Between Sweetness and Nausea

A few years ago I learned a new word. I wonder if you know it—ecotone? An ecotone is where two ecospheres come together—where they meet and merge into one another. The Mississippi River flowing into the Gulf of Mexico—that is an ecotone. Or imagine flying over the plains out West, and then you look up and there are the Rocky Mountains. Where the plains meet the mountains, where the current meets the tide—that is an ecotone. An ecotone is always a place that is fragile, unstable, shifting, fluid, risky, filled with danger and yet, at the same time Continue Reading »

In the Wake of Heroic Theology

In 1997 Avery Dulles was asked by Commonweal magazine to respond to a disputed question: “How Catholic is the Catholic Theological Society of America?” The impetus was Cardinal Bernard Law’s charge that the CTSA, the largest and most prestigious association of Catholic theologians in the United States, had become little more than a “wasteland” of dissent against official Church teachings. Continue Reading »

Dante's Heavenly Idealism

The great French historian Jacques Le Goff credited Dante with doing more than any theologian to make purgatory a meaningful part of Christian tradition, and, more recently, Jon M. Sweeney has argued that Dante practically invented the modern idea of hell. Whatever the merits of these claims, I would like to suggest that Dante exercised a similar influence on the Christian understanding of heaven—and that this influence is not what Dante’s many modern devotees might suspect. Continue Reading »

Mary’s Most Loyal Children

The Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, a solemn feast day and a holy day of obligation that we celebrate each year on August 15th, is the Church’s most ancient Marian feast. Christians living in Jerusalem celebrated the “dormition of Mary” (Mary’s going to sleep) from at least the third century—gathering in Palestine to remember the Mother of God, and to honor her as queen of heaven and earth. Continue Reading »

Reading Soloveitchik

The occasion of my first encounter with the theology of Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik was a reading group at my wife’s synagogue. We were then living in Lincoln, Nebraska, and Elihu Milder, the rabbi then serving at Tifereth Israel, organized a group to discuss Soloveitchik’s spiritual classic, Halakhic Man. Continue Reading »

Pushy Pilgrims

I was bemused—also mildly bruised—by the violent elbowing and shoving of my fellow pilgrims as we approached what are arguably the holiest sites in all of Christendom.

A Church for Exiles

We live in a time of exile. At least those of us do who hold to traditional Christian beliefs. The strident rhetoric of scientism has made belief in the supernatural look ridiculous. The Pill, no-fault divorce, and now gay marriage have made traditional sexual ethics look outmoded at best and . . . . Continue Reading »

Wilm Hosenfeld: Warsaw’s Quiet Resister

Seventy years ago, the inhabitants of Warsaw boldly rose against their Nazi oppressors. The Warsaw Uprising lasted sixty-three days, defying all expectations. Yet at the war’s end, the Polish capital suffered more damage than any other city during World War II, including Hiroshima and Nagasaki: 85 percent its buildings were destroyed, while only 400,000 residents out of a prewar population of 1.3 million (including only 11,500 of 360,000 Jews) survived. In the orgy of cruelty that was the occupation of Warsaw, one German officer—Captain Wilm Hosenfeld—acted heroically. Continue Reading »

Tradition and the Individual Theologian

Catholics, Orthodox, and not a few Protestants have been known to reject theological novelties with a wave of the hand and an appeal to tradition. “Shouldn’t we follow the tradition rather than the judgments of an individual scholar?” Sometimes the modifier “idiosyncratic” is added to “judgments” for rhetorical oomph. “Tradition” is implicitly capitalized, for who can argue with a capital letter? Continue Reading »

Divorce and Remarriage

The divorce statistics for modern Western societies are catastrophic. They show that marriage is no longer regarded as a new, independent reality transcending the individuality of the spouses, a reality that, at the very least, cannot be dissolved by the will of one partner alone. But can it be . . . . Continue Reading »