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Sunday, August 31, 2003

Happy Birthday (Shawn McElhinney's) Rerum Novarum! 
Posted by Christopher at 11:33 AM

A belated congratulations to I. Shawn McElhinney, who celebrated the birthday of his blog Rerum Novarum on August 18th. Those who have defended Vatican II and the Holy Father against the slanders of Radical Traditionalists can testify how much time and effort it requires, and St. Blog's is truly blessed to have Shawn's skills applied to this task. A number of Shawn's works are found here (with special attention to "A Prescription Against Traditonalism"). When he's not blogging on his own, Shawn lends a hand in "exposing the crackpots of the self-styled traditionalist fringe" on The Lidless Eye Inquisition.

Raging Against the Vatican 
Posted by Christopher at 3:17 AM

Envoy Magazine's Carl Olson blogs on the "Luther complex" of the controversial priest Hans Küng, whose memoir My Struggle for Freedom is due for publication in November:

There is no denying Küng's intelligence and scholarly brilliance . . . but the Christian Faith is not about being smarter than other people. It is ultimately about humility and holiness, both being gifts of God through Christ. From what I have read, Kung's arrogance is legendary. Contrast that with the incredible humility of Cardinal Ratzinger, once a colleague of Kung's, whose work for the Church has exhibited the sort of humility, strength, firmness, charity, and pastoral vision one expects from a true disciple of Christ.

I've actually enjoyed some of Fr. Küng's books, particularly those on interreligious dialogue. I'm currently reading Christianity & World Religions, a collection of essays by Küng and two other scholars on Hinduism, Buddhism, & Islam, and I am definitely interested in reading his memoirs (particularly his reflections on Vatican II and his early years at the University of Tübingen, when he and Cardinal Ratzinger were colleagues). But I concur with Olson's criticism of Küng's arrogance -- his greatest flaw is his preoccupation with himself and his dissent with the Vatican.

Two dominant themes that have influenced Küng's work is his vision of a "global ethic" for the world's religions 1 and his conception of a "paradigm change" in the development of Christian theology, the latter hermeneutic derived from the philosopher of science Thomas Kuhn. Unfortunately, Küng's attempts to apply paradigm analysis to religious history are not always productive, and result in obscuring the subject. This was the impression I received reading Küng's massive Christianity: Essence, History & Future (Continuum, 1996), which I am amused to find placed alongside other 'introductions to Christianity' in Catholic bookstores. Likewise, Eugene Fisher says of his earlier work Judaism: Between Yesterday and Today:

Küng attempts to summarize all of the Jewish history and thought through paradigm theory. But in this instance that theory turns into a procrustean bed. A key test of any attempt to describe another religious tradition is whether members of that tradition will actually see themselves in the attempted description. In this case, I do not believe that very many Jews will see Judaism depicted here either accurately or sympathetically. This book tells us a lot about what kind of religion would be an ideal one in Küng's mind. But it tells us almost nothing about what Judaism in its many manifestations over the centuries has been, is, or could be. In short, it fails to live up to its title. 2

It is appropriate that Dr. Fisher places Küng's work alongside that of Rosemary Radford Reuther in the 'Polemical' category in his biography, rather than 'Introductions and General Overviews' of Judaism. Returning to Carl's description of Küng's "Luther complex", Allen Mittleman describes this book as a "challenge to reform [Jewish] tradition along Küngian theological lines", and criticizes Küng's furious polemic against "the Law", concluding:

"his profound hostility to the dominant mode of Jewish piety impairs his ability not only to interpret Judaism but to converse with Jews. I have no duty to listen to someone who evidently holds my way of life in contempt." 3

Stripped of his authorization to teach as a Catholic theologian in 1979, Küng still bears a great deal of resentment towards the Vatican. This chip on his shoulder becomes increasingly more explicit in his later works. His latest work, The Catholic Church: A Short History, is not so much a 'history' as an opportunity for him to reiterate his earlier criticisms of papal infallibility and the Vatican heirarchy.

However, when it comes to autobiographies extolling one's intellectual brilliance & lamenting martyrdom at the hands of the Vatican, Küng could certainly take lessons from the progressive Episcopalian/former-Dominican Matthew Fox's Confessions: The Making of a Post-Denominational Priest. In reaction to the Congregation's investigation of his work, he composed an open letter to Cardinal Ratzinger and the Vatican "to call to task . . . for their sins of omission and failure to teach a credible faith and spirituality, [and] to try to educate [them] and the public about creation spirituality."

What "global ethic" is for Küng, "creation spirituality" is to Matthew Fox -- the perfect antidote to the many ills (racism, sexism, patriarchy, et. al.) that pervade the Catholic Church and society as a whole. Fox is anything but modest about this achievement: as he proclaimed to one interviewer, "one of my main works or accomplishments was recovering the mystical tradition of Christianity." 4.

According to Fox, Christianity has been spiritually-destitute ever since St. Augustine came up with the doctrine of original sin, and has made it his personal mission to repair the damage by propogating his notion of "original blessing." With this end in mind, Fox re-translated Meister Eckhart and St. Hildegard of Bingen, and in turn used his own translations (rather than the original texts) as basis for his theology. And in a ploy that truly has to be read to be believed, Fox assembled snippets from various writings of St. Thomas Aquinas into a "dialogue" with himself. Readers of Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality will be hardly suprised to find that this great Doctor of the Church was actually a medieval proponent of Matthew Fox's thought. 5 Such a move provoked scientist & theologian Lawrence Osborn to wonder:

This immediately raises the question of whether the authors in question are being allowed to speak for themselves. On closer examination, it appears that they are, in fact, being subjected to a bed of Procrustes. That mythological character used to measure travelers against his bed - if they fell short they were stretched to fit, if they were overlong amputation was the order of the day. 6

In what some may consider to be a blessing in disguise, Fox left the Dominicans and joined the Episcopalians in 1994, where he continues to promote creation spirituality and "the techno-cosmic mass." As Douglas LeBlanc comments in his review of Confessions, "Matthew Fox has the exegetical and theological savvy to become a bishop in the postmodern Episcopal Church." 8

Hans Küng and Matthew Fox, along with a host of other dissenting Catholics or ex-Catholics (John Cornwell, Garry Wills, James Carroll, et al.) have carved out a niche for themselves by raging against the Vatican. They've sold many books and much attention has been lavished upon them, especially in this time of crisis in the Church. But as Carl Olson says, "[Kung's] work is the product of a particular era and does not contain the timeless qualities that exist in the work of Ratzinger, Pope John Paul II, and others." Decades from now I imagine that Catholics will still be studying the encyclicals of Pope John Paul II. I do not think these authors will enjoy such lasting appeal.

Note: Gerard Serafin has blogged on the alleged reconciliation with Hans Kung proposed by Cardinal Angelo Sodano.

  1. Küng penned the early draft of the 'Declaration of a Global Ethic' for the Parliament of Religions.
  2. Jewish-Christian Relations 1989 - 1993: A Bibliographic Update.
  3. The Scholar as Polemicist. Review of Kung's Judaism: Between Yesterday & Today by Alan L. Mittleman. First Things 31 (March 1993): 45-48.
  4. "Original Blessing: An Interview with Matthew Fox" Nexus Nov. 2001.
  5. Catholicism for the New Age: Matthew Fox and Creation-Centered Spirituality, Mitchell Pacwa, S.J. examines Fox's faulty translations. According to Pacwa, one of the Dominicans originally assigned to investigate Fox's work, Fr. Benedict Ashley, O.P., reported at a 1991 lecture that "Fox's work did not seem worth condemning because it was too superficial and did not appear to be a danger to the faithful. He was wrong, as he now admits."
  6. Heresy or Hope? - A Critique of Matthew Fox's Creation Spirituality, by Lawrence Osborn. TheoNet.net. Mr. Osborn also cites Rosemary Radford Reuther, who criticized Fox for "[lacking] the basic requirement of historical scholarship, and critical distance from his own agenda."
  7. Confessions: The Making Of A Post-Denominational Priest, reviewed by Douglas LeBlanc for the Christian Research Institute.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

The Zwicks vs. Fr. Neuhaus & Michael Novak  
Posted by Christopher at 10:15 AM

Being a regular subscriber to The Catholic Worker since college, I'm very much acquainted with that particular faction of Catholics and their understanding of economic affairs. Having likewise subscribed to First Things for some time, I have of late familiarized myself with the perspectives of Fr. Neuhaus and the Catholic philosopher & economist Michael Novak. However, I confess that I've never fully studies of the Church's thought on these matters, which is something I hope to remedy.

With that end in mind, one of the books I've been reading is Michael Novak's The Catholic Ethic & the Spirit of Capitalism, which is in many ways a revision of his earlier work The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism. I'm only halfway through and not at a point where I can provide a substantial review, but it has prompted me to go back and evaluate some of the earlier criticisms of Neuhaus and Novak I encountered in the pages of the Houston Catholic Worker, particularly by Mark & Louise Zwick.

There is something about the way the Zwicks go after these authors (the "neoconservatives") in the pages of their newspaper that really gets under my skin. Take, for example, their scathing review of Fr. Neuhaus' book Appointment in Rome, charging that his advocacy of "neoconservative economics" (what they commonly refer to as "neoliberalism") "presents a view shockingly different from that of the Holy Father" in the apostolic exhortation Ecclesia in America. 1

It was in reading [First Things] that we began to see cracks in the facade of this very reputable convert. We did not fault Fr. N. too much, because we knew he was a convert and Catholicism takes time to integrate.

We noticed that in his anxiety to focus on First Things as a Catholic, [Fr. Neuhaus] neglected to focus on the Last Things . . . we, of course, always agreed with Fr. N. that socialism and Communism were not the answers to the world's problems. However, we knew from the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church that the poor, the marginated, the outcast, as Pope John Paul II has stated so often, must not be neglected. . . .

Solidarity with those most in need, is one of the major themes of the Synod report, Ecclesia in America. It does not appear at all in Fr. Neuhaus' book . . . To have missed such a major theme from a Synod is quite surprising. It is an indication, in fact, that Fr. N. missed a lot at the Synod. 2

Personally I find that the Zwick's patience in waiting for Fr. Neuhaus' conversion to Catholicism "to take" a little condescending. After all, Neuhaus was ordained a Catholic priest nearly a decade before this review was written. And those who are familiar with his writings, or have encountered him in person, would hardly recognize him in the Zwick's criticism that he "missed the point" of the Synod due to his callous "neglect of the poor."

In reviewing Novak's book, the Zwicks forego direct citation and rely on crude paraphrasing. Thus Fr. Neuhaus "endorses an economic system where the vast majority, especially in Latin America, are not free at all. Factories of U. S. companies in Latin America pay slave wages." The same goes for his cohort, Michael Novak, who "has stated that it is sinful for those who work for slave wages to complain about this disparity in salaries, since the sin of envy was condemned in the book of Deuteronomy", and that "Fr. Avery Dulles, S.J., defends slave wages as being better than no wages."

For the Zwicks, to favor freedom, capitalism and moral responsibility over socialism and liberation theology inevitably makes one a supporter of not only unjust wages but torture and execution. Neuhaus "recommends the U.S. economic system as one of fairness and freedom to the Bishops, without admitting that the School of the Americas, where so many Latin American soldiers were trained to torture and kill their people, is an integral part of that system." Neuhaus' alleged support of slave wages and Latin American death squads is compounded by the fact that he "suggests that their economic problems might be blamed on the Latin American Catholic Church because of its lack of Calvinism."

Ultimately, those not inclined to investigate the writings of Fr. Neuhaus beyond the pages of the Catholic Worker will conclude, along with the Zwicks, that he (and Novak, and Dulles, et al.) wholeheartedly endorses a violent political philosophy which "mows down people who are in other countries through maquiladoras, slave wages, international trade agreements and torture taught at the School of the Americas to ensure that "freedom" prevails."

The Catholic political philosopher Michael Novak is also a frequent target of the Catholic Worker. When he was invited to dedicate a local Catholic business ethis program at a local Catholic University, the Houston Catholic Worker likened the action to "inviting Hugh Hefner to dedicate an institute on the sacrament of marriage", describing Novak's vast body of writing as "window dressing to promote an economic system based solely on self-interest." 3 The former comment was made by a fellow Catholic Worker, and was thought to be "uncharitable" by his colleague. However, according to the Zwicks, ". . . the reality in our world obligated us to speak in truth and solidarity with the cry of the millions of poor people who suffer so much from neoconservative/neoliberal policies" -- as if "speaking in truth and solidarity" necessitated such ridicule!

In October 2002 the columnist Peggy Noonan recommended Novak's Spirit of Democratic Capitalism as an antidote to the selfishness which characterized the businessmen involved in the recent corporate scandals. According to Ms. Noonan:

[Novak] spoke movingly of the meaning and morality of capitalism. He asked why capitalism is good, and answered that there is one great reason: Of all the systems devised by man it is the one most likely to lift the poor out of poverty. But, he asserted unassailably, capitalism cannot exist in a void. Capitalism requires an underlying moral edifice. Without it nothing works; with it all is possible. That edifice includes people who have an appreciation for and understanding of the human person; it requires a knowledge that business can contribute to community and family; it requires "a sense of sin," a sense of right and wrong, and an appreciation that the unexpected happens, that things take surprising turns in life. 4

Shortly thereafter the Zwicks published an editorial responding to Ms. Noonan's endorsement of Michael Novak. Again, they chose to exercise their right to "speak in truth and solidarity with the cry of millions":

Novak is an underwriter of Enron capitalism, giving permission to create wealth in any way that the market allows. He gave the greedy all permission in the name of the Church. In his many talks and books he told them wealth creation was a virtue, that the Fathers of the Church were dead wrong when they said avarice was a capital sin. He said CEO's deserved as much money as they could get because they worked hard and creatively. He even compared the behavior of these corrupt CEO's to the creative work of God, without any criticism of their approach. 5

In their editorial the Zwicks ask "Did Peggy Noonan read Novak's books?" One might ask the same of the Zwicks. In fact, on one occasion Novak was moved to tell them: "I enjoyed serving several times in various articles as an evil presence in the world of your imagination . . . I enjoyed it because you have created a straw man", recommending several of his books to them and offering to provide them himself. The Zwicks published his letter with a lengthy response, in which they praise ("we have read several of your books in that beautiful romantic prose"), chastise ("for you to quote the Pope in favor of your form of capitalism bears resemblance to the devil quoting Scripture") and finally invite him ("As a fellow Catholic who partakes of the same Eucharist") to assist them in developing a new economic model.

Clearly the Zwicks differ sharply in their interpretation of Novak's thought. I can only wonder how the Zwick's can square their characterization of Novak as an apologist for "Enron Capitalism" with his contension (along with Pope John Paul II) that

"Capitalism must infused by that humble gift of love called caritas . . . This is the love that holds families, associations, and nations together. The current tendency of many to base the spirit of capitalism on sheer materialism is a certain road to economic decline. Honesty, trust, teamwork, and respect for the law are gifts of the spirit. They cannot be bought" 6

Fr. Neuhaus also responded to the Zwicks in his column in First Things, noting that "The Catholic Worker seems to be of the view that the authentically Catholic position is one of being in love with being in love with the poor and the suffering. The course of love, I would suggest in agreement with Catholic doctrine, is to do all we can to remedy poverty and suffering productivity and exchange". He concluded:

What is one to make of the nastiness perpetrated by the Catholic Worker? Because of the vestigial connection with the much admired Dorothy Day, a general inclination is to cut a lot of slack for those who claim to be her heirs. As a friend says, "Of course what they say about economics and politics is mostly nonsense, but they are idealists and they keep the rest of us honest." It is a benign view, but I cannot agree. Nobody is kept honest by their dishonesty, by their attempt to ideologically hijack Catholic social teaching, or by their misrepresenting of those with whom they disagree. That is not idealism. It is moral posturing that serves no purpose other than the inflation of self-esteem as people of ever so superior sensitivity to the sufferings of the poor.7

I do respect Mark & Louise Zwick: it is truly inspiring to see a couple devote their daily lives to the Works of Mercy and assisting the least among us. Nevertheless, one would think that their efforts to embody a new economic model distinguished by "cooperation and sharing between rich and poor" would be assisted by genuine dialogue with those they disagree with -- and to the extent that they misrepresent the thought and character of Fr. Neuhaus and Michael Novak, their manner of writing strikes me as inevitably counter-productive.

A blog is not a suitable vehicle to go into a lengthy, detailed examination and point-by-point rebuttal of the Zwick's charges -- nor do I think I'm especially knowledgable or competent enough in this area to do so. However, I have read enough to believe that anyone who confines themselves to the Zwick's assessment of Novak & Neuhaus in the Houston Catholic Worker is sorely deprived. 8

  1. "Fr. Neuhaus should withdraw his Book", by Mark & Louse Zwick. Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XIX, No. 2, Mar.-Apr. 1999.
  2. The Zwicks translate the Pope's condemnation of "neoliberalism" as nothing less than a condemnation of capitalism as has been put forth by Neuhaus & Novak. Michel Therrien offers a different reading here.
  3. "The Economic Religion of Michael Novak", by Mark & Louse Zwick. Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. 18, No. 3, May-June, 1999.
  4. "Capitalism Betrayed", by Peggy Noonan. Wall Street Journal. June 28, 2002.
  5. Michael Novak: Enron Man, by Mark & Louse Zwick. Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XXII, No. 5, September-October 2002.
  6. "How Christianity Created Capitalism". Religion & Liberty, May-June 2000. That the success of the free market and Western society is utterly dependent on its rootedness in the practice of Christian virtues is the chief lesson I get from reading Novak.
    Another article worthy of reading in the same publication is "The International Vocation of American Business" (July-August 1999), on a topic close to the Zwick's heart: the economic collaberation of certain corporations with nations who turn a blind eye to human rights and civil liberty.
  7. Against Neoliberalism, by Richard John Neuhaus. First Things 95 (August/September 1999).
  8. For a good introduction to Michael Novak's thought, and an overview of many of the same books mentioned by Mark & Louise Zwick, see "Michael Novak's Portrait of Democratic Capitalism", by Edward W. Younkins. Markets & Morality. Vol. 2, No. 9 Spring 1999.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

What I did when the lights went off 
Posted by Christopher at 1:58 PM

Like many commuters in NYC, I was -- to put a positive spin on things -- blessed with the opportunity to take a scenic walk home across the Queensborough Bridge and along Queens Blvd. 1

A few vendors eager to exploit the panic for profit immediately jacked up the prices on essential materials (water, flashlights, candles). Thankfully, we encountered many benevolent souls along the way who provided free water -- including a touching scene of two little kids manning a table all by themselves (with a large supply of plastic cups and gallon jugs from their parents), and a fire station which kept a hose running to cool people in the sweltering 90+ heat.

I walked this very same route on 9/11, so I was familiar with many of the spots where we rested -- I even recognized one of the people offering free water and bathrooms as the same person who did so two years ago.

One time while we stopped to rest we noticed a young woman having a lot of trouble with her shoes (high heels) -- her co-worker (boyfriend?) took off his own shoes, gave them to her, and walked alongside her barefoot.

The experience was not without humor -- In Forest Hills I passed by a liquor store selling shots for $1.00, and a sushi restaurant attempting to clean out its stock (just what you really want on a hot day with a blackout: RAW FISH!)

As it grew dark there were many families sitting on the steps of their apartments with candles -- one little boy (getting into the capitalist spirit) decided to try and sell his to passers-by for 25 cents, but the decision was quickly vetoed by his mother.

I walked in the door around 9:30pm. Residents of our apartment were hanging out front with candles and incense and had a radio tuned in to the news. It was nice to look up and see the stars for a change (a rare sight for those living in New York).

What I've learned from "The Blackout of 2003" -- besides the importance of being prepared for emergencies -- is that New Yorkers are an especially resilient bunch, especially after 9/11. (As one radio announcer commented, we're "90% scar tissue"). 2 I was particularly impressed with the way (mostly) everybody pulled together over the last couple of days, both on the walk back to Queens and in general.

Although a transplanted Tarheel from North Carolina, I have to say I'm very proud to live here.

  1. Now that we have power again I charted my route on Mapquest and, although not mathematically certain, it appears to be btw/ 9-10 miles. Quite a trek!
  2. Still, we're practically wimps compared to the Iraqis, who've been living under similar conditions for months!

Monday, August 11, 2003

Mel Gibson's Passion Play 
Posted by Christopher at 1:22 AM

Bill Cork recently lamented:

It's been 40 years since the Second Vatican Council, which (among other accomplishments) began a new era in Catholic-Jewish relations with "Nostra Aetate" . . . many books have been written and many official decrees and statements issued, documenting the slow path toward mutual understanding.

But today, I feel as if nothing has been accomplished. Most educated Catholics have not the slightest understanding of the issues that have been discussed and, we thought, resolved. We are back at square one.

I certainly feel the same way sometimes -- although I think it does depend on the parish and who you're talking to. I've met my share of Catholics entirely ignorant of Judaism and well-learned on this subject. When it comes to the Jews, there is a remarkable tendency to err in both directions, either perpetuating the "teaching of contempt" and collective guilt repudiated by Nostra Aetate, or leaning in the opposite direction, as those behind the document Reflections on Covenant & Mission who concluded that Jews are exampt from the Church's missionary mandate. 1

Bill's frustration is no doubt provoked by concern over Mel Gibson's Passion, about which there has been no end of blogging and journalistic commentary. Some of my fellow bloggers out there question whether this concern over Mel's play is warranted, especially in light of the positive reviews from the select few who have seen it. To understand where Bill and other critics are coming from, I think it may help to learn about the manner in which some theatrical depictions of Christ's passion and death -- commonly known as "passion plays" -- have, no pun intended, inflamed passions against the Jewish people over the course of history.

Since the advent of Vatican II, Christians and Jews have jointly undertaken a revision of questionable elements in these plays -- the most famous case being the Oberammergau. The history of this famous play (and criticisms thereof) are chronicled by James Shapiro in his book Oberammergau, The Troubling Story of the World's Most Famous Passion Play (Knopf, 2001), which you can probably find at your local library. Those who don't have time to do so might check out the "Recommended Changes in the Oberammergau Passion Play after 1984".

As a contemporary dramatization of the death of Christ, Gibson's film probably does not contain the troubling elements of his predecessors. (Most of us will never know -- and aren't qualified to comment on the film directly -- until we've seen it). The positive reviews I've read (like this one) lead me to believe that the Anti-Defamation League have little to fear regarding the content of the film.

Nevertheless, when those sensitive to antisemitism hear about the widespread release of a contemporary passion play, they really can't help but be concerned. 2 And rather than denounce the slightest criticism of Gibson's film as the product of "anti-religious bigotry", it would do well simply to read, listen, and acquire an understanding of those things about which such critics are concerned.

Finally, the Guidelines for the implementation of Nostra Aetate call for all Catholics to "acquire a better knowledge of . . . the religious tradition of Judaism, [and] strive to learn by what essential traits the Jews define themselves in the light of their own religious experience." To this end I couldn't recommend a better starting point than How Firm a Foundation: A Book of Jewish Wisdom for Christians & Jews, by Rabbi Yechiel Eckstein (Paraclete Press, 1997).

  1. I sought to address errors in both directions in a recent essay.
  2. I also think the fact that Gibson's identification as a traditionalist Catholic and consequent denunciation of Vatican II may have a part in provoking Jewish concern, since Vatican II's Nostra Aetate was a significant turning point in the reconciliation of Jews & Christians.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

Further notes on the Episcopalian debate 
Posted by Christopher at 4:12 PM

  • A post from a reader to the blog TitusOneNine (8/7/03) offers some food for thought and a reminder on the necessity for charitable speech:
    I am an orthodox Anglican and a celibate gay woman. I can't help but notice that the sense of betrayal and pain I have heard expressed by orthodox Anglicans this week is similar to the betrayal and pain I have experienced as a gay member of the church. I, like the 24-year-old woman you mention, have sobbed uncontrollably over the betrayal I experienced in two parishes that shut me out. . . .

    Although I do not agree with the confirmation of Bishop Robinson, I understand the pain and frustration behind the gay movement in the church. I wonder whether orthodox Anglican leaders understand it. I question that they do because I have not read any statements on the web acknowledging our pain and betrayal.

    I am not talking about same-sex blessings here or ordination of gay bishops. I am talking about entering a parish and discovering that I, as a homosexual, am NOT welcomed in the name of Christ. I am talking about news reporters who use words like "sodomite" and remain publicly unchallenged by orthodox leaders. Calling gay activists sodomites hurts me as well as the activists. We are all sinners, but some of us get a special, ugly label for our sins. Believe me, this will not help me form meaningful bonds with members of my current (and third) parish.

  • On a related note, I've received criticism of an earlier post which linked to this article, which in the context of the current debate of homosexual union casts the opposition in an unfair light (presenting the gay lifestyle as inevitably ridden with sexual promiscuity, when in fact the argument is for the blessing of "monogamous unions"). It is not something that I gave much consideration to when I initially posted, but I accept the critique and have edited my blog accordingly.

  • Finally, as an example of how to engage in a civil discussion of this provocative issue, I'd like to join Mark Shea & a great many others in recommending Maggie Gallagher's MarriageDebate.com Blog.

Friday, August 08, 2003

Cardinal Ratzinger in the news . . .  
Posted by Christopher at 3:04 AM

Just as Dominus Iesus was merely a reiteration of the Church's traditional understanding of the essential role of Christ and his Church in salvation, so the latest document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith really contains nothing new or revelatory, and is essentially a reitaration of the Church's traditional moral teaching on human sexuality and marriage. And yet, you wouldn't know it from all the hysteria with which critics have regarded both documents.

One gay news organization has chosen to respond by adopting the methods of the supermarket tablioid -- blaring "Pope's Advisor a Member of the Hitler Youth" 1. The body of the article is just as vague and utterly devoid of factual information. Basing its "scoop" on The Sunday Times, it mentions that Ratzinger "was a member of Hitler's Youth in his home region of Bavaria, Germany. Despite leaving the Nazis in 1945, Ratzinger is famed for maintaining harshly right-wing ideals."

The story that Ratzinger was a member of the Hitler Youth is true. It's a biographical fact that seems to have circulated on many a mailing list, and seems to surface at precisely opportune times when the Prefect finds himself in the media's spotlight. From the way it has been presented one might assume this is one of those skeletons the Cardinal keeps tucked away in his closet (next to his executioner's axe and the token heads of Hans Kung, Matthew Fox, Leonardo Boff & Charles Curran).

The truth is that Ratzinger himself mentions in Milestones: Memoirs: 1927 - 1977 that he and his brother George were both enrolled in the Hitler Youth (at a time when membership was compulsory), and discusses family life under the Third Reich in chapters 2-4 of his autobiography.

Likewise, John Allen Jr., journalist for the National Catholic Reporter and author of 2002's biography of the Cardinal The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith, -- supplies the historical details sorely lacking in uk.gay.com's article in one of his many newspaper articles on the Cardinal:

As a seminarian, he was briefly enrolled in the Hitler Youth in the early 1940s, though he was never a member of the Nazi party. In 1943 he was conscripted into an antiaircraft unit guarding a BMW plant outside Munich. Later Ratzinger was sent to Austria's border with Hungary to erect tank traps. After being shipped back to Bavaria, he deserted. When the war ended, he was an American prisoner of war.

Under Hitler, Ratzinger says he watched the Nazis twist and distort the truth. Their lies about Jews, about genetics, were more than academic exercises. People died by the millions because of them. The church's service to society, Ratzinger concluded, is to stand for absolute truths that function as boundary markers: Move about within these limits, but outside them lies disaster.

Later reflection on the Nazi experience also left Ratzinger with a conviction that theology must either bind itself to the church, with its creed and teaching authority, or it becomes the plaything of outside forces -- the state in a totalitarian system or secular culture in Western liberal democracies. In a widely noted 1986 lecture in Toronto, Ratzinger put it this way: "A church without theology impoverishes and blinds, while a churchless theology melts away into caprice." 2

* * *

The Vatican's Enforcer of the Faith arrived in the mail shortly after I set up this website back in 2000. I was delighted that the publishing house had sent it to me, given that it was the very first real 'book review' I'd ever written (well, at least since college).

Needless to say, the work was not very well received by orthodox Catholics. Even Commonweal found fault with it. 3 However, as I attempted to demonstrate, while acknowledging the author's decidely liberal bias pervasive throughout the text, I also detected what I believed to be distinct signs of (grudging) respect and appreciation for the Cardinal: going so far as to criticize the way he has been portrayed ("[Ratzinger] is not the vengeful, power-obsessed old man who lurks like a bogyman in the imaginations of the Catholic left"), recognizing that "[Ratzinger's] arguments are more than ex post facto rationalizations for exercises of authority", and, in a moment undoubtely suprising to many readers, admitting "in the unlikely event I ever had access to Ratzinger as a personal confesser, I would not hesitate to open my heart to him, so convinced I am of the clarity of his insight, his integrity, and his commitment to the priesthood." 4 Now, how many members of Voice of the Faithful can say that?

* * *
On the topic of Cardinal Ratzinger, Cathnews.com recently ran another story on rumors of the Cardinal's prospective retirement. This is not the first time rumors of retirement have circulated. Back in September 2001 John Allen Jr. observed in his column "Word from Rome" that the Cardinal has increasingly opted to let his secretaries take charge in various matters. And in an article on Beliefnet.com published around the same time, Ratzinger personally expressed the desire to do so:
Ratzinger, who has headed the Congregation for 21 years, said that he could "not wait to write books again. I'm getting there but getting there is not enough." He said in a pastoral letter that he felt unable to continue his work as a cardinal due to his age and fatigue. And after 12 years as archbishop, he said he also wanted to make way for "new faces." 5

But as John N. Nupia of Roman Catholic News has explained, at age 75 a bishop is required to "present his resignation from office to the Supreme Pontiff". However, the sole and exclusive decision to grant this request belongs to the Supreme Pontiff, who does not always do so -- and at least so far the Holy Father has decided that the Church cannot do without him at this point in time, having twice over asked him to stay in office.

Nevertheless, it is only a matter of years before Ratzinger's request to step down is granted -- I'd probably be exhausted too, after 21 years being the Vatican's "doctrinal watchdog" -- and so the media has been speculating of late who will succeed him when the time comes. Two possible candidates that I've read about are Cardinal Schonborn (one of the chief architects of the Catechism of the Catholic Church) and Archbishop Angelo Amato, who recently replaced Tarcisio Bertone as Ratzinger's secretary.

According to a profile in the Italian periodical L'espresso, Amato is a competent theologian specializing in Asiatic religions and Eastern Christianity. Furthermore:

[Like Bertone] Angelo Amato is also a Salesian – but he's not a canonist. He's a theologian who specialized in Christology. John Paul II consecrated him bishop on January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. He has worked for years in the Vatican as a consultant to the Holy Office and to the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity and the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

His counsel is weighty. The declaration Dominus Iesus, published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, is in large part the fruit of his labors. And it is plausible to suppose that the same document was the origin of his promotion. 6

Although Bertone was secretary at the time Dominus Iesus was published, Amato assisted in its presentation, explaining in this interview with Zenit.org (7/9/00), that the document was intended as a corrective to erroneous assumptions held by participants in interreligious & ecumenical dialogue. Earlier this month Amato again took part in another interview with Zenit.org (8/1/03) defending the Holy See's stance on homosexual union. I predict that we will see much more of the Salesian Archbishop in the future, and when the time comes for a new Prefect I believe he may become a worthy successor to the good Cardinal.

  1. "Pope's Advisor a Member of the Hitler Youth[!]". UKGay.com. August 4, 2003.
  2. "The Vatican's Enforcer", National Catholic Reporter, April 16, 1999.
  3. Likewise, Gerard Serafin has also referred in his blog to "the mellowing" of John Allen Jr. towards the Pope, his collaborators, and even Opus Dei.
  4. The full spectrum of reviews of Allen's biography can be found here.
  5. Vatican's Cardinal Ratzinger Announces Retirement Plans, by Agence France Presse. Sept. 10, 2001.
  6. "At the Right Hand of the Father: Ratzinger Promotes His Star Pupil", by Sandro Magister. L'Espresso, Feb. 1, 2003.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

Robert Reilley & the 'revival of modern music' 
Posted by Christopher at 11:36 PM

Our local cable station recently added EWTN to its list of channels, and this Sunday morning I had the opportunity to see Deal Hudson interview Robert Reilley on his show The Church & Culture Today. Readers might recognize Mr. Reilley as a music critic and frequent columnist for Crisis Magazine, and who has recently published a collection of his critical essays entitled Surprised by Beauty: A Listener's Guide to the Recovery of Modern Music.1.

The content of Reilley's dialogue with Mr. Hudson is derived from an essay for Crisis magazine on the question "Is Music Sacred?"2. According to Reilley, until the twentieth century "it was generally accepted that music approximates a heavenly concord, that it should attempt to make the transcendent perceptible and, in so doing, exercise a formative ethical impact on those who listen to it." (And as Jean Sibelius and Igor Stravinsky demonstrated, one did not necessarily have to be a believer to hold this conception).

The metaphysical ground upon which this conception of music was rooted dissolved with the onset of philosophical nihilism and the disintegration of belief in an intelligible order. Reilly quotes the popular American composer John Adams, who said that he "learned in college that tonality died somewhere around the time that Nietzsche's God died, and I believed it." Says Reilly:

The death of God is as much a problem for music as it is for philosophy. Tonality, as the pre-existing principle of order in the world of sound, goes the same way as the objective moral order. If there is no pre-existing, intelligible order to go out to and apprehend, and to search through for what lies beyond it—which is the Creator—what then is music supposed to express? If external order does not exist, then music collapses in on itself and degenerates into an obsession with techniques. Any ordering of things, musical or otherwise, becomes purely arbitrary. . . .

Arnold Schoenberg
Reilly places the blame for the degeneration of Western music chiefly upon the Austrian composer Arnold Schoenberg, who renounced tonality in favor of an "emancipation of dissonance" by way of his own method of twelve-tone method of composition, or "Method of Composing with Twelve Tones Related Only to Each Other":

[Schoenberg] contended that tonality does not exist in Nature as the very property of sound itself, as Pythagoras claimed, but was simply an arbitrary construct of man, a convention. This assertion was not the result of a new scientific discovery about the acoustical character of sound, but of a desire to demote the metaphysical status of Nature. Schoenberg was irritated that "tonality does not serve, [but rather] must be served." He preferred to command. As he said, "I can provide rules for almost anything."

Schoenberg took the twelve equal semi-tones from the chromatic scale and commanded that music be written in such a way that each of these twelve semi-tones is used before any one of them is repeated. If one of the semi-tones is repeated before all eleven others are sounded, it might create an anchor for the ear, which could then recognize what was going on in the music harmonically. The twelve-tone system guarantees the listener's disorientation. . . . Of his achievement, Schoenberg said, "I am conscious of having removed all traces of a past aesthetic." This is nowhere more true than when he declared himself "cured of the delusion that the artist's aim is to create beauty."

Reilly goes on to explain why Schoenberg's denial of tonality had such a devastating effect on the composition of contemporary music:
The loss of tonality was also devastating at the practical level of composition because tonality is the key structure of music. Tonality is what allows music to express movement away from or toward a state of tension or relaxation, a sense of motion through a series of crises and conflicts, which can then come to resolution. Without tonality, music loses harmony and melody. Its structural force collapses. Gutting music of tonality, as Schoenberg did, is like removing grapes from wine. You can go through all the motions of making wine without grapes, but there will be no wine at the end of the process. Similarly, if you deliberately and systematically remove all audible overtone relationships from music, you can go though the process of composition, but the end product will not be comprehensible as music. This is not a change in technique; it is the replacement of art by an ideology of organized noise.

It is interesting to note that Schoenberg's believed "arbitrariness" could only be attained by a decisively non-arbitrary adherence to his twelve-tone system, the slightest deviation from which might result in the frustration of his plan by harmony. In so doing, Schoenberg merely replaced the alleged convention of tonality by willfully imposing his own (ultimately conventional) method of composition.

Predictably, some of Schoenberg's disciples opted to do away with convention altogether. As Reilly says: "If you're going to emancipate dissonance, why organize it? Why even have twelve-tone themes? Why bother with pitch at all?" -- citing as an example the compositions of John Cage, who believed "that the goal of music was a 'purposelessness,' and that the role of the composer was to create situations in which sounds could 'simply be.'"3

George Rochberg
Fortunately, says Reilley, the last few decades have witnessed an "extraordinary recovery from the damage that was inflicted by Schoenberg and his disciples." Moreover, those behind this recovery are -- "almost without exception" -- composers who had previously adhered to and were now rebelling against Schoenberg's system, advocating a return to tonal music. The first to turn against Schoenberg was George Rochberg, dean of the twelve-tone school of composition in the United States, whose reevaluation and eventual return to tonality was provoked by the death of his son:

in 1961 the Rochbergs' seventeen-year-old son, Paul, fell ill with a brain tumor. He died three years later, throwing his father into despair. Confronted with his son's death, Rochberg struggled to give that tragedy some meaning through his music, but the serialism upon which his career had been built he now found empty and meaningless. It was a language that could not bear the weight of his sorrow.4

According to Reilly, Rochberg's Third String Quartet was a turning point in that it signified a return to tonality, and was accompanied by a manifesto repudiating his earlier preoccupiation with Schoenberg's method:

The pursuit of art is much more than achieving technical mastery of means or even a personal style; it is a spiritual journey toward the transcendence of art and of the artists ego. In my time of turning, I have had to abandon the notion of originality in which the personal style of the artist and his ego are the supreme values; the pursuit of the one-idea, uni-dimensional work and gesture, which seems to have dominated the aesthetics of art in the 20th century; and the received idea that it is necessary to divorce oneself from the past ....

In these ways, I am turning away from what I consider the cultural pathology of my own time toward what can only be called a possibility: that music can be renewed by regaining contact with the tradition and means of the past, to re-emerge as a spiritual force with re-activated powers of melodic thought, rhythmic pulse and large scale structure; and, as I see it, these things are only possible with tonality.

John Adams
Another composer who rejected atonal composition was John Adams, who while emulating the antics of John Cage found his aesthetic experience of such unfulfilling:

[Adams] had been studying the writings of John Cage and began organizing elaborately anarchic Cagean happening. For one piece, "lo-fi," he and his students assumed various positions around the Arboretum in Golden Gate Park and played 78-r.p.m. records that had turned up in Goodwill stores. This activity proved no more satisfying than the highbrow work that he had done at Harvard. In an autobiographical essay, he wrote that "the social aspect of these events was piquant, and the post-concert parties were always memorable, but the musical payoff always seemed 'lite'. I began to notice that often after an avant-garde event I would drive home alone to my cottage on the beach, lock the door, and, like a closet tippler, end the evening deep in a Beethoven quartet."5
Discovering that "tonality was not just a stylistic phenomenon that came and went, but that it is really a natural acoustic phenomenon", Adams went on to compose the symphony Hamonielehre ("Theory of Harmony"), which according to Reilly nothing less than "a total repudiation of Schoenberg."
[Hamonielehre] powerfully reconnects with the great Western musical tradition. In this work, he wrote, "there is a sense of using key as a structural and psychological tool in building my work." . . . Even more importantly, Adams explained, "the other shade of meaning in the title has to do with harmony in the larger sense, in the sense of spiritual and psychological harmony." Adam's description of his symphony is explicitly in terms of spiritual health and sickness. He explains that "the entire [second] movement is a musical scenario about impotence and spiritual sickness; . . . it has to do with an existence without grace. And then in the third movement, grace appears for no reason at all . . . that's the way grace is, the unmerited bestowal of blessing on man. The whole piece is a kind of allegory about that quest for grace." It is clear from Adarns that the recovery of tonality and key structure is as closely related to spiritual recovery as its loss was related to spiritual loss.
I confess that most of this is new to me, as I grew up listening to pretty much anything but classical music. I don't have much of an appreciation for John Cage, although I do enjoy experimental and some minimalist music. I was fortunate enough, however, to be blessed with a father who imposed upon his sons the works of Beethoven, Mozart, Bach and Antonin Dvoràk such that I've developed some measure of appreciation (which has increased with age). But having majored in philosophy in college I've found the underlying worldviews of the musical theories in Reilley's essay most intriguing, and I'm looking forward to reading his book on the revival of modern music.
  1. Here's a review of the book by Joshua Gelder National Review Online Feb. 20, 2003.
  2. Is Music Sacred?, by Robert Reilley. Crisis Sept. 1999.
  3. Cage, John (1912-1992). Entry - essentialsofmusic.com.
  4. "George Rochberg's Revolution", Michael Linton. First Things 84 (July/July 1998). pp. 18-20.
  5. The Harmonist: John Adams takes the agony out of modern music, by Alex Ross. The New Yorker Magazine, January 8, 2001.

Saturday, August 02, 2003

St. Charles Lwanga & the Ugandan Martyrs 
Posted by Christopher at 1:47 PM

Canada's LifeSite News takes note that the recent document published by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons, although approved by the Pope on March 28, 2003, chose to formally publish the document on "June 3, 2003, Memorial of Saint Charles Lwanga and his Companions, Martyrs." The date has particular significance because it commemorates the death of the Ugandan martyrs in the 1800's for their moral opposition to King Mwanga, "a violent ruler and pedophile who forced himself on the young boys and men who served him as pages and attendants."

Charles was one of 22 Ugandan martyrs who converted from paganism. Though he was baptized the night before being put to death, he became a moral leader. He was the chief of the royal pages and was considered the strongest athlete of the court. He was also known as "the most handsome man of the Kingdom of the Uganda." He instructed his friends in the Catholic Faith and he personally baptized boy pages. He inspired and encouraged his companions to remain chaste and faithful. He protected his companions, ages 13-30, from the immoral acts and homosexual demands of the Babandan ruler, Mwanga. [Savior.Org]

Proponents of gay marriage will no doubt take vehement offense at this -- after all, not all those with homosexual orientations are pedophiles, nor are they prone to beheading and burning those who object to their lifestyle like King Mwanga. Perhaps the Congregation chose the date to remind readers of St. Charles' admonishment to youth that they remain chaste and faithful, but the thought did cross my mind: perhaps Voice of the Faithful can interpret this little footnote as a sign that the Vatican will come down hard on pedophiles within the clergy as well?

  • You can read the history of St. Charles Lwanga and the Ugandan Martyrs at Catholic.Org.
  • The Brothers of St. Charles of Lwanga is an independent Roman Catholic Order which was founded by the White Fathers in 1927 in the heart of Uganda to follow in the footsteps of the Uganda Martyrs. They follow the rule of St. Ignatius of Loyola and have a special devotion to the Martyrs, the Blessed Virgin Mary and to the most Sacred Heart of Jesus.

Prayer Request 
Posted by Christopher at 1:30 PM

Chris of Rosa Mystica has the following prayer request:

"Please keep a college friend and former housemate of mine named Matt in your prayers. Matt found out 9 months ago that he has lupus, and he is currently in the hospital with blod clots in his legs, pneumonia and kidney malfunctioning. Matt had just started studying in Rome for the priesthood with the Apostles of the Interior Life when he found about his illness.

Posted by Christopher at 1:16 PM

Tempers are flaring and bitter words are being exchanged in the debate over gay marriage. Some, however, are not without a sense of humor:

  • "Someone should tell John Kerry that being a Catholic is not like joining the Elks Lodge." - Domenico Bettinelli to Catholic Senator John Kerry, who believes himself exempt from moral instruction by the Pope.

  • "The reaction from some quarters was predictable. Rather than deal with the substance of the issue, attack the messenger. Accordingly, I received a number of angry letters accusing me of being a homophobic bigot, a hatemonger, and as someone who knows nothing about sexuality. The last accusation was particularly hurtful as I consider myself a very sexy person. How dare I make such claims!" - Bishop Frederick Henry of Calgary, responding to criticism of his recent assertion of a Catholic understanding of marriage.

William Luse is back & blogging! 
Posted by Christopher at 1:15 PM

Exasperated by the technical difficulties of blogger.com and hopping to and fro around blogdom in search of stability, William Luse's blog, Apologia, has finally come to rest at a permanent URL.

"While we were in the office, I noticed that sex sells. I'm not sure sex actually sells anything but it gets people to look. If you drape a naked woman across a motorcycle, I lose interest in the cycle. There were lots of posters in the office of women and men in glasses. Most of the women had their arms languidly raised for no obvious reason (one was lifting her hair, as women will do). They wore summer dresses with fair cleavage. One girl's blouse was unbuttoned from sternum to belly button. She wore glasses, of course, but my concern was only with what was keeping that last button in place. . . .The boys - I mean young men - were, like the women, model pretty. And full-lipped and soft looking too, like they'd never driven a nail or wielded an axe. I guess a lot of women these days like that look. The soft, hairless look. They don't look like the kind of guys who sign up to fight the war on terror."

Mr. Luse is back in action, as charming and witty as ever (did I mention that this was one of my favorite blogs?)

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