The symposium "Killing Abortionists" (December 1994) saddens
me. There are two things wrong with it: (1) The participants, even when
they regard the killing as wrong, fail to recognize that Paul Hill is an
extension of themselves and that they are in no position to condemn him.
(2) Such a topic is not a fit subject for a symposium in a respectable
journal. I am embarrassed to have visitors see it in my house.
One of the participants, Hadley Arkes, suggests that unless the media
would have been willing to condemn as religious zealotry a Jewish assault
on Auschwitz guards they have no right to call Hill a "religious zealot."
If any of you feel that you are in the same position as Auschwitz inmates
then I suppose you must act accordingly, and may God help America. . .
I believe that the acquisition of a soul is a gradual process, developed
in the evolution of the human species. But I know that the question is
not decidable, and I will not argue it. For the several years that I have
subscribed to First Things I've found that your ability to address the
most important subjects in human thought has been limited by your obsession
with abortion. Sadly, therefore, I will not renew.
Robert F. White
Paul Hill, in my opinion, did wrong in killing an abortionist and his
bodyguard. Because his act was highly unlikely to stop any abortions, as
opposed merely to delaying them, that act was morally unjustified. In order
to save any lives, Paul Hill needed to affect the choices of those mothers
who planned to kill their unborn children that day, and violence alone
offered them no support for a pro-life change of heart.
Yet fair and rational people may well disagree with me here. The life
of a dying person or of a death row inmate may be defended with lethal
force under our law, even though the utilitarian gain may be only a few
days of continued existence. If we condemn a deadly defense of such persons,
it could be argued, we strip them of their equal human dignity.
Paul Hill, then, is not someone beyond the pale. On the contrary, he
is someone who has remained heroically faithful to reason and to the truth
of human equality-at the probable cost of his own life. Regardless of our
moral disagreements with him and of our shared dismay at the political
consequences of his act, shouldn't we be truthful enough to stand with
him against a fundamentally unjust legal regime?
A brave and good man is about to be martyred in Florida. We ought all
to be there with him, at least in spirit.
School of Law
I was glad to see the issue of killing an abortionist openly addressed
but deeply disappointed in the symposium. There appeared to be a strong
hesitation to confront the vital issues head on. . . .
Hill's stated basis for killing the abortionist was that "Whatever
force is legitimate in defending a born child is legitimate in defending
an unborn child."
Very few would quarrel with the principle that an attack on a born
child merits whatever coercive force is necessary to protect that child.
Hill offered a basis upon which he could be challenged and shown to be
wrong (a rare bit of courtesy). It did not appear to me that anyone successfully
disproved his principle. Most in the symposium did not even seriously attempt
to do so.
I would like to respond briefly to some of the relevant issues. There
is first the assertion that Hill's vigilante action violates the legal
integrity of America as a law-abiding nation that follows due process.
In 1962 the U.S. Supreme Court told God that He could no longer talk
to our children in tax-funded schools, and our children that they could
no longer talk to Him. The Court thereby in an official act of government
dismissed God from service as our sovereign. As a nation we are no longer
His people, He is no longer our God. Most of us stood around and said nothing-not
in the name of truth, but in the name of an irrational pseudo-pluralism.
That makes the government of the United States an outlaw government
that has lost its right to rule. That rebel status has been reasserted
and confirmed over and again by further Court decisions. We no longer consider
ourselves under the only sovereign that can give any government
its authority to obligate other human beings to obedience.
When in the early 1970s the Court settled Roe v. Wade, it established
itself in a tyrannical manner as the decider between life and death of
a class of persons, all those in the womb, implicitly telling us that it,
the Court, has the authority of God to decide who is a person and who is
not. A whole class of human beings were declared nonpersons and therefore
disposable at will. . . .
We are no longer a nation under God, and, as a result, we are no longer
a nation of due process. The baby in the womb will receive no protection
of constitutional law in our courts. We are not a nation of due process,
we are a tyranny. The fact that the institutions of due process limp along
pretending only helps us maintain our self-deception. . . .
If that abortionist had been on his way, uzi in hand, to murder all
the children in a given school building, all the parents in town would
have surrounded that school armed with whatever weapon they could lay hands
on. It is empty for us to say that, because the Supreme Court has said
so, the children in the womb deserve no protection of law, and if necessary,
of the combined volunteer citizenry, as would the children in the school.
It is empty to say that vigilante law promotes violence-which, of course,
it can. The vigilante violence, however, is being promoted already on a
scale that diminishes Mr. Hill's actions into insignificance. Government
runs by violence and/or threat of violence. That is the nature of government.
But when government turns legitimately directed violence to ungodly ends,
it is indeed the right and duty of citizens to resist a clear and present
If there was no other effective way to preserve the life of those children
than to take the life of the would-be assassin, then by the above reasoning,
Mr. Hill is not guilty of any crime punishable by law. He acted in defense
of other persons whom he, and everyone else around, had good reason to
believe were going to be killed by the abortionist. . . .
(The Rev.) Earle Fox
In regard to your symposium on killing abortionists, it seems to me
a shame that Oliver Stone is not pro-life. By now he would have discovered
a Grassy Knoll in the Paul Hill case, proved beyond a doubt that pro- abortionists
and the CIA were behind the whole thing, and have produced a movie starring
Kevin Costner as Paul Hill and Jack Nicholson as the abortionist.
While I by no means would openly advocate the killing of abortionists,
I am not at all sure what actually motivates this decision. On the one
hand, I placate myself with elaborate appeals to order, sanctity of life,
democratic due process, etc. I seem to fear an all-out slaughter would
be precipitated if this idea were to be widely accepted. Indeed, as Francis
Canavan observes, where would this taking of the law into one's hands wind
up? Any zealot could justify the murder of his ideological or religious
nemesis as an enemy of the people and humanity. Under such circumstances,
a nation under siege by various ideological and religious enemies is not
difficult to foresee.
The rule of law must be respected for the good of all, I say to myself.
Yes, that is why the killing of abortionists must not be tolerated. This
is an argument that must be won by prayer, reason, and appeals to decency.
Yes, that is why we must not do such things. We are civilized and such
things are beneath us as Christians. We must not fight evil with evil,
but fight evil with good. That is why I write letters and pray and appeal
the case according to our democratic traditions. That is why I don't kill
Or is it? Perhaps I am just a moral coward spinning philosophical and
legal excuses for not doing what plainly ought to be done. If that were
me and my wife or children waiting to be slaughtered for some legally sanctioned
reason, would I not consider the man who stepped between us and our horrific
deaths a hero? Even if such a person ultimately fails and the slaughter
proceeds, is not that person still a hero? Contrary to Frederica Mathewes-Green,
the analogy is perfectly legitimate. First, the murder is a defense of
the unborn, not an attack. Second, the point that "as long as abortion
is legal you won't be able to save babies without saving their mothers"
holds just as well if abortion is illegal. The determined mother will find
a way. Therefore, why make it illegal? You inadvertently fall into the
pro-choice argument. Third, whether society sees the abortionist as a criminal
is irrelevant. Such reasoning accepts as legitimate the wholesale murder/genocide
of Jews, Kulaks, enemies of the people, etc. . . .
As much as I respect those who wrote in opposition to the murder of
abortionists, I cannot help but think that all they have done is supply
us with legal and moral justification for cowardice. What did the Jews
think as they were dragged off? What did the Kulaks think as they were
murdered? What did the American black think as he was lynched? What did
the Chinese dissidents think as Mao Tse-tung's sycophants murdered them?
If we truly believe that the child in the womb is every bit as much a person
as a child outside the womb, can there really be any legitimate excuse
for not employing deadly force? If that child could speak and articulate
from its mother's womb, would it not be hysterically screaming and pleading
for help, and those screams be falling on deaf ears as we natter on about
legal, moral, and philosophical niceties?
Alas, the pro-life movement is faced with a conundrum. Either we insist
upon the unborn child as a person with all the legal rights of an adult,
including the right to expect assistance in the defense of its life, or
we fold up our tents and concede that the child in the womb cannot expect
the same legal and moral considerations as the child already born.
I haven't the time or the inclination to debate every legal, moral,
or philosophical argument your contributors have lobbed across the net,
but one common thread does run through them all. They all provide justification
for inaction so that people like myself can sleep comfortably and not feel
cowardly for not giving all to stem the slaughter of the innocents.
One more point if I may. A few of your contributors noted that not
all democratically nonviolent means have been exhausted. That statement
is ridiculous. All other means for that child, that morning, have been
exhausted. Everything is in place and the murder is about to commence.
The life of that child is in imminent, undeniable danger. What but violence
offers any hope of turning back the hand of the abortionist? Notwithstanding
God's final judgment, there is no other day, no other time, for these babies
to be rescued.
Eric A. Voellm
. . . This reader was gripped by the three strands of argument articulated
by the various writers. The contrasts between individualistic justice (read:
anarchy) and legitimate governments were well-stated. The appeals to and
applications of Just War theory were convincing. And surely your Christian
readers were drawn to the scriptural references and applications.
However, there was one important omission. Not one of the writers probed
the significance or the consequences of the actions of Paul Hill as they
relate to final destinies, opportunity for repentance and faith, or the
exclusive role of God in offering salvation and/or meting out judgment
Let me explain. Paul Hill now enjoys something he denied his victim.
Hill has the opportunity to thoughtfully consider his past actions in the
context of legal guilt, punishment, and eternity. Perhaps the symposium
itself will give him cause to reflect upon his sins and his crimes. He
may choose to repent (or not), but he will have numerous opportunities
prior to his own execution to call out to God for forgiveness, for understanding,
for mercy-even for justice if that really is the way he sees it. But Dr.
Gunn's opportunities were killed along with his body on that fateful day.
The greatest tragedy is not that Hill usurped the authority of the
State but that he usurped the throne of Heaven. Hill's actions consigned
Dr. Gunn to the eternal liabilities of the justice and judgment of God
by denying Gunn further opportunity to repent of his own sins against God
and crimes against nature. . . .
(The Rev.) F. Michael Womack
. . . On the matter of Paul Hill's violence, can we really be sure that
it did not stimulate a beneficial elementary reconsideration for the meaning
of killing in the minds of many normally given to pushing the A word out
of their minds? Undoubtedly, his death sentence will force that sort of
pro-abortion progressivist, hateful of capital punishment, to consider
the real meaning of attempting to preserve the life of a single human being.
Ultimately, I agree that the killing of abortionists probably lacks
proportionality. But given that we've reached that point in our dying civilization
where debate often means unopposed "pro-choice" indoctrination
in public forums, public schools, and many if not most "Catholic"
schools, can we at least consider that among the subtle antecedents of
moral entropy might be the accommodationism inherent in an "agree
to disagree but not be disagreeable" public posture?
Edward J. Baer
I have read with interest your symposium on killing abortionists. There,
many pro-life leaders argued against the premise stated by killer Paul
Hill: "Whatever force is legitimate in defending a born child is legitimate
in defending an unborn child."
The reasoning of many of the symposium participants is weak, and inadvertently
strengthens Hill's case. Dr. Bernard Nathanson described the heroism of
two men who successfully assassinated one of the Nazi architects of the
Final Solution. Nathan son said that Hill's position was not quite the
same thing, but didn't explain the difference, if any. Cardinal O'Connor
also said we're not yet as bad as Nazi Germany, because we still elect
our legislators and chief executive. Recall that Hitler won election as
leader of Germany. . . .
The chilling thing about this entire symposium is that, on the level
of logic alone, Hill's premise wins the argument. Not one
of your commentators addressed the question "What should I do to protect
this particular child on this particular day?" . . .
The finest comment on the whole Paul Hill affair was stated quite simply
by Pat Mahoney, the #2 man in Operation Rescue, who said, "If I had
been there, I would have stepped in front of that gun." Mahoney understands
what it takes to love babies: a totally unselfish commitment to share their
vulnerability, even to the point of dying as they do, inconvenient, ignored,
That is the way of the Cross. That's Christianity. Every other "solution"
to the abortion problem just perpetuates the cycle of violence.
. . . Bernard Nathanson gives an absurd justification for the killing
of Reinhard Heydrich by Czech partisans: "to act as protectors of
the European Jews." In May 1942 the Holocaust was mostly in the future
and the role of Heydrich in planning it little known. In any case, Heydrich
had a full-time job governing the Czechs: it was a matter of pure conjecture
what part, if any, he might eventually play in the Holocaust. As history
proved, Heydrich was easily replaceable, and his death did not interfere
with the mass killing.
In the light of subsequent events, it is at least debatable whether
killing Heydrich was a good idea. To the extent any justification can be
found for it, the justification would be that there was a war going on,
the Czechoslovak government-in-exile participating in a just war against
Nazi Germany on the side of the Allies. The brutal oppression of the Czechs
by Heydrich was certainly criminal enough to deserve retaliation as a part
of the war effort.
Mr. Nathanson identifies the killers of Heydrich as "two non-Jewish
Czechs." Well, he is 50 percent right. Kubis was a Czech; Gabcik (whom
you misspell as "Gabeik") was a Slovak.
Ernest L. Fraser
Long Beach, CA
In his "Christianity and the West: Ambiguous Past, Uncertain Future"
(December 1994), Wolfhart Pannenberg makes the observation that religion
came to be excluded from public life in the West as a result of the divisive
European wars of religion in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It
follows, he says, that religion cannot be restored to public life "without
ecumenical reconciliation among the Christian churches."
But he does not expect that the Christian churches will become one
in faith through their ecumenical efforts; instead he expects that each
of them will in a certain sense relativize its faith. Each should recognize
"the provisional character of our knowledge of God in His revelation";
each should repent of the sin of conflating the absolute truth of God's
revelation with its own credal formulations, which should apparently be
thought of as merely human efforts that will always remain in need of revision.
On this relativizing basis the Christian churches will be ready to learn
from each other, and indeed to learn from "alternative understandings
of reality." This already enables them to practice a kind of tolerance
that is new in Christian history. It is also a tolerance that will enable
Christians to exert a beneficent rather than a divisive influence on public
Many Catholic readers, as well as other Christian readers, will have
more than one difficulty with this way of grounding religious tolerance.
While they quite recognize the distinction between God's truth and our
human understanding and expression of it, they will wonder whether Pannenberg-at
least to judge from this essay-rightly understands the participation of
the latter in the former, and whether he does justice to the initiative
that the spirit of God takes in securing this participation. They can only
be pained at the length to which he seems to go in belittling the fundamental
difference between Christians and Jews.
But they also have another problem with Pannenberg, the discussion
of which preeminently belongs in the forum provided by First Things. Insofar
as he does succeed in showing something merely provisional in Christian
faith, it is not "the imperative of tolerance" that he establishes.
If I have more to learn from you than I had thought, then it is not
tolerance but rather simple reasonableness that leads me to listen
to you. Tolerance is a way of dealing with disagreements, or it is nothing
at all. If Pannenberg is saying that Christians have declared disagreements
with each other prematurely and that they should now learn to think in
terms of both/and rather than either/or, then he has passed from tolerance
to another topic.
And so the question arises for such readers: if they cannot agree with
Pannenberg's way of grounding religious tolerance, how do they for their
part go about grounding it? They no more want to return to the religious
wars of the seventeenth century than he does, and they agree with much
that he says about the ecumenical basis of a renewed presence of Christianity
in public life. What alternative theology of tolerance can replace the
one of Pannenberg?
Look at the Vatican Council's Declaration on Religious Liberty, which
affirms the right of non-Catholics in Catholic countries to profess their
faith publicly, and to invite others to join their communion. It is a teaching
that in effect repudiates the idea of a confessional state. I understand
that soon after the Declaration was promulgated by the Council, the Catholic
Church both in Spain and in Columbia had to modify its legal standing,
and in particular to give up the special privilege whereby only the Catholic
religion could act in the public realm. Clearly, there can be no renewal
of confessional wars on the basis of this teaching of Vatican II about
And what is this teaching based on? The Declaration contains not a
word about the merely provisional character of the creed of the Church,
not a word about the difference between revelation as it issues forth from
God and revelation as it arrives at the human hearer. It is instead
based on the dignity of the human person, who can receive revelation authentically
only if he receives it freely and without any coercion. The Council
gives not a relativist account of religious liberty, but a personalist
account of it. It shows us how to justify tolerance without weakening the
truth claims of the Christian faith. . . .
God does not exercise tolerance because of some defect in His understanding
of His own truth, or because some human beings will offer explanations
of His revelation that complete what is lacking in His own provisional
understanding of it. He abstains from coercion only because He wants to
be freely chosen and freely loved by His creatures. In other words, Pannenberg's
account of religious tolerance, even if it were an account of tolerance,
which I deny, still holds only for our human tolerance but can throw no
light at all on the divine tolerance. The personalist account of tolerance,
by contrast, holds equally for human and divine tolerance.
John F. Crosby
Wolfhart Pannenberg's look at Chris tianity's cultural entanglements
through the ages was most interesting, though I was surprised at his imperative
call for ecumenical unity. His arguments in that case seem to turn on two
mutually antagonistic poles: papal ambition was the principal cause of
much of the tragedy of the Middle Ages and a modern day ecumenism is necessary
to reestablish cultural plausibility.
I, for one, take comfort in the fragmented power structures that rep
resent Christianity today. It is our number one safeguard against an all-powerful
oligarchy once again attempting to gather more power and influence unto
itself. Pyramids of power and influence inevitably attract men (and women)
who are interested in power and influence. Ambitions easily become inflamed,
thereby recreating the conditions that led to the tragedies of the Middle
Ages. We have seen evidence enough in our own day of how the trappings
of corporate churchdom have corrupted their creators.
We need more prophets from the wilderness willing to live on locusts
and wild honey while proclaiming the acceptable year of the Lord. An ecclesiastical
UN would be ages in the building and inevitably degenerate into a cockpit
for the self-serving and the ambitious. John the Baptist is still a much
more authentic and plausible representative of the Savior than any world
body speaking from its carpeted and air- conditioned ecumenical headquarters.
Professor Pannenberg is to be commended for his attention to the dimensions
and sources of Christian intolerance, and for pointedly reminding us that
our understanding of God's Truth is "always provisional and . . .
partial." That reminder should be both premise and qualifier for all
who presume to address religious matters. Equally, I valued his comments
about the consequences of the early dissociation of Christians from Jews,
about how Christian eschatological consciousness led to dogmatism and exclusivism,
and about how liberty, without religion, "degenerates into license
and coercion." Each is a point that deserves frequent expression.
. . .
However, I do not see the consistency in the view expressed that, first,
"The separation of church and state must never mean the separation
of religion from public life," and, subsequently, that "The further
the secularist dominance of the general culture advances, the more clearly
the Church, in clear distinction from that culture, emerges as the reference
point of Christian existence." Elsewhere Professor Pannenberg suggests
that ecumenism, human rights advocacy, Christian ideas of freedom-and more-allow
at least cautious optimism for the "resurgence of a culture inspired
by Christian values" as we approach the beginning of the third millennium.
So why then is not a Christian culture, one informed by values and recognizable
roots in our Judeo-Christian origins, a plausible alternative not only
to the prevailing secular culture we now find ourselves in but also to
"the ecclesial form of Christianity" envisaged by Professor Pannenberg?
At the very least, the place for this "ecclesial Christianity"
within the broader culture needs to be more clearly articulated. Surely
a retreat to an ecclesial form of Christianity is not the answer.
Robert W. Heywood
Is Rome the Catholic Church?
I found myself wonderfully enjoying First Things but was just
a bit amused by one comment of Alan Jacobs in "The Second Coming of
C. S. Lewis" (November 1994). When he termed Lewis "something
of an Ulster Prot" for describing the followers of the Church of Rome
as "Papist," he betrayed a certain lack of understanding of the
classical Anglican position that Lewis embraced at the time that he became
a Christian. It is no secret that J. R. R. Tolkien was more than a bit
miffed at Lewis when upon his conversion he rejected the Roman position.
But Lewis was too much of the classical scholar and the pragmatist to buy
the Roman claims that have been rejected by Anglicans both before and after
While classical Anglicanism has always been quite charitable toward
the Roman Church, it has refused to accept its description of itself as
"The Catholic Church." For Anglicans, Catholicity is determined
by the famous definition of St. Vincent of Lerins, quad ubique, quod
semper, quod ad omnibus ("that which has been taught everywhere,
always, and by all") the acceptance of which pushes Rome outside the
definition. And that well before the papal definitions of the late nineteenth
and twentieth century that elevated dogmas with no New Testament basis
and completely unknown to Christians of the first four centuries to the
status of being required for salvation. John Jewel made exactly this point
in his famous sermon at St. Paul's Cross in the reign of the first and
more glorious Elizabeth. He said, "If any learned man of our adversaries
be able to bring any one sufficient sentence out of any old doctor or father
or out of any old general council, or out of the Holy Scripture, or any
one example out of the primitive church for the space of six hundred years
after Christ, in proof of the specifically Romish doctrines and practices:
I will go over to him."
Those of us who have retained our classical Anglican faith (although
the official churches in the United States, Canada, and England
have now apostasized) know that we retain and practice the faith that Lewis
defended. . . .
(The Rev.) H. Lee Poteet
I can tell Peter Berger why "a number of readers" of First
Things mistook his August/September 1994 send-up of eco-feminism for
the real thing: It was as dreary and heavy-handed as the real thing. However
"savage" his attack may be, the satirist who means even just
to get his point across, let alone win a few converts to the good fight,
never takes the business so seriously as to forget to be funny.
I don't really think that the inventor of the Dating Information Kit
needs to be told as much. I don't think either that the author of A
Rumor of Angels needs to be reminded of comedy's deep value as a "signal
of transcendence" (to employ his own fine phrase). Above all, I do
not think our Peter really wants to be "off to Poco," there to
double date with Aglaia Holt, Chelsea Rabinowitz-Hakamoto, and "a
friend" of Chelsea's. It looks pretty obvious to me that the humorlessness
of this crowd has begun to rub off on him.
I recommend a short sabbatical, holed up perhaps with some of those
very writers (Swift, Thackeray, Muriel Spark) in whose company Mr. Berger,
at the top of his form, may rightly be said to travel. I pray he will not
devote his talent to dirges, elaborate maledictions, or worst of all, sociological
analyses. . . .
For someone with so dreary-sounding a title (Director of the Institute
for the Study of Economic Culture), Peter Berger has an antic sense of
humor. I found his article in the December 1994 issue ("Reflections
on the President's Underwear") hard to read, not that I mean it as
negative comment. It is difficult to read anything in which almost every
sentence requires the reader to throw back his head and guffaw. But the
subtext of serious comment was also welcome.
I have long thought that laughter (or wit or humor, as you will) is
one constituent of the "image and likeness" referred to in Genesis.
Mr. Berger supports my thesis. . . .
Charles J. Sheedy
I wholeheartedly agree with much of what James Nuechterlein says in
"Some of My Best Friends" (December 1994). Certainly Catholics
and Protestants are often "united by the imperatives of our common
faith in a common cause." I rejoice with him as well that "we
will almost certainly find regular occasions for making common cultural
and religious arguments in public."
But there are disturbing evidences of an underlying patronizing attitude
toward those who would not follow the path of his enlightened "quasi-
ecumenism." The same attitude is present in those who would claim
that religious differences are not rational, basic differences at all,
but that differing religious perspectives are really just so many roads
all leading to the same place, where, of course, the speakers have already
arrived. The same attitude is present, unfortunately, in the declaration
"Evangelicals and Catholics Together," with its theological and
eschatological use of the word "convergence."
Mr. Nuechterlein patronizes Protestants with a statement such as: "For
those traditionalist Protestants for whom Catholicism and Orthodoxy are
not, or at least not yet, acceptable choices-well, we indulge in
(mostly) improbable hopes for reform within our various churches"
(emphasis added). Later he states that "the widespread opposition
to the statement ["Evangelicals and Catholics Together"] suggests
that not all minds have been changed." Obviously, Mr. Nuechterlein
knows where we all are headed, and, but for our intellectual and spiritual
obtuseness, we will all get there soon. But he patronizes Catholics as
well with this statement, in the context of the one about Protestants just
quoted: "[T]here are Catholics who cannot understand why Holy Mother
Church should concern herself with schismatics," again with the implication
that these poor folks may yet see the light. What he does not take into
account is that many Protestants and Catholics believe that the Reformation
really did happen, and that it happened because of real, down-to-the-very-roots-of-
the-faith theological differences. And they believe, to the dismay and
(often) the disdain of convergence-types, that the "other side"
really is wrong.
Mr. Nuechterlein himself suggests that many of the (former) Protestants
who have found a home in the Catholic Church went looking in the first
place because they sensed that something had gone terribly wrong: "[A]ll
too many Protestants, in their habit of translating the faith into either
the Social Gospel or indiscriminate niceness, had lost any grasp on justification
at all." Likewise, many (former) practicing Catholics who have begun
participating in Bible study groups in Protestant churches have, by their
own admission, discovered the gospel of Jesus Christ, with its central
theme of justification by faith alone, for the very first time.
Mr. Nuechterlein-along with the authors and signers of "Evangelicals
and Catholics Together"-obviously has a view about "mere Christianity,"
and his view is that the deep theological differences between Protestants
and Catholics will dissolve into it. To which I, and many Catholics and
Protestants, say, "No thanks." These differences are deep, they
matter, and we must continue, even as we find opportunities for common
cause in the world, to persuade others of the truth as we know it to be.
The December 1994 issue of First Things made two references to the Orthodox
Church that I must challenge.
In James Nuechterlein's otherwise excellent article "Some of My
Best Friends," he writes of "a move of disheartened Protestants
to Rome (or, more esoterically, to Orthodoxy)." Why "esoterically"?
While not yet found in every village and county, there are at least
several thousand parishes and half a million faithful (less conservative
estimates range upward of two or three million) in North America. The transition
from the languages of the immigrants to English is moving quickly and is
complete in a great many parishes. We have many individual converts, some
parishes have converted, and there are even several small denominations
that have returned to the classical Christian faith. This year we marked
the 200th anniversary of the landing of the first Orthodox missionaries
in Alaska and are well past the 250th anniversary of the first Orthodox
liturgy in North America. Publication of scholarly and popular books on
Orthodoxy has skyrocketed and includes collections of testimonies by former
Protestant ministers and seminarians who have embraced the Orthodox faith.
So I repeat, why "esoterically"?
More troubling is the item "A Sense of Heightened Expectation"
in The Public Square. It may be that the Vatican expects an imminent breakthrough
in relations with the Orthodox Church, resulting in restoration of communion.
If so, this is an entirely unrealistic expectation. Even if the
question of "jurisdiction" were resolved-by which I presume you
mean that the Vatican would recognize the patriarch of Constantinople as
a sort of junior pope with regional authority in the eastern Mediterranean
and part of Eastern Europe-there would remain a number of serious and unavoidable
questions: Will the Vatican renounce the unbiblical, illicit, and heretical
addition of the Filioque to the Creed? Will Rome cease to deny the
Seal of the Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Communion of the Precious Body
and Blood of the Lord to infants? Will there be a renunciation of the Immaculate
Conception and the erroneous Augustinian model of Original Sin? Will Rome
agree that its primacy came from the decision of the Church, based on practical
considerations, and not as a divine and eternal right? Will "papal
infallibility" be renounced (or possibly be radically reinterpreted
as the office of announcing and defending the conciliar consensus of the
Bishops in union with their presbyters and faithful)? What of the debate
over the Epiclesis and the place of the Holy Spirit in Eucharistic theology?
One could also mention Purgatory, Limbo, indulgences, and surplus merits-debated
now not with Protestants but with a Church that upholds the veneration
and intercession of the Saints and prayers for the dead, but has always
rejected the aforementioned Roman innovations.
Fr. Steven Sarafian
Green Bay, WI
On behalf of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod's Commission on Theology
and Church Relations (CTCR), and in keeping with a resolution adopted by
this Commission at its November 14-16, 1994 meeting, I want to express
our appreciation to First Things for publishing "The Homosexual
Movement: A Response by the Ramsey Colloquium" (March 1994).
In a most profound way this statement gets at the heart of the issue
raised by the homosexual movement-"an extreme individualism, a call
for autonomy so extreme that it must undercut the common good." This
statement provides convincing philosophical and scientific grounds to refute
the superficial but frequently repeated assertions that gay and lesbian
advocates seek no more than an end to discrimination.
What is at stake in the contemporary debate is indeed a movement to
change the very foundations upon which public life in our society is founded.
Such a revolution ought indeed to be challenged-and this statement succeeds
effectively in turning the agitation present in many circles today with
respect to homosexual behavior, including those of churches and synagogues
across our land, "into civil conversation about the kind of people
we are and hope to be."
Samuel H. Nafzger
Executive Director, CTCR
The Lutheran Church-
Saint Louis, MO
On Anencephalic Infants
As a Catholic, a cardiologist, and an ardent supporter of the pro-life
position I take exception to the statements expressed by Paul C. Fox on
the subject of anencephalic infants ("Babies and Body Parts,"
This argument simply does not concern the sensibilities of nursing
staffs, or the fact that anencephalic births are uncommon, or that some
have faulty organs unsuitable for transplant. The argument also does not
have anything to do with the retarded, the brain damaged, Alzheimer victims,
the aged, or those described as living in a "vegetative state."
Let us be very clear on this. The argument concerns an embryologic disaster
resulting in a biologic preparation without a cerebral cortex and without
the potential of ever having one, so that any semblance of conscious life
is forever foreclosed. The subject in question is no more human than an
amputated extremity artificially perfused.
One may posit that a soul exists. Our tradition at least in times past
deferred to Aristotle and Aquinas and their formulation that the soul operates
through the agency of the brain, i.e., the brain is necessary but not sufficient
for the operation of the soul. In the case at hand the brain by definition
does not exist and never will exist in the temporal order. The fate of
the soul in eternity is a matter not accessible to us.
Dr. Fox's position lacks balance as well as precision. There are infants
born each year with congenital heart malformations so complex as to be
beyond surgical remedy. The brain of such individuals is intact and if
allowed to develop (heart transplantation) would be able to experience
the full mystery of conscious life.
Slippery slopes can be negotiated as long as the proper distinctions
are made and held. The AMA Council on Ethical and Judicial Affairs has
acted properly. The decision can be defended on both philosophic and theological
grounds. Reflexively negative and tangential responses to all innovative
efforts by the scientific community in this difficult area do not well
serve the cause of the pro-life position.
Patrick J. McCormick, M.D.
Orland Park, IL
A Moving Account
I was deeply moved by Gilbert Meilaender's account of the reaction at
Oberlin to his part in the statement regarding homosexuality by the Ramsey
Colloquium ("On Bringing One's Life to a Point," November 1994).
Aside from the questions of right and wrong and from any indignation toward
the despicable extent to which "politically correct" dogmas have
encroached on freedom and scholarship in institutions of learning, the
very personal and devotional way he responded is commendable and exemplary.
His self-effacing use of Psalms, his candor, his acknowledgment of the
spiritual hazards in being persecuted, and his willingness to let these
events drive him more deeply into his own faith were for me to bring my
own "life to a point." Although I share his views, I would like
to think I would have been similarly moved even if I did not agree with
him. To fail to protest his treatment would seem to deny one a claim to
courage or integrity.
(The Right Rev.)
C. FitzSimons Allison