Orthodoxy and the Roman Papacy: Ut Unum Sint and the Prospects of East–West Unity
by Adam A. J. Deville
Notre Dame, 280 pages, $38
In Orthodoxy and the Modern Papacy, the author, a member of the Ukrainian Catholic Church who teaches theology at the University of St. Francis in Fort Wayne, Indiana, examines John Paul II’s Ut Unum Sint, the few official Orthodox responses it evoked, and the views of Orthodox and Catholic theologians on the “renewal” of the papacy. The general drift of their arguments, which the author endorses, is to suggest that the pope’s “patriarchal” and “primatial” functions ought to be disentangled—although they disagree as to whether this would be a recovery of a distinction the Roman See maintained in the first millennium or an unprecedented “orientalization” of the papacy based on historical considerations to which the papacy was, even in the first millennium, largely indifferent.
Deville proposes dividing the Latin (or Western) Catholic Church into six regional, roughly continental, patriarchates on the “Byzantine model,” with each possessing synods that would replace the Roman Curia and be responsible for electing bishops, regulating liturgical and sacramental practice, and canonizing saints, among other matters. The pope would remain CEO of his patriarchate, the “global spokesman” for Christianity, and the sovereign of the Vatican city-state. He considers and rejects the objections that such “reforms” would be foreign to the structure of the Latin Church, involve an excess of “democracy,” and unleash moral, doctrinal, and disciplinary chaos.
He also proposes a “permanent ecumenical synod” to assist the pope in the exercise of his primatial responsibilities: “keeping watch” over the episcopate and the sacramental life of the Church in general; “ensuring the communion” of all the churches of which he is universal primate; “admonishing and cautioning” concerning heterodox ideas and practices; and “declar[ing] ex cathedra that a certain doctrine belongs to the deposit of faith.” It also proposes what seems to be a cumbersome process and “electoral assembly” to select the pope.
I must confess that I do not see the necessity of such “reforms.” More fundamentally, such changes might narrow the practical width of the gap that separates the two churches, but would not reduce its doctrinal depth.
—William Tighe teaches history at Muhlenberg College.
The Ethics of Abortion: Women’s Rights, Human Life, and the Question of Justice
by Christopher Kaczor
Routledge, 246 pages, $39.95
Christopher Kaczor has written a wonderful new book on the ethics of abortion. Professor of Philosophy at Loyola Marymount University, Kaczor studied under the late, great Ralph McInerny at the University of Notre Dame, and this book worthily carries on his mentor’s work of Thomistic philosophical engagement with modernity.
Kaczor’s book is the most up-to-date and comprehensive defense of the pro-life position available. He carefully takes on every serious voice in the contemporary abortion debate: Peter Singer, Michael Tooley, Mary Anne Warren, Judith Jarvis Thomson, David Boonin, Jeff McMahan, John Harris, Ronald Green. And he draws upon and develops the work of some of the best pro-life philosophers: John Finnis, Robert George, Patrick Lee, Francis Beckwith, Christopher Tollefsen.
His approach is systematic, with a separate chapter devoted to assessing each of four positions: that personhood begins after birth, at birth, during pregnancy, and at conception. Having concluded that human embryos are persons, Kaczor considers whether they have rights and, if so, whether it is wrong to abort them (responding to Thomson’s famous violinist argument). He closes with answers to over a dozen “hard cases,” and with a suggestive argument that artificial wombs could end the abortion debate without compromising pro-life principles.
Kaczor writes clearly and makes good use of illustrative examples. But the book’s comprehensiveness and systematicity are a vice as well as a virtue, at times making for a slow read, a laundry list of objections and responses. Some additional editing—with a more narrow selection of the most important and focal arguments—might have helped. Even so, Kaczor’s arguments are philosophically rigorous, analytically precise, and wholly pro-life. His tone is calm and charitable throughout. Warmly recommended.
—Ryan T. Anderson, a member of the
First Things Advisory Council, is editor of Public Discourse.
by Terry Eagleton
Yale University Press, 192 pages, $25
Terry Eagleton continues to imprint his distinctive style onto serious and crucial debates. His newest effort, On Evil, is a brief but weighty foray into evil, its manifestations, and its place in postmodern discourse. In clear, well-crafted, and taut prose, Eagleton makes his case strongly, if not wholly convincingly.
The work is divided into three main sections. The first is a survey of literary visions of evil. There is plenty of Milton and Mann, but also a fair amount of William Golding and Flann O’Brien. Golding is an odd favorite, since Eagleton calls him a “conservative, Christian, pessimist,” which is undoubtedly not meant to compliment. Another odd source is Eriugena, a Celtic theologian of the first millennium. With astute and frenetic ability, Eagleton weaves the authors’ ideas about evil with their visual imagery of hell. One wishes for a world in which all literary theorists had such ability and lack of pretense.
“Obscene Enjoyment” is the title of the second section, which discusses the notion of evil done for evil’s sake, rather than in the service of grand theories or philosophies. After an innovative analysis of Shakespeare’s Three Witches and Iago, the chapter works its way fluently through the great Church Fathers before touching on modern masters Kierkegaard, Dostoevsky, and Arendt.
But Eagleton’s dismissal of the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception (“absurd,” assuming “a kind of genetic stain which you might be fortunate enough to be born without”) shows a gaping lack of subtlety unsuited to such an original thinker. He further disappoints with his suggestion that Bob Hope and Britney Spears are tantamount to the real ills mankind has suffered; this is the sort of flippancy we expect from Richard Dawkins.
The final section is the one that many will shun; Eagleton is, after all, a Marxist, and presents a sustained exposition of evil in terms of materialism. The argument further weakens during a lengthy effort to divorce evil from wickedness.
Even if one allows that wickedness is something less bad than evil, doesn’t a perpetrator still bear moral responsibility for it in much the same way? Terrorists, Eagleton writes near the book’s conclusion, are not created ex nihilo, but are the product of years of ill treatment by the West; as such they are something less than evil.
This argument may have some historical support, but it remains on dangerous ground, ethically. Bin Laden and Mohammad Atta look far more like Gestapo bigwigs than the wretched of the earth—well-educated, singularly focused, and ruthless in their disregard for human life. If that is not an example of evil, then the word is meaningless.
—Theodore Oberman lives in Brooklyn, New York.
The Logic of Desire: Aquinas on Emotion
by Nicholas E. Lombardo
Catholic University of America, 319 pages, $34.95
“Tell me what you think, not how you feel or what you love.” Thus writes the ethics professor, semester after semester, in the margins of student papers. While this is salutary advice for lazy students who refuse to think, it may be deformative for those who are relying on well-formed affections to give them reliable moral intuitions. When it is precisely our moral thinking that is muddled, well-trained affections may give us just the hunch or insight we need to steer ourselves toward virtuous decisions. One thinker who champions this role for human affections is Thomas Aquinas, a philosophical theologian who is often demonized as unjustifiably legalistic. Fr. Nicholas Lombardo’s The Logic of Desire: Aquinas on Emotion makes such criticisms unthinkable, showing in every chapter the central role of affection in Aquinas’ thought.
Drawing on analytic philosophy, Christian theology, and the Thomist tradition, but eschewing the malevolent jargon plaguing these fields, Lombardo makes contributions to understanding Aquinas that will be useful to the educated nonacademic as well as to professional philosophers and theologians. He dedicates the bulk of his efforts to a philosophically and theologically sensitive reconstruction of Aquinas’ account of affections, which he argues is roughly equivalent to the contemporary understanding of emotions.
Having read and digested thousands of pages of scholarly work, Lombardo weighs the plausibility of alternative interpretations and presents the results in a lively and readable form. He concludes that our affections, even our passions, which are affections of the sensory appetites, serve as reliable guides to what’s good for human beings, although they may be untrustworthy on any particular occasion. Reason hears the legitimate claims of the affections and in turn serves as their guide. The virtuous person is one who, through the interplay of reason and the affections, corrects as far as possible the disintegrating effect of original sin, which leaves our affections pulling us in different directions.
While Lombardo is an excellent critic of others’ views, he does not always justify his own interpretation as soundly as a reader might like. Lombardo maintains, for example, that a moderate noncognitivist view allows us to speak more precisely about emotion because it allows us to make a conceptual distinction between the feeling of anger and the perceptions involved in that anger. But even if the perception and feeling of anger are really one single thing, as cognitivists maintain, we can still make this conceptual distinction, so no advantage accrues to the noncognitivist. Despite these minor shortcomings, Lombardo’s study, which bulldozes one insupportable reading of Aquinas after another, is a must-read for anyone who wants to understand one of the most sophisticated accounts of emotions in the history of thought.
—Jeffrey Hause teaches philosophy
and classics at Creighton University.
Augustine’s Confessions: A Biography
by Gary Wills
Princeton Univesity Press, 176 pages, $19.95
Habent sua fata libelli (“Books have their own fate”), goes an old Latin proverb. Princeton University Press has taken that insight and made it into a new series called “Lives of Great Religious Books,” the first of which to appear is Garry Wills’ fine account of the genesis, manufacture, genre, and reception-history of St. Augustine’s most popular book, his Confessions. The section on its manufacture is especially informative. Book-production in the ancient world was both laborious and expensive, requiring—especially for someone as prolific as Augustine—a privately owned cottage industry, comprised mostly of slaves, who either manufactured reed-pens and ink or worked as tachygraphers, copyists, and distributors. As to genre, the Confessions is often called Western literature’s first autobiography, but Wills thinks it is better understood as a prayer shaped entirely (and not just in the last three books) by the book of Genesis. Earlier scholars who noticed that same point then alleged that the famous garden scene in Book VIII—when Augustine heard the singsong chant of a child crying, “Take and read”—was a fictionalized version of his conversion, deliberately cast as a reversal of Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden.
Wills convincingly shows that Augustine’s account of his conversion was based on accurate reminiscence, but he also concedes that the entire work, despite its basic historical reliability, is nonetheless a commentary on the third chapter of Genesis. He also effectively dismisses those always-popular Freudian readings that claim Augustine was a mama’s boy and obsessed with sex. His many years as a Manichee against the explicit and distressed wishes of his mother (who is rarely mentioned in his extensive correspondence) disprove any mother-fixation; and he had sexual relations with only two women prior to his conversion, the first of whom he clearly loved. Finally, as to reception, Wills peels off the thick veneer of past false readings, from Pelagius and Gibbon to Nietzsche and Derrida.
Even better, his fresh translations make Augustine come alive again. For example, in the famous line that Pelagius found so offensive: da quod jubes et jube quod vis, the usual (and perfectly accurate) translation runs: “Give what you command and command what you will.” But Wills makes the logical connection between these two linked prayers to God clearer: “Require anything, so long as you grant what you require,” which among other benefits doesn’t make God sound so arbitrary. If the rest of this series lives up to the achievement of its first volume, Princeton will have a success on its hands.
—Edward T. Oakes, S.J., teaches theology
at the University of St. Mary of the Lake.