he had been one of the key participants in Vatican II and a seminal Catholic Theologian. So I went digging and found this tribute written by Avery Cardinal Dulles that explained everything. Reading Selections follow:

Together Rahner, Lonergan, Murray, von Balthasar, Chenu and Congar, Henri de Lubac stood among the giants of the great theological revival that culminated in Vatican II (1962-65). His death on Sept. 4, 1991, leaves Yves Congar, O.P., ill and hospitalized, as the only surviving member of this brilliant Pteiade. (Congar died in 1995)

Early Background
Born in 1896, de Lubac entered the Society of Jesus in 1913. After serving in the army and being severely wounded in World War I, he studied for the Jesuit priesthood under excellent masters. During his studies he gained an enthusiasm for Thomas Aquinas, interpreted along the lines suggested by Blondel, Rousselot and Marechal. Without any specialized training or doctoral degree he was assigned to teach theology in the Catholic faculty at Lyons, where he taught, with some interruptions, from 1929 to 1961. There, and in his occasional courses at the neighboring Jesuit theologate at Fourviere (1935-40), de Lubac quickly began to forge new directions in fundamental theology and in comparative religion.

Catholicism (1938)
DeLubac’s first book, Catholicism (1938), was intended to bring out the singular unitive power of Catholic Christianity and its capacity to transcend all human divisions. Developing his interest in the fathers of the church, he founded in 1940, with his friend Jean Danielou, S. J., a remarkable collection of patristic texts and translations, Sources Chrétiennes (French “Christian sources”), which by now includes more than 300 volumes. During the Nazi occupation of France, he became coeditor of a series of Cahiers du Témoignage Chrétien (Christian witness notebooks).. In these papers and in his lectures, de Lubac strove particularly to exhibit the incompatibility between Christianity and the anti-Semitism that the Nazis were seeking to disseminate among French Catholics. On several occasions his friends had to spirit him away into hiding to prevent him from being captured and executed by the Gestapo, as happened to his close friend and colleague, Yves de Montcheuil, S.J.

Post War
After the war, de Lubac developed his theology in several directions. In an important study of medieval ecc1esiology, Corpus mysticum (completed in 1938 but not published until 1944), he demonstrated the inner bonds between the church and the Eucharist. To his mind, the individualism of modern Eucharistic piety was a step backward from the great tradition, which linked the Eucharist with the unity of the body of Christ. Seeking to stem the spread of Marxian atheism, he wrote on the intellectual roots of French and German atheistic socialism. He also composed several shorter works on the knowability of God and the problems of belief.

Surnallirel (1946)
DeLubac’s most famous work, Surnallirel (1946), maintains that the debate between the Baianists and the scholastics in the 17th century rested on misinterpretations both of Augustine and of Thomas Aquinas. Both parties to the debate, it maintains, were operating with philosophical and juridical categories foreign to ancient theology. Contemporary neoscholastics, especially in Southern France and Rome, taking offense at de Lubac’s attack on their methodology and their doctrine, interceded with the Holy See for a condemnation. When Pius XII published the encyclical Humani gcneris (1950), many believed that it contained a condemnation of de Lubac’s position, but de Lubac was relieved to find that the only sentence in the encyclical referring to the supernatural reproduced exactly what he himself had said in an article published two years before.

Seeking to deflect accusations against the Society of Jesuits in France, which was being accused of promoting a supposedly modernistic “new theology,” the Jesuit General, John Baptist Janssens, removed de Lubac and several colleagues from their teaching positions and required them to submit their writings to a special process of censorship. These regulations did not affect de Lubac’s work on Origen’s interpretation of Scripture, Histoire et Esprit, which came off the press in 1950, just as the storm was breaking. Because of the restrictions placed on his theological research, de Lubac in this period turned toward the study of non-Christian religions. He published three books on Buddhism, which interested him as an example of religion without God.

In 1953, during his “exile” in Paris, de Lubac published a popular work on the church constructed out of talks given at days of recollection before the war. (He was embarrassed by the triumphal sound of the title given to the English translation, The Splendor of the Church, as well as by suspicions in some quarters that his expressions of love and fidelity toward the church in this book were intended to atone for the offense given by his previous works.) Pained though he was by the widespread doubts about his own orthodoxy, de Lubac was even more distressed that some disaffected Catholics used his troubles as an occasion for mounting bitter attacks on the magisterium and the papacy.

The 1950′s
The clouds over de Lubac began to dissipate in the late 1950’s. In 1956 he was permitted to return to Lyons, where he began research for his major study of medieval exegesis, which was to appear in four large volumes between 1959 and 1964. In 1960 Jesuit superiors, fearing that the works of Teilhard de Chardin were about to be condemned by Roman authorities, asked de Lubac to write in defense of his old friend, who had died in 1955. Beginning in 1962, de Lubac published a series of theological works on Teilhard and edited several volumes of Teilhard’s correspondence. Probably more than any other individual, de Lubac was responsible for warding off the impending condemnation.

Career in Vatican
In 1960 Pope John XXIII, who, as papal nuncio in France, had gained an admiration for de Lubac, appointed him a consultant for the preparatory phase of Vatican II. As a consultant, he found much to criticize in the schemas prepared by the neoscholastic Roman theologians. These schemas, which contained statements intended to condemn both him and Teihard de Chardin, were rejected when the council fathers assembled. De Lubac continued to serve as an expert (peritus) at the council, making his influence felt on many documents such as the Constitution on Divine Revelation and the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World. Some of his ideas are reflected also in the Decree on the Church’s Missionary Activity and in the Declaration on the Non-Christian Religions. ­

Greatly esteemed by Pope Paul VI, de Lubac was one of the 11 council theologians chosen to concelebrate with him at the Eucharist preceding the solemn promulgation of the Constitution on Revelation in November 1965. (During the council de Lubac established a close working relationship with Cardinal Karol Wojtyla, who as John Paul II was to elevate him to the rank of cardinal in 1983.)

For several years after 1965, de Lubac traveled widely to explain the achievements of the council. He visited the United States and Latin America, as well as many parts of Europe. He published an important commentary on the Constitution on Revelation, and in other writings sought to clarify the relationships between primacy and collegiality, and between the universal and the particular church. Perceiving the advent of a new crisis of faith, he wrote La foi chretienne and L’Eglise dans la crise actuelle (both 1969). His preoccupations with the present state of the church, however, did not prevent him from continuing his studies in the history of theology, such as his work on Pico dell a Mirandola (1974) and on the spiritual posterity of Joachim of Fiore (2 volumes, 1979, 1981).

His Work
By his own admission, de Lubac was not a systematic thinker. He never tried to articulate any set of first principles on which to base his philosophical or theological findings. Many of his books are composed of historical studies loosely linked together. Although he made forays into many areas, he never composed a treatise on any of the standard theological disciplines. In his last work, an autobiographical reflection published in 1989, he chided himself for having failed to undertake the major work on Christology that he had once projected.

For all that, de Lubac’s work possesses a remarkable inner coherence. As his friend and disciple Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out, de Lubac’s first book, Catholicism, is programmatic for his entire career. The various chapters are like limbs that would later grow in different directions from the same trunk. The title of this youthful work expresses the overarching intuition. To be Catholic, for de Lubac, is to exclude nothing; it is to be complete and comprehensive. He sees God’s creative and redemptive plan as including all humanity and indeed the entire cosmos. For this reason the plan demands a unified center and a goal.

That center is the mystery of Christ, which will be complete and plainly visible at the end of time. The universal outreach of the church rests on its inner plenitude as the body of Christ. Catholicity is thus intensive as well as extensive. The church, even though small, was already Catholic at Pentecost. Its task is to achieve, in fact, the universality that it has always had in principle. Embodying unity in diversity, Catholicism seeks to purify and elevate all that is good and human.

His Love of Patristic and Early Medieval Writers
In the patristic and early medieval writers de Lubac found an authentic sense of Catholicism. He labored to retrieve for our day the insights of Irenaeus and Origen, Augustine and Anselm, Bernard and Bonaventure. He remained a devoted disciple of Thomas Aquinas, whom he preferred to contemplate in continuity with his predecessors rather than as interpreted by his successors.

In de Lubac’s eyes, a serious failure occurred in early modern times, and indeed to some extent in the late middle ages. This was the breakdown of the Catholic whole into separate parts and supposedly autonomous disciplines. Exegesis became separated from dogmatic theology, dogmatic theology from moral, and moral from mystical. Worse yet, reason was separated from faith, with the disastrous result that faith came to be considered a matter of feeling rather than intelligence.

His Most Controversial Act
One step in this process of fragmentation, for de Lubac, was the erection of an order of “pure nature” in the scholasticism of the Counter Reformation. The most controversial act of de Lubac’s career may have been his attack on Cajetan and Suarez for their view that human nature could exist with a purely natural finality. For de Lubac, the paradox of a natural desire for the supernatural was built into the very concept of the human.

De Lubac was convinced that the newness of Christ was both a fulfillment and a gift. Somewhat as nature was a preparation for grace, while grace remained an unmerited gift, so the Old Testament foreshadowed the New, without however necessitating the Incarnation. In his exegesis, de Lubac sought to show how the New Testament gave the key to the right interpretation of the Old Testament, which it fulfilled in a surpassing manner.

De Lubac’s exegesis has often been depicted as anticritical or precritical, but it was neither. It might with greater justice be called, in Michael Polanyi’s terminology, postcritical. De Lubac practiced what Paul Ricoeur was to call a “second naivete.” After having studied the literal sense of Scripture with the tools of modern scholarship, he returned to the symbolic depths of meaning with full awareness that these depths go beyond the literal. The “spiritual” meaning transcends, but does not negate, the “historical.”

Understanding His Theology
At the root of de Lubac’s theology stands an epistemology that accepts paradox and mystery. Influenced by Newman and Blondel, Rousselot and Marechal, he interpreted human knowing as an aspect of the dynamism of the human spirit in its limitless quest for being. Without this antecedent dynamism toward the transcendent, the mind could form no concepts and arguments. Concepts and arguments, however, arise at a second stage of human knowing and are never adequate to the understanding they attempt to articulate. In every affirmation we necessarily use concepts, but our meaning goes beyond them.

De Lubac And Vatican II
De Lubac was satisfied that Vatican II had overcome the narrowness of modern scholasticism, with its rationalistic tendencies. The council, he believed, had opened the way for a recovery of the true and ancient tradition in all its ple.nitude and variety. But Catholics in France, and indeed in many parts of the world, having imbibed too narrow a concept of tradition, took the demise of neoscholasticism as the collapse of tradition itself. In postconciliar Catholicism de Lubac perceived a self-destructive tendency to separate the spirit of the council from its letter and to “go beyond” the council without having first assimilated its teaching. The turmoil of the postconciliar period seemed to de Lubac to emanate from a spirit of worldly contention quite opposed to the Gospel.

For his part, de Lubac had no desire to innovate. He considered that the fullness was already given in Christ and that the riches of Scripture and tradition had only to be actualized for our own day. In a reflection on his own achievement he wrote: “Without pretending to open up new avenues of thought, I have rather sought, without any archaism, to make known some of the great common sources of Catholic tradition. I wanted to make it loved and to show its ever-abiding fruitfulness. Any such task required a process of reading across the centuries rather than critical application at definite points. It excluded too privileged an attachment to any particular school, system or period” (Memoire sur l’occasion de mes ecrits).

Neither Liberal Nor Conservative
Terms such as “liberal” and “conservative” are ill suited to describe theologians such as de Lubac. If such terminology must be used, one would have to say that he embraced both alternatives. He was liberal because he opposed any narrowing of the Catholic tradition, even at the hands of the disciples of St. Thomas. He sought to rehabilitate marginal thinkers, such as Origen, Pico delia Mirandola and Blondel, in whom he found kindred spirits animated by an adventurous Catholicity of the mind. He reached out to the atheist Proudhon and sought to build bridges to Amida Buddhism.

But in all of these ventures he remained staunchly committed to the Catholic tradition in its purity and plenitude. He humbly and gratefully accepted what the tradition had to offer and made it come alive through his eloquent prose and his keen sense of contemporary actualities. His eminent success in enkindling love for Christ and the church in the hearts of his readers stemmed, no doubt, from his own devotion, humility and selfless desire to serve. The suffering of his long years of adversity, including two world wars and decades of great tension in the church, are still bearing fruit. In the last few years, as his earthly life drew to a close, his disciples and admirers became more numerous and influential. De Lubac’s creative reappropriation of the ancient tradition has earned him a place of honor in a generation of theological giants.


The Grand Inquisitor: Reading Dostoevksy

October 20, 2009
Brothers Karamazov

Smerdjakov: You're different from all of them. I could see that the first minute you arrived yesterday. Intelligence, audacity, cleverness...

Henri de Lubac has written of the art of Dostoevsky in The Drama of Atheistic Humanism that “We all have in ourselves our natures, our temperaments, our characters, containing elements many of which we proscribe, some of which we ratify and some of which we have to endure. There are characteristics which we have inherited and those which we have made for ourselves.

There are the things we hide from ourselves, and the things for which we yearn without possessing them, but which are a molding influence because they attract us. How many simplistic, would be profound explanations there are about it all. We are apt to forget that the life of the conscience cannot be grasped objectively and it is assumed that complete sincerity excludes any other effort than the courage to read ourselves. Moreover, these simplistic explanations, which take themselves for the last word in psychology and ethics, lead to absurd conclusions: the possibilities which swarm in us, more or less preformed, are varied, and contradictory: must we, to be sincere, put them all into practice?

And will sincerity also demand that we never think, except in accordance with what we are? Or might it occasionally consist unrecognizing that what we are is not in accordance with what we think?”

de Lubac concludes that “Dostoevsky is the prophet of the other life…[His truth] bears no resemblance to a positivist truth…it sets itself against any attempt on the part of man to establish an eternal life in this world; its purpose is not to leave him weighed down by a miserable lot. It is to reclaim him from a path that leads nowhere. He is the prophet of unity, which presupposes a breach to be healed; the prophet of a resurrection, which presupposes experience of death.” No where in perhaps his most Christian novel, The Brothers Karamazov, does Dostoevsky explore the mind of the atheist in Ivan Karamazov and in the legend of “The Grand Inquisitor” which is a function of his character.

As a teenager reading Dostoevsky in the 1960’s I totally misread The Brothers Karamazov and came away from it confirmed in my distrust of the whole Christian project. I still remember it to this day. In many ways I thought Ivan had it right. I admired him.

It seems I wasn’t alone in this either. Victor Terras in his seminal work “Reading Dostoevsky” (recommended by Fr. Richard John Neuhaus) deals with the legend of the Grand Inquisitor at length. Here is a reading selection from that book, which demonstrates the genius of Dostoevsky and this rich, deeply Christian novel. I offer it also has a further critique of the diabolists among us, who feature many of Ivan’s faults.

Chapters IV and V of Book Five of The Brothers Karamazov have received a disproportionate amount of critical attention. To those opposed to Dostoevsky’s idea, they have been the most worthwhile aspect of the novel; to those who are willing to accept The Brothers Karamazov as a Christian novel, they have been a serious stumbling block. M. A. Antonovich said that “the poem ‘The Grand Inquisitor’ provides the only poetic pages in the whole novel.

The legend of “The Grand Inquisitor” has been read not as an integral part of the novel, but as an independent text. In fact, the position of the Legend in the structural configuration of the novel is complex. It has a contrapuntal relationship with a number of specific scenes in the novel, and specific phrases and images of the Legend are echoed in phrases and images throughout the novel. In many instances a phrase in the Legend will sound familiar, and there are cases of mirroring in the opposite direction as well. For example, when Ivan suggests that the Grand Inquisitor “has joined . . . the clever people,” one immediately thinks of Fiodor Pavlovich’s words when he declares himself a member of that group of “clever people sitting snug and enjoying their brandy.” In both instances “clever people” (urnnye liudi) means “people who have discovered that there is no God” and are using this knowledge to their advantage. In the other direction, the phrase, of course, belongs to Smerdiakov: it appears in the heading of Chapter VII of Book Five.

First and foremost, the Legend is a function of the character of Ivan Karamazov. As such it is an expression of Ivan’s particular version of atheism, distinct from the atheism of Fiodor Paviovich, Miusov, Rakitin, and Smerdiakov. The Legend’s most important contrapuntal relationships are with chapters and passages belonging to Ivan: his synopsis of his article on Church and state in Book Two, the chapter preceding “The Grand Inquisitor,” and Ivan’s interview with the Devil.

It was Dostoevsky’s professed intent to present Ivan’s ideas merely in order to refute and to discredit them. In the process, he destroys Ivan Karamazov as a man and intellect by introducing a cleverly disguised subtext of derogatory detail. Ivan gets a proper buildup for his role: his precocious maturity, his intellectual brilliance, his early self-reliance and independence, are established even before we hear his voice. From the outset, all the positive things we hear about Ivan are undercut by a strategy that will become clear, even to the attentive reader, only much later. His intellectual ability is presented as unquestioned, but with a hint that it may be overestimated; his proud independence as praiseworthy, yet less admirable than Aliosha’s humble way of accepting as well as giving kindness; his early fame as undoubted, but limited to narrow intellectual circles.

When we first hear Ivan’s voice, it fully lives up to earlier advertisements: his synopsis of his controversial article makes a good impression. It takes an observer of Zosima’s intuition to sense the dissonance under the smooth surface of Ivan’s balanced presentation. At the conclusion of Book Two, the annoying but harmless Maksimov boards the Karamazov carriage at Fiodor Pavlovich’s invitation. Ivan angrily pushes him off: a seemingly trivial incident that the reader is apt to forget. But it starts a pattern.

Over a glass of brandy, Ivan’s few words and actions seem well controlled — until the ugly outburst: “One viper will devour the other, and good riddance!” Ivans smooths over the disturbance by suggesting that this was only a wish, and “as for my wishes, I reserve myself full latitude.” Ironically, it is from this point on that Ivan begins to lose precisely what he defends so energetically: his “latitude” as a free individual. From here on, there will be more and more hints that Ivan’s behavior is compulsive and that he is losing control of himself. In chapter v of Book Four, the scene with Katerina Ivanovna, he puts up a bold front, but we know that he will not be able to tear himself away from her.

Book Five shows Ivan at the summit of his role. His rebellion against God’s world is fervently eloquent. His rejection of a God who allows innocent children to suffer has the ring of inspired invective. Ivan speaks like a prosecutor who is convinced of the guilt of the accused. He cheats a bit when he generously declares that he will limit his argument to the sufferings of children: “This will reduce the range of my argumentation about tenfold, but let it be about children only. It is so much less to my advantage, of course.”. One feels that the speaker’s loathing of the child abusers is stronger than his compassion for their victims, but this hardly reduces the power of his argument. The truth is, of course, that Ivan advances only his strongest evidence, leaving the more dubious aside. One has to read between the lines to realize how Dostoevsky undermines Ivan’s position, as in this example:

“And so they dragged Richard, all covered with his brothers’ kisses, up on the scaffold, put him on the guillotine, and in good brotherly fashion zapped off his head after all, on account of God’s grace having descended upon him, too.”

Dostoevsky does not have to say that Ivan, obsessed by his hatred of God’s world and moved by his contempt for the pious citizens of Geneva, is blind to the obvious fact that God’s grace had indeed descended upon the hapless Richard, who died in a state of grace.

At the end of the “Revolt” chapter, Aliosha advances the antithesis to Ivan’s charges: the image and example of Christ. Ivan has anticipated this response and has prepared his counterargument: “The Grand Inquisitor.” While the refutation of “Revolt” is left largely to later portions of the novel, the refutation of “The Grand Inquisitor” is largely implicit in the very ideas, structure, and style of the Legend as Ivan tells it. “The Grand Inquisitor” is an intricate web in which the unwary are caught all too easily — and Ivan is himself the first victim of Dostoevsky’s stratagems. Dostoevsky once said:

In an artistic presentation, idea and intent manifest themselves firmly, clearly, and comprehensibly. And whatever is clear and comprehensible is of course despised by the crowd. It is quite a different thing with something that is involved and makes no sense, Why, “we don’t understand this, and hence it must be profound.” (Notebooks 1876 — 77, p. 610)

“The Grand Inquisitor” is composed according to this recipe: intricate, abstruse, and difficult to make sense of. However, Dostoevsky has taken care that a sensitive and attentive reader can see through Ivan’s fabrication. He allows Ivan to build what appears to be an impressive argument that is, nevertheless, undermined and eventually destroyed by a counterpoint of false notes, dissonances, insinuations, and inadvertent revelations.

Ivan calls his piece a poem, but it is poetic only in those few passages that deal directly with Christ; the rest is rhetoric, in much the same style as the preceding chapter. Ivan juxtaposes his poem to the medieval Legend of the Virgin’s Descent to Hell, of which he tells Aliosha with somewhat supercilious admiration. In the Virgin’s forgiveness of the murderers and tormentors of her son is given a first response to Ivan’s “Revolt.” At the same time, the recollection of the genuine legend helps the reader to expose Ivan’s pseudo-legend for what it is: “A silly poem by a silly student who never wrote two lines of poetry in his life.”

The melodramatic appearance of the Grand Inquisitor, “tall and erect, with an emaciated face and sunken eyes, in which there gleams, however, a brilliance, like a fiery spark,” shows up the unreal quality of this figure  – one need only compare it with Father Zosima’s modest and unassuming presence. Later, in Ivan’s nightmare, the Devil will make fun of Ivan’s penchant for romantic lamour. Anyway, the relationship between Ivan and his creation, the Grand Inquisitor, soon turns into one of romantic irony, as Ivan will alternately identify with the Grand Inquisitor and then detach himself from him and present him as a vehicle of his own ideas. He thus deprives his creation of its authoritative voice and its integrity, making it sound self-conscious, overly emphatic, defensive, and even shrill. The Grand Inquisitor’s arguments, recognizably Ivan’s own, are advanced intermittently and intertwiningly on several different levels.

On an anthropological level, the notion is advanced that there are two kinds, of men: the superior few and the inferior many. The ideal condition for humanity is that the inferior be ruled by the superior. On a metaphysical level, it is established that there is no God. Therefore man is free. However, only the superior few know this. Inferior men have a need to believe in a higher power and are anxious to relinquish their freedom at the earliest occasion. The superior will oblige and rule them. [This is so true of our present diabolists as well: the preening of intellect is a singular identifying feature.]

On a hermeneutic level, Christ’s temptation by the Devil is reinterpreted as a fatal mistake on the part of Christ, who misjudged human nature when He extended the privileges of superior men to all humans. Meanwhile, on a historical level, the Church has long since decided that Christ was wrong and the Devil right — and has acted accordingly. Finally, on an apocalyptic level, a terrible age of persecution of the Church by the frankly godless is predicted. But humanity’s attempt to erect this second tower of Babel will fail, and mankind will return to the Church, which will then establish its own utopia on earth, based on miracle, mystery, and authority. The elect will know that these foundations of their rule are fraudulent, but they will bear the burden of this knowledge to make the masses of inferior humans happy.

Although these ideas are presented with great fervor, inserted into each and every one of them are details that will undermine and explode them. Ivan’s anthropology is vitiated by the fact that it is self-serving, for he counts himself among the “clever people.” The Grand Inquisitor has done nothing for suffering humanity. How is one to believe in a love for mankind whose only expression that we have been told of is the burning of numerous heretics?

On a metaphysical level, Ivan is quite unaware of the words he himself said only minutes earlier: in the Virgin’s descent to Hell, mention is made of certain sinners “whom God forgets.” Ivan calls this “an expression of extraordinary depth and force.” Could he be one of these sinners? Ivan credits himself, through the Grand Inquisitor, with a love of freedom, yet denounces similar feelings in others as a “mutiny” of “schoolboys”  – while Aliosha’s word “mutiny,” applied to Ivan, still rings in his ears, and while Ivan refers to himself as “only a student.”

The Grand Inquisitor will not allow Christ to add an iota to what is said in Scriptures, “lest He deprive men of their freedom,” yet he is himself engaged in a conspiracy to do just that. Moreover, the Grand Inquisitor lets us know, inadvertently, that without God there is no real miracle, no real mystery, and no real authority, only a false promise and a false pretense of such. For if Christ had only made a move toward the edge of the tower, He would have naturally fallen to His death . So the Grand Inquisitor denies miracle, mystery, and authority, substituting for them magic, deception, and tyranny. The whole secret of the Grand Inquisitor, says Aliosha, is that he does not believe in God. In Ivan’s interview with the Devil, we shall learn that such unbelief comes from weakness, not from strength.

The very words that introduce the Devil ought to be enough to put the reader on guard: “The awesome and wise spirit, the spirit of self-destruction and nonbeing.” Who wants any part of self-destruction and non-being? When the Grand Inquisitor advertises the Devil’s temptation of Christ as something that “all the wisdom of the world could not equal in power and profundity,” it must become clear to any reader who is not blind to the drift of Dostoevsky’s argument that it leads ad absurda. Obviously there is nothing profound about the Devil’s suggestions, for all three have occurred to everybody in one form or another. The wise man knows that the Devil, or any disciple of his, has not the power to fulfill his promises and that his disciples will likewise have to depend on fraud.

Ivan’s claim that the Church has been for centuries in the hands of men like his Grand Inquisitor is based on mere speculation, as Ivan admits. Aliosha indignantly rejects the assertion, even for the Catholic Church as a whole. Still, this might be one of Ivan’s stronger points. Dostoevsky makes sure it remains a marginal one. Ivan’s apocalyptic vision has him use the Book of Revelation to the extent that it suits his purposes. He predicts the collapse of the godless materialist utopia of “the Beast,” following Revelation 17:5, but ignores the exposure and disgrace of the Great Harlot. Ivan perverts the Book of Revelation, much as he perverts every other source he uses in “The Grand Inquisitor” (the Gospel, the Legend of the Virgin’s Descent to Hell, Tiutchev, Pushkin).

All these details in the subtext of “The Grand Inquisitor” are not easily detected, but an attentive reader will catch enough along the way. Even a less careful reader will be impressed by a basic emotive undercurrent that is present in “The Grand Inquisitor” from beginning to end: the weak, lowly, wretched masses of humanity and the wise and mighty few. A steady stream of abuse is heaped upon the former, a steady flow of self-congratulatory adulation descends on the latter. The former are ultimately reduced to so much “cattle” and “geese,” while the latter become “gods,”, implying, “And whosoever shall exalt himself, shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:12).

The physical details of the Grand Inquisitor’s utopia are made to be very much like those of any socialist materialist utopia. The difference is that the socialist utopia is based on faith in a rational effort of an enlightened mankind (Rakitin’s statement), while the Grand Inquisitor’s utopia is produced by an elite for the benefit of the ignorant masses and involves a sham religion:

“Receiving bread from us, they will of course see clearly that we take the bread made by their hands from them? to give it to them, without any miracle. They will see that we do not change any stones to bread, but in truth they will be more thankful for taking it from our hands than for the bread itself!”

The suggestion that the Grand Inquisitor’s utopia could survive after the socialist utopia has failed seems unconvincing. In competition with Rakitin’s theory, Ivan’s suffers the same fate as does his personal career: by discrediting Rakitin, he discredits himself.

When Ivan finally declares that even Christ “turned back and joined… the clever people,” he forgets that only the day before Fiodor Pavlovich had declared himself to be precisely one of those “clever people” who have discovered that there is no God and take advantage of this circumstance. Soon Ivan will be welcomed to the circle of “clever people” by none other than the lackey Smerdiakov. In the chapters following “The Grand Inquisitor,” Ivan keeps saying and doing things he did not mean to do or say. The reader suspects that he acts under a subconscious compulsion and that this compulsion is somehow linked with the person of Smerdiakov.

This pattern becomes quite pronounced in Book Eleven. We see clear indications of a split personality, as Ivan’s conscious mind frantically tries to suppress the thought of Smerdiakov’s and his own guilt, a thought that must be deeply implanted in Ivan’s subconscious. Again, this is not made explicit, but must be gathered from between the lines. In Ivan’s interview with the Devil, foreshadowed by earlier hints about a mysterious visitor, the disintegration of Ivan’s personality becomes explicit and complete. From here on he is a raving madman, My point is that this pitiful condition of the once proud and self-assured atheist has been set up by an extensive subtext.

Furthermore, “an emotional atmosphere is prepared for what will be brought forth in the next book (The Russian Monk),” as A. S. Dolinin has observed. If there is anything else that will strike the reader even without a careful scrutiny of the text, it is that freedom is an important and a precious thing. The Grand Inquisitor protests too loudly that men do not care for their freedom and will gladly hand it over to the elect few. By protesting too much, the Grand Inquisitor plants in the reader’s mind the idea that freedom is, in spite of everything, man’s greatest good. The opposite idea, that bread is the greatest good, is presented wrily, without much enthusiasm, and as even V. V. Rozanov observed, is soon undermined: the Grand Inquisitor admits that man will abandon “even his bread and follow him who will seduce his conscience.”

Here the Grand Inquisitor’s argument is truly balanced on a razor’s edge. He admits the power of man’s conscience only in a negative way (it may be seduced — prel’stit’), but he leaves the door open to a positive restatement: a man will abandon even his livelihood and follow Him who will win his conscience, Jesus Christ.

The major characters of The Brothers Karamazov are all theologians of sorts, not excluding even Fiodor Pavlovich and Smerdiakov. Those theologians who side with the Devil proclaim, in one way or another, that “all things are lawful,” a quotation from 1 Corinthians 6:12. Those who are with God have several leitmotifs, all of which appear as a subtext more often than they are stated explicitly. The epigraph of the novel (John 12:24), quoted several times in the text, appears between the lines even more often. Father Zosima’s oft-repeated principle of universal guilt and responsibility, and his joyous affirmation of life, likewise appear as a subtext throughout the novel, with many passages gravitating toward Father Zosima’s words.

The theme of fatherhood and sonhood, clearly of focal importance, appears largely as a subtext related to biblical passages (Matt. 18:3,19:14). The text of the novel features the sufferings of innocent children as the argument against God’s fatherhood. But a concurrent subtext tells the reader that all men are really children: the vigorous and violent Dmitry is childlike, and even the old lecher Fiodor Pavlovich appears “like a child” to his murderer at the moment of his death.

The presence of the Devil as a subtext, first pointed out by Robert Belknap, is reinforced by recurrent explicit references to Hell. Ivan Karamazov’s behavior becomes understandable once one is aware of the Devil’s presence. The fact that Ivan often uses the Devil’s name in vain thus becomes meaningful, as do such details as Ivan’s asking, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the words of Cain.

Other characters who are in the Devil’s clutches are likewise markeed by diabolic references. Fiodor Pavlovich jokes about devils who drag sinners down to hell with hooks: little does he know that the Devil’s hooks already have a firm grip on him. It is significant that he puts his trust in Smerdiakov. Fiodor Paviovich also declares to Father Zosima that he is possessed by a demon — “one of small caliber, to be sure.”

Smerdiakov is the Devil’s disciple all along, even as a child. He enacts black rites; he is the tempter not only of Ivan and Dmitry, but also of little Iliusha. He lures Dmitry into a deadly trap, and even Fiodor Paviovich is a pitiful figure as Smerdiakov uses the old man’s lust for Grushenka to manipulate him. In the end there are some strong hints — note that all this is between the lines   – that Smerdiakov may be himself the Devil. At his last interview with Ivan, he appears to the latter more like a phantom than a human being- When he begins to roll down his stocking to pull out the bundle of banknotes, Ivan is paralyzed by fear: we are not told of what. Is it fear of the cloven hoof that will show under the stocking? When the Devil finally appears in person, we will learn that he arrived precisely one minute after Smerdiakov hanged himself. No connection between these two events is indicated, but the reader cannot help sensing one. Smerdiakov remains present through Book Twelve: we hear his voice in the background of Ippolit Kirillovich’s reconstruction of the murder, a circumstance that Fetiukovich registers. Ippolit Kirillovich, who believes that he is honestly performing his duty as attorney for the people, is in effect doing the Devil’s bidding.

The workings of the Devil may be traced in many other scenes throughout the novel. In particular, scenes involving Father Ferapont, Rakitin, and Maksimov offer ample material. It is certainly significant that the Devil is not absent from the world of children either: Liza Khokhlakova and Kolia Krasotkin are both in grave danger, she because she is already tainted, and he because he is clearly a double of Ivan Karamazov. Could this be a part of Dostoevsky’s strategy to diffuse the power of Ivan Karamazov’s charge that God allows innocent children to suffer?

Needless to say, the above are only some of the instances in which the positions of the novel’s characters are expressed in terms of a subtext based on religious beliefs or, more directly, in terms of biblical quotations or allusions to sacred texts. The repeated mention of the Book of Job suggests that The Brothers Karamazov is no more and no less than a modern version of the Old Testament theodicy. The temptation of Christ in the desert appears as a subtext throughout the novel, starting with Book One, where a good deal of attention is devoted to the question of “faith” and “miracle.” As Ellis Sandoz has pointed out, the ultimate frame of reference of the Grand Inquisitor chapter and its many echoes throughout the novel is 2 Thessalonians 2:6-12 [“And you know what is now restraining him, so that he may be revealed when his time comes. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will destroy with the breath of his mouth, annihilating him by the manifestation of his coming. he coming of the lawless one is apparent in the working of Satan, who uses all power, signs, lying wonders, and every kind of wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion, leading them to believe what is false, so that all who have not believed the truth but took pleasure in unrighteousness will be condemned.”], St. Paul’s prophecy of the coming of the Antichrist.


Highest Duty: A Search for What Really Matters

October 19, 2009

flight-1549Last Jan. 15th US Airways Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger and his and First Officer Jeff Skiles executed an emergency landing later dubbed “The Miracle on the Hudson,” after their flight had been struck by birds en route from New York to Charlotte, N.C.and lost both engines. In his many public appearances since then Capt. Sullenberger has proven to be a cerebral man who carefully chooses his words. In his new book, “Highest Duty: My Search for What Really Matters” Sully, as he is affectionately referred to, has spent a great deal of time reviewing his life and career trying to understand what experiences from his past prepared him for the five minutes of white knuckled crisis that was flight 1549. It is a revealing and surprising look at the man and God’s providence in preparing him for that trial.

This past week the Wall Street Journal featured a review written by the man who co-authored the writing of the book. Here are some selections from it:

His Youth
He was born in Denison, Texas, the son of a dentist and a teacher who had high expectations. “I grew up in a home where each of us had our own hammer,” says Sully. That was because his dad kept enlarging the family home with the help of three not-always-willing assistants: Sully, his sister and his mom. “The goal was to do everything ourselves, to earn what we didn’t know and then have at it,” Sully says. The house wasn’t perfect, but Sully knew where every nail was.

‘Sometimes I’d brood, wishing we lived in a professionally built house like everyone else,” he says. “But each time the house grew, I felt a sense of accomplishment.”

As a boy, Sully was a classic introvert who felt things deeply. In 1964, for instance, he saw news reports about a New York woman named Kitty Genovese. Her neighbors heard her screams as she was being stabbed to death by a stranger )utside her apartment. Allegedly, they did nothing to help.

“I made a pledge to myself, right then at age 13,” Sully recalls, “that if I was ever in a situation where someone such as Kitty Genovese needed my help, I would choose to act. No one in danger would be abandoned. As they’d say in the Navy: ‘Not on my watch.’”

His Father
People tell Sully that his success on Jan. 15 showed a high regard for life. Their words led him to reflection. “Quite frankly,” he says, “one of the reasons I think I’ve placed such a high value on life is that my father took his.”

Suffering from depression, Sully’s father killed himself in 1995. “His death had an effect on how I view the world,” he says. “I am willing to work hard to protect people’s lives, to not be a bystander, in part because I couldn’t save my father.”

Learning To Fly
He first yearned to fly at age five. At 16, in 1967, he began taking lessons from a no-nonsense crop-dusting pilot named L.T. Cook Jr.

Sully was an earnest, hard-working student who paid close attention. One day he noticed a crumpled Piper Tn-Pacer at the end of Mr. Cook’s grass airstrip. A friend of Mr. Cook’s had tried to land the plane and didn’t realize that power lines stretched across a nearby highway. The plane slammed into the ground nose first. The pilot died instantly.

Sully peered into the blood-splattered cockpit. “I figured his head must have hit the control panel with great violence,” he says. “I tried to visualize how it happened — his effort to avoid the power lines, his loss of speed, the awful impact. I forced myself to look into the cockpit, to study it. It would have been easier to look away, but I didn’t.”

That sobering moment taught Sully to be vigilant and alert. For a pilot, one simple mistake could mean death.

He went on to the U.S. Air Force Academy, then a military career, and continued to study accidents. Twelve fellow military pilots died on training runs. “I grieved for my lost comrades,” he says, “but I tried to learn all I could about each of their accidents.”

As an airline pilot, he helped develop an air-safety course and served as an investigator at crash sites. He’d page through transcripts from cockpit voice recorders, with the last exchanges of pilots who didn’t survive.

Influence of Charles Lindbergh
Since childhood, Sully has been fascinated by Charles Lindbergh. In “We,” Lindbergh’s 1927 book, he explained that his success was due almost entirely to preparation, not luck. “Prepared Lindy” wouldn’t have had the same magic as his nickname “Lucky Lindy,” but his views resonated with Sully.

One aspect of preparing well is having the right mindset, he says. “In so many areas of life, you need to be a long-term optimist but a short-term realist. That’s especially true given the inherent dangers in aviation. You can’t be a wishful thinker. You have to know what you know and don’t know, and what your airplane can and can’t do in every situation.”

Sully has always kept in mind the air-crew ejection study he learned about in his military days. Many pilots waited too long before ejecting from planes that were about to crash, they either ejected at too low an altitude, hitting the ground before their parachutes could open, or they went down with their planes.

Why did these pilots spend extra seconds trying to fix the unfixable? The answer is that many feared retribution if they lost million-dollar jets. And so they remained determined to try to save their airplanes.

Sully says he has never shaken his memories of fellow Air Force pilots who didn’t survive such attempts. Having those details in the recesses of his brain was helpful as he made quick decisions on flight 1549. “As soon as the birds struck,” he says, “I could have tried to return to LaGuardia so as not to ruin a US Airways aircraft. I could have worried that my decision to ditch the plane would be questioned by superiors or investigators. But I chose not to.”

Sully values the concept of “goal sacrificing.” When it’s no longer possible to complete all your goals, you sacrifice lower-priority goals. He instinctively knew that goal-sacrificing was paramount on Flight 1549. “By attempting a water landing,” he says, “I would sacrifice the ‘airplane goal — trying not to destroy an aircraft valued at $60 million — for the goal of saving lives.

Able to compartmentalize his thinking, even in those dire moments over the Hudson, Sully says his family did not come into his head. “That was for the best. It was vital that I be focused; that I allow myself no distractions. My consciousness existed solely to control the flight path.”

Performing At Our Best
“I am now the public face of an unexpectedly uplifting moment,” Sully says, and he accepts that. Still, he’s not comfortable with the “hero mantle. A hero runs into a burning building, he says. “Flight 1549 was different because it was thrust upon me and my crew. We turned to our training, we made good decisions, we didn’t give up, we valued every life on that plane — and we had a good outcome. I don’t know that ‘heroic’ describes that. It’s more that we had a philosophy of life, and we applied it to the things we did that day.”

Sully has heard from people who say preparation and diligence are not the same as heroism. He agrees.

One letter that was particularly touching to Sully came from Paul Mellen of Medford, Mass. “I see a hero as electing to enter a dangerous situation for a higher purpose,” he wrote, “and you were not given a choice. That is not to say you are not a man of virtue, but I see your virtue arising from your choices at other times. It’s clear that many choices in your life prepared you for that moment when your engines failed.

“There are people among us who are ethical, responsible and diligent. I hope your story encourages those who toil in obscurity to know that their reward is simple — they will be ready if the test comes. I hope your story encourages others to imitation.”

Sully now sees lessons for the rest of us. “We need to try to do the right thing every time, to perform at our best,” he says, “because we never know what moment in our lives we’ll be judged on.”

He always had a sense of this. Now he knows it for sure.

There is nothing in this review that indicates that Capt. Sullenberger views the events that transpired on Flight 1549 as other than worldly, no mention of luck, for example, which often functions as the secular equivalent of divine providence. However when I read the review I kept thinking of a short video I have on Paying Attention To The Sky where Fr. Robert Barron makes some short comments following a speech by George Weigel. He salutes Weigel on magnificent biography of John Paul II and says he was deeply moved by it. His favorite section of that biography dealt with the young manhood of Karol Wojtyła. Wojtyła went to the Jagiellonian University in September of 1939. — the very same moment that the Nazi’s arrived in Poland. Very quickly Polish society became incapacitated, if not utterly decapitated. Many of the professors of Karol Wojtyła were killed outright or sent to camps.

“What did he do?”asks Barron. He answers: “During that terrible time he went underground. With a few friends from the Rhapsodic Theater he would gather behind closed and locked doors reading texts of Polish literature, often by flashlight. Many who were on their way to those meetings or going home from them were arrested, some killed by the Germans.”

Barron poses the question again: “What was he doing, Wojtyła and his friends?” And replies: “They were preserving more than Polish literature. Because ingredient in that literature were all the ideas that George Weigel was just speaking of. Ingredient in all that great literature was the Catholic imagination. During those terrible years Karol Wojtyła hunkered down and with his friends he preserved it. In 1945 the Nazis were expelled and they were replaced by only a slightly less repressive Communist presence. During those terrible years what did Karol Wojtyła do? He hunkered down and with many of his young friends and colleagues whom he trained in Catholic spirituality in Catholic literature in Catholic theology in the formation of a Catholic mentality and culture.”

And then of course as we know through God’s amazing Grace that beleaguered young man became the Pope and at the propitious moment at a very dark time in Polish history again he returned and this time with the full power of the papacy behind him he unleashed the life he had preserved during those terrible years. He unleashed these young people whom he had formed who were now leaders in society — editors and teachers and business leaders — and with full force and authority he sent them out. And, as we know, it transfigured Polish society — it transfigured the world. 

The biblical image that Barron calls to mind is Noah’s ark. “During that terrible time when human sin had overwhelmed the human project, God preserved Noah and his family and a remnant of his creation on the ark, carefully preserving a microcosm of what God desired. But that life was not meant to hunker down behind the walls of that ark. At the propitious moment when the waters had receded Noah opened the windows and he opened the doors and let that life out. That is precisely what Karol Wojtyla did.”

 That is precisely the dual call of the Catholic church claims Barron. The culture will always be to a greater or lesser extent hostile to the Church’s project. And therefore we Catholics will always be called upon to in some degree to hunker down and to preserve a form of life, whereever that happens for us, above all in the liturgy, the source and summit of the Christian life.

At this point Fr. Barron demurs: “May I say that the fact that 70 to 75 percent of our brothers and sisters who stay away from the source and summit of the Christian life on a regular is a tragedy. If you had told to Henri de Lubac or Jean Danilieu or Hans Urs von Balthazar, the great fathers of Vatican two, if you had told them that in 2008 75 percent of American Catholics would be staying away from the liturgy? They would have thought the project had failed. They wanted to revive the liturgy — this place where the catholic form of life is on display and cultivated.”

“Where else does it happen?” asks Barron. He answers: “It happens in our great intellectual life: Chrysostom, Jerome, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, Dante, John Henry Newman, G.K. Chesterton, John Paul II, Teresa of Avila, the Little Flower. We have this very rich intellectual and cultural tradition. We must preserve it. We must love it. We must pass it on to our children.”

Barron tells us a personal story to illustrate this: “When I was 13 years old, 1973, at the height of a lot of the post conciliar confusion in Catholic schools and education, I sat in a classroom at Fenwick High School and heard one of the Dominican friars teach us the five arguments of Thomas Aquinas for God’s Existence. It changed my life. It set me on a path that I’ve never gotten off of.” “When we preserve our great intellectual tradition and pass it on to our kids,” he says, “We keep this Catholic thing going.

Barron sums up: “Now. That’s the moment of preservation. But the second great moment of the Church’s life, as exemplified in John Paul II, we must find in prudence those propitious moments when we let that life out. And that’s the Vatican II vision. That’s the Vatican II vision of the role of the laity.

Yes to be great Catholic lawyers not incidentally Catholic; to be great .Catholic politicians, not incidentally so. To be great Catholic teachers and writers. To be great Catholic journalists and actors. That is how we transfigure the world by spreading the seed that we carefully preserve. There’s the work of the new evangelization. That we might let loose this life, this dunamis, as Paul called it, this power of the gospel for the transformation of the world. That is the properly subversive role of the great evangelization.”

If you have seen the little video I feature here, you will know this is a rousing ending and Fr. Barron leaves his audience roaring approval. It truly is unforgettable. And do you see how it dovetails nicely with the Catholic view of God’s providence and the life of Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger? It is sad that Sully doesn’t seem to be aware of how his life has been touched by God’s providential grace but he innocently describes exactly that. In some ways the book may be more powerful for the fact that it calls upon us to provide what Paul Harvey used to call “The Rest of the Story.”


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 272 other followers