Archive for the ‘Francis Cardinal George’ Category


The Human Ecology of the Catholic Church – Derek Jeter

October 4, 2012

St. Augustine formulated an adage that beautifully sums up the essentials of Christian anthropology: “O Lord, you have made us for yourself; therefore our hearts are restless until they rest in you.” A basic assumption of Biblical people is that everyone is hard-wired for God in the measure that everyone seeks a fulfillment that cannot be had through any of the goods of this world. Long before Augustine, the psalmist prayed, “only in God is my soul at rest.”

When personal freedom is reduced to sexual freedom, the Church’s moral teaching becomes an object of disdain and even at times of hatred. It is dismissed and then actively opposed. Dialogue with the world imposes therefore a constant search for ways to express the faith more effectively in shaping cultural situations. Since much of our moral theology, particularly what is taught about the protection of human life and the nature of the gift of human sexuality, is derived from the natural moral law, a comment that Pope Benedict XVI made when he spoke to the Bundestag in his recent trip to Germany needs to be further explored. Arguing against legal positivism, Pope Benedict spoke about the natural moral law less as an analysis of the natural finality of a human activity than as a moral theory that expresses a human ecology. In other words, he was saying, if I understood him correctly, that natural moral law can be expressed not only in terms of ends, but also in terms of relationships. This might insert moral theology into the theology of communion.
Francis Cardinal George, The Significance Of Vatican II

Alongside the ecology of nature, there exists what can be called a “human” ecology, which in turn demands a “social” ecology. All this means that humanity, if it truly desires peace, must be increasingly conscious of the links between natural ecology, or respect for nature, and human ecology. Experience shows that disregard for the environment always harms human coexistence, and vice versa. It becomes more and more evident that there is an inseparable link between peace with creation and peace among men.
Benedict XVI, World Day of Peace Message, 2007, no. 8)

“You have set your glory above the heavens.
   Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes,
   to silence the enemy and the avenger.

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
   the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
that you care for them?

Yet you have made them a little lower than God,

   and crowned them with glory and honor.
You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
   you have put all things under their feet,
all sheep and oxen,
   and also the beasts of the field,
the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
   whatever passes along the paths of the seas.”
Psalm 8:2-8

When Francis Cardinal George refers to natural moral law, we know that it is sourced in general revelation and that there are certain knowable truths revealed by God through creation. Natural moral law advocates believe that there are certain moral laws or norms that are true and can be discerned by all men and women as men and women. The Declaration of Independence states as much when it claims certain truths are “self-evident.” Abraham Lincoln opposed slavery on precisely those terms. The pro-life movement roots its ultimate opposition to those who claim the “right” to abortion uses this same language: abortion is a moral wrong.

It is important to recall not so much the act of creation as the method and what that means to us as Catholics and Christians:

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 another, 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 8:38)
John Sachs, The Christian View of Humanity

In Christ, God “tells” us that human flesh and blood are capable of divine life. Our real humanity, the same humanity which Jesus shared, is destined for a share in God’s own divine nature:

Thus he has given us, through these things, his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of lust, and may become participants in the divine nature.
2 Peter 1:4

Gaudium Et Spes: A Basic Christian Anthropology
Christian faith, therefore, has a particular vision of the world and of humanity, a vision that is founded upon the relationship between God and God’s creation as revealed in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. Gaudium et Spes, one of the four Apostolic Constitutions resulting from the Second Vatican Council, sets forth a basic Christian anthropology in its first three chapters. The key elements are found in

(1)  the inviolable dignity of every human person,
(2)  the essential centrality of community and
(3)  the significance of human action.

The dignity of all men and women, created in God’s image, is grounded in their unique relationship of intimacy with God (12). Human persons are spiritual, embodied creatures (14-15) who, above all, are blessed with freedom which, guided by conscience (16), comes to its fulfillment in love of God and neighbor. Because this freedom has been damaged by sin and is threatened by death, it can only come to its fulfillment through God’s grace (13, 17). Its fulfillment is an endless sharing in God’s own divine life (18).

Because the dignity of human persons is rooted and perfected in God, faith’s recognition of God is not hostile to human freedom and dignity, as some forms of atheism claim. Christians must work with all who labor for the dignity of human beings and basic human rights (19-21). In a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, they look to Jesus Christ, the final Adam, where for the eyes of faith, the mystery of humanity is revealed (22).

The dignity of every human person does not diminish the fact that one can be human only in community with others. Apart from relationships to others, we can neither live nor develop. From the very beginning humanity is created as community and all men and women are called as a single family to universal communion with one another and with God (23-24). This requires a social order based not on individualist ethic (30) but on the common good. It must be “founded on truth, built on justice, and animated by love” (26). Social structures must grow from and express a basic reverence for others, especially for those who think or act differently, so that the basic equality of all is recognized (27-29), and the fruitful participation of all in society is ensured (31).

Human action is understood to be an unfolding of God’s own creative work (34). Therefore, Christian faith demands that human beings labor to build up the world, attending to the genuine good of the human race and so develop themselves as truly human persons according to the divine plan (35). The rightful autonomy of the different arts and sciences is willed by God and to be respected by all (36). Christians will, however, adopt a critical attitude in their endeavors recognizing the real and pervasive power of sin.

The perfection and happiness which God wills for the creation cannot be identified naively with “progress,” especially where technology is developed and implemented without moral principles (37). Finally, the transformation of the world can come only from the power of love. Convinced in faith that the effort to bring about a universal communion of justice and peace is not a hopeless one, the church summons believers to dedicate themselves to the service of the earth and its peoples and so to prepare for that final act in which God will receive the world and bring it to perfection as God’s Kingdom (38). The expectation of the “new earth” is precisely what should strengthen concern for cultivating this earth, in which the Kingdom is already present and growing in mystery (39).
John Sachs, The Christian View of Humanity

The world is here to be saved, or as Christopher Dawson saw it, to be sanctified:

The Life Of The World Is Always A Life That Must Be Saved
The life of the world is always a life that must be saved.
It must be chosen intentionally, labored and sacrificed for. It is life that must be rescued from the many powers of death and destruction which threaten it. As Christians, we are part of a biblical tradition that asserts this explicitly of God. The world has a future because in Jesus Christ it has been chosen intentionally, labored and sacrificed for by God. God so loves the world (John 3:16). The key word here is world, not just me, certainly not just my soul, not even us or our collective souls.

The Christian understanding of salvation must recover its inherent universality and inclusiveness. It is something which involves not just human beings, but the whole of creation.

But it is important to consider for a moment what it really means to say that God wishes to save the world. If the reality of the world as a living, active, intentional and self-constituting whole is what God wishes to save, then it seems to me that God’s saving activity is not something that happens alongside or instead of but in and through the world’s activity, especially in and through human action.

Therefore, the necessity that salvation come from God and the necessity that human beings take responsibility for the world’s well-being are directly proportional. The greater our belief in salvation from God, the greater the obedience of faith to acknowledge our active responsibility for the world. God does not wish to save us from doing. God wishes to save us from all that would prevent us from doing.

According to the Yahwist narrative, humankind is intimately related to the Creator in a way that distinguishes it from the rest of God’s creatures. This is not because human beings are enlivened by the breath of God (Genesis 2:7), for God has breathed this breath into all the animals (Genesis 7:22). Rather, the dignity of human beings is especially evident in their partnership with God in caring for creation. As tenders of the garden and stewards of creation, human beings are not mere underlings with a task to perform. If they are superior to the other creatures, it is because through them the creative, divine Spirit is present and active in a unique way. As a result, humans are more capable of and responsible for the well-being of the creation. Human beings are from God and the earth as well as with God for the earth. Thus the salvation which God desires and promises the world as its sure future is precisely what makes us acknowledge our human responsiblity for the world.
John Sachs, The Christian View of Humanity

God’s Word does not call creation into some kind of merely factual existence, but to being-with-God. To be means to live with God, to participate in some way in God’s life. When we withdraw from the world or find our lives without relationship, we encounter a living death and what has been prophesied as Hell in a later life.


Considering Vatican II — William Doino Jr. & Fr. Robert Barron & Francis Cardinal George

September 4, 2012

Second Vatican Council by Lothar Wolleh

Three contributions here. The first is a wonderful little blog posting from William Doino Jr. that I found very comforting to read. I hate to see my Church squabbling and a lot of post Vatican II “dialogues” seem to have been just that. Next Fr. Barron offers some perspective in a YouTube video. Finally a reading selection from Francis Cardinal George’s keynote address at the conference, “Keeping the World Awake to God’: The Challenge of Vatican II,” at the Pontifical John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family at The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., 12-14 January 2012. Taken all together, an excellent look back at Vatican II as it nears  its 50th anniversary.

And a special invitation to any reader of PayingAttentiontotheSky who lives in the Boston area. I belong to a Communio Reading Group that will be taking up Cardinal George’s keynote address. If you would like to read the piece, I would be happy to email it off to you along with directions to St. Clement’s Shrine where we meet on September 23rd.  Join us and share some Catholic Fellowship as we discuss.


It has now been almost fifty years since the Catholic Church created waves by opening the Second Vatican Council. And for many, the tumult continues. Vatican II has become nothing less than a battle over the mission of the contemporary Church.

The progressive left sees the Council as an open-ended innovation whose revolutionary promise has yet to be fulfilled. The traditionalist right views it with deep suspicion and is sometimes heard to say (if not openly, at least sotto voce) that the Church would have been better off had it never occurred. But the vital center of Catholicism — if it can be called that — has always defended the Council as a necessary and faithful extension of the Church’s evangelical mission to the modern world. The historian Edward Norman gave voice to this perspective when he wrote:

The remarkable thing about the Council was that it was able to produce more or less exactly what it set out to do: a statement of the Catholic faith in modules of understanding intelligible to modern culture yet completely conformable to past tradition — an achievement the more remarkable in view of the incoherence of western culture in the 1960s.

Norman’s perspective is better appreciated today. John Paul II’s Extraordinary Synod of Bishops in 1985, and Benedict XVI’s insistence on a “hermeneutic of continuity” rather than rupture have both helped to recover a “deeper reception of the Council” as the Synod’s final report requested. The wonderfully clarifying universal Catechism was one of the Council’s greatest fruits. But even as Vatican II, properly understood, remains an achievement of the first order, its immediate consequences were anything but.

No sooner had the final session of the Council ended than dialogue gave way to worldly adaptation: Priests started abandoning their collars and nuns their habits, if not their orders. Large portions of the Catholic laity, flushed with a sense of unbounded freedom, stopped going to confession and Sunday Mass. Consciences once formed in the light of Catholic teaching began to morph into self-interest. The Church’s teaching against contraception, for example, was effectively thrown out the window by the laity. These events were not authorized by the Council, and somehow secularism and relativism had penetrated the Church.

Leading Catholics whose writings had done so much to influence the Council — men like Yves Congar and Henri de Lubac, Louis Bouyer and Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jacques Maritain and Dietrich von Hildebrand — sounded the alarm. By 1967, Congar was asking: “Where do we go from here? Where shall we be in twenty years? I, too, feel almost every day a temptation to anxiety in the face of all that has changed or is being called into question.”

But none of these men turned their back on the Council or the Holy See. As von Hildebrand stressed:

When one reads the luminous encyclical Ecclesiam Suam of Pope Paul VI or the magnificent ‘Dogmatic Constitution on the Church’ [Lumen Gentium] of the Fathers of the Council, one cannot but realize the greatness of the Second Vatican Council. But when one turns to so many contemporary writings…one can only be deeply saddened and even filled with grave apprehension. For it would be difficult to conceive a greater contrast than that between the official documents of Vatican II and the superficial, insipid pronouncements of various theologians and laymen that have broken out everywhere like an infectious disease.

Among those who share von Hildebrand’s concerns is Father Paulo Molinari, S.J., who was a contributor to Lumen Gentium. Several years ago, I had the privilege to speak to him in Rome. In our lively discussion, three things stood out.

First, Vatican II was not a bolt out of the blue from Pope John XXIII. It was preceded by twenty ecumenical Councils, and Congar writes that “the Church has always tried to reform itself.” Pius XI and Pius XII had seriously considered holding a new Council themselves. Next, John XXIII’s famously jovial personality has led many to believe he was an unabashed progressive, and this has colored many accounts of the Council. But Molinari, a close friend of the pope, told me that this popular image of “Good Pope John” as easygoing and tolerant of almost any proposal, is “absolute nonsense.” Finally, statistics about the Church in the pre-Conciliar years are misleading, because there were many trends afoot — in theology, morality, politics, science, and exegesis — that were already having an unsettling impact on the internal life of Catholics.

At the end of our discussion, I still had one question: “All that being said Father, and granting the necessity, beauty, and orthodoxy of the Council’s teachings — how did their implementation go so disastrously wrong in the immediate years that followed?”

“The Council called us to find fulfillment in Christ,” he said gently, “but many Catholics confused that with their own self-fulfillment.” Stunned, I finally murmured, “That’s a pretty big mistake.” “Yes,” he replied, with tremendous understatement.

The Second Vatican Council wasn’t about us, but about Christ’s call, lovingly offered, to fulfill our potential on his terms, in and through the moral and spiritual teaching of his Church. It is the transformation that awaits us all — if we are prepared to accept it — promised by Christ two thousands years ago: “He that finds his life shall lose it and he that loses his life for my sake shall find it.”



 The Church In The World

The internal unity of the Church as communion should establish and model the external unity of the human race in solidarity, of nations and cultures and peoples living together in peace. The council therefore was an exercise in ecclesial self-consciousness, as Pope John Paul II explained this from the viewpoint of his own philosophical anthropology. How is the Church to change her self-consciousness in order to be God’s instrument for changing the world? How does the Church situate herself in the world so that she can be, as the first paragraph of Lumen gentium, the decree on the Church, says, “the sacrament or … sign of union with God and of the unity of all mankind.”

With that declared purpose in mind, a few points about the Church’s life demonstrate how there is continuity of principle but in always changing circumstances. In a changing world, principles themselves sometimes take on a different cast as well. Pope Benedict XVI has explained this as the hermeneutic of reform. There is development of doctrine in the Second Vatican Council because of a changed understanding of the Church’s pastoral life and mission. It was a reform council, which means some things changed. What changed was our sense of the Church and her mission today. Nothing was taught that contradicted what Christ had said and done in establishing the Church, but there were new interpretations of teaching in order to establish new efforts to perfect the Church’s mission.

The great ecclesiologist after the Council of Trent and in the aftermath of the Protestant Reformation was St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621). He was building on the work of the late medieval jurists who studied ecclesiastical structures of governance in relation to the various civil societies in which the Church lived. The earlier councils of the Church were concerned with responding to errors about the mystery of the Godhead in the Trinity, and in clarifying the person and natures of Christ. In the late middle ages, as the way of life of many Christians, including many in the papal court, was more and more separated from the way of life presented and modeled in the Gospel, the reform councils of the Lateran spoke about the Church in moral terms.

One could easily argue that the Reformation was rooted in the scandal of the Church’s pastors and faithful not living in conformity to what they were professing as they proclaimed the Gospel. But schism in the Church pre-dated the Reformation, and it was answered in juridical terms by the medieval jurists. James of Viterbo, in the early years of the fourteenth century, wrote the first canonical treatise in ecclesiology. St. Robert Bellarmine was working out of that received juridical framework for understanding the Church as a visible society, because the reformers were saying that the structures of the Church are adventitious: it does not matter really what form the governance of the Church takes because the Church is invisible, she is a work of grace.

It is true that invisible grace is the life of the Church, but because the reformers relativized and almost put aside or confided entirely to civil rulers the apostolic structures of the Church, Cardinal Bellarmine’s reaction was to define the Church as a perfect society, like the state. The Church’s members are not morally perfect any more than the state’s citizens are morally perfect; but both are perfect in the legal sense that both have everything needed to do their work to accomplish their mission. The Church has all the gifts necessary to fulfill her mission from Christ, just as the state has everything that it needs in order to fulfill its mission in this world.

St. Robert Bellarmine explained, in a more theological framework, how the Church possesses all that is necessary for her mission. He defined Church authority and its juridical limits and gave these a basis in Scripture and Tradition; he clarified the rights and duties of different classes of Church members. The Church was examined from outside, as if by an observer. The analogy for the Church’s self-understanding was the kingdom of France or the republic of Venice. That controlling metaphor meant that Church governance was still legitimated by jurisdiction, by the legal power to act.

This left the Church in the modern age with the dilemma of competing jurisdictions: how does one separate the domain of the Church and the claims of the new nation-states created by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648? Both Church and state are perfect societies; both are complete; both have their rights. Yet each makes both religious and secular claims. How does one separate the domains of competence and, more than that, how can Church and state peacefully and respectfully cooperate?

Various theories of the proper subordination of state to Church and of the Church’s liberty of action in the secular sphere have been elaborated. The Church needed an ecclesiology that established her freedom in the world for the sake of her mission that transcends the world. She also needed to explain how civil society is properly autonomous but not totalitarian. Before the Second Vatican Council, Pope Pius XII had already begun to draw on the thought of German theologians who, in the nineteenth century, moved beyond the juridical framework of the perfect society based upon jurisdiction toward a theology based upon the biblical metaphors that describe the Church in the New Testament.

The Church is related to Christ and the Holy Spirit as a mystery of faith and, in 1943, Pope Pius XII wrote on the Church as the Mystical Body of Christ in order to define the Church’s nature from the sources of her life from within rather than from her juridical organization. Pius XII wrote to combat the false notion that there are two different churches, an interior or spiritual church of all who believe in Christ and an external, visibly structured Church which can be analyzed without reference to her nature as a mystery of faith. He overcame ecclesial dualism by identifying the Mystical Body of Christ with the society and structures of the Roman Catholic Church, with no overlap.

The famous existet in of Lumen gentium says exactly that, but the council recognized the existence of gifts from Christ outside of visible Catholic communion. There are visible elements of ecclesial reality outside of the visible structure of the Catholic Church, and these relate people to the Church in ways that make salvation available. They are called vestigiae ecclesiae (vestiges of the Church). These elements of the Church outside of her pastoral and visible unity serve to include all Christians, in a certain limited sense, in her membership in such a way that it is possible to dialogue with them as brothers and sisters, to see something in them that is also in us, to see them as friends and as fellow believers, through a common baptism.

This is the conviction found also in the mission document of the council, Adgentes. Semina verbi, the seeds of the Word, are to be discovered in natural religions and in non-Christian religions so that, again, missionaries can dialogue with people of other faiths or of no faith at all, because seeds of the Word are present among them. God created the world, and the world therefore is good even in its own now fallen and wounded nature, the cosmos speaks of God to those who are listening. Our discerning everywhere vestiges of the Church and seeds of the Word enables the Second Vatican Council to say that all are already part of God’s family, even if not everybody realizes it. Catholics should therefore be the ones to initiate dialogue, and this ability presupposes that the Church is free to do so everywhere in the world.

Vatican II finessed the political dimensions of how the Church should be in the world by sidestepping the relationship between Church and state (which is still the unreconstructed way we speak of it in this country) and emphasizing instead the relationship between faith and culture. The most provocative and original section of the constitution on the Church in the world, Gaudium et spes, is the second chapter, on culture. The concept of culture is not too explicitly defined but nonetheless the Church’s parameters shifted from living the tension between two perfect societies to explaining the relationships between two normative systems — faith and culture.

We are who we are because of our culture, far more profoundly than because we are citizens of a particular nation state. Both faith and culture are normative for those who are believers; both are complete in themselves and both tell us what is important, what to think and how to act. If the Church is to be in the world as a leaven, then she must engage cultures. Just as the legalist approach to understanding the Church is inadequate to her full internal reality, so also her external relationship to the world through the institution of the state, while obviously still of great importance, becomes secondary.

The relationship between the Church and the world is defined by dialogue between faith and culture. The council fathers were therefore concerned about the conditions for authentic dialogue. To have an authentic dialogue between the universal faith and a particular culture, in order properly to situate the Church in the world in a new age, the council spoke to the freedom of the Church to fulfill her mission publicly and the personal freedom of conscience that is a natural right.

The council’s document on religious liberty, Dignitatis humanae, depended partially on the prior work of John Courtney Murray, S. J. His groundbreaking articles in Theological Studies in the 1950s, remain, however, an institutional analysis. In countries where the state claims vast jurisdiction over its citizens’ lives, a legally defined relationship between the Church and the state is necessary because the Church could not otherwise be free. But in the case of a state with limited government, and the best example is the restriction placed on the state by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, the state is contained within its own domain and therefore leaves free every other domain of human activity.

The United States does not have a government ministry of religion nor of culture, as European states often have. Our constitutional guarantees were thought to give the Church greater freedom of action. The document on religious freedom in the modern world, however, starts not from institutional considerations but from anthropology. It decides who we are as free people, men and women made in God’s image and likeness and therefore necessarily exercising our religious duties to God and expressing our religious beliefs publicly in society. The state must respect and permit that freedom. The dignity of the human person is therefore the foundation of Dignitatis humanae, and the document explains how that dignity is given to every human person because of his or her relation to God. Dignitatis humanae also speaks of freedom of conscience, but it talks about freedom of conscience vis-a-vis the state, not vis-a-vis the Church.

Freedom of conscience means a person has the right and obligation to act according to his or her conscience, but conscience is a practical principle in Catholic moral teaching. Freedom of conscience does not mean one has the right to interpret personally or to deny what God has revealed in Christ and still call oneself a Catholic believer. Freedom of conscience is often understood as a function of the sovereign self in an individualistic society. It means that individuals have a right, even by reason of the Church’s own teaching, to deny what is declared by the Church as authentically revealed. Every individual would then be a Church of one.

Rather, freedom of conscience is understood within the community of faith differently from the way that it is understood within the civil community. It must be, as a principle of both belief and action, respected totally in the civil community. Within the community of faith it must be respected as a principle of action but not as a principle of belief. Faith is a response to what has been revealed by God. Its contents are assented to as a whole, or else it is not faith in a God who reveals himself. Thomas Aquinas explained that, if one believes every article of the Creed but one, he or she doesn’t believe any of the articles, because “faith” would be reduced to an “assent” to an individual’s personal value system. In the realm of faith, an individual’s intelligence and will cannot be the criteria of what God has revealed, as if God’s word were not trustworthy without our verification.

The council’s teaching on the relationship between culture and world and on the freedom of religion and conscience builds on what was taught before, but the council shifts the tradition so there is a reinterpretation and a new emphasis rather than a simple reiteration of teaching. There is authentic development; there is reform. Reform means a principle remains but is now worked out in different ways because circumstances have changed and new insights have come to shape the Church’s living tradition.


A Recent Announcement by the Rainbow Sash Movement

May 19, 2010

“The Rainbow Sash Movement (Gay Catholics) will enter Catholic Cathedrals nationally and internationally on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010 wearing Rainbow Sashes. The purpose for our Pentecost Sunday presence is to give voice to the voiceless in our Church.

There is something bipolar about a Church that will not give members of the Rainbow Sash Movement communion because they self identify as gay publicly, while at the same time elevating men to the office of Pope, Cardinal, Archbishop, or Bishop who placed the reputation of the Catholic Church ahead of needs of innocent children who were sexually victimized by both predator priests and Bishops. The only word that comes to mind to describe such a dichotomy, in charity, is hypocrite.

Gay Catholics should not be divorced from public self-identification because of sexual orientation. Unfortunately the currency of hierarchical pronouncements is locked in male chauvinistic culture of clericalism. Such statements are based on homophobias that are so out of touch that it bars the use of condoms even to curb AIDS, and encourages Papal attacks on gay and lesbian families.

As to why we wear the Rainbow Sash; we can no longer sit idly by while homophobia takes over the heart and soul of our Church. No longer satisfied with discriminating against LGBT Catholics, the Bishops are now going after our children in Catholic schools. Discrimination against the children of gay parents because of their parents’ sexual orientation is wrong, and only highlights how dysfunctional the current position of the Church has become.

We are not “flaunting” sexuality when we wear the Rainbow Sash. Simply put, if you are not seen, it is unlikely that your voice is recognized as significant enough to be given attention; if you cannot be heard, you cannot combat the prejudice you face, and no one can hear you cry out when you are the victim of injustice, when you suffer intimidation, or worship under institutionalized homophobia.

The love it or leave it mentality is not an option for us. On the contrary the Gospel challenge of love calls us to challenge exclusion with inclusion. In doing so, we follow in the spirit of the early Christians who challenged the exclusion of the uncircumcised.

Disrupting a mass or encouraging others to do so is a grave sin. I guess we are all familiar with attempts in the past but this is a more coordinated and organized effort which I fear will only increase over time. Church teaching on homosexuality cannot and will not change. It is a product of dogma.

That teaching was set forth and encapsulated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the leadership of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI, don’t you know) in the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, promulgated in 1986. It is as follows:

“The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally.”

“To choose someone of the same sex for one’s sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator’s sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent”.

“As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.”

This teaching cannot and will not change. It is not up for vote. It cannot be influenced by demonstrations or boycotts. It is the view of the Church that groups like the “Rainbow Sash” movement, by their open defiance of this teaching, undermine the authority of the Church, confuse those who struggle with same sex attraction and scandalize the faithful. Finally, they confuse the public as to what the Church actually teaches.

“The dissenting or confused Catholics who support the Homosexual Equivalency movement within the Church insist that the Catholic Church adopt their new doctrine of recognizing gay marriage and the tenets of Homosexualism — which amounts to heresy; what St. Paul warned of as “another Gospel”

But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Galatians 1:8,9;

And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
2 Corinthians. 11:14

Why Francis Cardinal George?
Cardinal George has been in the forefront of the defense of marriage and the family and society founded upon it. He is heroic in this stance and deserves our prayer and open, public support. On Friday, February 5, 2010, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acting through Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I, the archbishop of Chicago and president of the Conference, issued a strong repudiation of the New Ways Ministry, a cousin to the Rainbow Sash Movement. The group is comprised of people who, like Rainbow Sash, openly dissent from the clear teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the immorality of homosexual practice.

Cardinal George has said of them: “They have aggressively opposed efforts to defend marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. They foster dissent within the Catholic Church and cause scandal and confusion to many of the faithful. They have been publicly and repeatedly reprimanded by the Church.  For example, two of their former leaders, a priest and a religious sister, were ordered to resign their positions with the organization and separate themselves from any involvement.”

The Cardinal further said in his notice: “No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice. Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination.” As for the organization, they responded to the correction by rejecting it whole cloth. In fact, they have encouraged an advocacy campaign to get the Church to change its position.

This decisive action by Cardinal George is to be commended. It was the proper response of a good shepherd and faithful teacher of the Church. It also seems to have increased the ire of the members of the Rainbow Sash movement. They are numbered among those who have been referred to as “homosexual equivalency activists.” They do not accept the teaching of the Church but rather seek to change it.

They also align themselves in the civil arena with those who openly oppose family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman and want to force society to recognize a legal and moral equivalency between true marriages and cohabitating practicing homosexuals. In these efforts they are led by well funded and strategic groups such as the “Human Rights Campaign” in the United States. 

This position is in direct opposition to the heroic and dedicated defense of marriage efforts undertaken by the Catholic Church and the teaching of the Church concerning true marriage as an indissoluble bond between one man and one woman, open to life, and the family and society founded upon it. The leaders of the “Rainbow Sash” movement intentionally confuse the faithful regarding the Church’s clear admonition to respect all persons, including those with same sex attractions, and her absolute prohibition of homosexual sexual activity.

We are in a new missionary age. Let us call upon the Holy Spirit for a New Pentecost for the Church so that she may rise to these challenges. Each parish Church should prepare themselves for the onslaughts to our Faith that appear to be in the offing.

God Bless Francis Cardinal George!


The Eucharist in the Church and the World

January 18, 2010

The Eucharist is the secret of the Church’s heart and is her comfort in every generation. Beyond some very rudimentary instruction on the liturgy in RCIA, I have virtually no knowledge of the mass or the Eucharist. That is why I was fascinated with Francis Cardinal George’s writings here. Having read this, I feel like a fully informed Catholic for the first time in my Christian life.

“The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The Prologue of the Gospel according to St. John proclaims that the Eternal Logos, the only-begotten Son of God, chose to enter into the very heart of God’s temporal creation so that everything can be a sign and invitation to enter into the communal love of God’s Trinitarian life. Jesus Christ, our Savior, does not stand apart from creation; he enters into its very life so that all God has accomplished can be seen to exist for the sake of our salvation. Too good to be true? Yes, except for those who, with the eyes of faith, see the world as Christ sees it.

The Scriptures also tell us that the one born of the Virgin Mary suffered, died, and is now risen. Jesus, who was nailed to the cross, has risen from the dead and lives forever. He has overcome the chains of sin and of death, the ultimate barrier, and now lives in total freedom. We notice how the Risen Lord appeared to those who knew him best before he was crucified. It is truly Jesus, with the wounds of his crucifixion still visible in his risen body. Nonetheless, he is so different that his closest companions often fail to recognize him immediately. Yet it is truly Jesus who eats breakfast and supper, although locked doors cannot confine him. He comes and goes at will. He is perfectly free.

The Risen Lord is therefore free to keep his promise to his disciples: “I am with you always, until the end of the world” (Matthew 28:20). The Risen Lord will never abandon his people. Those who find their personal identity in relation to him will never be alone. How could they be? Having assumed human nature as the new Adam, he now fills the cosmos as Risen Lord. Too good to be true? Yes, unless our aspirations have been transformed by the hope of the glory in which the Risen Jesus lives and which he offers to us.

This Jesus has also promised: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, I will be in their midst” (Matthew 18:20). The Risen Lord has established a community of believers to be a sign and instrument of salvation, to be the means for God’s saving love to transform all creation. ‘When the Church lives visibly through, with, and in her Risen Lord, she is revealed as his living body in every generation. ‘When the Church gathers to celebrate the sacraments, Christ continues to act among us. The Risen Christ baptizes and forgives sin and sends the Holy Spirit to seal our membership in the Church, It is Christ who comforts and heals the sick, who unites a man and woman together for life, and who ordains pastors for the Church. It is Christ who makes present his own self-sacrifice on the cross, so that we can join to it our very selves. Each of the sacraments is an action of the Risen Christ gathering with his body, the Church. In a unique fashion, the Eucharist is both the action and the abiding presence of the Lord.

In the Eucharist, Christ gives himself as food for our journey, as our daily bread, as a banquet, which brings us together as pilgrims. Christ never comes to us alone. Christ comes to us with the Father and the Holy Spirit. Mary, the mother of Christ and our mother in him, accompanies her Son. All the angels and the saints, who have gone before us in faith, together with the souls in purgatory, join in the great communion. Moreover, all those who are the visible body of Christ throughout the world today are united in the divine gift of love. We never go to Jesus alone. In the Eucharist, we are most clearly members of a body, living stones of a temple, a gathered people of God. Too good to be true? Yes, except for those whose hearts have been turned inside out by the unity given to those who know they are loved by God and who have come to sense their unity with the multitude, who are their brothers and sisters in the Risen Lord.

Eucharist in the Life and Thought of the Church
Today, questions of Eucharistic faith and practice are strongly contested in many areas of ecclesial life. At least in the United States, some have been too neglectful of Eucharistic preaching and teaching. Some have discouraged Eucharistic devotion apart from the celebration of the Mass itself. Liturgical practice sometimes suffers from lack of prayerful preparation and devout attention. Some are confused in knowing and expressing precisely what the Church teaches about the Holy Eucharist. Whatever the reason, there is a growing desire among many Catholics for greater clarity and insight into our Eucharistic faith and practice.

In some ways, contemporary tensions and confusions about the Eucharist should not surprise us. Tension and confusion were there from the beginning: “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him” (John 6:60, 66). The tension became unbearable when Jesus began to use realistic language about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. In the face of his disciples’ confusion, Jesus only intensified his language; he made no attempt to soften or dilute its meaning.

This Eucharistic realism was clearly understood and accepted by the apostolic Church. By sharing in the real, sacrificed, and risen flesh of Christ and in his blood shed on the cross, the Church becomes a living body, brought, into existence by the Eucharist (1 Corinthians 10:16 ff.). In the words of St. Cyril of Alexandria, precisely through the Eucharist, through “eating the flesh of Christ,” we are made into “living flesh.” Cyril’s realism even compares the union between Christ and the recipient of the Eucharist to a “fusion of two globs of sealing wax.” Christ desires to be as close to us as nourishment is to our bones.

In the Eucharist, the Life of Christ is poured into our lives so that we may have new life as living members of a new body in the world, the body of Christ. St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. c. A.D. 110) emphasizes this ecclesial, corporate context of the Eucharist and its attendant gifts. He exhorts the community “animated by one faith and in union with Jesus Christ to show obedience with undivided mind to the bishop and the presbytery, and to break the same Bread, which is the medicine of immortality the antidote against death, and everlasting life in Jesus Christ” (To the Ephesians 20, 2). In fact, for Ignatius, the Eucharist is inseparable from the ministry that gathers people visibly together and is responsible for maintaining Christ’s sacramental presence in the Church (To the Philadelphians 4). No one, Ignatius of Antioch says, can (validly) celebrate the Eucharist apart from the bishop, “or anyone to whom he has committed it” (To the Smyrnaeans 8, 1).

This inseparable link between Eucharistic realism and ecclesial union gives rise to the great patristic vision of the Eucharist as the bond of charity unity; and peace, signs of an authentic civilization of love. St. Augustine, in particular, placed strong emphasis on this “social” function of the Eucharist, “social” in the sense that the bond of love, unity; and peace among the baptized is a participation in the divine communio of the Trinitarian life of God. The Eucharist is the secret of the Church’s heart and is her comfort in every generation. In this most blessed sacrament, the divine communio is disclosed. The Holy Spirit, who works through the Church, makes the Eucharistic elements holy. In the Eucharist, the sacrificial death of Christ is truly present, and its saving power is alive and life-giving. In the Eucharist, the Father is worshiped in spirit and in truth. In the Eucharist, Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection restores us to the bonds of unity and peace with the Father (justification), and makes possible the outpouring of the Holy Spirit’s love into our lives (sanctification).

St. Augustine’s central idea is this: through eating Christ’s body and drinking his blood, we become one with him and with each other. In Eucharistic communio, the City of God, God’s great civilization of love, is visible on the earth; for “in what [the Church] offers, she herself is offered” (De Civitate Dei, X, 6). All of this is possible because Christ is risen from the dead. The Eucharist is his glorified Body and Blood which, having suffered and died, now shares in the eternity of the celestial Eucharist, “the glory given to the Father by the Son who redeemed the world.” In Catholic consciousness, faith in the Eucharist as embodying and presenting the Risen Christ, who suffered and died for us, must be seen against the background of creation, specifically, a creation leading to Incarnation (John 1:1-14; Colossians 1:15-20). The Creator God enters into his creation and becomes part of it. This presence continues in a Eucharistic and sacramental manner. It is this intrusion of eternity and transcendence into the created world that establishes both the time and the space of the Eucharist. The Eucharist discloses the divine communio of Trinitarian love and invites our participation. In this sense, it is a perpetual proclamation of God’s transcendence and power, manifest most fully in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ the Lord (Philemon 2:6-11).

This is true both when the Eucharistic liturgy is being celebrated and breaks the limits of time and history and also when the Eucharist is in the tabernacle, where the drama of salvation is not immediately being reenacted, but where Christ is still present for our contemplation and prayer. St. Thomas expresses this contemplative dimension of the Eucharist in a phrase redolent of Aristotle:

“It is the law of friendship that friends should live together” (Summa theologiae III q. 75, a. 1). This is why devotion to the Eucharist, apart from the Eucharistic liturgy itself, is an indispensable element of Catholic spirituality It is also why all devotional life should, in some way, be linked to the Eucharist.

In Christ Jesus, the Father desires to dwell in the heart of reality down to the very depths of our being. The Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist is “the presence of the full mystery of God’s being and work.” Christ accomplishes two things in this sacrament: he glorifies his Father and he shares his life with us.

The Eucharistic Liturgy as the Locus for Evangelization
The Risen Jesus is the Eucharistic Lord. Free himself, he wants us to be free. Free to do what? We are made free to worship and to glorify God. We are given the freedom to evangelize and convert human hearts and thus to transform the world. The very structure of the Eucharistic liturgy discloses the dynamics of a new culture.

The Second Vatican Council reminds us that “the Eucharist is the source and summit of all evangelization” (Presbyterorum ordinis, II, 5). I would suggest that one way of understanding this profound, evangelical depth in the Eucharistic liturgy is to “track” the presence of the Holy Spirit in the liturgy. It is the Holy Spirit who groans to set us free and who is present in all the decisive moments of Christ’s life. In our Savior’s incarnation, life in the world, death, and resurrection, Jesus is seen as doing the Father’s will under the guidance, direction, prompting, and assistance of the Holy Spirit.

The New Testament word for invoking the Holy Spirit is epikalein, “to call upon/to call down.” “Calling upon” or “calling down” is an Epiklesis . Imagine ourselves now at Mass. During the celebration, there are at least eight moments when we explicitly or implicitly call upon the Holy Spirit of God, the Spirit who sets us free and who renews the face of the earth.

The Epiklesis of Forgiveness
The first moment is the Epiklesis of Forgiveness. The Penitential Rite is always an implicit invocation of the Holy Spirit because it is a prayer for forgiveness. The Spirit is sent among us for the forgiveness of sins (John 20:22-23). This moment of forgiveness is essential to the new culture of Christian life and, at Jesus’ express command, it is essential to liturgy (Matthew 5:23-24).

We must constantly remind ourselves that we are sinners in need of forgiveness. If, as individuals and as community; we are unaware of our faults, or if we simply ignore them, invariably, we cast them into the lives of others, and we have no true claim on God’s mercy and forgiveness. Then, the true drama of God’s salvation revealed in Jesus Christ is muted; the humility necessary for authentic worship “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:23) is undermined. Reconciling love is, thus, the first fruit of the divine communio.

The Epiklesis of Word
The second moment is the Epiklesis of Word. This refers to the point in the liturgy when we proclaim directly from the Sacred Scriptures, “inspired and useful for instruction and for growth in holiness” (2 Timothy 3:16). Our profession of faith describes the work of the Spirit: “He has spoken through the prophets.” We respond to the inspired Scriptures and conform our lives to the teaching of Jesus, but, in doing so, we are in fact encountering Jesus through the Spirit that breathes through the Scriptures. The Holy Spirit conforms our lives to the Word of God in human words. The homily, which expounds the Scriptures and relates them directly to the lives of the people in the assembly, is a word integral to Eucharistic worship.

The Epiklesis of Intercession
The third moment is the Epiklesis of Intercession, which encompasses the reading of Scripture. It begins with the opening prayer of the Mass and concludes with the General Intercessions. This is another implicit invocation of the Holy Spirit, for the Holy Spirit carries all prayer into the sight of God (Romans 8:26-27). To pray is to accept the grace that changes us. Our spirit, united with the Holy Spirit, enters into the drama revealed in Jesus Christ. We are taken into God’s saving action in history, where the Holy Spirit transforms our personal and social history.

Prayer itself is a form of instruction and evangelization. Prayer purifies our desires; it opens the world to God’s transforming action, which waits upon our human freedom. God does not impose himself upon us; we have to ask. Our prayer must therefore constantly reach out to the farthest corners of God’s creation. It must mourn in every human misery and rejoice in every human joy.

The Epiklesis of Offering
The next moment is the Epiklesis of Offering. We take two material gifts — bread and wine — and, through the power of the Spirit, we ask that they may become “the bread of life” and “our spiritual drink.”

On the one hand, these gifts represent ourselves, as we long for ever greater Eucharistic transformation. The bread represents all our united human efforts that contribute to the building up of a civilization of love on this earth in preparation for the final coming of God’s kingdom. The wine represents all the pain, suffering, and death involved in the discharge of this holy task, all once again embraced by the Eucharistic body of the Lord.

On the other hand, the bread and wine represent material creation itself, which awaits its own Eucharistic transformation, “a share in the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-23). The Spirit’s presence in this moment of offering is often made explicit in the Prayer over the Gifts, which concludes the preparation of the altar and the gifts.

The Epiklesis of Consecration
The Epiklesis of Offering points directly to the next invocation, the Epiklesis of Consecration. The Holy Spirit effects the transformation of the bread and wine into the Body and Blood of the Lord. The word consecratio, which means “to be holy together with,” carries the most profound sense of the experience of the Holy Spirit in the individual person, in the Church, and in the world. The Holy Spirit is the Sanctifier, the one who makes us holy in the sight of God. The mission of the Holy Spirit in the world is to sanctify to consecrate each person and community for worship “in Spirit and truth” (John 4:24). In the transforming power of consecration, the outpouring of the divine communio reveals the clear form of the new culture, a life and world suitable for the indwelling of the Trinitarian life of God.

The Epiklesis of Memorial
Next, there is the Epiklesis  of Memorial: “Do this in remembrance of me.” We do not simply live out of the present; we live with an acute awareness of the past, of all that the Father has done for us in Jesus Christ. When we celebrate this memorial of God’s saving action, that saving reality is encountered again through the presence of the Spirit, who brings us into the life of the Risen Lord. In this memorial, the future of the world is anticipated, and the new culture of life is received.

The Epiklesis of Communion
The consecration, sanctification, and memorial effected by the Holy Spirit prepare us for the Epiklesis  of Communion. Before receiving the Body and Blood of the Lord we pray:

Lord, I am not worthy to receive you,
but only say the word and I shall be healed.

(Roman Liturgy, Communion Rite)

This short prayer sums up all the previous moments of Epiklesis  forgiveness, word, intercession, offering, and consecration. Communion with the dying and rising Jesus is also communion with the Spirit who gives life (Romans 8:9-11).

The Epiklesis of Mission
The final invocation is the Epiklesis of Mission. The Spirit of God is the energy and dynamism of all mission in the world. “Mission” is the way we live out our baptismal consecration in the world: as married persons; as bishops, priests, or deacons; as single persons; as those consecrated by religious vows, with the energy and prompting of the Holy Spirit.

Having been prepared by the persistent invocation of the Holy Spirit of God and having been nourished with the Body and Blood of the Lord, the baptized are now sent out, by the power of this same Holy Spirit, to evangelize and to transform society itself. The People of God dwell in this “evangelical form.” Together as pilgrims gathered in the Eucharist, we walk every day the journey of forgiveness, word, intercession, offering, consecration, communion, and now of mission. What is the context of this mission today? ‘What world is the Eucharist to inform and to transform?

The Eucharist in the World
In a world always in search of freedom, we live more and more in a globalized society. In economics and in politics, in culture and in communication, the human race is more connected than ever before. But a connection is not necessarily a personal relationship. The scope of economic and political activity today brings with it the opportunity of uniting the human family in justice and love. It brings with it as well the danger of an order in which the poor are cut off from participation in the goods of the earth and are unable to enjoy the freedom that God desires for all. Globalization will not be globalization with solidarity unless the Church evangelizes in a new way. It is the Eucharist that gives us the courage to evangelize, because the goal of our human unity is already present in the Eucharist itself. Because of the Eucharist, the Church can be the “sacrament of the unity of the human race” (Lumen Gentium).

In giving himself freely for our salvation and in sending the Holy Spirit, Christ makes us free; but Gospel freedom is greater than the freedom this world understands. In Christ, we are free to act, to do what we need to do, what we should do. The world understands this freedom to act. But if freedom is reduced to actions willed by each of us alone, the world becomes a brittle place. Each one’s freedom is limited by the action of others; and each action is then negotiated, often in a court, of law, with the consequence that life becomes a contest of wills: On the streets, this contest is often violent.

Freedom in Christ is more than freedom to do. It is also freedom to give totally, even to the point of self-sacrifice, as Christ freely gave himself to death on the cross. The world understands generosity and often rewards it. The world has a more difficult time understanding self-sacrifice. The crisis in Christian marriage, consecrated life, and ordained priesthood is a crisis of Christian freedom, the freedom to give oneself totally to God, to a spouse, to the Church.

Gospel freedom is freedom to do, freedom to give, and finally freedom to receive. This dimension of freedom in Christ is even more problematic today, for receiving means admitting we are needy, and no one likes to admit poverty. Yet, if we are not free to receive, we cannot be free in Christ, for in Christ all is gift: the Gospel, the sacraments of the Church, apostolic governance the Church herself– it is all gift. To be free is to receive the gifts that Christ bestows on us. If we are not free as well to receive all those persons whom Christ loves, we are not free in Christ. Each human difference is a gift for all, and it must be welcomed, desired, received by all. In Christ’s body, everyone gives and everyone receives. Everyone has something to share, and everyone is needy.

Freedom to do, freedom to give, freedom to receive — all this is freedom in Christ, who died and rose to set us free and calls us to experience this freedom in each Eucharistic celebration, offered for the salvation of the world. Too good to be true? No, not for those who have been set free by Christ and the action of the Holy Spirit in order to be leaven for the whole world. In proclaiming a Eucharistic Lord, we discover again and again who we are and are called to be. It is all gift, and it is all true. “He who does what is true comes to the light, that it may be clearly seen that his deeds have been wrought in God” (John 3:2 1).

The Eucharist is the great deed wrought in and by God. It will be clearly seen to be true when the whole world, through the evangelizing mission of the Church, is a Eucharistic assembly, a new culture of grace, composed of all those whom Christ loves and has set free.


Francis Cardinal George on Sowing the Gospel on American Soil

January 14, 2010

Francis Cardinal George Arrives At The Funeral of Henry Hyde, 2007

Francis Cardinal George has a gift of being able to view his country as an outsider. As one who grew to manhood in Japan and lived there for 23 years, I think I experienced more of a wrenching adjustment to American life than I ever did to living in Japan. I’ve also wondered how much this played into my conversion to Catholicism, as it has allowed me to maintain a sense of being a cultural outsider.

Here Cardinal George is able to trace the effects of Protestantism on the United States and to view his own country as an object for the evangelization of the gospel by the Catholic Church. I think that is especially helpful to Americans who are not able to see their country in such a critical light. Sometimes as I debate atheists and others on the Internet I find myself thinking: where do these aliens come from? Of course the answer is right here in my home country. They are my neighbors and yet I feel separated from them by a huge gulf.

If you have ever felt that way (remember Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy & The Sundance Kid looking at the posse in their pursuit repeating over and over again “Who are those guys?”), this exposition on the United States will answer some of that question. For the Catholic Church is being pursued, make no mistake about it. The Church stands in many ways as the only defender of the weakest and most needful members (the elderly, the unborn, the economically unproductive, the mentally and physically disabled) of American society. And the secular left is in full throated opposition to any who express their faith on public issues, claiming it is culturally inappropriate to express “privately held” religious views in the public square.

The Distinctive Contribution of Theology
WHAT ARE YOU DOING to affect the culture in the United States?” Pope John Paul II asked me this question directly when I was in Rome in the late 1990s for an ad limina visit. John Paul often spoke of the Church’s mission as including culture-engagement or culture-transformation. “The faith creates culture” was a frequent refrain of his.

There are, of course, many ways that the Church shapes culture, but one of the most significant means to this end is the intelligent and faithful practice of theology Even in its most technical academic expression, Catholic theology is essentially evangelical in nature and purpose, since its task is to explore the full meaning of the story of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen from the dead.

When theologians are no longer taught by the Church and fired by her evangelical enthusiasm, they may become cultural critics or philosophers of religion, but they cannot carry out the full culture-forming task envisioned by the Church. When theologians speak from within the household of the faith, however, their words can create a culture open to Catholicism. How can authentically Catholic theology help announce the Good News to and within a culture shaped by a complex and uniquely American set of assumptions, values, symbols, practices, and convictions?

The Evangelically Ambiguous Quality of Every Culture
Since we have recognized that every culture is a human artifact and since human beings are both made in the image of God and also fallen, we can assume, on strictly theological grounds, that every culture is evangelically ambiguous — that is to say, both fertile soil and rocky ground for sowing the seed of the Gospel. Accordingly, we may search, with Paul Tillich, for the religious ground of the artistic, political, and institutional life of any society; and we may notice, with Karl Barth and John Milbank, the various spiritual distortions evident in those same cultural expressions.

With Ongen and the bishops of Vatican II, we may discern the semina verbi [the seeds of the word] that are present in non-Christian philosophies and religions; and with Augustine, we may craft an appropriate critique of even a great culture grown decadent. Thus it is in a spirit neither optimistic nor pessimistic, neither overly enthusiastic nor excessively censorious, that we look, with Gospel eyes, at our American culture. Since this is our culture, all of us can look at trends and values and past history to understand who we are collectively; but each of us can also look within and seek for identity and self-understanding as individuals. Our culture is a locus theologicus, a privileged source for theological reflection.

American Culture as Rocky Ground
What are some of the qualities of our culture that make it hostile, or at least unreceptive, to the proclamation of the Good News? The United States is a nation that has been shaped decisively by Protestantism, with its stress on the power of inner experience. For Martin Luther and other great reformers, justification is mediated less through an external system of sacraments and ecclesial institutions than through the deeply subjective intuition of faith. When this Lutheran insight passed into the thought-world of Calvinism, it became the inner conviction that one had been predestined to salvation.

A particularly powerful insight into the psychological dynamics of this Calvinist feeling of being saved is given by John Henry Newman in his Apologia Pro Vita Sua. He recounts there the story of his embrace of evangelical Christianity at the age of fifteen. By an “inward conversion” of great intensity; Newman became aware of two “luminously self-evident beings,” himself and his Creator, and of the fact of his final perseverance in grace. At the beginning of the modern age, such subjective certitude had come to replace the objective givenness of participation in Church and sacramental rites as assurance of salvation.

The Emphasis on Experience in American Theology
When, in the seventeenth century the Reform became more rationalized through the efforts of the Protestant scholastics, the focus on interiority and experience was preserved on the continent in such groups as the Hutterites, the Anabaptists, and the Moravians and in England by the Puritans and the Quakers. Many of the earliest settlers of colonial America were members of these more radical and marginalized Protestant groups. An already subjective Protestantism was expressed in a more markedly inward and experiential form.

Think, for instance, of the Quaker emphasis on the inner light and the Puritan — and later Wesleyan concern for tracking the movement of the divine spirit within one’s soul. And in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, during the various “Awakenings” that swept the country, preachers confirmed these tendencies by encouraging their listeners to feel their conversion to Christ in an intensely emotional way and to express it vividly and physically. This is the ground of our contemporary search for what might be called spiritualities without faith.

Experiential Protestantism assumed a new and more intellectual form at the beginning of the nineteenth century in the thought of the founder of theological liberalism, Friedrich Schleiermacher. Trained in a Moravian community; Schleiermacher never lost his fascination with the subjective ground of faith. He simply transposed it, in line with the romanticism of his time, into the “feeling of absolute dependency,” claiming that intuition as the self-verifying foundation for Christian dogma. This Schleiermacherian liberalism profoundly shaped the religious thought of both Europe and America, helping to give theological legitimacy here to Unitarianism (Schleiermacher placed the Trinity beyond the range of what could be verified through religious experience) and Emersonian transcendentalism (in his early writings, Schleiermacher spoke of a mystical union with the Universe). Though these more liberal forms of religion strayed far from the classical Christianity of the sixteenth-century reformers, they retained the powerful subjectivism and experientialism of the Reformation.

Paul Tillich, the twentieth-century Protestant theologian standing most clearly in the tradition of Schleiermacher, found a receptive audience among American intellectuals for his correlational version of Christian theology; Tillich understood religion, subjectively enough, as “ultimate concern”; as he saw it, the task of the theologian was to relate the anguished questions of finitude to the answers of the biblical tradition. Through a kind of trickle-down effect, the thought of Tillich has found its way into much of popular narrative theology and into many forms of theological reflection done in pastoral contexts.

And even as our Protestant-formed culture shades today into a post-Christian secularism, the emphasis on subjectivity and experience remains. It can be seen, for instance, in the numberless talk shows, those public confessionals where people discuss their deepest feelings and anxieties and are urged to act them out, sometimes histrionically. And it can be discerned in the myriad forms of New Age spirituality most of which are grounded in a mysticism of the divinized self.

The Challenge to Revelation and Authority in American Culture
All of this, quite obviously, renders extremely difficult the proclamation of a revealed and doctrinally developed faith. For classical Catholic Christianity, the truths of faith do not arise from common human experience; they come to us through God’s gracious self-revelation. More to the point, they cannot be verified, measured, or contained by our subjectivity. In the very first question of the first part of the Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas argues that a revealed sacra doctrina is required beyond the philosophical discipline of metaphysics because human beings are oriented to an end beyond what they could in principle grasp through their own powers. Revealed doctrine, and its theological elaboration, are necessary, in other words, because God has not intended that we rest in ourselves, trapped, as it were, in our own experience.

In his critique of Tillich’s correlational method, Barth said that the “answers” of Scripture are so surprising and strange that they confound any and all questions that we ask. And in his critique of Karl Rahner’s more experiential approach, Hans Urs von Balthasar compares Jesus to a mountain torrent. The torrent cannot be exhausted by the various human channels made to receive its water. What Aquinas, Barth, and von Balthasar suggest is this: experience and subjectivity are most themselves when they are graciously overthrown by the revelation that surpasses them. The exaggerated subjectivism of American culture renders this overthrow problematic.

A related difficulty is that of authority especially religious authority. When subjective experience is the source, measure, and criterion of truth, any and all authority is seen as arbitrary and invasive. But a doctrinal tradition that is grounded in objective revelation must be preserved and monitored by an authority that transcends subjectivity and is thus capable of real judgment. Newman argued, throughout his career, that the existence of a developing and historically situated dogmatic faith requires an infallible authority in order to discriminate between legitimate evolutions and corruptions. As even a casual survey of American religious culture reveals, acknowledgment of such an authority is problematic.

Another theologically negative dimension of our American culture is what could be called its fundamentally antagonistic social ontology. In addition to John Calvin’s influence in America, we have to recognize the presence of Hobbes. As noted earlier, at the heart of the medieval Catholic theological worldview was a metaphysics of participatio. God was seen, not so much as a supreme being, but the sheer act of to-be itself (Thomas’s ipsum esse subsistens), in which and through which all created things exist. This analogical conception of being allowed the medievals to see God in creation and thus to appreciate the essential connectedness of all things to God and, through God, to one another. Because human beings participate in God, they are, willy-nilly, linked to each other in the deepest ground of their existence. This powerful underlying metaphysical account led medieval Christians to appreciate the connectedness of social/political life as natural to human beings and, consequently, to see violence as not only ethically improper but ontologically inconsistent.

This vision began to break down under the influence of Duns Scotus’s univocal conception of being (which turned God into a supreme instance of being, set over and against finite realities) and Nominalism (which radically individualized and hence separated God and creatures). Pope Benedict XVI laid great emphasis on this problem in his 2006 address at the University of Regensburg, where he spoke of the relation between social violence and a God totally transcendent to His creation. As we saw in an earlier chapter, the total dissolution of the medieval ontology was realized only in the early modern metaphysical and political thought of Hobbes. Having bracketed the creator God, Hobbes saw, consequently, that the basic form of human existence must be antagonistic and individualistic. If there is no universal ground in the divine being, the war of all against all is the natural state of affairs, and sociality; an artificial contrivance for the preservation of life, is no reflection of ontology. On this Hobbesian reading, the purpose of government is no longer — as it was in classical and Christian thought — civic virtue and social justice, but rather the protection of each individual from the potential threat posed by every other individual. A social ontology of peace gives way to one of violence. “Ought” can find no foundation in “is”; and metaphysics no longer functions as meta-ethics.

This basic Hobbesian view goes through various shadings and permutations in Locke, Thomas Jefferson, and the other American founders, but they share in a common understanding of the essential nature of government. Thus, in the Declaration of Independence, it is the right to life, liberty; and happiness that is affirmed; the form of that life, the purpose of that liberty; and the proper ground of that happiness are left completely unarticulated. And the role of government is still exclusively protective rather than directive, since ontological antagonism is taken for granted.

When John Paul II spoke against a Western conception of freedom that is detached from justice and truth, it was this peculiarly modern, Hobbesian sense of freedom that he had in mind. When the free choice of the individual is incontestably paramount, the consequences are the materialism, self-absorption, litigiousness, and, above all, violence that so obviously mark our culture. Abortion and domestic abuse, human trafficking, capital punishment, the increasing gap between rich and poor, the appalling violence on our city streets often fueled by drugs, our sometimes arrogant and aggressive nationalism all flow from an apotheosized freedom rooted, in turn, in an antagonistic, disenchanted metaphysics.

One of the most remarkable and disturbing expressions of this Hobbesian freedom is the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992, dealing with abortion rights. The majority of the justices determined that “at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” What we see here, with breathtaking clarity is the complete eclipse of truth by freedom and hence the subjectivizing of any and all moral, metaphysical, or religious claims.

In the City of God, Augustine mocked the order of the Roman Empire as a pseudo-justice, based more on fear and oppression than on a dedication to real community And he clearly showed the relationship between the phony social order of the empire and its inadequate theology: the worship of vain and violent false gods led to a dysfunctional political system. What he proposed to replace it was the communio of Christianity, grounded in the love, forgiveness, and compassion of Christian believers, and ultimately in the communio of the Trinitarian persons: a good society rooted in right worship. In Pope John Paul II’s warnings to the West, we hear an overtone of this Augustinian critique. A freedom that is disengaged from the worship of the Creator God, one that is thus correlated to a false metaphysics, becomes poisonous.

Proclaiming a Christian metaphysics of participation, connection, and compassion is, obviously, difficult in a culture predicated on Hobbesian social and ontological assumptions. In a nation formed by an antagonistic and individualistic sense of freedom, it is awkward to say that our lives do not belong to us, that our liberty is for the sake of the Gospel, and that happiness lies in surrender to the divine will. Ignatius of Loyola is speaking a profoundly Christian language when he says, “Take, Lord, receive all my liberty my memory my understanding, my entire will. You gave them to me, now I give them back to you.”

What Ignatius assumes is a metaphysics of participation and creation: our being is, first and above all, given and then received, and therefore the task is to give it away in love rather than cling to it. “What you have received as a gift, give as a gift.” Americans often find this language of self-sacrifice hard to grasp. But not only our values and patterns of thought are evangelically ambiguous — our institutions and social patterns are as well. Political democracy and religious pluralism, both characteristic of America, require extensive theological analysis as carriers of culture, as do the worlds of entertainment and the professions.

American Culture as Receptive Soil
The theological assumption I made at the outset, that every culture is evangelically ambiguous, now compels us to explore the other side of this question: To what degree is American culture receptive to the sowing of the Gospel seed? As we saw, John Paul II was a trenchant and honest critic of the modern West, but he was also an admirer of the American experiment, and his theological analyses and meditations on the value of our society can guide us effectively in this section.

Pope John Paul II visited the United States in 1979, 1987, and 1995. On each occasion, he found much to praise in America. During his 1979 pilgrimage, he preached at the Chicago lakefront on the theme of the national motto e pluribus unum. Looking out over the throng of about a million people, he reminded them that they had come from a variety of cultural, ethnic, and religious backgrounds. He exulted in the fact that from this diversity they had created something new: “You brought with you a different culture and you contributed your own richness to the whole; you had different skills and you put them to work, complementing each other, to create industry agriculture, and business; each group carried with it different human values and shared them with others for the enrichment of your nation. E pluribus unum: you became a new entity a new people.”

This new people was forged for the purpose of pursuing material wealth, fellowship, and social progress, but, the pope reminded them, “history does not exhaust itself in technological conquest or in cultural achievement only.” There is a deeper reality, signaled by the very act of gathering around the table of the Eucharist: “your unity as members of the People of God.” What John Paul underscored was the analogy between the secular national communio of the United States and the sacred, transnational communio of the Church. Like America, the Church gathers people from every corner of the world, benefits from their distinctive contributions, and then draws them into oneness around a common principle: “The Body of Christ is a unity that transcends the diversity of our origin, culture, education, and personality”

John Paul meant to highlight this analogy not only theoretically but practically: the praxis of America, as it has painfully but effectively forged unity out of diversity, echoes the praxis of the Church as she has brought, throughout the centuries, peoples to Christ. Thus, when America has successfully produced the one from the many, it has participated, however imperfectly, in the divine unifying principle on full display in the Church, namely, Christ’s love for the world.

This insight was never more dramatically expressed than in the homily the pope delivered at Dodger Stadium during his 1987 pilgrimage. Once more looking out on an audience of striking ethnic diversity; John Paul said, “Christ is Anglo and Hispanic, Christ is Chinese and Black, Christ is Vietnamese and Irish, Christ is Korean and Italian, Christ is Japanese and Filipino. . . and many other ethnic groups.” And this is why the idea and practice of e pluribus unum make American culture receptive to the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel in universal communion.

When the Puritan settlers arrived in the New World, they expressed the significance of their pilgrimage in explicitly biblical terms. Having passed through the Red Sea waters of the Atlantic Ocean and having left behind the divisiveness and superstition (as they saw it) of Europe, they sought to establish on these shores “a city on a hill,” a New Jerusalem where a purified Christian community would gather. This sense of America as a divinely sanctioned place of fresh beginnings worked its way quickly and deeply into the national consciousness.

It can be sensed in the rhetoric of the writers and activists of the Revolutionary period, in the western movement of the pioneer generations, in Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, in the poetry of Walt Whitman, and in the hope against hope of the nineteenth- and twentieth-century immigrants. American culture is shaped significantly by the intuition that we are not the victims of history, inescapably caught in a maelstrom of war, recrimination, and social oppression. Rather, we sense that, here, the rejected are welcomed and even the lowliest, by dint of imagination and courage, can move confidently into an open future.

On October 3, 1979, John Paul II gathered in the rain with three hundred thousand people in Battery Park on the southern tip of Manhattan. There he spoke of this quality of the American soul. “It will always remain one of the glorious achievements of this nation that, when people looked toward America, they received together with freedom also a chance for their own advancement.” In the cadences of our own literary tradition, the pope urged us to realize the fullness of this vision: “Break open the hopeless cycles of poverty and ignorance … the hopeless cycles of prejudices that linger on despite enormous progress. . . the inhuman cycles of war that spring from the violation of man’s fundamental rights.”

What the pope counseled was that the biblical understanding of history as hopeful, open, and providentially guided would find an echo in the American mythology of opportunity and advancement, and hence that prophetic calls to radical social transformation, which might sound strained and naïve elsewhere, would here find a receptive ear. At the very heart of John Paul’s assessment of our culture is a deep and often-expressed appreciation for our ideal of human rights.

The Hobbesian conception of rights and freedom, as we saw, has, to some degree, haunted us from the founding of the nation to the present. But it would be an oversight if we ignored the pope’s equally passionate endorsement of a properly directed and grounded freedom. In a homily delivered on October 3, 1979, in Philadelphia, John Paul drew attention to the Declaration of Independence, which had been composed and ratified in that city two hundred years earlier. He cited the prologue of the document, which contains “a solemn attestation of the equality of all human beings, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”

The key word in this sentence is “Creator.” In pre-Christian political and social thought, the radical inequality of human beings was taken for granted. In Aristotle’s Politics, our fundamental differences in intelligence, courage, and physical ability provide the justification for clear social distinctions and hierarchies, including that of master and slave. But with the Judeo-Christian revelation, something radically new was introduced: the idea of a creator God in whose presence all of us, despite our differences, are respected and loved. In light of this biblical idea, it became clear that human social status could never be simply a function of natural abilities or accomplishments. It must rather be rooted in our identity as beloved children of God.

Inasmuch as Locke and Jefferson spoke of creation in their articulation of human rights, they showed the influence of this Christian heritage and their departure from a purely Hobbesian construal of the question. In that same Philadelphia sermon, John Paul drew attention to the Genesis account of the creation of human beings in the image and likeness of God. It is this biblical intuition, he implies, that informed the best of the language of “rights” from the founders of the American political culture.

Therefore when the Church speaks — as she must — of the dignity of each individual, created by God and redeemed by Christ, she ought to find a receptive audience in Americans formed by the civil tradition of human rights. ‘When, on Gospel grounds, she defends the weakest and most vulnerable members of a society– the elderly, the unborn, the economically unproductive, the mentally and physically disabled — her words ought to resonate with the deepest convictions of the American soul. In the measure that these “least” among us are legally unprotected, our culture has rejected a creation-centered understanding of rights and chosen a Hobbesian conception. A theological analysis of our rights language would be a powerful contribution to culture and society.


Francis Cardinal George on The Emergence of the Modern

January 13, 2010

Francis Cardinal GeorgeContinuing from our post from yesterday, Francis Cardinal George takes us from the complex development (and corruption) of the Augustinian notion of the City of God affecting the City of Man through late antiquity and the Middle Ages until the Emergence of the Modern. I always find this transition in history so interesting because I was brought up to celebrate the “birth of science” and the “Age of Rationalism” or “The Enlightenment.” Nowadays I tend to think of it as “The Darkenment,” which is another extreme but at least captures the sense that something was lost as well as gained.

A Compromise with Augustine’s the City of Man
The dark underside of the ideal unity of the social order informed by religious faith was the use of state power, often uninfluenced by moral considerations of its limits, to enforce religious conformity — a conformity more often used for political than for genuinely religious ends. The reaction to this misuse of power justified modernity’s understanding of religious freedom. What created modern consciousness is a breakdown of classical Christian participation metaphysics and the consequent emergence of a secular arena at best only incidentally related to God.

It is this modern, non-participatory, ideological context that impoverishes most of our discussions of religion and politics. It is most evident, perhaps, not in the loss of visual symbols to integrate space but in the creation of rival calendars to shape the rhythm of public life. In the modern era, national feasts and ceremonies replaced the liturgical calendar of the Church, whose feasts become private observances. The end of the modern era, however, is signaled by the inability of the secular calendar to call people out of their private concerns into the rhythm of a shared public life. National holidays have become primarily occasions for private recreation. Time itself becomes a field to be personally scheduled, a function of private purposes. A rigorously secularized society is less and less able to call people to any kind of participation.

The loss of the communio ontology in Western thought begins, perhaps surprisingly, just after Aquinas, in the writings of Duns Scotus. Scotus consciously repudiates the Thomistic analogy of being — predicated upon participation — and adopts a univocal conception of being. Though it was perhaps Scotus’s intention to draw the world and God into closer connection, this epistemological and ontological shift had the opposite effect. In maintaining that God and the world can be described with a univocal (vocab: having only one meaning; unambiguous) concept of being.

Scotus implied that the divine and the non-divine are both instances of some greater and commonly shared power of existence.  But in so doing, he radically separated God from the world, rendering the former a supreme being (however infinite) and the latter a collectivity of beings. In opting for the univocity of the idea of existence, Scotus set God and world alongside each other, thereby separating “nature” and “grace” far more definitively than Aquinas or Augustine ever had and effectively undermining a metaphysics of creation and participation. God is no longer that generous power in which all things exist but rather that supreme being next to whom or apart from whom all other beings exist.

The distancing of God from creation and the defining of the world as profane, made possible by this univocal concept of being, can be seen in the voluntarism and nominalism of William of Ockham, which in turn had a decisive influence on Martin Luther. Scotus’s compromised sense of analogy shaped the later and more decadent scholasticism, finally giving rise to Francisco Suarez’s awkward rendering of Thomas’s doctrine of analogy; Some have argued that this Jesuit Renaissance version of Aquinas — with its sharp delineation of nature and grace — came to form modern consciousness, especially through the work of the Jesuit-trained René Descartes. In both its Lutheran and Cartesian manifestations, modernity assumes a fundamental split between the divine and the non-divine and hence implicitly denies the participation/communio metaphysics that had shaped the Christian world through the ancient and medieval periods.

What does this modern worldview produce in the arena of the social and political? Thomas Hobbes made the political implications of modernity most evident. In his famous description of the natural (prepolitical) state of human beings as “solitary; poor, nasty; brutish, and short,” Hobbes assumes the primacy of antagonism. Void of a religious, and therefore communitarian, sensibility natural man is engaged in a desperate attempt to keep himself alive, fighting a “war of all against all.” Responding only to his most elemental passions, man in the state of nature lives a thoroughly individualist and “secular” existence, and any link to an englobing and transcendent context is lost.

Given this framework, the role of government — Hobbes’s Leviathan — becomes what it was in ancient Rome: the maintenance of a temporary and ersatz peace on the basis of coercion and violent control. The only way to curb the relentless violence of the state of nature, Hobbes assumes, is to accept the mitigated violence of the commonwealth. Because debates over ultimate ends and especially over theology tend to be disruptive of the peace, Hobbes places the Church under the tight control of the Leviathan, the sovereign who determines and enforces what is to be believed. To be sure, this adoption of a particular religious policy has nothing to do with a correlation to an objective truth; it is simply adopted as political expediency. It is this stipulation that constitutes the core of the modern “theological” vision. The natural state of human beings is irreligious, unrelated to a transcendent God and his purposes, thoroughly secular. Whatever role religion plays in the structuring of life is artificial and totally subordinate to political ends.

This Hobbesianism is softened a bit but preserved in its essential structures in the political thought of John Locke. Though he allows a rudimentary moral sense to remain even in the state of nature, Locke follows Hobbes in deriving individual rights from irresistible and antagonizing passions and in defining government’s role as basically protective of those individualist prerogatives. Government’s only task is to ensure one man’s legitimate claim to life, liberty, and property over and against the encroachments of others. The loss of a sense of man’s nature as deeply social leaves unchallenged the assumption that antagonism, disassociation, and suspicion are the natural condition of human beings. Here, the metaphysics of participation and communio has become a distant cultural memory.

This Hobbes/Locke tradition profoundly shaped the minds of the founding fathers of the United States. In the prologue to the Declaration of Independence, we hear of “self-evident truths” concerning “inalienable rights” to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As in Hobbes and Locke, these rights are individualistic — my liberty and life over and against yours. These rights are somewhat correlated to moral ends outside of themselves by the greater or lesser religious sense of common destiny and purpose in the minds and beliefs of many of the founders; but it is, tellingly, the pursuit of happiness — unguided, unanchored, unfocused by truth — that is guaranteed as a right. And government is “instituted among men” in order to protect these prerogatives and hence assure some level of peace and order in a still primarily antagonistic community.

In what appears to be a departure from Hobbes, the framers of our Constitution insisted that no single religion be officially established but that the state should remain separated from religion, neither sanctioning nor prohibiting its exercise. This approach to religion, however, is still essentially Hobbesian, since it proceeds from the distinctively modern creation of a thoroughly secular space, untouched by religious questions, concerns, and finalities.

Much more could be said about the subtle differences in emphasis and accent between the pure Hobbesian, Lockean, and American construals of political reality For example, Alexis de Tocqueville’s still provocative analysis of the play between the American “secular” state and the vibrant, though officially privatized, religiousness of the American people continues to yield insights into the actual experience of generations of Americans. But despite certain nuanced differences, all three perspectives remain recognizably secular and modern in form and content. All three are possible only after the breakdown of the communio metaphysics characteristic of authentic Christianity And therefore, all three amount to an embrace —whether relatively enthusiastic or relatively cautious— of what Augustine would describe as the City of Man.

Protestantism and Modernity in the American Context
What was the Christian response to the challenge of modernity in its American form? The full answer is obviously complex, and it varies according to whether one begins from a Protestant or from a Catholic perspective. After Walter Rauschenbusch’s theology of the Social Gospel in the beginning decades of the twentieth century, the two most influential American Protestant social thinkers of the last century were the prolific Niebuhr brothers, Reinhold and H. Richard. What makes these figures particularly interesting from our perspective is their Augustinianism, expressed in and for the peculiarly American context.

Reinhold Niebuhr began his career as a liberal in the tradition of Rauschenbusch and the Social Gospel but soon he became disillusioned with what he took to be the ineffectuality and uncritical idealism of this position. Through his pastoral practice and his reading of the Hebrew prophets, he was in time converted to a stance that his commentators are nearly unanimous in referring to as “Christian realism.” By this they mean that, despite (or perhaps because of) his religiosity; there was nothing dreamily idealist about Niebuhr’s political analysis. He was willing to take human beings as they are —with all of their duplicity; violence, selfishness, rancor, and sin — and not as he would like them to be. “In political and moral theory; ‘realism’ denotes the disposition to take all factors in a social and political situation, which offer resistance to established norms, into account, particularly the factors of self-interest and power.

Niebuhrean realism manifested itself in the distinction between a personal ethic of love and a social ethic of justice. ‘Whereas the demands of radical love contained in the Sermon on the Mount could be justifiably applied to the personal realm, they would have to be set aside in favor of the more mitigated form of love that is justice when applied to the properly social or political arena. Given the fact of original sin, it is simply asking too much, thinks Niebuhr, to expect a body politic to behave according to the absolute moral demands of the Gospel. The more appropriate and “realistic” criterion for evaluation of the moral quality of a society is that of justice, that “rendering to each his due” which is a qualified mode of love. This clarification, with its deepest roots in Max Weber’s distinction between an “ethic of ends” and an “ethic of means,” enabled Niebuhr to accept and affirm, for example, both a personal embrace of pacifism on the part of the saint and a social acceptance of warfare as a tragic necessity on the part of the body politic.

For our purposes, it is interesting to note that Niebuhr saw Augustine as a major influence in the development of his social ethic. Presumably it was Augustine’s honest assessment of the City of Man and his qualified acceptance of certain social practices (such as warfare) that shaped Niebuhr’s position. It seems, however, that Niebuhr’s solution bears only a passing resemblance to Augustine’s treatment of the two cities. For St. Augustine, the Niebuhrean distinction between love and justice would be highly problematic, precisely because what determines the justice of the City of God is finally the quality of its love. The City of God is just only in the measure that it remains a collectivity that loves God (and hence human beings) according to the pattern of Jesus. Furthermore, the privatization of love would have struck Augustine as untenable. As Henri de Lubac pointed out in his Catholicism, one of the defining marks of the Church Fathers as a whole is the passionate conviction that no dogma is to be construed individualistically, that every Christian claim has a social range and implication. That there is a private and interior dimension that can be cleanly distinguished from the public seems to be a conviction far more Lutheran than Augustinian, and it would certainly fly in the face of the communio metaphysic we have been describing.

A form of Protestant Augustinianism perhaps more congenial to this analysis is that of Reinhold Niebuhr’s brother, Helmuti Richard Niebuhr. In his classic text Christ and Culture, H. Richard Niebuhr distinguished several paradigms for the relationship of Christian faith to the culture in which it finds itself. Christ has been envisioned over the centuries as, variously, against, over, of and in paradoxical relation to the culture. Each of these positions has advantages and disadvantages, but Niebuhr seems to favor the paradigm that he articulates last, namely, Christ as the transformer of culture.

According to this model, the culture is fallen and hence in need of transformation, but it is also capable of conversion through the influence of Christ’s way of being. The transformation paradigm is sufficiently “realistic” in its honest assessment of sin, but it is also spiritually alert to the possibility of a real and thorough conversion of a culture through Christ. Intriguingly, H. Richard Niebuhr, claims St. Augustine — especially in the City of God — as the best advocate of this position, and here we can agree. There is no artificial distinction between public and private and no pessimistic resignation to the intractability of the public realm. But rather, in the spirit of Augustine, the whole of the public ordo is seen as fallen through false love but redeemable through the authentic love of the communio opened up by Christ. This position, unlike Reinhold Niebuhr’s, allows for a more robust Christian critique of the assumptions and practices of a political culture flowing from Hobbesian individualism.

Catholicism and Modernity in the American Context
What is the Catholic attitude to the distinctively modern polity that is the United States? Catholics have had, it seems fair to say, a complex relationship to American society. When they arrived in great numbers starting in the early nineteenth century, they were met with fierce opposition from a Protestant establishment fearing a “foreign” and despotic takeover. The Egyptians seemed to have managed to cross the Red Sea of the Atlantic Ocean and now threatened to corrupt the almost chosen people, to use Abraham Lincoln’s phrase, of this American promised land. In the face of anti-Catholic propaganda, the burning of convents and monasteries, and the rise of the Know-Nothing party American Catholics tended to lie low, muting the “political” dimension of their faith and preferring to build a Catholic culture under the protection of the religious freedom guaranteed by the First Amendment. And they did so with a passion, establishing by the beginning of the twentieth century a vibrant and institutionally powerful subculture in the still predominantly Protestant United States.

So favorable did this American environment seem that influential Catholic bishops such as James Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore and Archbishop John Ireland of St. Paul actively promoted American-style separation of church and state. At the same time, some American Catholics — and Vatican observers — worried that the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment would conduce to a secularized, or at least Protestantized, understanding of the relation between faith and society. At the end of the nineteenth century this concern led to Pope Leo XIH’s official ecclesial condemnation of the heresy called “Americanism.”

John Courtney Murray — Reconciling the Catholic and the Modern
It is against this complex background that the thought of John Courtney Murray, S.J., emerged. Murray is undoubtedly the most persuasive voice advocating the reconciliation of the Catholic faith with a characteristically modern political experiment. Murray’s proposal needs to be analyzed with some care in order to gauge the degree of success he achieved.

A fundamental and guiding assumption of the Murray project is that a civil society is characterized by constructive and disciplined argument, the working-our of consensus in a rational manner. The conditions for the possibility of this civil conversation are two: an agreement that there is “a heritage of an essential truth… [that] furnishes the substance of civil life,” and a respect for the rights, freedom, and dignity of the individual. If the former is missing, the conversation becomes unfocused; and if the latter is absent, the conversation devolves into power plays. When the founding fathers of. this country embraced certain self-evident truths and placed their political efforts under the authority of a transcendent God, they fulfilled the first condition; and when they insisted that basic rights and freedoms especially with regard to religion — are to be guaranteed, they fulfilled the second. Murray believed that, in their acceptance of both a form of natural law and the authority of the divine, the American founders differ radically from the Jacobin and laicist revolutionaries of Europe, whose convictions were marked by a fierce anticlericalism and a sort of uncritical rationalism.

Though they were not antireligious, the American founders saw the necessity of eliminating a consideration of ultimate ends from the political conversation. Precisely because there was, in colonial America, such an irreconcilable pluralism of Protestant theological views, they saw that the consensus requird for civil conversation would dissolve if any religious viewpoint were officially sanctioned or allowed to determine secular policy. Therefore, according to Murray, the framers declared the state incompetent in matters of religion and restricted its interests to the political sphere. The “truths” that are held in common and that undergird the civil conversation are thus not final or theological truths but are rather basic convictions and intuitions in principle available to all people of intelligence and good will. It is here that Murray senses •a link to the Catholic tradition of the natural law, a universal moral sensibility distinguishable from the specific precepts of the revealed law.

In this context, one can begin to understand Murray’s insistence that the two articles of the First Amendment should be interpreted, not as “articles of faith” but as “articles of peace.” Behind the separation of church and state in the American constitution is neither a secularist ideology that would simply drive religion from the public square nor a Calvinist theology placing exclusive stress on the divine transcendence. Rather, Murray claims, there is no ideological commitment no faith — of any kind behind these purely legal decisions to restrict the range and sanction of the civil conversation. Their purpose is not to make claims regarding ultimate ends, but only to provide the conditions necessary for a peaceful and therefore civil dialogue.

Murray exults in the fact that the First Amendment is the product not of theologians but of lawyers. If it were otherwise, Catholics would be obliged, he thinks, to dissent from the American proposition. It is the very ideological agnosticism of the First Amendment that renders it palatable to people of various religious and philosophical persuasions. Under the protection, and within the confines, of these ideologically “neutral” articles, Catholics can feel free to develop their particular spiritual and faith-based culture while insisting that the original Protestant flavor of early American culture not be normative. Against a perceived Protestant hegemony, Catholics, along with Jews, have often acted as “secularizers” in American society.

The Price of A Catholic Reconciliation
It appears as though we have found, in Murray’s balanced argumentation, a philosophical justification for the pro-American sentiments of Archbishop Ireland and Cardinal Gibbons. It seems that a reconciliation of the Catholic and the modern is not only possible but welcome. With the benefit of a longer historical experience, however, this reconciliation seems less certain. If we look more closely, we uncover some of the distinctively modern ideological content of Murray’s ostensibly agnostic solution.

It is no secret that John Courtney Murray’s thought was shaped by a neo-Scholastic two-tiered conception of nature and grace, a view that he inherited from his Suarezian Jesuit tradition. This sharp delineation between the natural and the supernatural is, as discussed above, a departure from the communio and participation metaphysics of the patristic and medieval periods. It is congruent with the typically modern carving out of a distinctively profane realm untouched by ultimate finalities or direct religious influence. Given this distinction, Murray could easily enough establish two realms, a “political” one where questions of ultimate ends are bracketed and a “religious” one where those ends can be proclaimed and sought.

Such a demarcation is impossible, however, within the context of a participation metaphysics, which sees all of finitude as grounded in and touched by the divine. It was, of course, John Courtney Murray’s contemporary and fellow Jesuit Henri de Lubac who, in a series of groundbreaking texts, vigorously attacked the two-tiered conception of nature and grace and attempted a recovery of a communio metaphysics. According to de Lubac, nature is not a self-contained realm with its own finalities, but rather one that is permeated by and oriented toward the supernatural from the beginning. But if this is the case, then the separation that Murray tolerates — the bracketing of ultimate ends in the political context—is exposed as simply a pragmatic and religiously inadequate ploy.

Father Murray’s separation assumes as well the implicit acceptance of a relentlessly modern view of the person. If the political or social dimension is essentially untouched by the sacred, then the human being who is naturally social is also by nature agnostic, perhaps even atheist. Whatever is religious in him is added as an extrinsic superstructure to a religiously neutral substructure. Any “truth” suggested by religion regarding humanity and its ends remains adventitious if not alien to this secularized natural man To be sure, American liberalism is not, like continental Jacobinism, overtly atheist; but it is, one could argue, implicitly or covertly so. The “peace” gained by the articles of the First Amendment is bought at the price of a secularized understanding of the world and the loss of communio.

None of this relativizes the important contribution made by John Courtney Murray, for in Murray state neutrality in religion is not so much the condition for social peace as the necessary means for protecting personal religious liberty in a pluralistic society. In fact, his insistence on the centrality of religious liberty was affirmed at Vatican II, although the Council’s defense of religious liberty owes at least as much to Fréflch Christian personalism as to Murray’s historical and social analyses. Nevertheless, the anthropology of the Council’s document Dignitatis humanae now shapes Catholic social teaching and has been consistently emphasized in the writings of John Paul II.

The pope’s construal of this liberty however, flows from the thought world of communio metaphysics rather than from a modern political framework. “What is central to John Paul’s interpretation is that freedom and truth belong together from the beginning, that the latter is in fact an essential component of the former. Without correlation to truths rooted in nature and in God, human freedom becomes license or, alternatively, acquiesces in state tyranny. In Augustinian terms, it becomes an improperly directed love, a mere “pursuit of happiness” rather than a structured spiritual activity. John Paul II consistently criticized in the Western democracies born of the Enlightenment this divorce of freedom from truth, this tendency to think that liberty can be unquestioningly affirmed while consideration of ultimate truth is bracketed or privatized. Such a bifurcation — allowed for by Murray in the interest of peace — was, for John Paul II, an undermining of the very structure of freedom itself

And what indeed are the fruits of this great divorce? “When we look at the moral landscape of America at the dawn of the millennium, what do we see? We see, again to invoke the Augustinian hermeneutic, ample evidence of the flourishing of the City of Man. In the millions of abortions annually, the divorce of human reproduction from the embrace of human love, the increased application of the death penalty, the practice of euthanasia, the conviction that hopelessly handicapped people are better off dead, the seemingly indiscriminate arid sometimes disproportionate use of the military, the gun violence in the streets of our cities and the corridors of our schools in all of this we see the fruits of what Pope John Paul II called “the culture of death,” a society that allows for the destruction of its weakest members according to the simple will of the strong. The culture of death is none other than that “world” generated by the separation between freedom and truth; it is a result of the poorly conceived compromise between the City of God and the City of Man which stands at the heart of the modern experiment.

What follows from this faith-based critique of modernity? One might assume that, given the line of argument presented here, the only alternative is some sort of theocracy or confessional state. Nothing could be further from the truth. Having lived through late antiquity; the medieval period, and the modern era, the Church is opposed to “theocracy” on two basic grounds. First, as Murray argued and Vatican II clearly stated, faith is never to be pressed on anyone through coercive means of any kind. A coerced faith is not personal faith, and the development of doctrine in Vatican II has moved the Church from simply standing the modern problematic on its head and accepting a purely public faith as an article of peace in a contemporary version of medieval society.

Second, the Church should not seek to establish itself officially or juridically outside its own structures. A communion on its own terms, the Church cannot set up a “political” arm or expression without betraying its integrity. If churchmen over the centuries have sometimes embraced the theocratic model, they have done so without sufficient attention to the demands of the Gospel and the nature of the Church herself

The community of Jesus Christ does not seek to take over the reins of political power; rather it seeks to create a culture. The debate on the institutional relationship between church and state has become now a conversation on the relationship between faith and culture. Provided the political order respects human dignity, communio can be visible in a culture open to transcendence. The faith creates such a culture by being simply, boldly, and unapologetically itself. At the heart of the Church is the sacred liturgy what Vatican II called “the source and summit” of the Christian life.

The liturgy on earth is an iconic display of the heavenly liturgy of the angels and saints, that community gathered together around the throne of God and united in praise. In the way we gather, the way we pray, the way we behave liturgically, we act out the paradigm of the heavenly communio, seeking to remake ourselves in its image. Then, as a liturgical people, we endeavor to shape the world according to this icon, bringing love where there is hatred, forgiveness where there is resentment, compassion where there is animosity; and peace where there is warfare. By the power of the Eucharist and through a kind of osmosis, we transform the culture, gently but subversively, from within.

In his text on the role of the laity; ChristiFideles laici, Pope John Paul II articulated several dimensions of this culture-creating work. First, the family must be remade as an expression of communio. Then, starting from that foundation, Eucharistic people must refashion the social, economic, and political realms; next, they should influence the arenas of education, entertainment, literature, and the arts. Finally, they ought to concern themselves with the environment and ecology; caring, in a spirit of communio, for the planet itself.

There is nothing coercive or violent about this process; but, at the same time, there is nothing private or self-effacing about it either. Its ambition is the total transformation of the world in all its dimensions. In the Lord’s Prayer we ask that God’s kingdom come, that his will be done on earth as in heaven. We are petitioning, in a word, that God’s ordo, God’s way of thinking and being, become, in the richest sense, our ordo, that the City of Man might be transformed by the City of God.

This transformation will not be easy. Personal conversion challenges individuals; cultures and entire societies also resist being evangelized. The history of tensions between the community of faith and the political order shifts according to what element of the faith seems the greatest challenge to the civil powers at any particular time. Emperors and feudal lords, during the many years of the controversy over the investiture of bishops, tried to take to themselves the government of the Church.

Josephism and the Napoleonic conventions tried to take to the state the control of the worship and ministry of the Church. Modern states founded in revolutions with universalist pretensions, such as the French, the American, and the Russian, have tried to arrogate to themselves the mission of the Church. Co-opting the faith’s sense of purpose in order to create a secularist universal culture sets up tensions difficult to dispel. The Church resists being reduced to a department of state, a particular denomination, or a private club.

The deepest truth that Catholics proclaim is that of communio:all things and all people are ordered to God and hence ordered in love to one another. This truth informs everything we say about the political, social, economic, and cultural realms. If we surrender this truth — either through ideological compromise or even out of concern for civility — we succumb to the culture of death.

At the beginning of the third millennium, the mission of the community that looks to Jesus as Lord is to create a culture of life and to do this within social structures that are more and more global in outreach. For the second time in two thousand years, the Church finds herself in social, economic, and some political structures that are increasingly universal. In such a situation, the Catholic Church is an agent of transformation that is, paradoxically, completely at home.


The Philosophy Of Incarnation And Communio

January 12, 2010

Francis Cardinal George

Cardinal George covers the same ground that we encountered in yesterday’s post on the Chalcedonian Doctrine. Yesterday I commented on how I had used the Doctrine to dismiss a Jesus Denier’s claim that Christianity had simply drawn the Jesus fable from other pagan mythologies. Today Cardinal George will relate it to the fundamental Christian social concepts manifested in the ontology of communio and participation.

It also struck me that it is precisely the philosophy of the incarnation that we see expressed in multifarious ways in the lives of the Saints, which we are all beckoned to become. This is all taken from Cardinal George’s splendid new book “The Difference God Makes”  

Philosophy of Incarnation
At the heart of Christianity is a provocative claim: In Jesus Christ, God has become a creature, without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature he becomes. Many pre-Christian myths and legends spoke of God or the gods “becoming” creaturely, but such incarnations always resulted in uneasy mixtures of the divine and the non-divine. Thus Achilles and Hercules are quasi-godly and quasi-mortal, their divinity compromised by their humanity and vice versa. But as the Greek and Latin theologians of the patristic period struggled to express their incarnational faith, they consciously abandoned this mythological construal.

The Council of Chalcedon in 451 expressed the radicality of Christian belief when it said that in the divine person of Jesus Christ, two natures — divine and human — come together in a hypostatic union, without mixing, mingling, or confusion. This means that in Jesus the divine and the human unite without competition or compromise. Christ is not quasi-divine and quasi-human; in fact, just such a mythological reading was rejected in 325 at the Council of Nicea during the struggle against Arianism. Rather, Jesus is fully divine and fully human, the proximity of the divine enhancing and not weakening the integrity of the human.

But the condition for the possibility of such a claim is a new understanding of the nature of God. Finite things exist necessarily in a sort of mutual exclusivity: the being of one is predicated, at least in part, on its not being the other. Hence, when one finite thing “becomes” another, it does so through ontological aggression and surrender: the desk becomes a pile of ashes through being destroyed by fire, and the lion assimilates the antelope by devouring it. Competition characterizes the play between conditional realities.

Therefore, when the Church proclaims that in Jesus Christ the divine and the human have come together without competition and compromise, she is saying something of extraordinary novelty. She is claiming that God is not a worldly nature, not a being, not one thing alongside others. God is not in competition with nature because God does not belong to created nature; God does not overwhelm finite being, because God is not a finite being.

When Christian theologians, inspired by their faith in the Incarnation, attempted to name God, they accordingly reached for language that evoked this distinctiveness. Thus St. Anselm said that God is not so much the supreme being as “that than which no greater can be thought,” implying, paradoxically, that God plus the world is not greater than God alone. And when St. Thomas Aquinas named God, he avoided the term ens summum (highest being) and opted for ipsum essesubsistens (the subsistent act of to-be itself).

Both of these theologians thought of God as noncompetitively transcendent to the realm of finite things and therefore totally immanent to all things as the cause of their being. God is transcendent cause, and therefore Christianity is not a form of pantheism or Emersonian panentheism; but God is therefore closer to his creatures than they are to themselves. God is not related to the world, for that would create too great a division between God and the world, but neither is God identified with the world. The transcendent God is within his creation as the cause of its very being.

It is from this understanding of God, rooted in but developed from Jewish faith, that the peculiarly Christian sense of creation flows. Because God is not one being among others but rather the sheer energy of to-be itself. God does not make the world through manipulation, change, or violence, as the gods of philosophy and mythology do. Since there is literally nothing outside of God, he makes the entirety of the finite realm ex nihilo, through an act of purest and gentlest generosity.

God’s is a non-possessive love. And since God is the act of to-be, all creaturely things exist in and through God, “participating” in the power of his being and the graciousness of his love. And we can draw a final implication: because all of nature and the cosmos are, likewise, creatures participating in the divine generosity, they are all related to one another by bonds of ontological intimacy.

When St. Francis of Assisi spoke of “brother sun and sister moon,” he was making both a poetically evocative and metaphysically precise remark. All things in the cosmos exist in a communio with one another precisely because they are rooted in a more primordial communio with the creator God. This view of reality as a communion based on love is the worldview that proceeds from the Incarnation.

Augustine’s Two Cities
Whatever Christians say about the social, political, and economic realm must flow from this grounding metaphysical vision. Or better put, there is an unavoidably social dimension to the Christian ontology of communio and participation. This can be discerned clearly in one of the most remarkable and influential presentations of the Christian worldvjew ever written: the De Civitate Dei – On the City of God – of St. Augustine.

What strikes the modern reader perhaps most immediately is St. Augustine’s adamant refusal to dialogue with the representatives of the polity of Rome who had challenged the legitimacy of Christianity. He is interested in neither accommodating nor compromising with the Roman system, which he sees as fallen. Rather, he boldly proposes the Christian way as being, in all regards, preferable. He does not turn to Rome to find a social theory or political arrangement compatible with a privatized and interiorized Christian spirituality; on the contrary, he excoriates Rome as an unjust society and holds up Christianity itself as the only valid basis for a just form of social arrangement.

Augustine’s hermeneutical key is well known. He distinguishes sharply between the City of Man (a collectivity based upon self-love) and the City of God (a collectivity whose foundation is the shared love of God). The former is not so much an inadequate society; it is rather like a group of thieves or marauders masquerading as a body politic. Much of the first part of De Civitate Dei is a spirited demonstration that what looks like a paragon of justice — the Roman Empire — is in fact a manifestation of the City of Man.

Augustine’s argument has a “theological” and a “political” phase. First, he shows, over hundreds of pages, that the multiple gods of Rome are in fact demons because they engage in and encourage various forms of immorality including and especially rivalry, jealousy, and warfare. Then he paints a vivid picture of the political life that has followed from the worship of such gods. What has characterized Rome, from its founding in the fratricidal struggle between Romulus and Remus to the chaos of Augustine’s day, is unremitting violence.

The door of Janus, supposed to be closed during times of peace, has remained stubbornly open for almost the entirety of Roman history. The regnant spirit of Rome is what Augustine refers to as the libido dominandi, the lust for mastery, and it is this spirit that has sent conquering armies around the world. At the heart of Augustine’s analysis of Rome is the correlation between a faulty metaphysics (the worship of finite and self-assertive gods) and a faulty polity of violence and domination. A denial of a metaphysic of participation and communio leads to the false imitation of justice in the City of Man.

But Christians believe in the God who is Father of Jesus Christ, a God of nonviolent and creative love who brings the whole of the world into being from nothing. Such a God, unlike the false gods of Rome, enters into competitive relation with no one or no thing. The worship of such a God leads to a society based not on the libido dominandi but on the love, compassion, nonviolence, and forgiveness preached and embodied by Jesus. What Augustine proposes, therefore, is an altera civitas that has “no logical or causal connection to the city of violence,” requiring the repudiation of worldly dominium and worldly peace. It is a city based upon the consensus that mirrors the community of the saints and angels in heaven, an icon of the heavenly ordo. This communio conception of society corresponds to God’s original and deepest intention toward the world.

If one seeks to know the origins of the City of Man — the corruption of this original intention of God  –  one has to look to the rebellion of Adam and Eve. In the original sin, Augustine sees the first human decision to sever the relationship with God, to deny the implications of creation and corn munio and to establish a kind of “secular” realm apart from God. The violence and injustice of Rome is, for Augustine, simply the latest and most virulent consequence of this original rebellion.

Again, what is surprising for moderns is Augustine’s refusal to place this analysis in anything even vaguely resembling a “church/state” context. It is not the case that the secular state ought to order public life while the Church cares for the spiritual good of the people. There is no such easy distinction in Augustine. There is, rather, the dramatic difference between the false worship (and hence flawed social arrangement) of the City of Man and the proper worship (and hence life-giving social arrangement) of the City of God.

The problem is not how to reconcile the competing concerns of the spiritual and the secular; the problem is orthodoxy, that is to say, getting our metaphysics and our praise of God in order, so that we can live in a just, rightly ordered society.

It is impossible to trace in a brief chapter the complex development (and corruption) of this Augustinian notion through late antiquity and the Middle Ages. But one can see its perdurance in the remarkable relationship between medieval worship and social life. At the center of the medieval town — both physically and psychologically — was the church or cathedral, where the drama of the paschal mystery and its communal implications were played out in a sacramental rhythm. This visual display of the Christian faith shaped the consciousness of worshipers and in turn influenced economic, agricultural, and political life, as had the Temple in Jerusalem.

The activity of medieval guilds, the labors of farmers, the ordering of the economy — all were predicated upon and shaped by the sacramental life, especially baptism and the Eucharist. There was a keen sense that the heavenly liturgy (God’s ordo), iconically displayed in the earthly liturgy, worked its way into all of those social and political realities that today we would misleadingly refer to as entirely “secular.” In the medieval consciousness, a sacred/secular chasm would have seemed anomalous, since politics, economics, and social order existed as a sort of extension of the sacramental life of the Church.

As the civil society became more explicitly shaped by faith, it came to be treated as good in itself because it had the same ultimate goals as the Church: the incorporation of each citizen into communion with God. Thomas Aquinas, using Aristotle’s reflections on man as essentially political and social, admitted real distinctions between church and state according to their respective functions, but he saw them united in a single goal  –  the common good of all on earth and a common life in God for all eternity.


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