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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Why We Lose Hispanics (and Others)
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Saturday, December 18, 2004Why We Lose Hispanics (and Others)
Lately, I have been thinking about why there are so many Hispanic non-Catholics in the United States. As a Hispanic myself, I have my own intuitive views. They are not based on surveys or research, but on gut instinct. Here they are.
Four reasons immediately emerge: Emotion, Bible, Eucharist, Mary. The first is emotion, and by that I mean the lack of emotional expression in the typical American Catholic parish. This lack is not just a matter of liturgical taste but a matter of what happens in the hallways and schoolrooms. It is just plain true that, for many Latins, Anglo-American culture seems to create "cold" personalities.
The Anglican evangelical preacher John Stott has some interesting observations on the emotional repression that seems part of the ambience of Anglo-Saxon culture. Stott has written on how he grew up in the typical English public (read: private/prep) school in which emotional display was discouraged. But Stott observes how, once he read the Gospels closely, he saw that Jesus was the opposite of the English upper class, "stiff upper lip" ideal--the dramatic Jesus who wept publicly and made quite a ruckus in the temple with the money changers. Stott decided to abandon his heritage of emotional repression.
Now, even in Latin cultures, stoicism is admired. After all, the great Stoic philosopher Seneca was from the Iberian Peninsula, and there is such a thing as the dour Castilian. But there is an emotional warmth to personal relations and greetings among Latins that is, for the most part, missing from larger American society, especially in the North. It seems a matter of common sense that immigrants in a new land seek some warmth to make up for the strangeness of their surroundings. Passing by one another on the way to and from church just doesn't cut it. Small Protestant congregations have an advantage here because they are in effect small base Christian communities. Our American parishes need to build personal ties to attract and keep Hispanic Catholics. The sacramental nature of Catholicism encompasses all of our humanity, all of our human nature, including the sane need for emotional "family" connection. Such a commitment to daily "personalism" would be a powerful countercultural witness to a society obsessed with materialism, efficiency, and using others as tools or instruments.
In addition to emotional warmth, the Bible is a big reason many Hispanics defect. They find the Protestant preacher always talking about the Bible in a way that is quite different from the typical American Catholic homily. The Protestant evangelical likes to "dig" into the Bible and tie different parts of the Bible together. It is even routine in Southern Baptist churches to hear the preacher refer to the original Greek in his sermons. Contrast this approach with the typical American Catholic homily: begin with a non-biblical anecdote about sports or some other secular event or with a sentimental story, then draw platitudes from the lectionary readings. It is a mediocre exercise that challenges no one: neither the preacher nor the audience. Instead of digging to give the people something solid to fascinate them with Scripture, we are left with vague exhortation reminiscent of some sort of self-help therapy. The preaching has to change. Struggling immigrants want spiritual power, not suburban pap.
Then there is the Eucharist. No Protestant denomination--I repeat no Protestant denomination--has Jesus Christ himself really and uniquely present in a tabernacle in church. But we are fortunate to have that powerful Real Presence in every one of our Catholic churches, however humble. But what do we do? Many churches take great pains and go to great expense to hide the tabernacle from public view or, sometimes, to even use a nondescript box as a tabernacle. The tabernacle should ideally be front and center--and if not center, then at least at the front in open view. It should not take any effort for anyone entering a Catholic church to immediately find the tabernacle. The tabernacle should be so prominently displayed that even a totally uninformed non-Catholic should have his attention immediately drawn to the ornate and noble container next to the tabernacle light. Unfortunately, that is not the case in many parishes. And, once the tabernacle is properly made the focus of attention, acts of devotion must also follow--genuflection, bowing, processions. If you hide what is unique, then people will see no reason to stay.
Finally, there is Mary, the Mother of God. Hispanics, in my opinion, are not leaving because of Protestant attacks on the cult of Mary. Hispanics are leaving because Mary is so absent from so many parishes. Statues are gone or made unrecognizable. Marian devotions are deemphasized. You can go to Mass in some parishes on the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe, and there is no mention of this great feast day of the patroness of all the Americas. It just happened in my own parish this past December 12th. It is an astounding omission. Hispanics are culturally and emotionally predisposed to Marian devotion. So it is extremely obtuse to seek Hispanic participation and marginalize Marian veneration. Once you exile Mary, it is much easier for Hispanics to defect to non-Marian Protestant churches. What do they have to lose?
In other words, the formula is not that complicated: to retain Hispanics, be Catholic. Come to think of it-- to retain and attract anyone, just BE CATHOLIC, TRULY AND DISTINCTIVELY CATHOLIC.
Friday, December 17, 2004Newsweek Does the Nativity
A few days ago I wrote on Time magazine's cover story on the Nativity. Today, it's Newseek's turn (like Time, also the Dec. 13th issue). The Newsweek story is by Jon Meacham whose theological credentials are a two-year tutorial on the Bible with a professor at Episcopalian Sewanee University. The tenor of the article is that there are strong reasons to suspect that significant elements in the Nativity story were invented to bolster the divinity of Christ and to imitate similar stories from the Old Testament and Greco-Roman culture. The Newsweek editor, writing in the front part of the magazine, views the cover story as a public service because at Newsweek they have realized "how little even some of the most committed and educated Christians know about the evolution of their deeply held beliefs and assumptions" (p. 4). Translation: Newsweek is going to do the unwashed masses of gullible Christians a favor by bringing us up to date on the latest high-brow speculation debunking the truth of the Nativity story.
Well, as you might correctly guess, I judge the Newsweek cover story a flat failure in debunking the biblical accounts. There is an indirect quote from biblical scholar John P. Meier to the effect "that there is no convincing evidence Jesus himself ever spoke of his birth, and neither Mary nor Joseph (who is not a figure in the years of Jesus' public life) appears to have been a direct source" (p. 52).
Well, Jesus did more than speak about his birth. Jesus spoke about his divine pre-existence prior to his human birth! Let's look at the Gospel that most modern scholars consider to be the earliest written--Mark (although I myself favor Matthew as the earliest). People like Meacham like to emphasize the fact that Mark has no nativity story (p. 54). But Mark does have Jesus making the claim to be God. Let's look at two passages in Mark: Jesus walking on the sea (Mk 6:45-51) and Jesus before the chief priests and elders prior to his death (Mk 14:53-65).
Let me get to the crucial point, for our purposes, in both stories: in both stories Jesus appropriates the divine name "I AM" reserved to God alone, to Yahweh (Exodus 3:14-15). In Mark 6:50, Jesus tells the disciples frightened by his walking on the water: "Take heart, it is I; have no fear" (added emphasis). In the original Greek, the phrase translated "it is I" in the Revised Standard Version really says: "I am" (in transliterated Greek, "ego eimi"). In Mark 14:62, Jesus replies to the high priest's question whether Jesus is "the Christ, the Son of the Blessed" with the words "I am"--this time the English translation accurately reflects the underlying Greek.
Thus, in the supposedly earliest Gospel, one without a Nativity story, Jesus identifies himself with the God of the Old Testament. In my view, that is why the high priest shrieks "blasphemy" in response to Jesus' answer (Mk 14:63-64). The proof of this divinity of Christ lies in his Resurrection from the dead, also recounted in Mark.
So the thesis of some scholars that the Nativity story is an invention to bolster the divinity of Christ is silly because it misses the point that, given the astounding sign of the Resurrection, there was no need to "invent" anything further to bolster the divinity of Christ. Yes, Christ does not speak of his birth in Mark--but Christ goes further, infinitely further, and speaks of his divine pre-existence. Mark emphasizes the crucial, earth-shaking point, the jugular: Christ is God. Only scholars who overlook that crucial point in Mark can view the contrasting presence of the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke as motivated by a need to make Christ seem more divine than he appears to be in Mark. In Mark, Jesus is already just as divine as he is in Matthew or Luke. (It is worth noting that the other gospel that skips the Nativity, the Gospel of John, also, like Mark, makes clear, but even more emphatically than Mark does, the divine pre-existence of Christ.)
So the thesis that the Nativity stories in Matthew and Luke are motivated by a need to bolster Jesus' divinity is based on a comparative misreading of Mark as somehow failing to make the case for the divinity of Jesus. I guess reading Mark correctly as in fact making a strong case for the divinity of Jesus might never have come up in the Sewanee tutorials of Mr. Meacham.
There are other problems with the Newsweek story, although I will not list them all. One other major problem is the point assumed in the article that Mary was not or could not have been a source for the Nativity stories (see Meier quote above). Nothing in the Scriptures excludes that possibility. In fact, Scripture and common sense point to Mary as the source of the Nativity stories. Luke writes in the Acts of the Apostles that, after the Ascension of Christ, the apostles and "Mary, the mother of Jesus" formed part of the same community of prayer (Acts 1:14; RSV). So, while there is no Scriptural basis to rule out Mary as the source of the Nativity stories, there is in fact a Scriptural basis to say that she was indeed the natural and most likely source for the Nativity stories. But it seems that many modern scholars prefer to argue only the angle that debunks the miraculous. That preference is not scholarship, but rather ideology.
But Meacham's article does make one very good point: that Matthew and Luke's assertion of a virginal conception goes beyond anything in Old Testament or pagan versions of miraculous births (see pp. 54, 58). Here is Meacham on the issue: "the evangelists hewed to the conviction that Mary had no sexual contact of any kind, and scholars of antiquity have yet to find another example that precisely mirrors the Annunciation" (p. 58). That statement is a major assertion favoring the historicity of the virginal conception.
Early in the article, as noted before, Meacham quotes biblical scholar John P. Meier as a prominent source casting doubt on the historicity of the virginal conception. But Meier proposes in his own writings several primary criteria for distinguishing what is historical in the Gospels from what was allegedly created by Church tradition and the evangelists (Meier, Marginal Jew, vol. 1 [Doubleday, 1991], p. 167). He calls one of those primary criteria the criterion of discontinuity by which he means that words or deeds "that cannot be derived either from Judaism at the time of Jesus or from the early Church after him" are more likely to be historically traceable to Jesus himself (Meier, pp. 171ff.).
We can apply Meier's criterion of discontinuity in a wider fashion by pointing out that a virginal conception is absent not only from Judaism but also from the pagan culture of the time. Thus, the discontinuity of the virginal conception in the face of both pre-existing and contemporaneous Jewish and pagan traditions bolsters the case for the historicity of the virginal conception. To Meacham's credit, he provides the reader with the raw material for this conclusion, while failing to explicitly draw the conclusion in any forceful manner.
In the end, if you dig enough, you find that the Newsweek cover story, for all its flaws, ends up bolstering the historicity of the virginal conception. We can say that the Newsweek cover story is a story with consequences unintended by the best and the brightest at Newsweek. But that seems to be the way of Providence.
Thursday, December 16, 2004Paul's New Morality in 1st Corinthians
The following is a paper previously submitted by me to a graduate moral theology class at Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit. I have incorporated the editorial suggestions made by Prof. Janet Smith of the seminary. Of course, any lingering errors of content or style are my own.
Paul's New Morality in 1st Corinthians
In Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, we find significant elements of moral theology because Paul specifically addresses the moral problems of the Corinthian Christians. Because Corinth as a seaport had a reputation as a licentious city, it is no surprise that Paul focuses on issues of sexual morality in chapters 5-7. Paul also gives a moral analysis of the problem of eating meat sacrificed to idols in chapter 8. With Christianity expanding into the Gentile world, Paul had to address specifically elements of morality that were assumed and unchallenged in the Jewish context of Jesus’ ministry.
In The Sources of Christian Ethics, Servais Pinckaers finds three basic elements in Paul’s Christian ethics: 1.) union with Christ (p. 117); 2.) life in the Spirit (p. 119); and 3.) transformation of the virtues of Greek morality (p. 127). This paper will discuss how Paul applies these three elements in 1st Corinthians. We cannot separate Paul’s moral theology from the Gospel message of conversion and rebirth in Christ. Paul will propose a new morality that is a clear break from the wisdom of the Greeks and the law-centered approach of the Jews (Sources, pp. 112-13).
I. Union With Christ Is Determinative in Moral Disputes.
In chapters 5 and 6 of Ist Corinthians, Paul strongly reprimands the Corinthians for tolerating an incestuous union within the local church and for the practice of Christians suing each other in secular courts. After these specific denunciations, Paul attacks the licentious mentality of the Corinthian Christians who apparently justified their sexually immoral behavior with the slogan “Everything is lawful for me” (1 Cor. 6:12; New American Bible translation in all biblical quotations).
Paul does not proceed by showing how unreasonable this slogan is or by showing its harmful consequences. Instead, Paul’s moral analysis highlights the fact that sexually immoral practices are unworthy of Christians because of their union with Christ. Paul is not merely creating a new wisdom literature, as found in the Old Testament book of Proverbs, in which people are simply warned of the practical dangers of sin.
Paul teaches that we must not join our bodies to those of prostitutes because the bodies of Christians are “members of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15). Paul goes beyond the specific case of using prostitutes and states his general principle: “whoever is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (1 Cor. 6:17). Paul tells each Corinthian that “your body is a temple of the [H]oly Spirit” and that “you are not your own” (1 Cor. 6:19). Paul does not approach the issue of sexual immorality from the standpoint of violating a commandment or committing an injustice against one’s spouse. Rather, Paul immediately focuses on the theological reality that Christians belong to and are united to Christ.
In chapter 7, Paul recommends a state of virginity for the Christian, although he allows and approves of marriage. Paul emphasizes marriage as a way to avoid “immorality” (1 Cor. 7:2) because “it is better to marry than to be on fire” (1 Cor. 7:9). He also advises widows to remain unmarried while recognizing the right of a widow to remarry “in the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:39-40). Paul’s reason for giving this advice is that avoiding marriage allows a person to be “anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:32).
Again, Paul does not give a philosophical analysis divorced from theology in speaking about marriage. Rather, Paul emphasizes what course of action is consistent with the Christian’s union with Christ. To those who can, Paul advises remaining single as a way to be in closer union with Christ. But to those who will “burn,” Paul recommends marriage so that the body of the Christian, which is joined to Christ, will not be joined to a prostitute or some other unlawful partner. The key for Paul is that we belong to Christ, and therefore must evaluate our choices in light of our union with Christ.
Pinckaers notes that this union with Christ is also Trinitarian because Christ “is the manifestation of the love and mercy of the Father” leading us to “life in the Holy Spirit” (Sources, p. 133). Like Pinckaers, Hans Urs von Balthasar describes Paul’s new ethics as Trinitarian. In doing so, Balthasar refers to Paul’s description of the body as being “for the Lord” (1 Cor. 6:13) and as being “a temple of the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 6:19):
In Paul’s new morality, the crucial reality is the Christian’s insertion into the life of the Trinity through Christ. Paul’s new morality surpasses the rational ethics of the Greeks and the Law of the Jews.
This union with Christ is not only crucial in resolving issues of sexual immorality but also for dealing with the more mundane issue of Christians suing each other in secular courts. For Paul, it is unseemly for Christians to seek judgment from the “unjust” instead of turning to “the holy ones” (1 Cor. 6:1). Such lawsuits are absurd because Christians as “the holy ones” will, along with Christ, judge the world (1 Cor. 6:2). Union with Christ makes us judges of the world who have no business seeking guidance from unbelievers over our own disputes.
II. Union with Christ Leads to Life in the Spirit.
The life in the Spirit flows from union with Christ which transforms us. It is not just a matter of the Holy Spirit “proposing virtues and good qualities for us to acquire” but “actually a new life principle acting within us and producing” the fruits of the Holy Spirit (Sources, p. 120). One biblical scholar, T. J. Deidun, writes that Paul “sees the absolute novelty of the Christian religion” in “the immediacy and interiority of God’s action in Christ, creating obedience in the hearts of Christians.” It is not a matter of our own bootstrap efforts to obey, but rather a matter of God “creating obedience” in our hearts.
The life in the Spirit does not pertain to a realm of spirituality separate from moral theology. The life in the Spirit is central to Christian moral theology. In chapter two of 1 Corinthians, Paul describes the radical nature of life in the Spirit in contrast to what the “natural” person understands:
Now the natural person does not accept what pertains to the Spirit of God, for to him it is foolishness, and he cannot understand it, because it is judged spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can judge everything but is not subject to judgment by anyone. For “who has known the mind of the Lord, so as to counsel him?” But we have the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:14-16).
When Paul condemns union with a prostitute or taking disputes to pagan courts, he invokes this spiritual understanding, an understanding pertaining to the Spirit, to turn upside down the way the natural person views these activities. Rather than being noncontroversial activities for a Christian, these activities, however much Corinthian society accepted them as natural and normal, are in radical contradiction to the spiritual person who has the mind of Christ and recognizes that such activities contradict union with Christ.
Sexual immorality is especially alien to life in the Spirit. In 1 Corinthians 6:9, Paul puts at the head of the list of those excluded from the kingdom of God those who are “fornicators . . . idolaters . . . adulterers . . . boy prostitutes . . .[and] sodomites.” Paul’s inclusion of idolaters in this list of sexual offenders indicates why he views sexual immorality as so alien to the new life in the Spirit. Deidun notes that sexual immorality or porneia “is emblematic of a situation in which man is alienated from God and refuses to recognize him for what he is” (Deidun, p. 92). Those who engage in sexual immorality are like idolaters because “both represent a situation of estrangement from the true God” (Deidun, p. 92; original emphasis).
Paul does not focus on the human goods violated by sexual immorality, but rather on sexual immorality as alienation from God, as the mark of the old man who was living in idolatry. For Paul, morality is theological. In addition, this new life in the Spirit is not just an individual transformation but involves a new identity as a member of “the holy People” (Deidun, p. 93). In 1 Cor. 5:4-5, Paul vehemently commands the Corinthian Christians to expel from their community the man practicing incest. Life in the Spirit means being part of a holy people in contrast to a pagan society that is so alienated from God that it embraces porneia.
Deidun also points out that in Paul’s writings the “antithesis” of sexual immorality is the selfless love or agape of the Christian (Deidun, p. 96). The opposite of sexual immorality is not coldness or lack of love, but rather the most selfless form of love. For Paul, sexual immorality is “the most blatant manifestation (in the Gentile world) of man’s radical egoism” (Deidun, p. 95; original emphasis). So it is fitting that in 1 Corinthians we have the condemnations of porneia in chapters 5 and 6 followed by the famous Pauline hymn to agape in chapter 13. The greatest gift of the Spirit is love and that gift is why Paul condemns the egoism of sexual immorality so vehemently. Theology informs the specifics of morality.
In his Theology of the Body, John Paul II also emphasizes the connection between chastity and the Holy Spirit found in chapter six of 1st Corinthians when he writes that “the fruit of redemption is the Holy Spirit . . . . which sanctifies every man, [so that] the Christian receives himself again as a gift from God.” The Pope specifies that “[t]hrough redemption, every man has received from God again, as it were, himself and his own body” (JPII, pp. 206-207). Having received his own body again, the new man avoids unchastity.
Christopher West remarks on the Pope’s comments on 1st Corinthians by pointing out that for the Pope purity “has a charismatic dimension as a gift of the Holy Spirit” and is “most compatible” with the gift of piety which makes one, in John Paul’s words, “sensitive to that dignity which is characteristic of the human body by virtue of the mystery of creation and redemption.” Again, life in the Spirit leads to very specific moral boundaries that are ignored by those alienated from God.
Life in the Spirit not only leads to very specific moral prohibitions of sexual misconduct but also provides a new standard in evaluating our actions. There was concern in Corinth about the practice of eating meat that had been sacrificed to idols (1 Cor. 8:1). Paul admits that it is indeed true that, since the idols are not real, the Christian is doing nothing wrong by eating such meat (1 Cor. 8:4-6). But Paul imposes a higher standard for one living in the Spirit. This higher standard requires renouncing even something harmless if it should scandalize a fellow Christian (1 Cor. 8:8-13; 10:32-33). This exhortation is another example of the primacy of a radically selfless love. This type of morality is not seeking to do the minimum but to do what is best for the peace of mind of one’s fellow Christians. Of course, Paul himself did not follow this advice blindly. Paul certainly refused to have his converts submit to Jewish circumcision to avoid offending those Christians who believed in the necessity of circumcision. But in matters that were less theologically significant Paul counseled giving consideration to the sensitivities of other believers.
III. Paul Transforms the Greek Virtues under the Primacy of Faith, Hope, and Love.
Pinckaers makes it clear that Paul transformed the system of virtues found in the Greco-Roman world. Paul “deepened considerably” and gave “new modalities of operating” to the Greek virtues (Sources, p. 127). He reorganized them into an “organism” with the head of the organism consisting of faith, hope, and love, “three virtues of which the philosophers were ignorant” (Sources, p. 127). What set the theological virtues apart from the Greek virtues was that faith, hope, and love depended “on the initiative of divine grace” (Sources, p. 127). These theological virtues in turn transformed all the other virtues by giving them “an incomparable value, measure, dynamism, and finality” (Sources, p. 127).
We can see this transformation at work from the very beginning of 1st Corinthians. In 1 Corinthians 1:22-25, Paul contrasts the “wisdom of God” with the “wisdom of the world” and boasts that “Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” is in fact “the power of God and the wisdom of God.” Paul leaves no doubt that this new Christian wisdom is radically different when he proclaims that “the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom” (1 Cor. 1:25).
This focus on the foolishness of Christ crucified is so scandalous that it still enraged Nietzsche centuries later. With Christ crucified, humility receives a new prominence, as noted by Pinckaers (Sources, p. 130). More than the merely prudent self-knowledge of one’s limits, humility now means an eagerness to sacrifice one’s rights. Paul holds up his own life as an apostle as a model for the Corinthians. Paul lists the humiliations of the apostles: their becoming “fools on Christ’s account,” fools who are “weak,” in “disrepute,” “hungry,” “thirsty,” “homeless,” “ridiculed,” and “slandered” to the point of becoming the “world’s rubbish” (1 Cor. 4:10-13).
With this new emphasis on humility, Paul then urges those who seek to sue fellow Christians in pagan courts to “put up with injustice” and let themselves “be cheated” (1 Cor. 6:8). The same humility leads the Christian to be sensitive to those Christians who are scandalized by the eating of certain foods (1 Cor. 8:11-12), as noted before.
As discussed before, the virtue of chastity also gains new prominence. If for the Greek chastity was an expression of manly self-control, for Paul chastity is a form of humble recognition that Christ owns our bodies. Pinckaers views Christian chastity as closely linked to charity (Sources, p. 131). Yet, this chastity is not only a love for the good of others, but also a love for Christ who redeemed our bodies (cp. Sources, p. 131). Weak humans easily misperceive unchaste behavior as somehow bestowing a benefit on themselves or on their partners. Paul offers a much more objective and definitive standard: God has “purchased” our bodies “for a price,” and so we must “glorify God” in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20).
The new emphasis on humility and chastity emerges from the theological virtues. Faith in Christ, hope in eternal life and the resurrection of the body, and love of Christ and neighbor lead Christians to sacrifice and yield in a manner unthinkable to the Greek philosopher whose horizon was limited to human wisdom. The wisdom of the Christian way is only intelligible from the perspective of the crucified Christ who gained eternal salvation for the Christian. Just as John Paul II speaks of celibacy as an “eschatological sign,” so any other Christian act of self-sacrifice is also “eschatological” because it points to a horizon beyond mere human wisdom or calculation.
This countercultural standard of conduct is possible only through the Holy Spirit. Pinckaers notes that joy and peace play a prominent role in Paul’s exhortations (Sources, pp. 131-32). These fruits of the Holy Spirit make the Christian life livable and possible. A morality of obligation in which the moral life is merely a matter of submission to external legal requirements is alien to Paul. Instead of a morality of obligation which, according to Pinckaers, “had never occurred to Paul,” Paul gives us a morality of joy and peace received from the Holy Spirit (Sources, p. 133). The Pauline theme of peace is present when Paul first greets the Corinthians by wishing them “grace and peace” from the Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:3). In Paul’s famous description of love, Paul writes that love “rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6; added emphasis). Thus, the Christian’s practice of the virtues, under the primacy of faith, hope, and love, yields peace and joy and not merely renunciation and sacrifice.
In First Corinthians, we can see the three hallmarks of Paul’s new morality. Union with Christ becomes the means of addressing and resolving specific moral issues and conflicts. This union with Christ includes our bodies and so resolves the prominent issues of sexual immorality that were swirling among the Corinthians. Life in the Spirit is the opposite of alienation from God. This life in the Spirit flees sexual immorality and is willing to sacrifice to ensure that our actions do not disturb the consciences of others. Finally, we see the theological virtues bestow a new prominence, missing from Greek wisdom, to both humility and chastity.
Pinckaers, O.P., Servais. The Sources of Christian Ethics. Translated by Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. Washington, D.C.: Catholic Univ. Press, 1995.
Chapter 5 of this source discusses “Christian Ethics according to St. Paul” and begins by asking if there is such a thing as Christian ethics. Pinckaers rejects the usual approach to answering this question that seeks to eliminate anything that Christian ethics may have in common with other traditions. Pinckaers criticizes this method as projecting on Paul a morality of obligation foreign to his writings. Pinckaers also criticizes the fragmentation of Paul’s writings that results from this method. Instead, Pinckaers seeks guidance directly from Paul’s texts, views Paul’s writings as a whole, and refuses to impose a morality of obligation on Paul.
Balthasar, Hans Urs von. Paul Struggles with His Congregation: The Pastoral Message of the Letters to the Corinthians. Translated by Brigitte L. Bojarska. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992.
This source by one of the most prominent theologians of the last century focuses on the Corinthian correspondence because Balthasar finds it “so intense and so rich, that it includes virtually everything of importance” in pastoral guidelines (p. 7). There is no morality of obligation here as found in the moral theologians criticized by Pinckaers for failing to be true to the Scriptures. Balthasar sees Paul resolving the various moral issues by emphasizing the body because of the Incarnation of Christ. Balthasar sees the Incarnation as taking its meaning from the Cross and the Resurrection. He especially emphasizes the aspect of the Cross in moral issues, e.g., the Cross as paying the price for our bodies so that we might glorify the Lord in our bodies through holiness.
Deidun, T.J. New Covenant Morality in Paul. Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981.
This doctoral thesis by a biblical scholar is truly impressive and insightful. Fr. Albert Vanhoye, S.J., of the Pontifical Biblical Commission was the director of the thesis. Deidun sets himself the task that Pinckaers also urges: a renewed moral theology within the framework of the Scriptures. Deidun quotes the original Greek extensively. Like Balthasar, Deidun has a Trinitarian emphasis. Again, there is no morality of obligation here. Deidun sees Christian morality as rooted in God’s action in the believer, and views Christian ethics as “essentially religious” (p. 229).
John Paul II. The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan. Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1997.
This book is the well-known collection of the Pope’s weekly general audiences between 1979 and 1984. Especially relevant for this paper is the section on “St. Paul’s Teaching on the Human Body.” This section makes extensive use of 1st Corinthians, most notably Paul’s reference to the body as the temple of the Holy Spirit. The Pope repeatedly uses the word “purity” to describe the virtue arising from our awareness that Christ has redeemed our bodies. Like Pinckaers, the Pope emphasizes that this purity arises from life in the Spirit.
West, Christopher. Theology of the Body Explained: A Commentary on John Paul II’s “Gospel of the Body.” Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2003.
This commentary on the immediately preceding source is useful as a way to make sure one is following the Pope’s sometimes challenging reasoning. West adds his own examples that bring the Pope’s philosophical language to a more familiar level. As to content, West follows closely the Pope’s reasoning with obvious sympathy.
 Servais Pinckaers, O.P., The Sources of Christian Ethics, trans. Sr. Mary Thomas Noble, O.P. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic Univ. Press, 1995) (hereafter “Sources”).
 Hans Urs von Balthasar, Paul Struggles with His Congregation: The Pastoral Message of the Letters to the Corinthians, trans. Brigitte L. Bojarska (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1992), pp. 43-44.
 T.J. Deidun, New Covenant Morality in Paul (Rome: Biblical Institute Press, 1981), p. 84 (hereafter “Deidun”).
 John Paul II, The Theology of the Body: Human Love in the Divine Plan (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 1997), p. 207 (hereafter “JPII”).
 Christopher West, Theology of the Body Explained: A Commentary on John Paul II’s “Gospel of the Body” (Boston: Pauline Books & Media, 2003), pp. 220-21 (quoting JPII, p. 208).
Wednesday, December 15, 2004A Christmas Card from Catholic Analysis
To all readers and friends of this site:
I thought it a good time, before it is too late, to pen this on-line Christmas card to all readers and friends of this site. What do I wish for each of you this Christmas? The platitudes and cliches are deeply embedded in our minds. So I, like others, must search a bit harder for words that really reflect what we mean to say. This is my attempt--obviously influenced by the reading of Scripture.
By celebrating the feast of Christmas, we bring to the present what happened so long ago. In an ancient world full of daily brutality, indignity, and madness, God became man and changed the course of history. Our world today is still full of daily brutality, indignity, and madness. God comes again to say a thunderous "No" to all of these evils.
Christ is born again in our hearts when we have the faith, hope, and love to see reality differently--and live it differently-- than those who do not know Christ. When I see the young disabled store clerk walking haltingly to his job, I know that one day he will leap like a stag. When I see a young woman signaling great confusion and dangerous vulnerability in her unnecessary exposure of flesh, I know that Christ comes to offer her the love, affirmation, and attention she craves.
When I see those made mute by physical disability or by their personal lifestyle, I know that Christ will one day make them sing. When I see the person beseiged by cancer, I know that she will receive a glorified body that will never suffer. When I think of the evils we have inflicted on each other, I know that Christ comes to make all things new, even those things we have so grandly ruined. The broken hearted will be healed. All tears will be wiped away. My Christmas wish is that each of you see and live with renewed certainty in your daily life that cosmic victory over evil arising from the birth of Christ.
Tuesday, December 14, 2004Augustine on Love of Others
St. Augustine is a world. He wrote so much and preached so much that we have volumes to explore. In 2003, Georgetown University Press published Christian Love: How Christians Through the Ages Have Understood Love by Bernard V. Brady. The author included a long chapter with excerpts from various writings and sermons by Augustine.
Augustine considered how we should love our neighbor and how that love relates to love of God. Augustine held that "we love God on account of God, and ourselves and our neighbor on account of God" (The Trinity, quoted at p. 117). For modern, secular ears, that conclusion seems quite strange.
For most of us, we love others simply because of who they are in themselves and their relation to us. We do not normally bring God into the picture unless we are seeking to love someone we really do not like or we are reaching out to strangers, sometimes scary strangers, who need our help. But Augustine insists that all love of the other is on account of God. How does he explain this view?
For Augustine, as for Aquinas, God is the source of our happiness. Only God can satisfy the vehement longings of the human heart. God is thus the greatest good that a human being can seek or attain. At one point, Augustine writes that "we will only be made perfectly happy when we achieve permanent possession of God, the infinite being, the being that encompasses all good in every possible world" (quoted at p. 80).
Love--and this term includes spousal love, other family loves, and the love of friendship--seeks the good of the beloved, as noted by Aquinas (Summa Theologiae, Pt. I-II, Q. 26, Art. 4, quoting Aristotle). From this premise, Augustine's conclusion that we love others on account of God follows. As Augustine himself says, we seek God, "the chief and true good," for ourselves (quoted on p. 103).
And so Augustine writes that:
[Y]ou [thus] love yourself suitably when you love God better than yourself. What, then, you aim at in yourself you must aim at in your neighbor, namely, that he may love God with a perfect affection. For you do not love him as yourself, unless you try to draw him to that good which you yourself are pursuing. For this is the one good which has room for all to pursue it alongSt. Augustine, On the Morals of the Catholic Church, ch. 26 (quoted on p. 103).
In one of his sermons-- sermons which apparently were not written out before their delivery, Augustine makes the same point much more bluntly when speaking about loving one's family: "The reason you ought not to love them more than God is that you love them in a totally bad way if you neglect to bring them to God together with you" (quoted on p. 114). If God is indeed, as we believe, the chief good of all, then all our loves are authentic to the extent they point to God.
Monday, December 13, 2004Our Common Priesthood and the Ordained Priesthood
It is a basic Catholic teaching that there are two priesthoods in the Church: the common priesthood of all believers, male and female, arising from our baptism; and the ordained priesthood composed of males only who are images of the Bridegroom of the Church, Jesus Christ (see Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1591). Given this fundamental teaching, it is quite strange that some misguided Catholics pursue a Protestant-like crusade for the ordination of women.
At every Sunday Mass, we see both priesthoods on display. If we look closely at our Sunday liturgies, we see the complementarity of the two forms of priesthood. I will pick out one detail of our liturgy where the harmonious relation between the two priesthoods is plainly apparent.
In the liturgy of the Eucharist, at the moment of consecration, the ordained priest "bows slightly," as the missals say, as he pronounces the words of consecration over the bread and then over the wine. With those words, the bread and the wine become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of the living and glorified Jesus Christ (Catechism, 1413).
This miracle of transubstantiation occurs by the power of the Holy Spirit as proclaimed in the words of the Second Eucharistic Prayer when the ordained priest prays: "Let your Spirit come upon these gifts to make them holy, so that they may become for us the body and blood of our Lord, Jesus Christ" (see also the third and fourth Eucharistic Prayers in any missal).
But prior to the consecration, near the very end of the liturgy of the Word, all of us as part of the common priesthood of the baptized foreshadow what the ordained priest and only the ordained priest does later at the consecration. When all of us recite the Nicene Creed together, the missal instructs that "all bow during these two lines":
"by the power of the Holy Spirit
he was born of the Virgin Mary, and became man."
Just as the ordained priest bows at the words of consecration, so all of us bow at the words proclaiming our faith in the Incarnation, in God becoming flesh and blood. We also proclaim, as the ordained priest explicitly does in the Second, Third, and Fourth Eucharistic Prayers, that this miracle of God becoming flesh and blood is by the power of the Holy Spirit.
So in every Sunday Mass, all of us as members of the common baptismal priesthood foreshadow-- when we bow and proclaim the Incarnation in the Nicene Creed-- what the ordained priest only will do later in bringing the body and blood of Christ among us again. We do not do in any way what only the ordained priest can do, but we do point to it. This foreshadowing is a telling liturgical sign of how both forms of priesthood harmoniously work together. It is a sign missed by activists enthralled by a secular mentality alien to the Catholic spirit.