Although the functions of the magisterium and of the theologians are distinct, each group requires and profits from the work of the other. Theologians depend on the magisterium because the creeds and dogmas of the Church are constitutive for their own enterprise. Theology is a reflection on the faith of the Church as set forth in the canonical Scriptures and in the official statements of the Church’s belief. If the magisterium were not trustworthy, the foundations of theology, including even the canon of Scripture, would crumble. The more abundantly theology draws on the teaching of the magisterium, the richer, generally speaking, will it be. To ignore or dismiss magisterial teaching is to neglect resources that are at hand. It is possible, of course, to disagree with the magisterium on some point or other or to wish to nuance its declarations, but the first instinct of the theologian should be to accept and build on what is officially taught in the Church. It is a great benefit for theology to have a magisterium that is committed and qualified to safeguard the apostolic faith.
You want elegiac? We can do that, too. From this month’s Public Square, First Things’ most popular feature, here’s Richard John Neuhaus’ remembrance of William F. Buckley Jr.: “Bill Buckley was a man of almost inexhaustible curiosity, courtesy, generosity, and delight in the oddness of the human circumstance. He exulted in displaying his many talents, which was not pride so much as an invitation to others to share his amazement at the possibilities in being fully alive. He was also, in and through everything, a man of quietly solid Christian faith. I am among innumerable others whose lives are fuller by virtue of the gift of his friendship.”
If reasoned sweetness is your preference, we have reflections, from our own Amanda Shaw, on going to see the final profession of the new Sisters of Life: “A final profession is a wedding, but at times it also seems like a funeral. Nunc dimittis servum tuum, Domine, intoned the choir before Mass. Secundum verbum tuum in pace. Simeon’s canticle was appropriate for the day’s feast, but it resonated, too, with the occasion. In a sense, the professed sisters were dying to the world; they were offering up the normal cares and pursuits that we take for grantedhome, family, ambitionsnot because these are bad or dangerous but because they are not enough.”
If comedy is more your style, how about a poem from R.S. Gwynn, by a long measure the best comic formalist working in American poetry?
We upper-crust must be discussed
In deferential accents.
We want not, waste, exhibit taste,
Possess exquisite tax-sense.
In France’s terror we were there,
Our necks outstretched for ax-mince,
But here our dough’s so long-ago
We’ve mostly been relaxed since.
We middle-crust of course are just
(Between two poles) the middle.
We see the pie up in the sky
And want our slice, but it’ll
Take more than faith (the Profit saith)
For we to solve the riddle.
In short, a lot of us are not
Content with second fiddle.
Us lower-crust are full of lust
For wrestling, beer, and Nascar.
We live on crumbs but spend big sums
To find where bigger bass are.
If you like books we’ll hate your looks
(That’s what we’ll kick your ass for).
Our necks are redmust be inbred.
Who says there ain’t no class war?
The May issue of First Things was, in fact, a poetry bonanza, with eight poems scattered through the pages: “Safekeeping” by Samuel Menashe, “Drinking Stars” by Mark Jarman, “Missing Mass” by Frederick Turner, “Wisdom 13:5–9” by Timothy Murphy, “The Better Part of Valor” by Robert B. Shaw, “Prophesying to the Breath” by Maryann Corbett, and “American Crust” by R.S. Gwynn.
If the calm confidence of a senior scholar is what you need, in “Shakespeare’s Religion” we’ve got Robert Miola calmly and confidently sorting out all the claims that have been made for the Catholic Shakespeare, the Protestant Shakespeare, and every other shade of Shakespeare under the sun. And so, too, in “Jews as the Romans Saw Them,” we have Robert Louis Wilken calmly and confidently sorting out the accurate from the exaggerated in Martin Goodman’s new book, Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations.
Meanwhile, there’s deep historical and philosophical analysis from Wilfred McClay in “Uncomfortable Unbelief,” his review essay on Charles Taylor’s latest tome, A Secular Age: “Charles Taylor has always been a profoundly historical thinker; and so, in A Secular Age, it matters greatly how we arrived at exclusive humanism, because the particular form it has taken was heavily conditioned by the particular freedoms it sought to secure, as well as by the religious establishments it sought to weaken.”
And there’s “A Marriage in Full,” Gary A. Anderson’s close reading of the Book of Ruth: “‘For wherever you go, I will go; wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.’ Though these lines are frequently recited in marriage liturgies, the fit is not exact: Ruth is not speaking of her attachment to a spouse but to her mother-in-law. And yet the incorporation of this passage into a marriage ceremony seems rightfor marriage in the Old Testament is not just an affair between a man and a woman but between two extended families.”
Surprisingly, some of First Things’ readers prefer sharp-edged commentary on the public issues of the day, and if sharp edges are what you want, the May issue features “The Ethics of Immigration,” a strong exchange between William Chip and Michael Scaperlanda. “Is a country that cannot handle its responsibilities to its native workforce in the face of massive economic migration at least capable of fulfilling its moral obligations toward the migrants themselves?” asks Chip. “Data from reliable government sources indicate that we are manifestly incapable of ensuring the successful social and economic assimilation of the enormous numbers that are actually arriving today.”
But Scaperlanda replies: “William Chip’s disagreement with the Church (and me) is not over faith or morals but over economic analysis. . . . If I am correct in my assessment, America continues to be one of those prosperous nations with an obligation to welcome the stranger journeying here in search of economic security.”
On and on, the issue goes, with something for everyone. There’s “A Commonplace Book,” a fine introspection on writing and reading from Alan Jacobs. And there’s “The Music of the Spheres,” a review of Michael Ward’s Planet Narnia by First Things’ own Nathaniel Peters: “In 2003, Michael Ward discovered the secret key to the Chronicles of Narnia, a key no one had found before: Each of the seven planets of the ancient celestial hierarchy provides the atmospheric superstructure for each of the seven books in Lewis’ series of children’s books. The sensible reader’s first reaction to this revelation will be that it is, basically, nutty.”
Then Paul Griffiths reviews Peter Carey’s new novel, His Illegal Self, and Christian Sahner reads Hugh Kennedy’s recent The Great Arab Conquests, and Cardinal Dulles responds to Edward Oakes, S.J., Robert Miller, and other critics of his February article “Who Can Be Saved?” and Richard John Neuhaus covers the waterfront in the “While We’re At It” section of the Public Square, and . . . actually, that’s about it for the May issue. Isn’t all this enough? And isn’t it time you subscribed?