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)
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Gender Differences Are Eternal
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Saturday, December 04, 2004Gender Differences Are Eternal
The validity of that statement is at the heart of many debates. Cambridge University Press just published this year its Cambridge Companion to Hans Urs von Balthasar-- a fact which, as the editors note, means more and more are discovering the "fascination" of Balthasar's writings. In one essay, a female ordained Episcopal priest takes issue with Balthasar's view of male and female differences (Corinne Crammer, "One sex or two? Balthasar's theology of the sexes").
As she notes, for Balthasar, the difference between male and female is fundamental, radical, and unerasable (p. 98). From this point of view, several consequences emerge. Balthasar views, for example, "representation in general" as a male characteristic while viewing "receptivity" as a feminine characteristic (p. 99).
Crammer notes that this view "provides the basis of his argument against the priestly ordination of women" because a "woman's role is 'not representation, but being' " (pp. 99-100). She quotes Balthasar as writing that "[i]f anything is a male need, then it is the desire to subject everything to a purpose" (p. 99). This active male orientation is the basis for the male as the quintessential agent of representation.
Crammer also notes that for Balthasar priests embody "Christ [who] is necessarily male" as the Bridegroom who makes the Church as Bride fruitful (p. 100).
So far so good. Then, as is no surprise, Crammer begins to attack Balthasar. The basis of her attack is that the Swiss theologian's views block the struggle for gender equality, that his view of gender does "not serve the cause of justice for women well but rather provides theological justification for social inequality" (p. 107).
She ends with what appears to be her real concern, namely, that Balthasar's view "that men and women naturally have different roles . . . [is used] to argue against the priestly ordination of women" (p. 107). Given her own "ordination," this conclusion is no surprise.
Crammer's bias blocks her from seeing the obvious: that Balthasar was in no way concerned with promoting social inequality of any kind, but rather with presenting the reality of creation. It is a reality that is not subject to social movements, but that will always remain true. To try to deny that reality in the name of a new notion of "justice" is to really create injustice by treating men and women as something they are not and never will be.
It is amazing that Balthasar is even subjected to this feminist "hermeneutics of suspicion" given a major issue that bothers even some of his admitted admirers: Balthasar's devotion to the insights of the Swiss mystic Adrienne von Speyr with whom he worked closely during his lifetime. As the editors of this volume note, she led Balthasar to take the radical course of leaving the Jesuits to start his own new kind of religious community (p. 4).
Even more astounding, given the feminist suspicion Crammer aims at Balthasar, is that Balthasar insisted "that his own theology is directly derived from" von Speyr (p. 5). As I noted before, that insistence sticks in the throat of some of his admirers who fail to see the value of her writings.
So what we are really seeing is that Ms. Crammer fails to encounter Balthasar seriously. He certainly is not in any way espousing social inequality. Her critique comes down to arguing that Balthasar's views that the sexes are eternally different block her own particularly favored social and political agenda.
That is not theological engagement, but rather a neo-Marxist approach to truth in which failure to advance a particular social struggle is the criterion for rejecting something as true. Just as the Marxist political project collapsed in dreariness and chaos, so this intellectual neo-Marxism will bear no fruit.
Friday, December 03, 2004Best Way to Eliminate Capital Punishment
Certainly, in a better world, there would be no capital punishment. The authorities would quickly apprehend murderers and put them away for life with absolutely no chance of their ever getting out on the streets to harm anyone again.
Murderers would simply disappear into the void of prison never to be heard from again--and the prison would be unambiguously uncomfortable. The prospect of such absolute oblivion in an undesirable place would send a strong message of deterrence. Don't kill or get an early ticket to "hell."
Yet, as a former criminal lawyer, I confirm what you already know: there are so many loopholes in our judicial system that murderers do get back out on the street for one reason or another at some stage or another of the judicial process.
So, truly radical judicial reform from top to bottom is a prerequisite to ever eliminating the death penalty. The focus of our lawyers and judges should be on identifying killers and putting them away, not on playing procedural games that are oblivious to the truth and cater to the egos of lawyers and judges.
But the really best way to put capital punishment on the road to oblivion is to outlaw abortion. It is extremely incongruous for people to be so concerned about the guilty yet indifferent to the fate of the innocent. There is a blatant contradiction there that robs the crusade against the death penalty from any real moral steam.
Rational beings intuitively seek rational priorities. The obvious rational priority is to save the innocent first. End abortion, and then we can turn methodically to the issue of the death penalty.
John Paul II does not like the death penalty. John Paul II certainly does not like abortion. My guess is that he would have no problem at all with approaching the death penalty issue through the route of first abolishing abortion. Something fundamentally rational in most of us demands that we put the innocent first.
There is an old slogan you still see here and there: "If you want peace, work for justice." We can adapt that slogan to say in this case: "If you want no capital punishment, work for no abortion." That sequence makes moral and practical sense. That sequence is inuitively appealing to the moral sense and most likely to succeed.
Thursday, December 02, 2004A Modern Antichrist
Princeton professor Peter Singer is infamous for, among other things, advocating the killing of disabled infants--the next logical step in the evolution of the Culture of Death. From recent news reports, it appears that the Netherlands is already taking the lead in this gruesome arena (see Associated Press story for Nov. 30th).
But, to get the full view of the evil promoted by Singer, read this commentary by Marvin Olasky at Townhall.com. Never more have we needed a sure bridge between heaven and earth.
The Best Bridge
A friend of mine, who is a fellow parishioner and an entrepreneur, recently shared with me what he thought would be a good slogan for Catholic evangelization: "The Best Bridge Between Heaven and Earth-- the Roman Catholic Church."
Now slogans are nothing to be sneered at. St. Augustine himself wrote at least one popular song to spread his message (Peter Brown, Augustine [Univ. of Calif. Press, 2000], p. 224). St. Paul proposed his own slogan-like response to the misguided slogans of his Corinthian converts (I Cor. 6:12-14).
My friend's slogan captures what is indeed the authentic Catholic message: that, while people who are not Catholic or even Christian can certainly be saved by God, the best and surest means to salvation lie in the Roman Catholic Church.
The entirety of Scripture, the seven sacraments, and the deposit of Faith preserved by the successor of Peter are the best channels of grace for us-- who are weak, fallen, confused, and given to rationalizations-- to find, cleave to, and live the truth.
Will you see this slogan on a diocesan billboard in an evangelization campaign or on some diocesan brochure? Likely not. The argument in most diocesan central offices would be that such a slogan would be insensitive, yet the slogan captures what the Church really teaches about herself.
The ultimate mark of success for the New Evangelization in our country may lie not so much in sheer numbers of converts and returning Catholics but in the moment when no Catholic diocese in the U.S. would hesitate to display my friend's slogan. In the meantime, this blog will display it.
Wednesday, December 01, 2004Democracy on the March
Bill Safire at the N.Y. Times is on fire today with a column entitled "The Fourth Election." The "Fourth Election" is the Iraqi election scheduled for January 30th, an election that some Sunni political parties are trying to delay. (The Sunnis are the Moslem minority in Iraq who held virtually complete political power in Saddam's Iraq.)
Safire calls the Iraqi election the "fourth" because those in favor of freedom in the Middle East have so far won three elections in a row: the recent election of the incumbent president of Afghanistan with virtually no violence (contrary to the usual media pessimism); the re-election of Australian Prime Minister Howard, a strong Bush supporter; and, of course, the re-election of President Bush himself.
Democracy has many flaws, but one great advantage: it tends to focus policy on the common good. To the surprise of many, the roots of democracy lie not in the skepticism of the Enlightenment but rather in the great Catholic medieval and scholastic thinkers.
While we cannot say unequivocally that Aquinas was a "democrat" per se, there are passages in Thomas "to the effect that the ruler represents the people (S.T., Ia, IIae, 90, 3) or that the prince has legislative power only in so far as he stands in the place of the community (S.T., Ia, IIae, 97, 3, ad 3)" (Copleston, Aquinas [Penguin, 1991], p. 241).
These hints of democratic theory became more pronounced in scholastics such as the Spanish Jesuit Francisco Suarez (1548-1617), called by Pope Benedict XIV the "Exceptional or Uncommon Teacher," Doctor Eximius (see Hardon, Modern Catholic Dictionary under "Suarezianism").
Suarez "is the acknowledged source of the philosophy of natural rights, the law of nations and constitutional law as these have developed in modern times among Christian philosophers as opposed to the divine right of kings" (see Hardon source above). The thought of Thomas and Suárez is the intellectual ancestor of the rhetoric of our Declaration of Independence.
In the encyclical letter The Gospel of Life, John Paul II affirms the value of democracy: "If today we see an almost universal consensus with regard to the value of democracy, this is to be considered a positive 'sign of the times,' as the Church's Magisterium has frequently noted" (Para. 70.4). But as those of us who are pro-life and pro-marriage know only too well, "the value of democracy stands or falls with the values which it embodies and promotes" (Gospel of Life, para. 70.4).
Yet, it is noteworthy that, at least here in the United States, it is unelected judges who have taken the lead in promoting abortion and gay marriage and in removing these issues from the ballot box.
Democracy is on the march in the Middle East--even the Palestinians are now planning elections because of the recent death of Arafat. May Iraqis successfully hold their own elections on schedule--a process with distinctly Catholic roots.
Tuesday, November 30, 2004A Protestant Evangelical Icon
I admit that I do not recall ever hearing of Protestant evangelical preacher John Stott by name until reading the latest N.Y. Times column by David Brooks--although I vaguely recall a reference to someone similar on an Anglican news website when I was following closely the Anglican implosion over the Episcopal embrace of the gay lifestyle. Stott is a staunch evangelical Englishman and an ordained Anglican minister.
And, if you go to his website, you will see from the excerpts of his writings that he is what you would call a classic Protestant evangelical. He affirms, as far as I can tell, without equivocation the divinity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the Trinity, the atoning death of Christ, the Resurrection, and the Ascension. As a classic evangelical Protestant, He also affirms that the Eucharist is purely symbolic and that private confession to a priest is wrong. And he is vehemently committed to evangelizing the world.
From Brooks' column, it seems that Stott is a central figure in modern Protestant evangelicalism. And so we Catholics should be familiar with him. We can learn from him, and we can also see where he falls short.
We can learn to be adamant about our Christian beliefs. Stott minces no words in condemning abortion: he calls it murder of the innocent. David Brooks informs us that Stott believes in evangelizing non-Christians, not just fallen away Christians. Our dioceses would do well to explicitly expand their evangelistic efforts to include people from non-Christian religious backgrounds. We are not just after inactive Catholics--we should be after everyone.
Brooks' column also informs us that Stott is uncompromising in his condemnation of the gay lifestyle. Stott's Christian backbone is a sorely needed example for many of us Catholics, both lay and clerical.
But Stott, as is to be expected, comes short in Catholic eyes in several ways. One shortcoming is the failure to address on his website how he reconciles his membership in an Anglican Church that has, for all practical purposes, decided to recognize the gay lifestyle as a legitimate option for Christians. But I will focus on what I consider to be the main theological shortcoming.
Stott advises that intense study of the Bible is essential for growing churches. Catholics would agree. But we would add that the Bible points to the Eucharist, not a merely symbolic Eucharist, but to Christ really present in the Eucharist as testified to by the early Church Fathers.
Thus, Catholics would add to Stott's advice by emphasizing that the Eucharistic focus is essential to evangelization. As Stott would agree, Christianity is about pointing to the person of Jesus Christ. The Bible is all about pointing to Christ. But Catholics add that the Eucharist is Christ. The Bible points to the Eucharistic Christ.
As one Catholic reader wrote to me recently, it is impossible for Catholics to separate Scripture from the Eucharist--the very words of consecration in the Eucharistic Prayer are biblical. The very words of Scripture find their fulfillment in the Eucharist. The distinctively Catholic belief in the Eucharist completes the biblical faith of John Stott. No mere symbolic service of solidarity around a table can do that.
Postscript: As an aside, I will mention that Brooks' column begins by equating Al Sharpton and Jerry Falwell as uncouth representatives of the evangelical tradition. Well, Sharpton who embraces gay marriage is in no way representative of the Protestant evangelical tradition. The title "Reverend" is not enough. In addition, when I have heard Falwell talk, he has come across as quite reasonable; and so equating Sharpton the demagogue and inciter of racial conflict with Falwell is not credible. Once again, we see the self-righteous journalistic technique of conveniently evading hard issues and differences by casting a smug and inaccurate pox on both houses.
Monday, November 29, 2004The Proportionalist Argument
Proportionalists are those "Catholic" moral theologians who believe in situation ethics. In other words, they believe, contrary to Church teaching, that no acts are instrinsically evil and that whether an act is morally evil depends on its consequences.
Most of you who have studied Philosophy 101, or read any philosophy at all, will likely recognize this supposedly nuanced, avant-garde species of moral theology as nothing more than rehashed nineteenth century utilitarianism. And you would be right.
But it seems that large segments of Catholic moral theology seem bent on replicating, with borrowed Catholic terminology inserted here and there, the errors of philosophy that emerged from nineteenth century Protestant England and Germany. This imitation is then presented as an intellectual breakthrough. But it is an intellectual "breakthrough" only for those who have no familiarity with the history of Western philosophy.
The proportionalist agenda is to make extramarital sex morally acceptable. Some will say that I should not focus on motives in evaluating proportionalist arguments. But I am not talking so much about the motives of the proportionalists as about what they themselves claim they are trying to prove.
In direct contradiction to the Christian tradition, they wish to prove that extramarital sex is of wide moral acceptability. But their premises and arguments do not add up to that blockbuster conclusion. So it is indeed relevant to point out that their self-professed ultimate conclusion does not follow from their strained and artificial premises.
One of the supposedly "hard" examples offered by proportionalists to "prove" that extramarital sex is not intrinsically immoral is the strained example of a mother and wife in a concentration camp with several children. A guard at the camp offers to free the woman and her children from sure death in the camp if she agrees to have sexual intercourse with him. The proportionalists apparently take the line that the woman is morally obligated to accept the guard's offer. They claim that this result means that adultery is not intrinsically evil.
Well, the tradition has an answer to that situation. It is not surprising that the tradition has an answer because, as tradition, it has been around for centuries and has seen the whole gamut of human evil and complexity. The tradition would say that the act of adultery remains objectively evil in all imaginable circumstances and that the woman should not accept the offer.
But the tradition also says that, given the extreme psychological duress and trauma being inflicted on the woman, she would not be considered morally culpable if she did accept the guard's offer. The act in itself remains wrong, but the moral guilt of the woman depends on her freedom. In these circumstances, the woman who submitted would not be acting freely but rather in a state of extreme psychological pressure and panic.
I submit that most of us would not consider a woman in those dire circumstances morally culpable if she did as the guard requested. The woman would be agreeing to a subjectively and objectively repulsive act for the sake of saving her children from a gruesome and imminent death. She would not be acting out of any selfish desire.
So, while the act of adultery remains objectively evil, she would not be subjectively at fault given the extreme psychological pressure on her. She would not be acting freely. To tell the truth, you can find the outline of this traditional analysis in the Baltimore Catechism--but, of course, proportionalists are rebelling against the old catechism.
So the grand "hard" example of the woman in the concentration camp really comes to nothing. The tradition would advise the woman not to submit to the repulsive act and would praise the woman who resisted as a martyr, but would not find morally culpable a less heroic woman given the extreme circumstances denying her freedom.
The tradition can make distinctions based on wisdom and long experience. Proportionalists instead concoct strained scenarios that in no way prove their misguided conclusion that extramarital sexual acts are not intrinsically evil. The proportionalist premises do not add up to the "breakthrough" proportionalist conclusion.
Sunday, November 28, 2004First Sunday of Advent: Isaiah 2:1-5; Romans 13:11-14; Matthew 24:37-44
The first Sunday of the Church year. Our real new year begins today because we know Who is coming. Isaiah prophesies that "from Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem." The God of Jacob will "judge between the nations, and impose terms on many peoples." The result will be peace.
The United Nations building in New York has a famous monument carrying Isaiah's words that nations "shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks; one nation shall not raise the sword against another, nor shall they train for war again." That vision will never come true without the terms imposed by the Lord of the universe.
To point that out is not to advise apathy in the pursuit of peace, but to advise that peace without truth is an illusion. A United Nations that encourages the killing of the unborn is not a force for peace, but rather a force for strife. No lasting peace can be built on the remains of the unborn and partially born.
A world that turns away from such slaughter is the most likely to turn away from the slaughter of war. A world that is indifferent to the slaughter of the innocents is a world unlikely to make peace among nations and peoples a reality.
In Romans, Paul shows the path of conversion. It is a bold path that is not for the timid. It took Augustine many years of struggle to reach the point of full conversion. This passage of Paul's was what did it. Augustine's eyes first alighted on this passage in obedience to the insistent command "Pick up and read," "Tolle lege."
In his Confessions (Bk. 8, ch. 29), Augustine tells us that "in silence [he] read the first passage on which my eyes lit." Here is the passage: "[N]ot in orgies and drunkenness, not in promiscuity and lust, not in rivalry and jealousy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the desires of the flesh" (Rom. 13:13-14, as found in Lectionary). That is the path to peace within ourselves and among nations: putting away selfishness.
In Matthew, the Gospel that we begin reading together in this new Church year, Jesus urges us to be ready for his coming. He describes our indifference to reality by describing our primary preoccupations: "eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage." Full conversion means relativizing all of these concerns in the light of the fullest reality which is Christ. All our other preoccupations will never satisfy fully and will never give us peace.
Wise and Prophetic Comment by a Reader
I urge readers to take a look at the comment by Allison to my recent post (11/27/04) on the novelist Tom Wolfe. It contains a wisdom borne of searing experience. What courage and fortitude she has to speak out. Her courage is an act of charity, of selfless love, toward those with similar experiences. I too have known "Charlotte Simmons." We have all probably known many of them without realizing it. But some of them, like Allison, have come, as the 23rd Psalm says, through the "valley of the shadow of death" to make us listen anew to the truth. They are sorely needed prophets who speak with an eloquence most of us will never match. She has not "wasted" her suffering. Fr. Groeschel would approve.