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Friday, February 27, 2004

Mixed Reactions to The Passion 
Posted by Christopher at 11:05 PM

No, I have yet to see "the movie" (perhaps this weekend?), but many bloggers around the internet have already done so, and are posting their reviews and responses.

  • Dave Armstrong ("Cor ad cor loquitur") praises the film and expresses his hope:
    May all Christians unite in our prayers and efforts: that this extraordinary movie may bring about many changed lives, and more and more committed disciples of our Lord Jesus. This is our moment. The time is now. Let's stop our stupid and petty in-fighting (over these basic issues where we should all readily agree) and show the world what Christianity is really all about. The film is the first step: our behavior as Christians is the crucial second part of the witness. Please God, be with us; it's the least we can do to thank You for what You have done for us . . .

  • Bill Cork shares his concerns and criticisms, and posts a valuable list of resources on the presentation of Jews in The Passion and Scripture.

  • Fr. Rob ("Thrown Back"):
    there is a scene after Jesus' scourging where Mary wipes up His blood. I was moved to think about the Mass, and every time I look into the Chalice when I say "this is the cup of my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant...". That blood, and the blood at the foot of the Pillar, are the same. . . . I will never celebrate Mass the same way again.

  • A Saintly Salmugundi asks two very pertinent questions:
    1. Why is it that people are beating down the doors to see this film about Jesus while priests and ministers talk about Jesus every Sunday and it is like pulling teeth to get people to come to church and sit in their pews?
    2. If Christians will come out en mass to see "The Passion" what can we do to get them to come out en mass on election day and vote for pro-life candidates?

  • Writing for the NRO, S.T. Karnick ponders the film's excessive violence, and offers this defense:
    It is dreadful. It is difficult to watch. We do not want to see it. We should not want to see it. We cannot want to see it. And that, again, is exactly Gibson's point. There is a reason that we do not want to see this. We do not want to accept our complicity in this horror. We do not want to accept responsibility for it. We just want to be left alone.

  • Guest editorial on "Rerum Novarum" by Mark Downey, on Mel Gibson's "Traditionalism":
    I choose to believe that Mr. Gibson is not really an "ultra-traditionalist" at heart. I refuse to believe that he is being hypocritical in order to sell his movie. In the attempt to practice his Catholic Faith without the confusion (which is certainly in abundance), I believe Mel finds himself swimming in the dangerous whirlpool of "private judgement Catholicism". . . .

  • Forgive me for not mentioning it sooner, but Secret Agent Man posts The Mother of All Essays on The Passion, the Jews, and the Teaching of Contempt.
* * *

LifeSite has been compiling positive reviews of The Passion, perhaps to counteract the negative commentary circulating around the internet. The conservative news site Newsmax quotes Rabbi Mark Gellman of Temple Beth Torah in Melville, NY, the Jewish half of the Rabbi-Priest television duo The God Squad, describing the film's "stunning beauty and daring violence that forces all of us to grow up and learn to accept people who tell their own stories." Gellman also told The New York Times recently:

"We have to allow people to tell their own story," Rabbi Gellman said, though he cautioned that people of all faiths must take responsibility for the effects of the stories they tell.

"Jews who are secure in their Jewishness and secure in the compassion of their Christian friends will see the Christian story in a new way," he said.

One of the film's most powerful moments for Rabbi Gellman is a scene in which Jesus is taken down from the cross. Instead of looking at Jesus, as she does in Michelangelo's Pietà, Mary looks directly at the camera, he said, as if to say, "We all did this."

The film's brutality is poignant, Rabbi Gellman said, because "the alternative is some anemic, cartoon version of the story." ("After Months of Contention, 'The Passion' Arrives in Theaters, by Stephanie Rosenbloom. New York Times Feb. 24, 2004)

Gellman's praise comes in sharp contrast to this interview back in August 2003, when he and Msgr. Hartman differed strongly on whether the film should be made at all.

It should be noted, however, that while he believes that Christians have a right to "tell their story," Rabbi Gellman still has reservations about The Passion. The God Squad offers this balanced yet critical editorial on the importance of "Seeing Through Others' Eyes", which is worth reading in its entirety.

* * *

Finally, Catholic Light refers to a guest comment by Joel C. Rosenburg on NRO about "a vicious, anti-semitic film":

Israeli Cabinet Minister Natan Sharansky went to Berlin in January to show German, French and other European officials excerpts of a vicious, anti-Semitic film.

With all the media attacks on Mel Gibson and his new film, you might think Sharansky showed excerpts of The Passion of the Christ. He did not. Sharansky wanted European officials to see a real anti-Semitic film. So he showed them excerpts of Al-Shatat ("The Diaspora"), a $5.1 million, 30-part "mini-series" produced by Syrian television. . . . [Read More]

MEMRI (Middle East Media Research Institute) has video clips of the aformentioned film [WARNING: EXTREMELY VIOLENT], as well as an article on the key characteristics of Arab anti-semitism. While the Blood Libel has faded from Christianity, it remains alive and well in the Arab world, in comparison to which the present criticism and concerns over The Passion's potential to fuel anti-semitism, while to a certain degree warranted, seems rather misplaced, paling in comparison to the propaganda presently circulating in the Middle East.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Trusting God's Forgiveness 
Posted by Christopher at 12:24 AM

The 1976 production of Luther was on television this past weekend -- based on the famous play by the British playwriter John Osborne. I thought it was very well done, if somewhat flawed in its attempt to cover the entire span of Luther's life. I have yet to see last year's film starring Joseph Fiennes, but I thought that Stacey Keach was a much better pick for the role (rugged and heavy set, he definitely looks the part of the fiery German theologian).

Osborne portrays Luther as extremely tormented and self-obsessed: emotionally, psychologically, even physically crippled by his guilt -- hardly fit to be a monk, and one who I imagine might even be expelled on grounds of mental instability in modern times. Osborne's portrayal reminded me of a passage by Roland H. Bainton, author of Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther:

[Wrestling with God's judgement] Luther reported to Staupitz, and his answer as "Ich verstehe es nicht!" -- "I don't understand it!" Was, then, Luther the only one in all the world who had been so plagued? Had Staupitz himself experienced such trials? "No," said he, "but I think they are your meat and drink." Evidently, he suspected Luther of thriving on disturbances. The only word of reassurance he could give was a reminder that the blood of Christ was shed for the remission of sins. But Luther was too obsessed with the picture of Christ the avenger to be consoled with the thought of Christ the redeemer. 1
I think that our culture suffers today predominantly from a lack of belief in sin -- that is to say, I haven't noticed that many people wrestling with guilt on the level of Brother Martin, or reduced to such fear and trembling by the thought of God's divine judgement. Most of the time it seems that our thoughts are elsewhere, preoccupied with worldly things.

At the same time, I think that some, like Luther in his early days, have a tendency to err in the other direction, where remorse conceals an unhealthy self-preoccupation with one's sin, a lack of trust in God's grace and an acceptance of his gift of salvation in Christ. Osborne addresses this issue in a striking passage from his play, where Luther, minutes away from celebrating his first Mass, is mercilessly berating himself for his sins, and his spiritual advisor is obliged to break the spell of self-obsession with a dutiful recitation from the Creed:

MARTIN: All you teach me in this sacred place is how to doubt --
BRO. WEINAND: Give you a little praise, and you're pleased for a while, but let a little trial of sin and death come into your day and you crumble, don't you?
MARTIN: But that's all you've taught me, that's really all you've taught me, and all the while I'm living in the Devil's worm-bag.
BRO. WEINAND: It hurts me to watch you like this, sucking up the cares like a leech.
MARTIN: You will be there beside me, won't you?
BRO. WEINAND: Of course, and if anything goes wrong, or if you forget anything, we'll see to it. You'll be all right. But nothing will -- you won't make any mistakes.
MARTIN: But what if I do, just one mistake. Just a word, one word -- one sin.
BRO. WEINAND: Martin, kneel down.
MARTIN: Forgive me, Brother Weinand, but the truth is this --
(Luther kneels)
MARTIN: It's this, just this. All I can feel, all I can feel is God's hatred.
BRO. WEINAND: Repeat the Apostle's Creed.
MARTIN: He's like a glutton, the way he gorges he, he's a glutton. He gorges me, then spits me out in lumps.
BRO. WEINAND: After me, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, make of Heaven and Earth . . .
MARTIN: I'm a trough, I tell you, and he's swilling about in me. All the time.
BRO. WEINAND: "And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord . . ."
MARTIN: "And in Jesus Christ, His only Son our Lord . . ."
BRO. WEINAND: "Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate . . .
MARTIN (almost unintelligibly): "Was crucified, dead, and buried; He descended into Hell; the third day He rose from the dead, He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence He shall come to judge the quick and the dead." And every sunrise sings the song for death.
BRO. WEINAND: "I believe --"
MARTIN: "I believe --"
MARTIN: "I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy Catholic Church; the Communion of Saints; the forgiveness of sins;
MARTIN: "The forgiveness of sins."
BRO. WEINAND: What was that again?
MARTIN: "I believe in the forgiveness of sins."
BRO. WEINAND: Do you? Then remember this: St. Bernard says that when when we say the Apostles Creed "I believe in the forgiveness of sins" each one of us must believe that his sins are forgiven. 2

So I pray that all of you who read this, myself included, will have a Blessed Lent, and realize in our life the words attributed to Pope Clement XI ("The Universal Prayer"):

. . . Keep me, Lord, attentive at prayer, temperate in food an drink, diligent in my work, firm in my good intentions. Let my conscience be clear, my conduct without fault, my speech blameless, my life well-ordered. Put me on guard against my human weaknesses. Let me cherish your love for me, keep your law, and come at last to your salvation.

Teach me to realize that this world is passing, that my true future is happiness in heaven, that life on earth is short, and the life to come eternal.

Help me prepare for death, with a proper fear of judgement, but a greater trust in your goodness. Lead me safely through death, to the endless joy of Heaven.

  1. Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther, by Roland H. Bainton. pp. 45-46. New American Library, 1978.
  2. Luther, by John Osborne. pp. 29-32. Penguin Books, 1961.

Sunday, February 22, 2004

Around the Blogosphere . . .  
Posted by Christopher at 9:28 PM

  • Yeah! Christine -- formerly of "Christus Victor" -- returns with her own solo blog: "Laudem Gloriae". =)
  • Mark ("Minute Particulars"), asking what if Rome really doesn't care? -- on the implications of those who believe that the Pope was "morally and criminally negligent, in allowing predator priests to flourish."
  • G. Thomas Fitzpatrick ("Recta Ratio") posts a few personal suggestions for Lenten practices, and recommends An Exercise in the Way of the Cross by St. Alphonsus Maria Liguori.
  • Dennis ("Vita Mea") had the opportunity to meet a presidential candidate over lunch.
  • Dr. Philip Blosser ("Scripture and Catholic Tradition") offers a page-by-page analysis of Harold Bloom's reading of St. Paul in Genius: A Mosaic of One Hundred Exemplary Creative Minds. ("Yet even an intellect so learned and fecund as Bloom's can betray signs of inadvertent influence, if not entrapment, by uncritically received ideological trends of his age . . .")
  • William Luse ("Apologia") goes to the movies and blogs a not-exactly-raving review of Return of the King, in which he includes the startling confession:
    I know it’s my own fault. I missed the boat on this one. Back in the mid-seventies, when the Tolkien craze began, I saw people – hip-eyes, straight arrows, rednecks, Christians, atheists, panhandlers and drug addicts – walking around campus and coming out of Goring’s bookstore with an LOTR in each hand, one in the armpit, and The Hobbit in a hip pocket. While I tried to learn how to write, read back issues of The Sewanee Review, played intellectual hot potato with various philosophies, and even began toe-dipping in the Christian pond – some Bonhoeffer here, some Muggeridge there – it seemed the whole world was reading Tolkien.

    To which I reply -- it's never too late! ;-)

Cardinal Ratzinger's Struggle Against Marxism 
Posted by Christopher at 1:18 AM

Kevin Miller and Paul Rex have blogged on the republication of Cardinal Ratzinger's Introduction to Christianity in Italy, reported by Zenit.Org. The 12th edition of this famous text features a new introduction by the Cardinal, in which he "assesses the effects of the last 30 years on the Church" and expresses the belief that "1968, the year of student revolutions, and 1989, the pivotal year for Marxism's decline, are key to understanding the late 20th century.

Marxism has often been described as a "secular religion," expressing a comprehensive worldview, conception of human nature rooted in historical determinism. So engaging was "the Marxist doctrine of salvation" that many struggle with it's demise, and with great difficulty coming to grips with its legacy of suffering and oppression.

"Suffice it to think of how discreet the discussion on the horrors of the Communist 'gulags' has been, and the little that Alexander Solzhenitsyn's voice has been heard: Nothing is said about all this," he affirms.

"The silence has been imposed by a certain sense of shame," [Ratzinger] contends. "Even Pol Pot's bloody regime is only mentioned, in passing, every now and then. But the disillusion has remained, together with a profound confusion. Today no one believes any longer in any great moral dictates." 1

According to Ratzinger, the ultimate effect of Marxism was a pragmatism which justified the use of terror as the instrument of the good. "When the time came that all could see, if only on the surface, the ruins caused in humanity by this idea, people preferred to take refuge in a pragmatic life and publicly profess contempt of ethics."

Introduction to Christianity was first published in 1968, when protestors battled the police on the streets of Chicago during the Democratic Convention, and a flurry of radical student-uprisings swept across Western Europe. As John Allen Jr. notes in his biography, at the time that Cardinal Ratzinger was teaching, "the theology faculties of Tübingen became 'the real ideological center' of the movement towards Marxism, -- home, for instance, to the German philosopher Ernest Bloch, author of Principle of Hope, a Marxist analysis of Christianity and social change and whom Ratzinger remarked "made Heidegger contemptible for being petty bourgeois." 2

It was a period in which students and faculty alike fell victim to the indoctrination of Marxism, where the Cross of Christ was denounced as a "sado-masochistic glorification of pain," where the Church was accused as sharing in "the capitalist exploitation of the poor," and traditional Catholic theology of "propping up the system." And while Germany never embraced the violence that marked other protests, says Allen, they made full use of the theory and language of violent revolution, enough to warrant alarm of Germans who lived a few miles away from a Communist state.

Ratzinger would join two Lutheran theologians at Tübingen in confronting the Marxist presence on campus ("we saw the confessional controversies we had previously engaged were small indeed in the face of the challenge we now confronted, which put us in a position of having, together, to bear witness to our common faith"). After three years, however, he grew tired of student opposition (he and Fr. Hans Kung were both subject to constant student sit-ins and occupations of the pulpit), and decided to lend his support to establishing the Univeristy of Regensburg. His years at Tübingen revealed to him:

"a new spirit creeping in, a spirit in which fanatical ideologies made use of the spirit of Christianity . . . the unanimous will to serve the faith had come to pieces. Instead there was an instrumentalization by ideologies that were tyrannical, brutal, and cruel. That experience made it clear to me that the abuse of faith had to be resisted precisely if one wanted to uphold the will of the council. . . . I did see how real tyranny was exercised, even in brutal forms . . . anyone who wanted to remain a progressive in this context had to give up his integrity." 3
In Milestones Ratzinger explains further the dangers he perceived in Marxism:
. . . the destruction of theology that was not occuring (through its politicization as conceived by Marxist messianism) was incomparably more radical [then Bultmann's existentist Christianity] precisely because it took biblical hope as its basis but inverted it by keeping the religious ardor but eliminating God, and replacing him with the political activity of man. Hope remains, but the party takes the place of God, and along with the party, a totalitarianism that practices an atheistic sort of adoration ready to sacrifice all humaneness to its false God. I myself have seen the frightful face of this aetheistic piety unveiled, its psychological terror, the abandon with which every moral consideration could be thrown overboard as a bourgeois residue when the ideological goal was at stake. 4

  1. "Cardinal Ratzinger Blames 1968 and 1989 for the Contempt of Ethics -- Postwar Cynicism and Marxism's Fall Paved the Way for Pragmatism". Zenit.Org. February 19, 2004.
  2. "For Bloch the human being, the natural world, and history all have the fundamental character of not-yet being: nature moves toward the future; history experiments; the human hopes. . . . daydreams, visions, stories, myths, and folklore [provide] the material for a critique of the present situation and the impetus for revolution. Because the stories of religion have so often expressed humanity's future yearnings, Bloch defined religion as that which reveals the telos of reality. Therefore, Bloch concluded, God is a projection of what humanity is, the desire for the future." - Rebecca S. Chopp, Praxis of Suffering: An Interpretation of Liberation and Political Theologies (Orbis Books, 1986).
  3. Salt of the Earth (Ignatius, 1996). pp. 76-77.
  4. Milestones: Memoirs 1927-1977 (Ignatius, 1998).

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Posted by Christopher at 11:37 PM

  • "Occasionally, people ask if they can borrow a book I've mentioned to them, and I'm forced to say lending it would be contrary to my Christian faith. Not the lending itself, of course, but the breaking of fingers when the book isn't returned within a week." -- Tom (Disputations)
  • "According to my partner Penner, the rare moment of ecumenism between Catholics and Calvinists during the Sixteenth Century was when they agreed to drown the Mennonites. . . . Which is generally what a fervent commitment to pacifism gets you." -- Peter Sean Bradley (Lex Communis).

Just two little quotes which brought a smile to my face perusing the blogs this week. Many more choice little snippets from the Blogosphere here, compiled by TS O'Rama.

Thursday, February 19, 2004

Mel, Hutton and the Fourth Commandment 
Posted by Christopher at 3:09 PM

Last night I watched Mel Gibson's lengthy interview w/ Dianne Sawyer (you can view the entire episode here, Quicktime media player required). I thought it was a pretty comprehensive interview, covering the variety of topics and pretty much all the various challenges that critics have posed of the film (and to Gibson himself). I think he handled it very well on all counts, and I was sufficiently impressed.

Much as I respect Mel Gibson (based on his interviews I've seen with him), I can't say I hold his father in high regard. Especially if this report is true:

A week before Mel Gibson's movie about Jesus Christ hits theaters, his father has gone on an explosive rant against Jews - claiming they fabricated the Holocaust and are conspiring to take over the world. . . .

In the interview, when Barbara Walters questioned Gibson about the controversial views of his father (regarding the Pope, Vatican II, the Jews, the Holocaust, etc.), Mel simply responded "got to let it go. [i.e., no more questions about my dad.] -- he's my dad and I love him."

For the record, Gibson's own views on the Jews and the Holocaust reveal that he clearly does not share the opinions of his father, as conveyed explicitly in the interview w/ Walters. He also indicated the possibility that non-Catholics, Jews and Muslims might even be saved by Christ, which is decidely not radtraddish.

So, I've been thinking about Gibson's response in relation to the interpretation of the commandment to "honor thy father and thy mother" -- Gibson clearly interprets this as not to speak in any way that would cast aspersion upon his parents. Is Mel's deliberate refusal to specifically counter and challenge his father's controversial (anti-semitic) comments about the Jews and the Holocaust an appropriate interpretation of the fourth commandment? Is the expression of his own views on the topic while maintaining silence regarding his father's sufficient? Or is this one of those circumstances where one might be morally compelled to directly and publicy respond to his father?

Just jotting down my thoughts as they occur to me -- haven't had time to examine the Catechism or see what advice Catholic tradition has to offer on this issue.

Nevertheless, I'd be pleased to hear others' thoughts.

  • FOLLOW-UP magnificent post from "Dyspeptic Mutterings" which provides insight into what Mel's going through in relation to his father. Very intuitive . . . thanks, Dale.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Bob Dylan's Spiritual Journey 
Posted by Christopher at 1:43 AM

[Subtitle: "Or, A Desparate Attempt by an Exasperated Catholic Blogger to Demonstrate the Existence of Other Topics on the Internet besides Mel Gibson's The Passion and the Alleged Anti-Semitism of The Director"]

Jewsweek is running a fascinating 4-part series on the spiritual life of Bob Dylan, titled "Bob Dylan's Unshakeable Monotheism", by music journalist Scott Marshall. Parts II and III cover Dylan's encounter with Jesus in 1979 and his "gospel period" during the early 1980's. Apparently Dylan had some kind of spiritual epiphany (what evangelicals might call a "born-again" experience), prompting his baptism and study of scripture under the tutorship of several pastors from the Vineyard Christian Fellowship. He would preach the gospel over the span of several albums (Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love), even collaborating with Christian gospel artist Kieth Green.

I have heard people mention Dylan's conversion before, dismissing it as a "Jesus phase" which he eventually grew out of. While there is much speculation as to whether Dylan returned to his Jewish faith in later years, Marshall insists that this was never confirmed by the musician, as he has "never formally announced his departure from (or return to) Judaism." Dylan no longer sings exclusively gospel songs as he did during the 80's, and eschews religious labels and denominational affiliations ("Jews separate themselves like that: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform ... as if God calls them that. Christians, too: Baptists, Assembly of God, Methodists, Calvinists. God has no respect for a person's title. He don't care what you call yourself"). In many ways he runs counter to the typical notion of a "right-wing fundamentalist" -- and yet, judging from the copious excerpts from interviews he continues to affirm a literal belief in the Bible ("You can't get away from it, wherever you go. Those ideas were true then and they're true now"), the existence of [original?] sin ("We're all sinners . . . Most people walking around have this strange conception that they're born good, that they're really good people -- but the world has just made a mess of their lives. . . . it's not hard for me to identify with anybody who's on the wrong side. We're all on the wrong side, really"), and a conception of "the Messianic Age" that is distinctly Judeo-Christian. Moreover, when challenged, Dylan displays a willingness to defend his faith, as in this amusing encounter with the beat poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997):

Bob Dylan: "Allen, do you have a quarrel with God?"
Allen Ginsberg: "I've never met the man."
Bob Dylan: "Then you have a quarrel with God."
Allen Ginsberg: "Well, I didn't start anything!"

Two interesting points stand out in this article: the first is the the explicit and unrelenting hostility of the secular media towards Christianity, manifested in their ridicule and biting criticism of Dylan's religious expression during his "gospel period" -- a hostility rooted, I suspect, partly in confusion and fear. After all, what can a contemporary journalist do when confronted by a musician (and 1960's folk/rock icon no less) who displays a literal belief in the scriptures and the Messiah, and proclaims the validity of right and wrong, sin and divine judgement? (Or as Dylan puts it: "Make something religious and people don't have to deal with it, they can say it's irrelevant. 'Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.' That scares the s**t out of people. They'd like to avoid that. Tell that to someone and you become their enemy.")

The second point I found especially interesting was Dylan's personal experience as a Jew who -- while maintaining a belief in Jesus as the Messiah -- insists that he hasn't "abandoned" his Jewish faith, despite all assertions to the contrary by his colleagues and critics. As one of the Vineyard pastors says, "I think he [Dylan] is one of those fortunate ones who realized that Judaism and Christianity can work very well together because Christ is just Yeshua ha' Meshiah [Jesus the Messiah]." Orthodox Jews may disagree with this assertion, and may consider the Jewish convert to Christianity as one forever lost and dead, but one cannot deny the fact that those Jews who embrace Christianity nevertheless feel a tangible bond to their Jewish faith and tradition. Consequently, it felt natural for Dylan to lend his support to Jewish causes like Chabad and attend his son's bar mitzvah in 1983 at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem . . . and at the same time, play overtly Christian songs like "In The Garden," which "amounted to a narrative about the arrest, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus."

Bob Dylan was before my time and I confess to having little knowledge or experience of his music, so I'm very appreciative of these articles. Scott Marshall has also written a book on this topic, titled: Restless Pilgrim: The Spiritual Journey of Bob Dylan (Relevant Books, 2002).

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Jaroslav Pelikan's The Emergence of Catholic Tradition 
Posted by Christopher at 1:17 AM

I've been spending the past week reading Jaroslav Pelikan's The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, (University of Chicago Press, 1971 -- (Volume 1 of his 5-part The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine). I've been wanting to check him out since college, ever since I heard one of my theology professors sing his praises in class, and who was fond of reciting the quote, "Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living." (Actually, I think I've read more theology and philosophy since I graduated than I ever did in my years of college).

I found Pelikan's book quite educational: covering the first 600 years of Christianity, beginning with the early Church's break with the Jewish tradition and dispute with Classical [Greek & Roman] thought to its struggles with Gnosticism and the Christological and Trinitarian controversies. Rather than present the issues chronologically, he organizes the content by issue -- "the separation of law and gospel"; "the meaning of salvation"; "Christ as divine"; "Christ as Creature"; "Christ as Homoousios", etc. -- presenting the writings of the fathers on each. (The remaining four volumes deal with the Eastern Church, medieval theology, the reformation, and contemporary theology).

However, in his effort to compose a history" of Christian doctrine, Pelikan finds himself in a curious dilemma, as noted by reviewer James S. Preus (Theology Today Vol. 29, No. 2. 1972):

An institution in the very process of defining itself cannot be presupposed until that formative process and definition is farther along. Orthodoxy and heresy cannot be presupposed when describing the very conflicts out of which these categories assumed concrete identification. The definition of doctrine as "the church's" confession on the basis of the "Word of God" demands, in a genuinely historical account, some clarity about who speaks for "the church" at each given moment, how that body is so identified, and what is meant by "word of God" (other than what the church is confessing) in the absence of a universally accepted canon of Christian Scripture, creed, or teaching magisterium. . . . Ultimately we are given no criterion when we ask, on what basis does one locate and identify orthodoxy at this time? The "word of God," which according to the opening definitions is presumably the "basis" of the orthodox mainstream, is neither clearly identified nor distinguished from the process and content of tradition.

What is interesting, Presus observes, is that "Christian orthodoxy" is already presupposed by Pelikan in his presentation of the various doctrinal and christological controversies, and it is not altogether clear from his treatment in this book why such and such a view prevailed -- especially when positions that we consider "orthodox" today were really very much in the minority at one time. Is it just simply a matter that, as Pelikan says at one point, "history is usually dictated by the victors"? That orthodoxy boils down to "survival of the fittest" and that body of opinions which stood the test of time? Presus concludes:

. . . against 500 years of background which demonstrates precisely the opposite, Vincent of Lerins defines correct doctrine as that "which has been believed "always, everywhere, and by everyone." How could such a fantastic definition take hold and be successfully maintained, given the actual development so faithfully described by Pelikan? . . . He is probably more eminently qualified than anyone around to pursue such further questions as the relationship between the development of the idea of a uniform, normative orthodoxy and the institutional development of the church itself, along with its accompanying self-understanding and claims. Within this nexus, what is the meaning of the canon and its development (an issue almost ignored in the book), and how does it illuminate the identification of "word of God"?

Did the church confess certain doctrines because they were orthodox? Or are some doctrines orthodox because the church confessed them? The weight of Pelikan's historical account points decisively to the second alternative, while the substance of his own commitment seems to embrace the first as well. To what exent, and how, is that commitment grounded in history?

It's a fascinating paradox underlying Pelikan's work, and one that grows increasingly apparent with every chapter. Moreover, it is a question that I think any Christian will be obliged to ponder if studying the development of Christian doctrine, and I would expect to find Pelikan wrestling with it as a Christian rather than attempting an academically "neutral" historical exercise: just how did we manage to arrive where we are today, from the perpetual maelstrom of theological controversies that enveloped the early church? The disputes of men, the decisions of councils, the pronouncements of emperors, the heated exchange of ideas and anathemas -- is the creed we recite today and the doctrines we hold dear simply products of chance, random acts of history the outcome of which could very well have been otherwise . . . or do we see the glimpse of truth, the guiding hand of God, the establishment of legitimate authority and tradition?

Pelikan published this book in 1972. In March of 1998, he was received into the Orthodox Church. I wonder if researching and composing this history of Christianity influenced this decision in any way?

* * *

I imagine that there are some who will probably find Pelikan's work quite tedious, or the endless repetition of theologians and ideas -- Arianism, Montanism, Pelagianism, Sabellianism -- a daunting assignment for the average reader. I confess that as a college student, I certainly thought the same. But Oswald Sobrino ("Catholic Analysis") reminds us of the importance and usefulness of theological study:

Counterintuitive it may sound, this study is crucial to the Gospel because many of these old imperfect or heretical attempts at understanding the relation of Christ to the Father are being recycled by modern theologians. . . . highly educated theologians continue to repackage what was decisively rejected centuries ago. So the student is well served by studying the forgotten names of erroneous theologians so that he or she can recognize the erroneous theologians of today who are destined to share the same obscurity.

Mr. Sobrino illustrates his point with some excerpts from Hans Kung and Roger Haight, two contemporary theologians enjoying widespread fame and noteriety for their clashes with the Magisterium. The passage from which Sobrino quotes in Kung's On Being a Christian certainly does sound like adoptionism to me, and the "christology from below" favored by Haight (and so many other contemporary theologians) is strongly reminiscent of the questionable ideas presented in Pelikan's history.

Are other readers conscious of this similarity of these contemporary theologians to the heresies of old? Disappointing as it is, I suspect that is precisely why they are found to be so appealing.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Discovering Mennonite-Catholic Dialogue 
Posted by Christopher at 3:01 AM

Friar Cornelis: "I've come here to see whether I can . . . bring you back to the Catholic faith of our mother, the holy Roman church, from which you have apostatized to this damnable Anabaptism."
Pastor de Roore: "I have apostatized from your Babylonian mother, the Roman church, to the . . . true Church of Christ-this I confess and thank God for it.

That's exchange between a Franciscan Inquisitor and Anabaptist martyr-to-be way back in 1569, according to author Thieleman J. van Braght. 1 It comes from an article by Ivan J. Kauffman, "Mennonite-Catholic Conversations in North America: History, Convergences and Opportunities". 2 Kaufmann notes that "this book has played a major role in forming the Mennonite community's self-image from its publication to the present," which to me is reminiscent of Fox's Book of Martyrs (1583), (which I recall with some amusement was read to me as child by my now-papist father).

In light of this depiction of Catholic-Protestant relations, I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief that Catholics and Mennonites are speaking again, howbeit on better terms and in a more civilized and respectful manner -- such that in 1997, Cardinal Edward Cassidy of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity conveyed his greetings to the World Mennonite Conference meeting in Calcutta, saying:

"We are convinced that it is the will of Christ that his disciples seek unity, for the scandal of division among Christians 'provides a stumbling block to the world, and inflicts damage on the most holy cause of proclaiming the good news to every creature.' Please know that we are with you in prayer during your daily deliberations."

Such a greeting from a Cardinal of the Catholic Church would certainly have raised the eyebrows of Friar Cornelis and Pastor de Roore.

* * *

Anybody wanting to know more of the history of the Mennonites and Annabaptists and their relations with the Catholic Church will certainly benefit from reading Kaufmann's article. Here are a few historical points I thought interesting:

  • "Friar Cornelis was willing to cause Pastor de Roore's death for the sake of preserving social and religious order. But Pastor de Roore would not have been willing to cause Friar Cornelis' death, even in self-defense . . . The rejection of lethal violence under any circumstances continues to be a major issue dividing Mennonites and the other Anabaptist-origin groups from other Christian churches." [Amusing biographical note: my father has traced our family tree back to a draft-dodger who eluded conscription during the Revolutionary War].
  • Annabaptists were actually persecuted by Catholics and Protestants until the 18th century, "until they were successful in establishing relatively stable communities in the Netherlands, Alsace, Ukraine and Pennsylvania" (where they would evolve into the denominations we now call Mennonite and Amish).
  • "Although several Anabaptist-origin communities survived in Europe, only the Dutch would survive in any number, and they at the cost of disavowing the pacifism of their founders. The future of the pacifist Anabaptist tradition would be in North America."
  • Upon migration to North America, Catholics and Swiss Anabaptists found themselves in the minority and discriminated against by the Protestant majority -- "Catholics because they were not Protestants, Anabaptists because they were pacifists -- but nevertheless allowed to exist." Both adopted similar survival strategies by forming tightly-bound subcultures, with their own schools, cultural traditions and religious organizations. "The right to religious liberty and the separation of church and state which Mennonites and other Anabaptist-origin groups required came to be sought by American Catholics as well, since only under these political conditions could they hope to survive in a majority Protestant culture."
  • The earliest known Mennonite-Catholic interaction in North America occured informally, when German-speaking Catholics and Alsatian Amish both settled in Waterloo, Ontario. Bishop Peter Litwiller, the leader of the Amish community, and Fr. Eugene Funcken, the leader of the Catholic community, became personal friends and engaged in an informal dialogue.
  • For all the criticism of Vatican II and denunciations of "ecumenism" by some factions with Catholicism, it is interesting to note that the Council itself was instrumental in prompting Anabaptist-origin denominations like the Mennonites to "re-examine their attitudes and ask if they could regard Catholics as Christians." According to Kauffman, concurrently with Vatican II, Mennonites began to read Catholic authors, attend Catholic retreats, place themselves under Catholic spiritual directors, and adopt pre-Reformation liturgical practices such as the lectionary and frequent communion. 3

Kaufmann goes on to describe in great detail how five factors -- (1) internationalization of the Church; (2) shift from a dogmatic to an historical intellectual perspective; (3) democratization of society; (4) liturgical and spiritual change; (5) changes in the morality of warfare -- shaped Catholics and Mennonites and their ineraction with each other, and chronicles the major (and predominantly informal) meetings between Catholics and Mennonites in the 20th Century. Of these, there is one encounter that really caught my attention: the Catholic Church's meeting with The Bruderhof, a contemporary Anabaptist community founded by Eberhard Arnold in the 1920's, and associated with the 16th century Hutterites. The Bruderhof has the distinction of being the first Anabaptist-origin community to enter into formal dialogue with the Catholic Church at the institutional level. According to Kaufmann, "Although this dialogue does not involve Mennonites directly, it has an important impact on Mennonites because of the theological positions they share with the Bruderhof."

The Bruderhof-Catholic conversation was initiated by Pope John Paul II's apostolic letter on the third Christian millennium, Tertio Millenio Adveniente, which included a statement indicating the Catholic Church was prepared to apologize for having in the past used "violence in the service of the truth." When the Bruderhof leadership read this statement they contacted their friend Fr. Richard Neuhaus, who in turn arranged an appointment with Cardinal O'Connor. The Cardinal received them in March 1995, accepting copies of their writings and noting the potential for greater Catholic understanding of Anabaptism. 4

A few months later the Bruderhof leadership met in Rome with Cardinal Ratzinger, . . . The Cardinal listened as his visitors read accounts of two of the Anabaptists martyred in the sixteenth century. He then made this statement:

    What is truly moving in these stories is the depth of faith of these men, their being deeply anchored in our Lord Jesus Christ, and their joy in this fact, a joy that is stronger than death.

    We are distressed, of course, by the fact that the Church was so closely linked with the powers of this world that it could deliver other Christians to the executioner because of their beliefs. This should be a deep challenge to us, how much we all need to repent again and again-and how much the Church must renounce worldly principles and standards in order to accept the truth as the only standard, to look to Christ. Not to torture others but to go the way of witnessing, a way that will always lead to martyrdom in one form or another.

    I believe it is important for us not to adopt worldly standards, but rather to be ready to face the world's opposition and to learn that Christ's truth is expressed above all in love and forgiveness, which are truth's most trustworthy signs. I believe that this is the point at which we all have to begin learning anew, the only point through which Christ can truly lead us together. 5

Following this meeting in Rome the senior leader of the Bruderhof, Elder Johann Christoph Arnold, was invited to an ecumenical reception for Pope John Paul II in New York. Elder Arnold spoke briefly with the pope at this reception. Later Cardinal O'Connor visited the Bruderhof.  This entire set of encounters appears to be a major event in Anabaptist-Catholic relations. Cardinal Ratzinger's statement appears especially significant from an Anabaptist perspective. 6 What remains is to explore the possibility, inherent in Cardinal Ratzinger's remarks, that the Anabaptist martyrs could in some way be honored by the Catholic Church for their witness to religious liberty and the Church's peace position.

* * *

Kauffman's article is of personal interest to me as well, as my background on my father's side is predominantly Swiss Mennonite. However, with the conversion of my father and 3/4 of the Blosser siblings to Romanism, the religious disposition of future Blossers will most likely be no longer Mennonite, making my grandfather "last of his kind."

To be honest, this is something I regard with mixed feelings -- gratitude for myself, at having discovered the Church and the Catholic faith; but at the same time mixed with sadness for my grandparents, because especially as I get older I find much to appreciate about the Mennonites and my background, and I wonder how much, if anything, of their religious heritage will be carried on by their offspring.

How does it feel to be in their shoes, I wonder, now separated by the gulf of troubled history and religious tradition, a rift not likely to be healed in this life?

  1. The Bloody Theater, or Martyrs Mirror of the Defenseless Christians (1660), trans. Joseph F. Sohm (Scottdale, Pa.: Herald Press, 1950), 774-75.
  2. Mennonite Quarterly Review, January 1999.
  3. See also "Renewing the Conversation: Mennonite Responses to the Second Vatican Council," by Earl Zimmerman, in the same issue, which describes the mixed reactions among some Mennonites to the Council.
  4. "An Historic Meeting," The Plough (May/June 1995), 18-19.
  5. "Steps Toward Reconciliation," The Plough (Summer 1995), 22-27.
  6. "Meeting Brother John Paul II," The Plough (Nov./Dec. 1995), 28-29; "Cardinal O'Connor Visits Woodcrest," The Plough (Nov./Dec. 1996), 2-3. Yet another meeting occurred in 2001 with several hundred representatives representing Catholic orders (including John Michael Talbot), as reported by Emmy Barth and Archbishop Harry J. Flynn.

Monday, February 09, 2004

Stephen Hand & The Zwicks  
Posted by Christopher at 12:45 PM

Thanks to Stephen Hand, editor of TCRNews.Com ("Traditional Catholic Reflections and Reports" who posted this qualified endorsement of the Ratzinger Fan Club to his front page today:

While we disagree with not a few things found at this marvelous website and blog...we agree with virtually everything said about its hero and the creed...

A little too "NeoCon," it would appear for our tastes, and downright wrong when it comes to Mark and Louise Zwick and the Catholic Worker witness in general, it nevertheless remains a "must visit" website if you appreciate Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, as we do. One thing is certain, this website is an important resource for admirers of Cardinal Ratzinger, and it's always written intelligently and with the verve of faith.

Stephen may find me a little "too far right," but in spite of our political differences, he has been gracious enough to link to my website, and I'm more than pleased to do so in return. TCRNews is an excellent resource -- one of the first Catholic websites I discovered on the web, and one which I return to on a regular basis, confident that I will always encounter something new and spiritually-enriching to read (and in that sense, establishing a good example for my own blog to follow). Likewise, Stephen demonstrates how one can esteem Catholic tradition without being compelled to denigrate the Pope and the Church, unlike other self-styled "traditionalists."

As far as the Zwicks are concerned, last year I had objected to what I thought was a hatchet job they did on Michael Novak and Fr. Neuhaus. Whether my critique (of their critique) was correct or "downright wrong," I'll leave to the discernment of my readers.

However, I'll reiterate what I have said about the Zwicks: it is inspiring to see a couple devote their daily lives to the Works of Mercy and assisting the least among us. While I can disagree with the Zwick's opinions on economic matters and "neocons" Neuhaus and Weigel, judging from what I've read in their newspaper, I daresay they accomplish more in the way of love and charity in a day than many of their critics will do in a lifetime, and they are a model of what "any average Catholic or non-Catholic" can do with God's grace.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

Sign Of The Times 
Posted by Christopher at 1:29 AM

A Foot In The Bosporus ponders the peculiar popularity of Bishop Spong(e):

Both his writing and his ideas are exemplary of perhaps the most dire trend of the age:  the mediocrity of our heretics.  Survey the field of false teachers, and you’ll not find a great-hearted heretic among ‘em.  Where is our Pelagius?  Where is the new Arius?  One had to fight them, and that fight was not easy.  It took the best minds in the Church to defeat them.  Whatever weaknesses of character these arch-heretics may or may not have had, intellectual inanity was not one of them.

To which Karl Thienes comments:

"We don't need the likes of Arius or Nestorius; men who could truly think. The evil one only expends enough energy raising up new heretics to match the intellectual and spiritual vigor of the sheep."

Friday, February 06, 2004

Thank you . . .  
Posted by Christopher at 12:42 PM

I'm honored that this blog was nominated in the "Most Theological Blog" section for The 1st Annual St. Blog's Awards. However, I'm also pleased to see from the current votes that the recognition is going to St. Blog's resident Thomist, Disputations -- although the other blogs mentioned are certainly not to be missed. =)

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Posted by Christopher at 9:26 PM

The Pertinacious Papist posts some suggestions for Church renewal . . . and weighs in on the "New Apologists."

Monday, February 02, 2004

Apologetics: "It's a Dirty Job, but Somebody's Got To Do It" 
Posted by Christopher at 11:27 PM

I've been reading the exchange between various bloggers (Bill Cork, Dale Price, Envoy Encore among others) about Robert R. Gaillardetz's article in America. This humourous assessment from Lane Core, Jr. particularly resonated with me:

Gaillardetz seems to have a rather romantic notion of "dialogue". I don't suppose the following scenario has occurred to him.

Sincere Protestant Fundamentalist: "The Romish Church is the Whore of Babylon! Drunk on the blood of the 50 million Christians it killed during the Dark Ages! And the pope and his evil minions are still dragging millions of dupes into hell with their man-made system!"

Newer Catholic Apologist: "Can we dialogue?"

For every Catholic turned off by the New Apologists, I'll bet there are ten former Protestants who thank God every day for them — and ten cradle Catholics equally grateful that somebody finally explained and defended the faith that had been handed on to them so poorly.

Unfortunately, Lane Core's "sincere Protestant Fundamentalist" is more than a caricature; it's an all-too-common menace one encounters in many parts of the United States, and which can easily choke the budding faith of a new Catholic. And like it or not, you really can't get "ecumenical" with these kind of people; "dialogue" is hardly an option when you're dodging slander and lies -- at least not until somebody like Karl Keating rolls up his sleeves and gets to work clearing away the b.s. with a book like Catholicism and Fundamentalism.

I share Bill Cork's enthusiasm for Thomas Merton and Cardinal Newman. Both certainly have their places on my bookshelf, but in a time where anti-Catholicism is rampant, I'm sincerely grateful for apologists like Kreeft, Keating and Madrid. And while Bill blogs on the importance of evangelization, some of the very apologists he's criticized can be -- should be -- credited with evangelizing countless fallen-away Catholics and Protestants in America. I'm probably not the only one out there who as a new convert experienced a thrill in discovering magazines like Envoy and This Rock, which provided a refreshing course in the Catholic faith and the necessary tools to refute the challenges of the fundamentalists. Hahn, Keating, Madrid, Fr. Pacwa and others are also part of the inspirational Coming Home Network providing support for Protestant and Orthodox clergy on the journey to Rome.

That said, let's cut Gaillardetz some slack, as he appears to be presently occupied with Voice of the Faithful and dialoguing on the finer points of women's ordination. I don't know to what extent he has evangelized "insecure Catholics and fundamentalists," but had he spent a significant amount of time in a small town or college campus populated by "bible Christians," perhaps he would display greater appreciation for the service of the New Apologists.

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