I am moved to respond to the opinion piece by Professor Robert Benne (“Reinventing
Sexual Ethics,” March) not only because Prof. Benne refers to me but (more
importantly) because he raises some issues concerning homosexuality and the
Church that need continuing, reasoned examination on the part of theologians
and church leaders. His remarks were directed to developments in the Evangelical
Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), but, as he notes, the issues and concerns
he raises relate to the whole ecumenical scene.
My belief is that the subject of homosexuality is challenging us to transcend
the usual ideological stances we bring to this topic, stances which create a
“we versus them” mentality that fails to address the substance of the matter.
My discontent with Prof. Benne’s analysis is that it reflects too much of this
ideological thinking. One sees it in his disparaging description of the ELCA
“bureaucracy” and clear hints that the church’s leadership is forming a liberal
“juggernaut” designed to overwhelm the conservative opposition. These kinds
of observations play well with one’s ideological soul mates, providing a measure
of grim satisfaction and perhaps some condescending amusement in ascribing questionable
motives and spiteful intent on the part of the opposition—the “enemy.” Unfortunately,
this kind of argument helps only in solidifying the lines that divide us rather
than inviting the kind of dialogue that is essential if the Church is to genuinely
address the issue.
Nor is the subject of homosexuality adequately addressed by claims on the part
of conservatives that they are the defenders of Scripture in opposing any change
in the Church’s historic stance, in contrast to liberals who are accused of
sacrificing the scriptural witness to the shifting views of contemporary experience
and the social sciences. Prof. Benne writes that Gilbert Meilaender extracted
an admission from me precisely on this point, that I was relying on experience
and reason rather than the Bible and the Lutheran Confessions. Actually this
way of posing the issue simply muddies the water; it assumes simplistically
that homosexuality compels one to opt either for Scripture or
the Church’s contemporary experience, when in reality the Church’s understanding
of Scripture is always an engagement that reflects its ongoing experience. What
I was acknowledging to Meilaender was that there is no reason to deny the historical
record of the Church’s negative assessment of homosexuality, based on its understanding
of Scripture up to the present era. The point, however, is that we are
being driven to reconsideration of the biblical witness on this subject because
the Church’s contemporary experience is challenging the assumption that we are
justified in simply repeating the conclusions from the past.
This is a situation that creates conflict, but the beneficial aspect of that
conflict is that it is compelling biblical scholars literally for the first
time to give extended attention to those passages that have shaped the Church’s
stance on homosexuality. Intense exegetical work on these passages has raised
all kinds of questions that never occurred to past generations. What was obvious
in the past is no longer so obvious in the present, a development that ought
not surprise us, given the history of biblical interpretation in conjunction
with the changing experience of the Church. It should be patently clear that
the significant advances in our understanding of homosexuality are not irrelevant
to what the Church has traditionally thought the Bible says about it. It would
not be the first time that changing circumstances have ushered in a reassessment
of what the Bible says on any number of topics. To cite but one example, the
scientific shift from geocentric to heliocentric thinking constituted a far
more significant and potentially devastating threat to Bible–believing Christians
than any changes we might anticipate from a more adequate understanding of homosexuality.
The comment Prof. Benne cites from Wolfhart Pannenberg, that a church’s decision
to change its stance on homosexuality means that it “would cease to be one,
holy, catholic, and apostolic,” is little more than a gratuitous assault on
the historic meaning of those terms. Pannenberg is claiming that the wrong view
on homosexuality constitutes a denial of the Church’s very identity, an espousal
of heresy that pulls the theological rug out from under the Church. To elevate
a particular social issue to that status is highly unusual in itself, though
not unheard of. We Lutherans were debating not long ago whether one of the churches
in the Lutheran World Federation could maintain its membership as long as it
continued a policy of apartheid. Because that policy and the belief underlying
it constitute an assault on a particular group of God’s children, in effect
denying their creation in God’s image, it had to be repudiated as a denial of
the God we worship. In contrast, the traditional stance of the Church on homosexuality
has actually constituted another assault on a group of God’s children, not on
the grounds of race but of sexual orientation. Certainly one of the more urgent
and compelling reasons for changing the Church’s stance is a simple desire for
justice, to say nothing of a Christian desire to embrace in love those who have
been excluded and persecuted over the centuries.
The ideological flavor of Prof. Benne’s article is further evidenced in his
evaluation of several publications of the ELCA relating to sexuality. He regards
the study material produced by the task force on sexuality, of which he was
a member, as being “heavily biased” toward the “revisionist agenda.” Upon first
reading this material, I remember being impressed with its evenhandedness in
stating both pro and con viewpoints. I used the primary document in my Sunday
School class as the basis of a six–session course, and the class’ general impression
was that it was quite impartial.
Prof. Benne’s ideological leanings are dramatically evident in his judgment
that “the ELCA has more or less followed the culture on issues of abortion,
divorce, and the acceptance of premarital sex and cohabitation.” The ELCA’s
major statement on sexuality as revised and published in October 1994 clearly
affirms the ideal of abstinence before marriage (“Marriage is the context for
mature sexual involvement, prior to which this church affirms and encourages
sexual abstinence”), while the abortion statement constitutes an impressive
attempt both to affirm a bias on behalf of life and to acknowledge in a fragmented
world that abortion may at times become the lesser of two evils. This stance,
which pro–life absolutists would reject as inadequate in affirming life, reflects
the Lutheran ethos in its willingness to hold opposite viewpoints together in
tension and to consider the nuances of each individual case in arriving at an
I suspect a primary element in Prof. Benne’s conservative posture is genuine
apprehension over the possible fallout that would ensue should the ELCA and
other churches totally dismantle their historic position on homosexuality. He
fears a slippery slope effect, describing it in graphic terms in several of
his concluding paragraphs. What he envisions—the glorification of gay unions
and gay adoptions in church periodicals and Sunday School materials, a growing
gay representation in the pew as well as the pulpit, massive defections by disillusioned
families—is, unfortunately, the kind of fear–mongering that is intended to scare
the Church away from an honest attempt to grapple with this issue.
Let me suggest an alternative vision. The Church demonstrates an increasing
maturity on this subject that serves as a model for the larger society. It does
not glorify homosexuality but simply recognizes it, encouraging the small minority
of gays and lesbians to live their lives responsibly, authentically, and in
peace, as the vast majority devoutly want to do. This would mean the encouragement
of stable, legalized partnerships or unions, marked by fidelity and commitment—relationships
that are already exemplified in countless instances by both Christians and non–Christians
in the gay community.
Professor Emeritus of Theology and Ethics
Lutheran Theological Seminary
Columbia, South Carolina
Like Robert Benne, I deplore the way ELCA revisionists dismiss biblical and
confessional arguments against the ordination of clergy who are in same–gender
relationships. Although some revisionist intellectuals have attempted to confront
such arguments (e.g., L. William Countryman’s Dirt, Greed, and Sex: Sexual
Ethics in the New Testament and Their Implications for Today), most prefer
the intellectual brutality of power politics. They assume that they will never
convince the hardened hearts of the conservatives, and, whenever they have the
majority of votes, they don’t bother to try.
On the other hand, I have seen the same refusal to discuss the issues, the
same tyranny of the majority arising from mental lassitude and moral cowardice,
on the part of ELCA conservatives in a local church that ejected its gay pastor.
It should be obvious that if we take too lightly our biblical and confessional
heritage, we may become neither Lutheran nor Christian. It is perhaps less obvious
that we can nevertheless sin with the Law. Remember that Jesus flouted the Law
as people understood it when he cured a man’s congenital blindness on the sabbath
The general refusal of both sides to engage in genuine dialogue (Professor
Benne and company excepted) reflects the incivility of the larger society in
which this debate is embedded. The rejection of civil dialogue in favor of partisan
politics on a host of issues endangers not only the Church. It endangers civil
society in general, and American democracy in particular.
John A. H. Futterman
Robert Benne is surely correct that the ELCA’s 2001 assembly put a process
in motion that “may result in a straightforward decision to ordain gays and
lesbians in committed relationships and to bless same–sex unions” at the 2005
ELCA assembly. Indeed, it is almost inevitable.
Professor Benne ponders what those who dissent from such actions will do. He
suggests that some will go to Eastern Orthodoxy, some to Rome, and others to
conservative Lutheran churches such as the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. No
doubt that will happen. He then notes that “perhaps another group will step
forward, but that would take leadership that as yet is nowhere in sight.” Perhaps
not “in sight,” but such leadership is already active on the Internet. Yes,
there are some of us in the ELCA who are already preparing for a mass exodus
out of the ELCA and into a new Lutheran Church that we are terming a “centrist”
Lutheran Church—solidly confessional—in between the ELCA on the far left and
the Missouri Synod on the far right. We are just beginning to work on a draft
of a constitution and bylaws for a new church that would have its constituting
convention in the spring of 2006—after the ELCA formalizes sexual revisionism
as policy. Many moderate Missourians may wish to be a part of this new church.
Robert Benne replies:
Mr. Futterman is certainly accurate in his judgment that those in the majority
tend to dominate the opposition with power politics rather than engage in genuine
dialogue with them. To my mind the ELCA will not engage in the sort of extended
theological dialogue that he commends. But the main cause is not simply the
use of raw power politics. The use of power is more subtle. Power is wielded
through the quota–ized representation schemes to which the ELCA has been wedded
since its inception. The shrewd use of those schemes will prevent a fair, serious,
and extended theological conversation.
The composition of the just–appointed task force on sexuality indicates as
much. There is not one theological ethicist on the task force who will vigorously
represent the orthodox teaching on these matters. But all other interest groups
are represented, some of whom interpret theology as a tool of oppression. So
the dialogue that Mr. Futterman longs for won’t take place there. Rather, it
is likely that a tectonic change in the church’s teaching on sexual morality
will take place after a week–long assembly in which 40 percent of the delegates
will be there for the first time. We will be fortunate if the assembly requires
a two–thirds majority vote on this momentous issue rather than a simple majority.
Brad Jenson interprets my reference to “a leadership group stepping forward”
to mean a group that is ready to form a new church. My reference was rather
to a group that might organize widespread resistance to the general direction
of the ELCA on sexuality issues. I cannot be enthused about the formation of
yet another church, though what he describes is attractive to me. The exodus
he talks about will likely be less than “massive” and we will have one more
fragmentation of the Lutheran body. It is too soon to give up the ship. Indeed,
there is resistance organizing that may awaken a slumbering laity whose voice
might be heeded.
Paul Jersild scolds me for being too “ideological” when in fact he is just
as ideological as I, if by “ideological” he means partisan. (In his view, my
adherence to the Church’s traditional stance “assaults” a group of God’s children.
Is that not an intemperate, ideological allegation?) So let’s drop the word
“ideological” and call our stances “theological.” Professor Jersild is clearly
a liberal theologian who is willing to revise a near universal, enduring moral
tradition of orthodox Christianity in light of a decade or two of contemporary
experience of the Church. I am a conservative or orthodox Lutheran who believes
that the dramatic revision of such a tradition needs overwhelming arguments
against it. When Prof. Jersild can demonstrate with the certainty of the heliocentric
worldview (his example) that homosexual relations are God–pleasing I will change
my mind. That sort of scientific precision perhaps asks too much of him, but
I will ask revisionists for overwhelming biblical, theological, social–scientific,
and experiential arguments—in that order of importance. Nothing like that is
Prof. Jersild is certainly right that the Church’s moral teaching develops
in confronting new challenges. But those developments are generally based on
the retrieval of some ne glected element or theme in the tradition that allows
us to reshape contemporary practice. Such is the case with the Church’s changing
views on slavery, racism, and women’s role in the Church. But there seems to
be nothing in the Bible or tradition to retrieve in order to revise our normative
teaching on homosexual relations. Absent such grounds, “development” turns into
“accommodation” or even “capitulation.” It should give Prof. Jersild pause that
the only religious bodies to accept the revisionist agenda to date are the Unitarians,
the United Church of Christ, and Reform Judaism.
There is surely one point upon which Prof. Jersild and I agree—Christians are
obligated to treat homosexual persons with respect and to include them in the
life of the Church, just as it includes all sinners. However, rather than change
the normative teaching of the Church, as Prof. Jersild recommends, I would argue
that the normative teaching is solidly defensible and that the Church’s primary
challenge is a pastoral one demanding both compassion and ingenuity.
Although George Weigel makes many fine points concerning virtue and freedom
in his essay “A Better Concept
of Freedom” (March), his argument is flawed because he conflates two completely
distinct areas of human life. I agree wholeheartedly with Mr. Weigel that freedom
cannot be viewed as a license for mere willfulness. But it does us no better
to couch it in terms such as “freedom for excellence.” Doing so only confuses
Freedom, as Isaiah Berlin and others (e.g., Karl Popper) have argued, must
be defined negatively in order to preserve it from the tyranny of well–intentioned
officials in power. History is littered with bloody examples of the terror that
is bred from “positive” conceptions of liberty. The USSR is our most recent
and prominent example of this. Virtue, and the cultivation of it, should not
be clumsily expressed as “freedom for excellence,” but rather should be seen
as the effort of the individual with God’s grace to strive for what is good.
It is a matter that should not, and cannot, fall under the auspices of legal
power; it is a matter solely between the individual, his community, and God.
Of course, in a society that formulates freedom negatively, individuals will
fall by the wayside and pursue less–than–virtuous ends. People will do that
anyway, as history has amply shown, just as it has shown that a misguided idea
of “positive” liberty can do far more damage than that of the lone individual
obsessed with his willfulness.
Daniel J. Sisti
Although his notion of “freedom for excellence” is attractive, George Weigel’s
essay is likely to mislead readers about Isaiah Berlin’s political thought.
This is unfortunate, especially because of the historical significance of Berlin’s
“Two Concepts of Liberty.”
Mr. Weigel writes of “the perversion of liberty that was at the heart of the
totalitarian project,” but he fails even to sketch how this perversion occurred.
He refers to positive freedom as the “freedom to realize some greater good in
history.” This particular idea may have had currency in Nazi Germany and the
Soviet Union, but positive freedom does not generally have such sinister connotations.
As Berlin wrote, the longing to be free in the positive sense must be recognized
as a valid universal goal. (See the Introduction to Berlin’s Four Essays
on Liberty, which includes “Two Concepts of Liberty.”)
What did Berlin mean by positive freedom? To speak broadly, it means self–governance,
an idea (or ideal) that finds expression in both democratic theory (e.g., Rousseau’s
General Will) and moral philosophy (e.g., Kant’s notion of autonomy and the
Stoicism of Epictetus or Marcus Aurelius).
Because Mr. Weigel discusses positive liberty only in its perverted form, it
is easy for him to dismiss both the negative and positive concepts of freedom
as inadequate for our age. But on any fair reading of Berlin’s essay, Mr. Weigel’s
notion of “freedom for excellence” should be seen as another variant of the
positive concept of freedom. Anyone who doubts this should review Berlin’s comments
about T. H. Green (1836–1882) in “Two Concepts of Liberty.” In “Liberal Legislation
and Freedom of Contract” (1881), Green wrote: “The ideal of true freedom is
the maximum of power for all the members of human society alike to make the
best of themselves.” Ber lin considered this one of the classic statements
in behalf of freedom in the positive sense. Green’s statement is also no great
distance from the idea of “freedom for excellence.”
In my judgment, Mr. Weigel is correct to argue that Berlin’s endorsement of
the negative concept of freedom—as ultimately more humane or dignified than
the positive concept—has contributed to some unexpected (and undesirable) developments.
But perhaps because of his desire to offer a third alternative, Mr. Weigel glosses
over some key issues. In any event, his essay contains some glaring errors.
It is simply wrong, for example, to say that, in Berlin’s account, both the
positive and the negative concept of freedom are “children of the Enlightenment.”
And anyone who has ever read “Two Concepts of Liberty” in its entirety will
have great difficulty accepting Mr. Weigel’s judgment that Berlin’s philosophical
anthropology was “exceedingly thin.”
Since his death in 1997, Berlin’s reputation as a scrupulous scholar and original
thinker has remained intact. Accordingly, his celebrated essay deserves a closer
and more careful analysis.
David L. Tubbs
Natural Law Institute
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana
George Weigel’s article “A Better
Concept of Freedom” is interesting and provocative, but contains two important
errors of detail. The author repeatedly refers to Thomas Aquinas and William
of Ockham as “monks.” As a medieval historian and an admirer of both medieval
monasticism and scholastic theology, I must object to this unfortunate confusion.
Aquinas was, as Mr. Weigel correctly points out, a Dominican friar. Ockham
was a Franciscan, and as such also a friar. Referring to either as a monk is
simply wrong. Friars were not and are not monks, nor are monks friars. The orders
of friars, beginning with those of Francis and Dominic, were founded as self–consciously
different from orders of monks. The most important difference was that friars,
or mendicants, begged for a living in some fashion, did not take vows of stability
(one of the Benedictine triad of obedience, stability, and conversion of manners),
and in various forms eschewed communal property.
To this day, Benedictines (including Cistercians and Camaldolese), Carthusians,
and a few other groups prefer to be called monks; Franciscisans, Dominicans,
some Augustinians, and a few others prefer to be called friars.
Patrick J. Nugent
Director, Center for Quaker Thought and Practice
Rodney Delasanta is too quick in his indictment of Gustave Flaubert (“Flaubert
and the Sin Against the Holy Ghost,” March). At least, I hope this is so;
if not, it would be wrong of me to like Madame Bovary quite as much as
I do. But I think I have more on my side than mere affection: reflection on
Aquinas’ definition of despair reveals that Delasanta has missed a crucial distinction.
Not every instance of despair constitutes a sin, let alone a sin against the
Holy Ghost. I might despair of fixing my bicycle tire, of ever learning to play
the piano, or of ever becoming really good at chess. Despair constitutes a sin
against the Holy Ghost when it is directly contrary to the theological virtue
of hope. According to Thomas, a man despairs in this way when he no longer believes
that union with God is possible for him: “Despair consists in a man ceasing
to hope for a share in God’s goodness” (ST II–II 20a3). Just as union
with God is the focal point of hope, so it must be the object of true despair.
This despair leads to other sins insofar as man, having given up hope for true
and divine good, turns to sin: “When hope is given up, men rush headlong into
sin, and are drawn away from good works.”
Properly speaking, despair presupposes a recognition that friendship with God
is a desirable end. For to despair is to cease to believe that God could find
one lovable. And no one can despair of something he does not first keenly desire.
Ernest Hemingway is supposed to have said, towards the end of his life, that
although he still prayed for others, he could no longer pray for himself, because
he was too far gone to be saved. If this report is true, Hemingway must have
struggled with true despair.
Contrast all this with disillusionment. While despair consists in recognizing
the true good as good and ceasing to believe that that good is possible for
me, disillusionment consists in the shattering of a worldview, namely, what
it is that happens when I realize the way in which I have heretofore viewed
the world is altogether inadequate. Suppose I am a Stalinist through and through.
I pin all my hopes on Stalin and center my life around the Stalinist party.
I live Stalinist ideals, I mouth Stalinist slogans as I go about my daily tasks,
and I read Stalinist bedtime stories to my children. Now suppose that in my
zeal I actually move to (Stalin–era) Russia, and suppose that having done so
I begin to see things differently. I see that instead of peace and harmony my
ideal leads to unhappiness, not only in isolated aspects of life, but in virtually
all of them. My life suddenly has no center, and, consequently, it has no meaning.
I begin to see that the ideal I cherished, the very thing that motivated my
hatred of religion and the bourgeoisie, proved to be a chimera.
To be disillusioned is to discover that an apparent good is not the true good.
To despair is to surrender to the belief that what I rightly recognize as the
good is beyond my reach. Unlike despair, disillusionment paves the way for conversion
and grace. For it is only by casting off illusions that one can come to see
the truth. And if the modern world is peculiarly full of false ideals, it is
that much more in need of honest men who, unwilling to be pigs satisfied, voice
their own disillusionment. It is the disillusioned men, those who have no hope
in the merits of their idols, who are particularly ripe for grace, and I think
Flaubert was one of them.
I have no doubt that, as Professor Delasanta tells us, Flaubert disliked priests
and felt contempt for religion. In fact, I would go even further. Flaubert seems
to despise people of quiet virtue who lead good ordinary lives. (Consider his
portrait of Charles, the affable and dreadfully proper husband.) But if Flaubert
sees himself as Emma, it is not that he sees such lives as good and despairs
of being like them. Instead, from the perspective of a romantic, he cannot see
how such a life could be attractive. A similar point must be made about Emma’s
“religion.” There is no vice in hating Emma’s religion—it is a false and empty
thing. Religion is as unsatisfying to the romantic as his many and varied love
affairs: all are born in the shallow soil of sentiment and emotion and quickly
fade. Yes, Flaubert is cynical about religion and presents it as one more unsatisfying
option. And so it is, for the romantic.
In short, if Flaubert were to recognize the religion and virtue of the abbé
and Charles, and yet give up any hope of attaining these goods, he would be
guilty of despair. But the novel does not indicate any such recognition. Instead,
Flaubert shows that one cannot be a romantic and see these goods as good. In
fact, he does even more than this: he shows that one cannot be a romantic at
all. We therefore owe Flaubert a debt of gratitude for the honest portrait of
his own disillusionment, for we can learn a great deal from it.
Madame Bovary gives us the truth. Not the whole truth, perhaps, but
still a necessary part, and a part that Flaubert suffered a great deal to discover.
Would it have been a better book if we were offered some words of redemption
or hope on the last page, perhaps a nice moral to turn over on our tongues?
I doubt it. Flaubert’s genius and great creative gift lie in his honesty. He
shows us himself at the moment of disillusionment. We should see such a man
as one who, rather than having turned resolutely away from God and truth, is
peculiarly ripe for the grace of God, because he sees himself clearly.
University of Notre Dame
South Bend, Indiana
Rodney Delasanta replies:
“Seldom affirm, never deny, always distinguish” was the neo–Thomist mantra
of my undergraduate days, so I am obliged to Angela McKay for insisting on the
distinction between despair and disillusionment as a way of reading Flaubert.
Perhaps she is the better theologian for having made the distinction: il
miglior fabbro, as Eliot said of Pound.
But, notwithstanding the aptness of the distinction in general, it is still
difficult for me to tidy up Flaubert by calling his spiritual spite mere disillusionment,
particularly if one “reads” Madame Bovary through the lens of Un Coeur
Simple. (Surprisingly, Ms. McKay ignores my discussion of the latter work
in her letter.) I confess that “disillusionment” is not the word that comes
to mind when I observe Flaubert deliberately aiming his contempt at the final
moment of Christian consciousness: toying with the Eschaton, as it were. Had
he felt only disillusionment, his reaction would more likely have come to him,
in one form or another, of “nada,” such as it came to Hemingway in “A Clean,
Well–Lighted Place.” There is no God; any hope of an afterlife is misplaced;
only this clean, well–lighted cafe offers a momentary stay against chaos.
But Flaubert wanted to drive the nail deeper. Not only did he substitute Nothing
for Something, as many writers since the mid–nineteenth century have done, but
he also travestied the very iconography of that Something, by whose grace—for
believers at least—theological hope is sustained. Remove the dove, therefore,
the sacred icon of the Holy Ghost, and stuff a gigantic hovering parrot into
the final conscious moments of Felicité’s life. To execrate further, describe
the odor of incense from the Corpus Christi censers reaching her dilating nostrils
as she expires in parrot hallucination. This is more than disillusionment with
institutional religion; it is brilliantly crafted blasphemy directed against
the Spiritum Sanctum, Dominum et vivificantem—the Holy Spirit, the Lord
and Giver of Life—and to any who would be so foolish as to find succor in that
Other writers have blasphemed, of course. Voltaire probably leads the list
with irreverencies directed against biblical figures. James Joyce repeatedly
parodies the mass while pronouncing his non serviam, and Samuel Becket
targets his own sacral favorites, including the crucified Christ. But I am aware
of no other writer who has taken such literary pains to mock Jesus’ admonition
in Luke 12:10: “But unto him who blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost it shall
not be forgiven.” Really? Flaubert seems to be saying, as if in answer to a
dare, “Just watch me!”
Ms. McKay is right, of course, in pointing out that “not every instance of
despair constitutes a sin, let alone a sin against the Holy Ghost.” Emma Bovary’s
adulteries do not constitute such a sin; nor does her refusal to accept the
cheap grace of the parish priest, nor her multitude of other sins. But when
Flaubert tells his story in such a way as to cut off every avenue of lesser
hope and force Emma into ingesting arsenic, he is reminding us that suicide
is the sin against the Holy Ghost because it despairs of the mercy of
God and rebels against the vivificantem, the giver of life, the I AM
of Judeo–Christian revelation. Until recent Kevorkian times, Christians would
have identified suicide as the one unforgivable sin. Like Shakespeare and every
other writer educated in the Christian tradition, Flau bert was quite aware
that the Almighty had set his canon ’gainst self–slaughter. What he does in
Madame Bovary is to defy the canon that shelters hope and in Un Coeur
Simple to pluck out its very feathers.
Habits acquired in graduate school are hard to break. A few years of term papers,
cooked up under pressure of menacing deadlines, and the formula is down pat:
state your case and choose weighty authorities to support it.
Damon Linker’s piece on “The
Uses of Anger” (March) shows that he wrote many a term paper. By marshaling
Plato, Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Paul, and Christ—may the Prince of
Peace forgive him—he deemed his case for anger airtight and printed it. No doubt,
he slept better afterwards.
Anger is “in.” I drove this morning behind a truck that sported in the back
a big sticker proclaiming, next to a picture of the American flag, “Bin Laden
Can Kiss My American A**.” Crude, perhaps, but genuinely patriotic. And, as
for concision, the truck driver wins over Mr. Linker.
As a Catholic, I would point out to both angry men that wrath is a capital
sin, called “capital” because it engenders other sins, other vices. I would
adduce in support of my case not only the authority of St. John Cassian and
St. Gregory the Great, but also the oceans of pain, fully known to God alone,
that the meek have always suffered at the hands of the wrathful.
Maria J. Cirurgião
Endicott, New York
In his review of C. S. Lewis
Then and Now by Wesley Kort (March), Alan Jacobs remarks about The
Abolition of Man that Lewis “ends his book with several pages of quotations
from the world’s great religious and moral traditions to show that they all
speak with a single voice on key moral issues”—and so I also thought until,
on September 12, 2001, I went back and checked. Then I noticed for the first
time that there is not a single quotation there from the Qur’an. Is this void
to be explained by the limits Lewis confesses (“The following illustrations
of the Natural Law are collected from such sources as come readily to the hand
of one who is not a professional historian”)? Or was it intended to tell us
Professor of English
Providence, Rhode Island
Thomas Stransky’s review of Bernard Wasserstein’s book Divided
Jerusalem (March) contains some curious sentences: “Jerusalem today
includes the Old City and East Jerusalem, formerly held by Jordan and annexed
by Israel in 1967.” “Held by Jordan” but “annexed by Israel.” Jordan took “hold”
of it in 1948 in a war intended to obliterate the newborn Jewish state and which
did completely ethnically cleanse the Old City of its Jewish population. And
“. . . Al–Haram al–Sharif (The Noble Sanctuary), which the Jews call the Temple
Mount.” It seems that to Stransky it is the Haram al–Sharif but the Jews
call it the Temple Mount. Might not it be more historically accurate
to say that it is the Temple Mount, and the mosque complex is built on
it? Perhaps we should be grateful that the reviewer’s bias is so clearly signaled.
In Richard John Neuhaus’ comments on Eastern Orthodoxy (“Orthodoxy
and ‘Parallel Monologues,’” Public Square, March) I miss, as almost invariably
in such discussions, the most fundamental stumbling block to Orthodox–Roman
relations, which is the radical transformation of the liturgy of the Latin Church
after the Second Vatican Council. The bitter struggles over the liturgy that
continue today are largely internecine, and so a crucial historical fact is
overlooked: that the reforms of the Pauline missal aligned the Roman Mass in
stylistic terms (note that I am careful not to say doctrinal terms) definitively
towards the ideology of Protestant communities, with whom the Catholic Church
does not share the apostolic succession, and against the heritage of the East,
with which it does.
The famous “Ottaviani Intervention,” which criticized elements of the new missal
before its publication, addressed the issue head–on in a section titled “The
Alienation of the Orthodox”: “The Apostolic Constitution makes explicit reference
to a wealth of piety and teaching in the ‘Novus Ordo’ borrowed from Eastern
Churches. The result—utterly remote from and even opposed to the inspiration
of the oriental liturgies—can only repel the faithful of the Eastern rites.
. . . Against this, the ‘Novus Ordo’ would appear to have been deliberately
shorn of everything which in the liturgy of Rome came close to those of the
East.” This is a very canny historical observation on the medieval Gallican
additions to the Roman rite, generally thought by scholars to be of Eastern
origin, and marked out by the Consilium for ruthless elimination in the reforms.
Cardinal Ottaviani does indeed appear to have been a kind of liturgical Cassandra.
One reads, for example, on the website of the Orthodox Diocese of Berkeley the
following in a review of a book on Dom Prosper Gueranger and his work at Solesmes:
“Unfortunately [the book] completely prescinds from any consideration of the
fact that the great work of Solesmes and the liturgical movement it led has
come totally to ruin in the era of Vatican II. What many Eastern Orthodox hoped
would be a permanent reorientation of the Catholic world towards the patristic
and iconographic traditions that define the lineaments of Orthodoxy Herself
has been subverted by the very forces of liberalism and relativism against which
Solesmes established itself as a bastion of pure faith and good taste.”
Father Neuhaus hopes for a revival of “an authentically traditional ecclesiology”
that will bring East and West together. It will take more than that. Father
Bob, together with his altar girls, his harem of eucharistic ministers, and
his repertoire of Pelagian hymnody, represents the real, and so far as I can
see, insurmountable contemporary barrier to any significant improvement in relations.
David P. Kubiak
Professor of Classics
I thought that Richard John Neuhaus’ analysis on the state of Orthodoxy was
overly pessimistic. I am a Roman Catholic priest currently enrolled in a Master’s
program at St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary. In my experience there
I have never felt any rejection due to my being non–Orthodox. All of the students
and professors I have had contact with have been most welcoming and seem to
have a genuine desire that our churches may one day overcome their differences.
In my contacts with the future clergy of the OCA I have hope that we are not
entering an ecumenical winter.
On a more pragmatic note, I think that we cannot expect to overcome nearly
a millennium of separation in the short period of time that has passed since
the Second Vatican Council. Any eventual reunion must be based on true love
for Christ and not on any sentimental feelings of the goodness of fellowship.
(The Rev.) Neil Xavier O’Donoghue
Our Lady Queen of Peace
Maywood, New Jersey
On the last point Father O’Donoghue and I are agreed. As to the pessimism,
I was but reporting on the overview offered by John Erikson, Dean of St. Vladimir’s,
and what he said is, I would suggest, not pessimistic but bracingly straightforward.
One wonders what curious logic may have informed Richard John Neuhaus’ assertion
in the March “While We’re At It”
that George Bush’s August 9, 2001 decision to fund research on certain stem–cell
lines was “morally defensible but gravely imprudent.”
The heart of this question has been and always will be whether or not it is
moral to treat human beings as mere means; the morality of any related question
regarding consequent loss of life is wholly subsidiary. Erudite discussion of
President Bush’s complicity in the murder of these innocents, whether formally
or materially, is, therefore, at best, marginally relevant and hopelessly abstract.
It is sufficient to locate the immorality of the Bush decision in the undeniable
fact that it set in motion a series of events that ultimately will result in
making tools of these littlest of children. It is said by some, sadly even by
some Catholic ethicists, that no moral principle is violated here, that as dead
stem–cells, there is no reality worth the name to abuse. Apart from its suitability
as an apologetic for those harvesting the organs of executed Chinese criminals,
such thinking ignores Catholic teaching on the Eschaton and its assertion that
although unspecified, at least some relation between the person and materiality
survives the grave.
So it is hardly some protocol that Bush has failed to observe with this decision,
or some unfortunate precedent–setting that we’ll all live to regret, although
regret it we will. Rather, he has done something quite epochal here: he has
made possible for the first time government support for research that relies
on the destruction of defenseless human life, something he specifically promised
not to do when campaigning for office, and he has disgraced himself and the
people of the United States in the bargain.
John H. Lowell
Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio