Sunday, February 3, 2013, 2:18 PM
Objection 1. God doesn’t care who wins the Super Bowl. For sporting events are “of the world,” and God calls us out of the world to share even now in his divine life.
Objection 2. If God did care who wins the Super Bowl, he would be sucked into the world’s rabid competitiveness and greed, which are beneath him.
*Sed contra*: God is perfectly rational, and any agent even minimally rational would care who wins the Super Bowl, because so much ego and money are at stake; and where that much is at stake, so is the good of souls.
*Respondeo*: God does not care who wins the Super Bowl *per se*, but only *per accidens*, insofar as one team’s winning the game would help more souls to adhere to him than the other teams winning would.
That suffices in reply to Objection 1 and the contrary.
Reply Objection 2. God saved humanity from itself by letting people torture and execute him as a public threat, before rising from the dead. His involvement in the Super Bowl would serve the same end by less gruesome means.
Tuesday, July 27, 2010, 8:11 PM
Is it wrong to speak as though favoring religious freedom and opposing slavery are basic Christian principles? Yes, says S.M. Hutchens of Touchstone, a signer of the Manhattan Declaration (henceforth ‘MD’). At the magazine’s blog Mere Comments, Hutchens criticizes MD for making what he sees as that mistake. Given that a major conference to be held next month in Albuquerque will center on the MD, it’s worth pondering Hutchen’s argument.
According to the MD, he says,
… “modern democracy,” (!) women’s suffrage, and opposition to slavery (which the scriptures do not abolish, but regulate in such a way as to discourage most of its forms), are put in the same moral category as opposition to homosexualism, abortion, and euthanasia. This admixture appears based upon the conjunction of revealed religion with the natural law as set in creation by its Creator, at the head of which is the mind of man–law which defines nature’s constitution from the physical to the structure of human society, including the general moral precepts by which it must be governed. Clearly the Declaration was composed in such a way as to be acceptable to the largest possible number of professing American Christians, but in doing this I believe it has attempted to mix the oil of Christianity with the water of popular American religion…
Surely Hutchens’ point about “modern democracy” and “women’s suffrage” has merit. For one thing, there is no single form of goverment identifiable with the former. So it cannot be said that Christianity as such, which contributed to the American founding, entails any unqualified endorsement of modern democracy. Purists will be quick to point out, for example, that the U.S. is a republic not a democracy. Moreover, the American Christians most in favor of the Revolution were Protestant dissenters from Anglicanism; such forms of Protestantism cannot be identified tout court with Christianity. But MD just does give unqualified endorsement to something called modern democracy, as though the desirability of such a thing were obvious to Christians as such. And the same criticism goesa fortiori for women’s suffrage. The very idea of suffrage, women’s or otherwise, makes sense only in the context of representative government, which MD endorses by implication. Yet if no particular form of such government is entailed, logically or in some looser sense, by the revelation in Jesus Christ, then extending the franchise cannot be so entailed either.
But when it comes to more basic values such as religous freedom and the abolition of slavery, Hutchens’s argument isn’t as cogent. Here’s what he says about the former:
Monday, May 10, 2010, 3:02 PM
St George's -interior
Were it not for the sign on the red canopy over the entrance, one could easily pass St. George’s Greek Orthodox Church by as just another building along a nondescript city block. Inside, however, the profusion of images is even more conducive to prayer and worship than in the usual Orthodox church. In a space suitable for a small auditorium (about one hundred feet by twenty feet), the walls are covered with murals that depict scenes from the lives of Christ and the saints. Most of the images are in the icon form that is characteristic of Byzantine sacred art, but a few are in a more Western style, such as one of the Theotokos
(the Virgin Mary) towering over a rather unthreatening-looking demon as she grasps a tuft of his hair with her left hand. The iconastasis
, or rood screen, in front of the altar dominates an exquisitely decorated sanctuary.
On Sunday, May 9, the fortyish Rev. James W. Kordaris—the proistamenos, or pastor, of St. George’s—led the ancient Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom, alternating between Greek and English. The busy psaltis, a lay male cantor, sang entirely in Greek through most of the liturgy, but the passages from Scripture were read in both languages. The Gospel reading was John 9:1–38, the story of Jesus’ healing of a man blind from birth. That passage centers on a theological conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees that is partly about the Sabbath but mainly about how suffering and sin are interrelated. Unexpectedly (at least to this writer), Fr. Kordaris gave his homily on the Gospel at the very end of the service—in order, he said, to accommodate the normal trickle of latecomers. Indeed, at the start of the liturgy, the congregation stood at less than two dozen; it ended up numbering more than twice that.
Monday, May 3, 2010, 12:34 PM
Among the many ironies punctuating Catholic history, one of the more curious is the spectacle of theologians, dedicated to expounding doctrine on the God who “is love” (1 John 4:8), insisting that infants who die unbaptized will never see God. But, in a letter published in the print edition of the May 2010 First Things, that’s what the Rev. Brian W. Harrison does, by way of criticizing a remark Joseph Bottum made in “The Public Square” in the February 2010 issue. For the sake of Catholics and non-Catholics who might be confused about the topic of limbo, Fr. Harrison’s argument merits a reply.
Bottum wrote that Pope Benedict XVI “explained why limbo is unnecessary . . . for Catholics to believe in.” That’s because, in 2005, the pope endorsed the report of the International Theological Commission on the topic, which concluded:
What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of Baptism. None of the above considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of Baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament. Rather, as we want to reaffirm in conclusion, they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.
According to a member of the commission, Sister Sara Butler, S.T.D., the main purpose of the study was to explain and defend the following statement in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Tuesday, April 20, 2010, 1:18 PM
St. Joseph's in Yorkville
Entering St Joseph’s in Yorkville for the first time, I found it a pleasure to look around—to view the exquisite stained-glass windows in the sanctuary and to peer upward at the less outstanding but still worthy ceiling murals of scenes from the lives of Jesus and Mary. Originally founded to serve German-speaking Catholic immigrants, St. Joseph’s achieved a bit of fame—and subsequent growth—in 2008, when Pope Benedict XVI visited it during his trip to the United States. The parish is particularly proud of the chalice and paten, now on display, that the pope gave to the pastor.
On Sunday, April 18, the principal liturgy at 11:00 A.M was in many ways a typical American example of a vernacular Mass according to the “ordinary form,” or what many tradition-minded Catholics call the Novus Ordo. Still, it was more reverently and rubrically conducted than at many parishes. Fr. Matthew Yatkauskas, the parochial vicar, or curate, of the parish, was the celebrant and homilist. He exuded faith, piety, and precision of thought. In this reviewer’s opinion, however, Fr. Yatkauskas’ homily did not say all that the Church’s current situation calls for.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010, 9:44 AM
One of Manhattan’s most illustrious Episcopal congregations, Saint Thomas Church is best known for its glorious liturgical music and the stunning architecture of its 1913 church building, in French High Gothic style, on Fifth Avenue at Fifty-Third Street. The church’s choir of men and boys, modeled on that of King’s College, Cambridge, is made up of boys who attend the residential Saint Thomas Choir School and professional adult singers. On Sunday, March 28—Palm Sunday—the musical highlight was Orlandus Lassus’ exquisite Tristis est anima mea
, which was sung as the offertory motet.
Because it was Palm Sunday, the 11 a.m. service differed from the norm. It began with an elaborate procession that included children; a gospel reading; and the blessing of palms. And, as the rector, Fr. Andrew Mead, noted in his sermon, the Solemn Eucharist of the Passion that followed omitted the usual bidding prayers—that is, the prayers of intercession—and ended in silence. The purpose of the silence was to signify our need to contemplate Christ’s Passion as Holy Week began.
Tuesday, March 16, 2010, 9:55 AM
Among recently “planted” Protestant churches in Manhattan, Redeemer Presbyterian
is by far the fastest growing and best known. It’s so new, in fact, that it doesn’t have its own worship space yet. While that is under construction (at West 83rd Street and Broadway), the congregation worships at three different locations. On Sunday, March 14, on a tip from a member, this reviewer attended the 6 p.m. “jazz” service at the Kaye Auditorium at Hunter College, at which the pastor, bestselling author Timothy Keller, usually preaches. The choice did not disappoint.
Dressed casually in black jeans and a shirt sans clerical collar, the Rev. Keller delivered a 30-minute meditation on the main Scripture reading of the day, Isaiah 56:1–8. He explained that this passage is about the twofold “justice”—mishpat and tzedakah, in transliterated Hebrew—to be brought about in the believing community by the “Suffering Servant.” Although developed with occasional levity to suit the causal atmosphere, Keller’s themes were as profound as the passage calls for. Mishpat, or “putting things right” for widows, orphans, immigrants, and the poor (the “quarter of the vulnerable”), is the fruit of tzedakah—primary justice, or “living righteously.” Thus, “the just” are those who “disadvantage themselves to advantage the community,” whereas “the wicked” are those who “disadvantage the community to advantage themselves.” The eventual triumph of the Suffering Servant, whom, of course, Keller identified with Jesus Christ, is to widen the believing community to include all peoples who would relate to one another on equal terms and in justice so understood.
Monday, January 4, 2010, 8:40 PM
Although Meghan Duke has already posted accurate praise for Bruce D. Marshall’s review, in the current FT, of Gary Anderson’s book Sin: A History, I want to say a bit more about the review from my own standpoint as a theology buff.
Anderson does not strive, and Marshall does not call, for a panoramic overview of the history of sin. Any such attempt would depressing as well as futile, and depressing partly because it would be futile. Rather, Prof. Marshall suggests, the history highlighted here is that of how ancient Judaism and early Christianity presented sin as the incurring of debt, and salvation as the discharge of that debt through both faith and the works necessarily arising from faith. What’s revealed by that history is how inextricably the interlocking metaphors of debt, repayment, and the forgiveness of debt are woven into what theologians like to call the “sources” of revelation, aka “Scripture” and “Tradition,” which are really the sources by which divine revelation is transmitted to us.
Given my own theological preoccupations, I especially like Anderson’s apparent emphasis on the continuity between Second-Temple Judaism and early Christianity on this point. And juxtaposing that theme with the main theses of N.T. Wright’s recent, controversial book Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision would open still wider theological vistas. I haven’t yet read Anderson’s book, but the review has convinced me that I, and anybody who’s interested, could richly benefit from doing so.
Friday, November 13, 2009, 3:32 PM
“The Catholic Voice in the Public Square: Sectarian or Civic?” was the title of a lecture given last night at Manhattan’s Church of St. Vincent Ferrer by Helen Alvaré, associate professor of law at the George Mason University School of Law, senior fellow at the Culture of Life Foundation, and former director of the pro-life secretariat of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. At First Things, we are sometimes forgiven for thinking that our authors and friends had shown, by the turn of the millennium at the latest, why the answer is and must be “civic.” But as the flap over the Stupak Amendment reminds us, people need to be reminded. Like Cardinal Francis George, whose book The Difference God Makes is discussed in the December FT’s “The Public Square,” Prof. Alvaré wants us to be more creative about how we remind them
Alvaré noted that the amendment’s passage has prompted calls, on the Hill as well as in the liberal blogosphere, for extruding the bishops’ influence from the public square as “sectarian.” Of course the charge can border on the silly. When Oregon finally passed its referendum for assisted suicide, the margin of victory was provided, says Alvaré, by voters who “were tired of the Catholic Church ramming its theology down our throats.” Think about that: these voters believed the Catholic Church was imposing her theology on them by speaking up for the mere retention of an anti-suicide law that had long ago passed, and had long stood, in an overwhelmingly non-Catholic state. Fortunately, the Stupak Amendment had plenty of visibly non-Catholic supporters, which is why the currently cry of “sectarianism” rings almost as hollow as Oregon’s. The real question is how to enlist and retain allies without the reek of “Catholic triumphalism.
Besides reviewing the advice in Cardinal George’s book, Alvaré suggested that we hammer home two points that ought to be obvious but aren’t: Most Americans are religious in some fashion, and few people are motivated by purely secular considerations to become . . . well, better people. This is why liberalism’s standard prescriptions for addressing various social problems—especially unwanted pregnancies, births out of wedlock, STDs, and family breakdown—just don’t work. The question is not whether religious voices may be heard; the law still says they may. And as we just saw in Congress, they can be heard. The challenge for the darkening future, though, is to mine our Catholic patrimony for language that can appeal to people’s hearts as much as to their minds. Two examples Alvaré gave were Joseph Ratzinger’s theme of conscience as “memory” and Karol Wojtyla’s theology of the body, in which life is defined as interpersonal communion established by mutual self-gift. It’ll be interesting to see whether the secular appeal of such themes can be enhanced in the public square.
Wednesday, September 9, 2009, 5:03 PM
“China’s Catholic Moment,” Francesco Sisci’s article in FT’s previous issue, called attention to Christianity’s astonishing growth in the world’s most populous nation. Just as significant there is the growth, despite systematic persecution, of Christian human-rights activism.
In the September issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, Rana Siu Inboden and William Inboden inform us of the “weiquan movement” by which Christian lawyers, mostly evangelical Protestants, strive to defend human rights within the official legal system. These lawyers, who seem to number no more than 100, carry on heroically despite brutal, sometimes crippling persecution. Christians of all churches should be inspired to support them with prayer and other concrete means.