Analysis by Oswald Sobrino, J.D., M.A., who has published in New Blackfriars (U.K.), Homiletic & Pastoral Review, The Catholic Answer, New Oxford Review, CatholicExchange.com, and the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly. He is a lay graduate student at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. © 2002-06 Oswald Sobrino.
"There is much in Christianity which can be subjected to exact analysis. But the ultimate things are shrouded in the silent mysteries of God." --Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988)
E-Mail Catholic Analysis: email@example.com
Academic Book Series: Point to Covers to See Titles
Heretic, Heterodox, or Liberal?
Links below do not necessarily imply blanket endorsement of their contents or sponsors.CrispAds Blog Ads
Google Custom Search
Google Custom SearchBook Reviews
Saturday, March 27, 2004Heretic, Heterodox, or Liberal?
In my own writings, I find it necessary to use an informative label for those Catholic theologians who reject the Church's teachings on abortion, birth control, the all-male priesthood, and homosexuality. If I merely refer to these Catholic theologians as "Catholic theologians," I am misleading my readers. Yet, some say that by using the label "liberal" we are dividing the Church. The argument is wrongheaded because the division pre-exists any label. These particular Catholic theologians reject one or more of the Church's teachings on the issues listed above or on other issues mentioned below. So an olympian aloofness from informative labels is not a viable alternative if we do not want to be misleading. In my opinion, there is an element of denial lurking in some who eschew useful and necessary labels. Denial has deeply harmed the Church in the current homosexual scandals. Denial can cause even further harm on theological matters. In fact, a strong case can be made that denial about loss of theological fidelity is what laid the foundation for the current homosexual scandal in the first place.
So I think it is indeed obligatory for writers to use labels such as "liberal" to signal to readers that the theologian under discussion is a pick-and-choose or "cafeteria" theologian. To do otherwise is to participate in the very deception that these liberal theologians espouse by calling themselves Catholic.
In my opinion, one label that should be used with care is that of "heretic" which in Catholic usage has a very specific meaning. As Fr. Hardon says, "heresy" refers to the denial or doubt of any truth "that must be believed with divine and Catholic faith" (Modern Catholic Dictionary, s.v. "Heresy"). The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith says that these truths of divine and Catholic faith are those truths "contained in the Word of God, written or handed down, and defined with a solemn judgement as divinely revealed truths either by the Roman Pontiff when he speaks 'ex cathedra', or by the College of Bishops gathered in council, or infallibly proposed for belief by the ordinary and universal Magisterium" (CDF, Commentary on the Concluding Formula of the 'Professio fidei,' section 5, June 29, 1998). Those who doubt or deny such truths are guilty of heresy (Ibid.).
Some examples of truths whose denial is heretical include: "the articles of the Creed, the various Christological dogmas and Marian dogmas; the doctrine of the institution of the sacraments by Christ and their efficacy with regard to grace; . . . the doctrine on the primacy and infallibility of the Roman Pontiff; . . . [and] the doctrine on the grave immorality of direct and voluntary killing of an innocent human being" (Ibid., section 11). The full list is available at the CDF document cited above (see CDF document at ewtn.com). But even from my partial and incomplete listing, we can make some reasonable judgments. Theologian Hans Küng holds heretical views because he does not fully accept the Christological teachings of the Council of Nicaea and does not accept "the ecumenicity" of Vatican I which defined the primacy and infallibility of the pope (Aidan Nichols, O.P., The Shape of Catholic Theology [Liturgical Press, 1991], pp. 15-16). Theologian Roger Haight, S.J., is currently under Vatican investigation for possible heresy because of his Christological writings which seem to deny the divinity of Christ. In my opinion, based on what I have read, Haight does in fact deny the divinity of Christ (see Catholic Analysis archives for 2/16/04 & 10/6/03). Feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson of Fordham University also holds heretical views because she does not view the passion and death of Christ as willed by God, as is plainly taught in the Scriptures (see Elizabeth Johnson, C.S.J., She Who Is [Crossroad, 1993], pp. 158-59).
So the label "heretic" or "heretical" has its place when used with precision. Yet, to call someone a "heretic," does not imply that the person is knowingly a heretic. The person may be merely a "material heretic" who acts out of ignorance, as opposed to a "formal heretic." But I submit that Catholic academic theologians who hold heretical views are more likely than not formal heretics because of their specialized training.
The heretical label also applies to those arguing that abortion is moral and/or legally appropriate. Thus, we can say that Catholic politicians who are pro-abortion hold heretical views. In my view, since Scripture plainly teaches that homosexual behavior is intrinsically evil, those viewing homosexual activity as moral also hold heretical views and that judgment obviously includes those Catholic theologians and clerics who favor gay marriage.
As to the teaching on the all-male priesthood, the appropriate label is that those who deny this Church teaching are not "in full communion with the Catholic Church" because it is an example of a truth necessarily connected to the truths of divine and Catholic faith that we have just discussed (Ibid., section 6). Such truths necessarily connected to the truths of divine and Catholic faith form a second distinct category. (The first category includes the truths of divine and Catholic faith proper). Thus, those Catholic theologians who favor the ordination of women are not in full communion with the Catholic Church. What do we call them? They do not technically fit under the label "heretic" as defined above, although in the future they may appropriately come under the label "heretic" if the Church goes even further and proclaims this already definitive teaching on the priesthood as a dogma "of divine and catholic faith" (see Ibid., sections 6, 7). In the meantime, I favor referring to them as "heterodox," literally meaning those who hold a "different opinion or teaching" from that of the Church.
As to the issue of birth control, in my view and that of some others, this is a truth of divine and Catholic faith and thus its denial is heretical because it is a truth that has always been taught by Tradition (cp. Lawler, Boyle, & May, Catholic Sexual Ethics, 2nd ed. [OSV, 1998], pp. 148-51). Others would at least place it as a truth of the second category discussed above, like the teaching on the all-male priesthood. So a theologian denying the Church's teaching in Humanae Vitae is at least heterodox, if not a heretic. Such a theologian in my view is not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
So "liberal" theologians usually come in two varieties: heretical or heterodox. The word "liberal" is useful because it can cover both categories without involving the general reader in fine distinctions. So, for my part, as a writer for the general public, I cannot practice the olympian disdain for labels such as "liberal" or "conservative." They are necessary to speak accurately to a wider audience-- a necessity created by the heretical and heterodox views of some so-called Catholic theologians and even of some clerics. The use of the label "liberal" is also more charitable in the sense that it reflects prudent restraint in applying the label of heresy.
Friday, March 26, 2004Terrorists and Pro-Abortion Forces: One Culture of Death
In what the New York Times is calling ruefully the "second major victory" in this Congress for pro-life forces, the Senate approved a bill treating an unborn child as a separate crime victim when a pregnant woman is attacked. Pro-abortion Democrats, including presidential nominee John Kerry, voted against the measure for the obvious reason that it treats the unborn child as a legal person with legal rights. The pro-abortion activists are pulling their hairs and tearing their garments over this codification of what they view as blasphemy. The first major victory for pro-life forces in this Congress occurred when President Bush signed the ban on partial birth abortion. President Bush has already announced that he will sign this new bill to protect the unborn child as a crime victim.
The pro-abortion forces are right in this sense: this legislation is a step toward exposing the contradiction in our legal house in which the unborn child's obvious humanity and life are ignored. Just as a house divided against itself cannot stand, so a legal system in self-contradiction cannot stand. Either the unborn child is human and therefore has an inviolable right to life, or the unborn child is not human and is a mere commodity to be disposed of as adults see fit. The Republican Congress and Republican President have made their choice for life. John Kerry and the pro-abortion Democrats have said no to life. In my opinion, any informed Catholic still hesitating about whom to vote for in November should have his head or his theology examined.
This legislation is a major defeat for the culture of death. It would never happen under a presidency controlled by the Democratic Party, the proudly self-proclaimed Culture of Death party. So let there be no doubt: a vote for John Kerry is a vote for the Culture of Death.
Here is a crucial excerpt from the article:
Source: Carl Hulse, "Senate Outlaws Injury to Fetus During Crime," N.Y. Times online (free reg'n required), Washington section, Mar. 26, 2004 (emphasis added).
Here is the detailed Democratic response:
Source: Hulse, N.Y. Times (free reg'n required) (emphasis added).
Sen. Feinstein is right in this limited sense: this is indeed the first strike against abortion. The self-anointed party of social justice, the Democratic Party, is shocked and troubled that self-evident truth is codified by this bill. Indeed, the unborn child is "a member of the species homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb." That definition is absolutely undeniable, and it represents the most basic and fundamental form of social justice. What should really trouble the pro-abortion forces is that their own position requires them to deny this obvious truth.
All of which brings us back, surprisingly but relevantly, to the issue of the war of terror. The United States is at war over its survival. Our enemies wish to destroy us, not to "dialogue" with us. But the battlefields are not only in the deserts or mountain ranges of the Middle East or even at the site of the now destroyed World Trade Center. The battlefield for the survival of American civilization is also in the halls of Congress and our courts.
We are now seeing the absurd legal spectacle of a misguided atheist father obsessively pushing to remove the phrase "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance. We see one major party, the Democratic Party, and its presidential nominee embracing the Culture of Death with gusto. In my view, these internal forces for moral chaos are more dangerous than any terrorist attack. The country will always recover even from the most terrible attack the terrorists can mount or imagine. But what is mortally dangerous is a country's moral self-destruction. The terrorists in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan are not blind. When they see a nation embracing its moral self-destruction, they see an omen of weakness spurring them on in their quest to destroy a weakening America. The message sent to the Middle Eastern terrorists when the courts and the Democrats seek to dismantle morality is a message of weakness. For the terrorists, as for criminals in general, weakness is a red flag. Weakness urges the terrorists never to give up their quest to destroy American civilization. These are times when fundamental issues are coming together in rapid and surprising ways. Let those who have eyes to see and ears to hear heed the signs of the times.
Thursday, March 25, 2004Conduct Belies the Rhetoric
The latest media storm or news cycle is the focus on former counterterrorism bureaucrat Richard Clarke who has written a book focused on painting the Bush administration as weak on terrorism. The immediate gut check you must make is this: to protect your children from future terror attacks, would you rather have George W. Bush or John Kerry in the White House? With Kerry, you will get more of what you got with Clinton: a "law enforcement" response to open war declared by the terrorists and an extreme reluctance to take bold military action against terrorists. Clarke's attacks will go down as another news cycle footnote because they contradict the gut check that most Americans will make on the issue.
But Clarke's attacks look even worse when examined closely. Richard Lowry in the New York Post dismembers the Clarke case in lawyer-like fashion and makes clear that the Clarke book is a woefully misleading exercise in anti-Bush spin. It is also becoming increasingly clear that this bureaucratic prima donna had a real problem with a new administration coming in and changing how things were done. In my view, he also appears to have a problem with working under Condoleeza Rice. The question is inevitable: could it be that he had problems working for an African-American female who is vastly more accomplished than the aging career bureaucrat whose career rise had plateaued? Scratch the surface of stridency without basis, and you will usually find the real curse of Cain that has brushed the lives of all of us: envy. Sometimes we are the envious, and sometimes we are the envied. In many ways, it is the most prominent mark of our fallen condition.
Beyond the hand-by-hand election year political combat, there is a wider drama going on: the drama of honor. In some other cultures, public servants with strongly held and honest views who see those views contradicted by policymakers do the honorable thing: they publicly resign. This option is especially appealing in the face of an urgent public danger such as terrorism. A resignation of honor serves two purposes. First, it is the natural reaction of a person of integrity who does not wish to compromise his honor by knowingly standing by while the common good is being ill-served. If Clarke was so troubled by what the Bush administration was doing, why didn't he resign prior to September 11th? I doubt he was under any economic duress to keep his job.
The second and more important reason for a public servant's resignation of honor is to put a crucial issue on the public agenda. If we assume, for the sake of argument, that Clarke was a man of honor and integrity and if we in addition assume that he was honestly, genuinely, and extremely disturbed by the Bush approach to terrorism, Clarke's public resignation should have followed before September 11th. Yet, it did not. To make matters worse, the record shows Clarke making statements to the press directly contradicting his present criticisms of the Bush administration.
Some of us have resigned lucrative private sector positions because we felt that the work did not live up to our personal standards and ideals even when it meant a significant decrease in present and future income. Surely, a career public servant with plenty of government pension points already accumulated could have done the same. The wider lesson to learn from this news cycle footnote is that the concept of honor is indeed an archaic one in modern America. If we assume Clarke is sincere, then Clarke's silence and refusal to endure a public resignation of honor at the appropriate time confirm that honor has beome an outdated concept. But then again who can blame Clarke, who was just a bureaucrat? His boss for eight years, President Clinton, proved definitively that honor is dead in American public culture.
Update: Another interesting question that must be asked is why the Democrats are so eager to destroy the credibility of Bush National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice. Is it just a way to get Bush, or is it also a way to derail the future political prospects of Rice? The worst Democratic nightmare would be a Republican ticket in 2008 with a highly accomplished African-American woman of sterling reputation as the vice-presidential nominee. That nominee could only be Condoleezza Rice.
In any event, the Clarke potential to hurt Bush politically is slipping through the anguished fingers of John Kerry who, after initially remaining conveniently aloof, is now (as of March 28th) mournfully protesting the exposure of Clarke's lack of credibility. As usual, Mark Steyn of the UK Telegraph newspaper incisively buries the fiction book penned by Richard Clarke (Mark Steyn, "Bush has nothing to fear from this hilarious work of fiction," Telegraph online, Mar. 28, 2004).
Wednesday, March 24, 2004Taking Care of the Body: Why?
As an observer, I have been puzzled for some time whenever I visit a "health foods" co-op store. It is intuitively obvious from the leftist symbols at the one co-op store I usually, but infrequently, visit that the clientele is very culturally liberal--they are still selling "Peace" yard signs and protesting the Iraq war, they are still living the "sixties." Although, from happy experience, I know that it is dangerous to generalize too much from attire and demeanor, it seems a safe bet that most of the clientele in this unabashedly liberal enclave doesn't have much of a problem with the rest of the sixties legacy of sexual license and the freedom to experiment with various substances.
But something seems contradictory. The presumably liberal shoppers are quite concerned with what they eat as shown by their shopping habits. Yet, according to the sexual philosophy of liberalism, they are probably not overly concerned with whom they physically unite in the most intimate and intrusive way possible. Likewise, in this presumed sixties outlook, there is no "hang up" about experimenting with substances that are clearly harmful to both body and mind. The contradiction seems inescapable: pure vegetables and greens, impure acts and substances.
Is it just a matter that, like all of us, the liberal clientele is just a mixture of good and bad mired in confusion, and that the concern for healthy eating is merely an isolated and accidental island of sanity? Or is there a deeper connection between the serious concern for healthy food and the indifference to unhealthy unions and substances? A social science researcher armed with a clipboard could possibly find the answer-- but maybe not, given that any revealing answer by those surveyed would require significant self-reflection about an issue that they are likely to dismiss as irrelevant.
If the shoppers in fact view their strong interest in eating healthy products as consistent with promiscuity and substance abuse, what kind of reasoning would make it seem so to them? My own guess takes me back to the gospels, and, of all people, the much-maligned Pharisees. Like the health food store clientele, the Pharisees were not devils. In fact, they were laymen committed to a rigorous and idealistic following of the Law. Their project was noble. And surely we can grant that most of us have some noble aspirations, however confused the implementation of those aspirations may be.
In Matthew, Jesus gives the famous response to the accusation of the Pharisees and scribes that his disciples violated the tradition of the elders by not washing their hands when they ate:
Matthew 15:11, 17-20 (RSV).
While as Christians we are called to take reasonable care of our bodies as temples of the Holy Spirit, the teaching of Christ points to a higher priority: how do we actively use our bodies. Out of the heart emerge the evil thoughts that issue in the bodily actions condemned by Jesus: murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. As John Paul II's theology of the body teaches us, the reference to false witness and slander is not just a reference to that small but mighty member, the tongue (James 3:5), but can also be a reference to the language spoken by our bodies as a whole, especially in sexual acts.
So it seems that the Christian emphasis is on our bodily actions, not so much on how "clean" or pure our food is. The reason is that anyone can wash their hands as the elders did. To update the analogy, anyone can shop for organic food. What makes the crucial difference is the heart, and the bodily actions that emerge from the heart. So, in the end, why take care of the body? In my view, Christians should take care of the body so that it can be a vehicle for the expression of a pure and clean heart. Yet, there is nevertheless an element of eschatological detachment about the body: the Christian priority is on what we do with the body from the heart, and not so much with the strict physical or medical condition of the body.
So I submit that the true child of the sixties has things backwards. The true children of the sixties, like the Pharisee, view what they eat as defiling the body--or as they would say "toxic"--rather than focusing on their use of the same body. This backwards view is what makes the pursuit of pure eating ostensibly consistent with impure acts. If the cultural ambience at the liberal health food store is taken seriously, then my guess is that, surprise of surprises, the unreflective countercultural obsession with organic food may be a modern version of the Pharisaical excesses condemned by Jesus. Today's culturally convenient and exclusive identification of religious traditionalists with the Pharisees may be quite off base. You will see advertisements for "detoxifying" products at the co-op, but the most important toxicity is ignored. And so Pharisees, albeit with noble aspirations, may lurk even in easy-going countercultural enclaves.
Tuesday, March 23, 2004What Our Culture Hates: Talk of Sin and the Devil
Our culture does not hate sin per se, but it surely hates talk of sin. Yet, some writers are still ready to give us the truth whole and unvarnished, however impolitic or "imprudent." In his writings in the theological specialty of Christology, Roch A. Kereszty, O.Cist., does just that:
Kereszty, Jesus Christ: Fundamentals of Christology (N.Y.: Alba House, 1991), p. 162 (emphasis added).
Of course, we want to be our own norm of action. It means that no desire goes unfulfilled, regardless of the cost. Once you enter this process of self-justification, the possibilities are unfortunately endless:
Kereszty, p. 162.
In some form or another, we have all been there. Yet, Kereszty does not stop there. He is even more impolitic. He brings in Satan:
Kereszty, p. 163.
Padre, now Saint, Pio of Pietrelcina had direct and violent encounters with the devil. Most of us have not. But does the devil really need to confront us so visibly if we are already his instruments? If he confronts us visibly, most of us would turn our lives around on a dime. He obviously knows what he is about.
In discussing the redemption, Kereszty discusses what we desperately don't want to face: the consequences of sin. Here is what Kereszty describes:
Kereszty, p. 175.
Even after we are justified and forgiven, the consequences of sin remain in our world. Just ask the person with AIDS or those whose relationships are irreparably broken because of sin. By the redemption, Christ has broken the dominion of the devil and guaranteed the possibility of salvation. Yet, the devil still exacts his price from us even though we pretend he does not exist. Maybe he does so precisely because we love to tell ourselves that he does not exist.
Update: A Catholic Analysis reader informs me that other interested readers can find information on the second and enlarged edition of Kereszty's book at the Alba House website.
Monday, March 22, 2004The Prophet Wojtyla
In 1960, Auxiliary Bishop Karol Wojtyla of Kraków, Poland, now John Paul II, published his book on sexual morality, Love and Responsibility (see Catholic Analysis, Mar. 19, 2004, for prior commentary on this book). In 1960, when my own parents married in a Hispanic country, they did so after a courtship which involved being chaperoned in public by my maternal grandmother. Even in the United States, in 1960, the conventional expectation was that at marriage at least the bride would be a virgin. Most people in 1960 probably could not have anticipated the collapse of sexual morality that would soon follow, a collapse that involved pulling the rug on centuries of Western consensus on the relations between men and women. In a way, the inner life, the heart, of our civilization collapsed while on the outside we enjoyed unprecedented power and affluence. The gospel image of the whited sepulchres comes to mind.
But in 1960, an auxiliary bishop and university professor in an isolated and economically backward Eastern European country captured perfectly the new paradigm of immorality that was rising in the West: the ethic of sexual utilitarianism. That ethic of sexual utilitarianism is today openly and blithely defended with a smile in internet discussions, assumed by "how-to" magazine articles targeting female readers, preached by the apostles of "safe sex," and lived out in widespread and accepted "shacking up" and in short-lived marriages. This sexual utilitarianism is celebrated in popular music so much so that, in truth, to refer to the genre of "romantic" music today is a laughable anachronism. We are in an age of sexual cynicism in which the ethos is perfectly captured by the refrain in one popular song that is a mindless staple of popular radio: "What's love got to do with it?"
The Kraków prophet analyzed this new paradigm for what it is-- old-fashioned egoism:
Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility (Ignatius Press, 1993), p. 37.
This egoism is the pursuit of pleasure by using another. The "gap" between utilitarianism's focus on the ego's pleasure and any concern for another must then be closed by resort to "a fiction, a semblance of altruism" (p. 38). The fiction is then that the noble fornicator is concerned about the pleasure of his partner:
Wojtyla, p. 38.
You will see this new paradigm of "mutual pleasure" peddled even by some high-minded liberal Christian leaders, such as Rowan Williams, the current spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion (see link).
But a problem arises when the myth of the noble fornicator is put into practice:
If, however, I cease to experience pleasure, or it does not tally with my 'calculus of happiness' . . . then the pleasure of the other person ceases to be my obligation, a good for me, and may even become something positively bad. I shall then-- true to the principles of utilitarianism-- seek to eliminate the other person's pleasure because no pleasure for me is any longer bound up with it-- or at any rate the other person's pleasure will become a matter of indifference to me, and I shall not concern myself with it.
Wojtyla, p. 38.
The utilitarian will then try to "invoke something called the harmonization of egoisms" (p. 38). But the problem remains:
Wojtyla, p. 39 (emphasis added).
The above excerpt is a devastatingly accurate phenomenological description of our "hook-up" culture with its inevitable "un-hooking." And all of this chaos is masked with the terminology of "love": fornication becomes "making love," and the fornicator becomes a "lover," while the reality is simply egoism. We use each other, but love to mask it in the inapplicable vocabulary of love. After all, part of egoism is maintaining a healthy self-image and one's essential self-esteem. And so, like Rousseau's eighteenth century myth of the noble savage, we now live with the myth of the noble fornicator, while the casualties mount.
Sunday, March 21, 20044th Sunday of Lent: Joshua 5:9a, 10-12; 2 Cor. 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32
The reading from Joshua captures the moment when Israel definitively leaves the wilderness and begins to live in the Promised Land. Henceforth they "ate of the fruit of the land of Canaan." God removed "the reproach of Egypt."
St. Paul enthusiastically proclaims that in Christ "behold, the new has come." In The Passion of the Christ film, there is a singular moment when Jesus meets his Mother, our Mother, on the way of the cross and says to her in so many words, "I make all things new." As Paul says, in Christ we are new creatures. That is why we have to be ready for great surprises in our Christian journey. Our old sins and habits will be made new and transformed from weaknesses into strengths, into virtues. Such an amazing transformation means that we are entering the Promised Land. The reproach of Egypt has been removed.
In Luke, we have the familiar parable of the prodigal son who wasted his inheritance on "harlots." Well, the father in the parable was also prodigal in giving the confused son his inheritance, knowing full well of the risk that it would be wasted on harlots. Yet, the father continues to be prodigal. When the prodigal son returns from his desert of sin, the father unhesitatingly puts together a lavish and splendid feast. It is true that in our sins, ignorance, and confusion, we have freely wasted the extravagant gifts that the Father originally gave us. But it is also true that when we return to our Father, the Father continues to be generous and prodigal in making all things new in our lives. What awaits us upon our return to the Father are new things we could never imagine for ourselves after our long stay in the desert of sin, new things that may even be unnerving in their newness. God Himself is prodigal. He is generous. He is not a miser.