The Public Square
(Wherein the author discerns improbable connections between two archbishops at Oxford, centuries apart, one from Canterbury, the other from San Francisco; exposes the noxious influence of nominalism; excoriates the curial mindset and sundry ecclesiological follies; flays wickedness, vindicates righteousness, and offers unsolicited advice to Her Majesty the Queen.)
Reports have it that Queen Elizabeth and her advisors are considering major changes in what is called “the way ahead” for the monarchy, including the law that forbids the monarch to marry a Roman Catholic. About time, some commentators opine. Catholic writer William Oddie grumbles that the monarch can marry a Jew, a Buddhist or Hindu, so why not a Catholic? That has a nice tolerant ring to it, but maybe more is at stake here than abolishing an antique law that violates contemporary sensibilities. In the colorful (often blood-colored) history of England, religion and royalty has not been a trivial question of “personal preference,” and that is still the case when the monarch is the official head of the national church, an arrangement that Elizabeth, it is said, wants to retain.
Our American understandings of culture, church, and state are much entangled with the English experience, and reactions to it. In due course, I will get to a fascinating new book that has occasioned these reflections, but first it is worth underscoring that questions about religion and public order, far from being antiquated, will almost certainly become more agitated with the progressive desecularization of world history, which is what we may reasonably expect in the century ahead. The long and complicated effort to eliminate the religion question in the solvent of liberal tolerance has manifestly failed. When tolerance is understood as indifference, religion is declared to be a totally private matter of no public consequence. But declaring it so, even declaring it so ten thousand times over, does not make it so.
The above point can be made on sociological and historical grounds, noting that societies cannot be long sustained when cut off from the commanding truths typically borne by religion. An adequate discussion, however, must be more than sociological and historical. Christianity has a weighty tradition of theological reflection and practical experiment in making connections between religion and the public order, the sacred and the secular. This is not true of Judaism, as witness the very real threat of the religious parties in Israel that force an all-or-nothing religionizing of the public order. And of course it is not true of Islam, in which the crusade against modernity (understood as Christendom) dominates wherever true believers wield power. Whether one attributes it to historical accident, divine Providence, or the working out of its distinctive ideas (or a mix of all three factors, and more), Christianity is unique in providing—from St. Paul to Theodosius, from Charlemagne to Oliver Cromwell, from Roger Williams to John Paul II—a richly diverse body of reflection and experience in the public ordering of realms spiritual and temporal. Needless to say, all the efforts have been gravely flawed, as is everything short of the Kingdom of God. Indeed that “eschatological proviso”—the impossibility of our realizing the absolute in history—is one of the great strengths of the Christian approach to these matters.
Wherever these questions arise, and not least in the English experience, the related contentions are about political theory and ambitions for power, but also, and perhaps dominantly, about theology and, more precisely, ecclesiology, the doctrine of the Church. This is again made evident in a remarkable new biography of Thomas Cranmer by Diarmaid MacCulloch of Oxford (Thomas Cranmer, Yale University Press, 691 pp., $35
). In addition to being a very big and fascinating read, the book plunges the reader into a history of conflicts that are still very much with us. Although not himself a dramatic figure, Cranmer was caught up in the high drama of the period when Henry VIII needed a compliant ecclesiastical and court politician to help him establish what would turn out to be royal control over a national church.
MacCulloch says that Cranmer, whom Henry made Archbishop of Canterbury in 1533, has been depicted as both villain and hero, and he is determined to be more evenhanded. His Cranmer, however, is very much the hero. Looking back on his life and his death at the stake in 1556, MacCulloch writes: “Precisely because of his agonizings in those last months, leading up to the flames in front of Balliol College, Oxford, Cranmer deserves to stand alongside other hesitant, reluctant martyrs who have found that they must abandon the assumptions of a lifetime and resist apparently triumphant worldly powers: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Archbishop Janani Luwum of Uganda, Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador.” The conclusion is the more surprising in view of the previous six hundred pages in which Cranmer is portrayed unsparingly as a lackey of royal power and a willing tool of Henry’s chief lackey, the vice-gerent (yes, that was his title) Thomas Cromwell.
Cranmer was a master of living with moral ambiguities. When installed at Canterbury, he swore solemn allegiance both to the pope (from whom he received the pallium in token of his authority) and to Henry as supreme head of the Church in England. He would later collaborate in the widespread persecution of those who refused unqualified allegiance to the throne, including the execution of the London Carthusians and such notables as Thomas More and John Fisher, never raising a question about what he recognized as Henry’s despoliation of the churches and monasteries for purposes of his own aggrandizement and to secure by patronage the cooperation of those who were only too eager to be corrupted. Cranmer did not “resist apparently triumphant powers” but served them unstintingly until, under Queen Mary, a different power was temporarily triumphant.
According to MacCulloch, he was even eager to accommodate Mary but could not manage to disown all he had said and done in the service of her father, although he tried. In the months prior to his going to the stake, he publicly retracted his break with Rome, professed his belief in the entirety of Catholic doctrine, went to confession, and was restored to full communion. When it became apparent that all this would not win him Mary’s pardon, on the day of his death he recanted his recantations and thus attained a place of prominence in Protestant martyrologies. Of these stunning reversals, MacCulloch writes: “It is at these last and most vital few hours of Cranmer’s life that the historian retires defeated in trying to unravel the motives of a sorely tried man facing a horrible death. Yet some attempt at assessment is inevitable. The effect was to make maximum use for the evangelical cause of a piece of theater which had been geared to showing off the Catholic Church’s most important prize since 1553-perhaps the most important reconversion of the whole European Reformation so far.”
Rather than retiring from “trying to unravel the motives of a sorely tried man,” MacCulloch concludes with the limp explanation that in his last hours Cranmer had to decide between his two sisters, one Protestant and the other Catholic, the former having visiting him the morning of his execution. This suggestion has the merit of introducing to the story the currently de rigueur “woman question”—a question otherwise conspicuously missing in the life of a man who, among other things, did his best to conceal the fact that he was married during the years that clerical marriage was not allowed in England. MacCulloch also suggests that at the end Cranmer wanted to make a statement “which would make sense of his public career and rebuild his personal integrity.” That is more understandable. Cranmer’s final statement did reassert, if not rebuild, his personal integrity, after he had completely capitulated in the disappointed hope of saving his life. The reader is hard-pressed to decide which was more ignoble, his recantation or his recantation of his recantation, and must in charity suspend judgment on the final acts of a pitiably broken man who held back nothing in his determination to be the king’s good servant but not, unlike Thomas More, God’s first.
Cranmer was not entirely without convictions. In MacCulloch’s lavishly documented account, Cranmer moved steadily over the years away from the Catholic and Lutheran view of the Real Presence in the eucharist, ending up with a thoroughly “spiritualized” view hardly distinguishable from that of Zwingli. Another early and more or less stable conviction-at least until his final flurry of conflicting capitulations-was that the pope was the Antichrist. This belief made both possible and necessary his fixing of the headship of the Church on the prince. Cranmer asserted that the early Church under the apostles was not properly ordered because it was not headed by a Christian prince, and at least on one occasion he went so far as to make the bizarre claim that the emperor Nero was in his time the rightful head of the Church.
In light of his own portrayal of Cranmer, one may wonder why MacCulloch wants to propose him as a hero. The answer is simple: Despite what may gently be called his character flaws, and despite the ruthlessness of his methods, MacCulloch thinks it was all in a good cause. Like his subject, this biographer is a relentless Protestant who uncritically cheers the “progress” that Cranmer made in extirpating Catholicism root and branch, regretting only that Queen Elizabeth would later “freeze” that achievement at the point of the prayer book of 1552, thus leaving an opening for later Anglicans to claim continuity with a Catholic past.
In 1992 Eamon Duffy published his much acclaimed study, The Stripping of the Altars, in which he demonstrated in meticulous detail the pervasiveness and vitality of Catholicism in England in the years prior to Henry’s break with Rome. Contrary to standard Protestant accounts, there was no popular demand for “reformation” in England. There were vocal exiles from and sympathizers with the continental Reformation, largely concentrated in London and the universities, but Henry’s church would never have come into being but for his frustration with what he saw as Rome’s unresponsiveness to his problems with marriage and the succession to the throne. MacCulloch certainly does not make a hero of Henry. Allowing that he was “religiously earnest” in his way, Henry is depicted as “murderously eccentric,” a “self-righteous, God-obsessed royal bully,” and a “monstrous egotist.” And yet, while Henry declared himself “King and Sovereign with no superior on earth but only God,” he was still emotionally attached to remnants of the old order and was at points a brake on Cranmer’s “progress” toward a more thoroughly Protestantized kingdom.
Henry brooked no opposition and was possessed of a particular fury against Thomas Becket, the twelfth-century martyr who, as chancellor and archbishop, resisted the will of Henry II. MacCulloch writes, “Ever since Henry had discovered that he was Supreme Head of the Church of England, he had detested the memory of Becket, whose cult represented the triumph of the Western Church over a king of England.” In the 1552 Book of Common Prayer, what had been the feast of Thomas Becket is bluntly listed, “Becket traitor.” Henry had early on ordered Becket’s shrine desecrated and his bones scattered in an augury of the wholesale desecrations, book burnings, dispossessions, imprisonments, and killings that were to come. In all this Cranmer acquiesced and, within the limits of not risking royal favor, tried to lead. Under Henry and then under Edward VI, Cranmer was not found wanting. MacCulloch summarizes what would come to be called the English Reformation. “These changes were designed to destroy one Church and build another, in a religious revolution of ruthless thoroughness. Thomas Cranmer was the one man who guaranteed the continuity of the changes, and he was chiefly responsible for planning them as they occurred.” The reader is invited to agree that, while the ruthlessness was regrettable, it was justified by the worthy end in view.
As might be expected, MacCulloch is dismissive of later Anglo-Catholics who depict the English breakaway as something other than a revolution. While Cranmer was not above the politic use of vestiges of the tradition, he and his collaborators left no doubt that the new church was constituted not by apostolic but by royal authority. “There was no essential difference between having distinctive ordination rites for deacons, priests, and bishops, and having distinctive royal commissions for sheriffs, justices of the peace, and common law judges.” Cranmer, MacCulloch says, never resolved the question, “Were the ministers of the Church the ministers of the Crown or the ministers of Christ?” It was not a burning question for him under Henry and Edward, but that changed with Mary. In his final floundering, Cranmer apparently decided he was a minister of Christ, but he then served a Christ who had no Church, for he continued to believe that the Church was headed by the Crown.
MacCulloch shows unseemly glee in his demolition of later Anglican arguments in support of a catholic (and Catholic) continuity in the national church. Stephen Gardiner, bishop of Winchester, was among the first to attempt to rescue conservative substance from the Henrician revolution. MacCulloch writes: “However, Gardiner’s use of the 1549 Book of Common Prayer against Cranmer was the most damaging of all these devices; it has proved of lasting importance, providing theological fools’ gold for those Anglo-Catholics who have sought to reinterpret the first Prayer Book and Cranmer’s intentions within it.” The effort to pit Cranmer against Cranmer would have a long history, but MacCulloch persuasively demonstrates that Cranmer was a relentless Protestant. “Standing as he did in the developing Reformed tradition of Europe in the 1550s, Cranmer’s conception of a ‘middle way’ or via media in religion was quite different from that of later Anglicanism. In the nineteenth century, when the word ‘Anglicanism’ first came into common use, John Henry Newman said of the middle way (before his departure for the Church of Rome) that ‘a number of distinct notions are included in the notion of Protestantism; and as to all these our Church has taken a Via Media between it and Popery.’ Cranmer would violently have rejected such a notion: how could one have a middle way between truth and Antichrist? The middle ground which he sought was the same as Bucer’s: an agreement between Wittenberg and Zurich which would provide a united vision of Christian doctrine against the counterfeit being refurbished at the Council of Trent.”
Like many before and after him, Cranmer’s unhappiness with the papacy was joined to a great enthusiasm for general councils. As with Luther and other continental reformers, Cranmer began by claiming a great respect for the pope, lamenting only that he was misled by his aides in the curia. When the effort to drive a wedge between pope and curia failed, the appeal was to a council. By the time Rome convened at Trent a reform council to address also the issues raised by the protest, the Reformation churches, now firmly under the control of the princes, were forbidden to take part in the council for which their leaders had so long called. In the case of Cranmer and others, this did not cool their conciliarist enthusiasm: “Perhaps one might see this reverence for the authority of the General Council as the golden thread which runs through Cranmer’s theological progress: the one constant to which he always returned, even when in later years his appeal for a General Council was addressed to Wittenberg, Zurich, and Geneva rather than to Rome, and was conceived as a defense against the Council of Trent. As Cranmer’s papal loyalty fell away, this deep emotional attachment to the idea of the General Council remained with him all through the uncertain ecclesiological waters of the years after 1533.”
Support for a council was a gesture toward the irrepressible intuition that the Church must somehow be more than national and more than a school of theology, that it must be universal. Even an anti-council of Protestants against the Council of Trent might help satisfy that intuition, if one could convince oneself that the apostolic location of the Church’s universality in the Petrine ministry had in fact become the location of the anti-Church. In that case, one avoids the onus of being schismatic by declaring that one’s schism is, in fact, the center of authentic unity. With Bucer, the much more reluctant Melanchthon, and other continentals, Cranmer dreamed big dreams of a General Council of the reformed churches that now constituted the “true Church of Jesus Christ,” with England at the head. An unavoidable complication, however, was that Henry was at the head of England. The ecclesiological confusion was intense.
Other Protestants attempted to avoid the confusion by means of a more thoroughly spiritualized ecclesiology in which the universal and true Church is “the invisible Church.” Cranmer was not ready to take that theological bolt-hole since it would have undermined the Royal Supremacy he had worked so hard to put in place. Yet he could not shake off entirely New Testament and traditional understandings of the Church by settling for what was merely and without remainder a national religion. To his credit, Cranmer recognized the limits of cuius regio, eius religio-he who rules determines the religion of the ruled. Under the brutally willful Henry, he had learned that this could end up meaning, in Hans Thieme’s phrase, cuius regio, eius opinio. Cranmer was not prepared to think of himself as merely a servant of private opinion, especially when the opinion was not necessarily his own.
Also to his credit, Cranmer did not appeal to sola scriptura in order to evade the inevitability of a community of authoritative interpretation. In building a new church, however, he had rejected Peter and required a new Peter in his place. As Christians have discovered time and again, the question is not whether to have a pope but which pope to have. MacCulloch writes: “Cranmer came to hate the papacy, and therefore he needed the Royal Supremacy to fill the chasm of authority which had opened up in his thinking as a result. . . .What else had he got to hang on to in order to defend the gospel faith against papists and radicals, and to lead England towards a general council of the Church, but the authority of King Henry?” What else indeed.
In addition to ecclesiological incoherence, and as a result of it, the new church faced a host of disputes over authority. In 1533 the Royal Council explicitly denied the power of the bishop of Rome outside his own diocese. As England broke from Rome, so within England parts of the church began to assert their independence from the primatial see of Canterbury. Old cathedral chapters were resurrected and they, along with metropolitan bishops, claimed the right to hold elections for filling episcopal vacancies. The logic that shattered the internal coherence of church order took on its own life. If Canterbury could declare its independence from Rome, what was to prevent local churches and regional centers of power from declaring their independence from the national church? In England of the sixteenth century, the answer was the Royal Supremacy, and Elizabeth II may think that is still the only answer today.
The intriguing tale told in Thomas Cranmer turns out to be surprisingly pertinent to current developments within the Catholic Church itself. In this country and elsewhere some Catholics complain about unresponsive leadership at the top, ostensibly blaming the Roman curia to which the Pope is presumably captive. Recognizing the probable futility of trying to drive a wedge between pope and curia—for it is obvious that in this pontificate the curia is held tightly accountable to the pope—the protest then takes the form of appealing to a council. Having lost the battle of interpretation with respect to Vatican II, and having little hope that the next pope will champion their preferred course, critics suggest that a number of additional councils will be required to secure the reforms that they have in mind. In fact, some propose a general council every ten years, with synods of bishops meeting in between, and with a greatly expanded role for national episcopal conferences.
The prospect is that of bishops, bureaucrats, and activists kept in a state of perpetual commotion, with church life transformed even more than it is now into the politics of meetings without end. The politics of meetings without end is what some think Vatican II endorsed as governance by “collegiality.” It is not entirely unlike what was touted as “participatory democracy” in the 1960s, although the dramatis personae are savvy ecclesiastical pols rather than pot-smoking young radicals. The advocates of this dubious course of “collegiality” and “renewal” typically employ a language of deference toward the pope, while suggesting that his role would be reduced to chairing church conventions in permanent session. At least he would get to chair the meetings in Rome that do not address the more important questions reserved to national bishops conferences, assisted by their committees of experts and a task force for every task that it has been discovered needs forcing.
The pope would retain the right to appoint bishops in his own archdiocese, and maybe, with appropriate consultation, throughout the entire province of Rome. Needless to say, in this reorganization plan for the clerical management of Catholicism Inc., the laity would be granted a larger role than at present, thus—or so it is said—fulfilling Vatican II’s call to recognize the dignity of the lay vocation by allowing lay people a greater share in the managerial bustle of bishops and lesser clerics. It is similar to the “elevation” of the laity by letting them do some of the things in the liturgy that previously could only be done by clerics.
One wonders what Cranmer might think of such agitations. He would no doubt find attractive the accent on nationalism that is evident, for instance, in current talk about an American Church. And he might be intrigued by the possibilities inherent in the American invention of denominationalism, although the prospect of the Catholic Church as one denomination among others would surely fall short of his idea of a national religion. Despite his perhaps more intense animus toward the papacy, however, he might have shared the interest in exploring the sharp attenuation of papal authority as an alternative to the complete break that created for him such troublesome ecclesiological incoherences. Plans being proposed today might largely achieve the goal of independence from Rome without bringing down upon him the charge of being a revolutionary who is starting a new church.
Of course the circumstance today is in many ways different from that of the sixteenth century. For one thing, there is no King Henry with whom to replace the pope as head of the Church. As many astute observers have noted, however, this does not mean that the modern world is bereft of alternative sovereignties. There is, for instance, the sovereignty of the technical-managerial model that has its own powerful dynamic and dominates so much of our world through government by experts. That is the model employed with such telling effect when some years ago corporate management experts were called in to structure the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and its administrative arm, the United States Catholic Conference. It is the model that is clearly dominant in some current proposals to reorganize the management of the Church. The managerial revolution of our time is closely allied to what is commonly called the “knowledge class” that is concentrated in civil government, the universities, the media, and the foundation world.
Unlike King Henry, the managerial and knowledge classes do not burn books or send people to the stake. They do, however, have more humane and equally effective ways of silencing, or at least sidelining, their opposition and assuring the ideological dominance of what is defined as the course of progress. Today’s reformers have one great asset that was not available to Cranmer, namely, the idea of democracy and the representative principle that attends that idea. Democracy may at first flush appear to be the very antithesis of monarchical sovereignty, but it can be every bit as royal in the sweep of its command.
The experience of history has convinced most of us that there is no acceptable alternative to democracy in the civil realm. There is an alternative in the governance of the Church, and that alternative is truth, even, if you will, supernatural and revealed truth. When that alternative is excluded, a community has only claimed truths in conflict, and democratic fairness requires that all truths be equally represented in the search for a common ground by which the community can identify itself. In some Catholic circles, this proposal appeals to the idea of the sensus fidelium, frequently in blithe indifference to whether the people involved adhere to or even have an informed understanding of “the faith once delivered to the saints.” Those who invoke John Henry Newman on “consulting the faithful” are sometimes prone to overlook his assumption that those consulted are in fact the faithful.
Of course there may be differences of varying degrees of seriousness among the faithful, but all who are faithful agree that there is a truth revealed by God, entrusted to the apostles, and authoritatively interpreted by their successors in the Church fully and rightly ordered through time. Within that structure of inquiry toward an ever fuller and more adequate expression of the truth, there is considerable flexibility and room for debate. Those who challenge the structure, however, are not to be seen as participants in the inquiry but as people who pose a great pastoral challenge of evangelization and catechesis, with the hope that they may be lovingly drawn back into the community of faith and reflection.
When difference becomes dissent and when dissent becomes apostasy—these are matters of delicate pastoral discernment. For that task of discernment, at least in the Catholic view, Christ has given the Church pastors, bishops who are successors to the apostles. No matter how often they botch it, that task is still theirs. Bishops can and should draw on methods that have emerged from democratic experience, but they can never weary of pointing out that the Church is not a democracy. Democracy as a form of governance and as a theory of sovereignty is as alien to the Church as was the supremacy claimed by King Henry. Contemporary efforts to redefine the Church as a voluntary association managed by experts who claim the legitimacy of their rule from democratic procedure may fare better than Henry’s scheme, as witness the flourishing of numerous denominations in this country. But they all presuppose an ecclesiology very different from what the Great Tradition intends when it speaks of the Church.
The hard truth that runs into such powerful resistance in our age, and maybe in any age, is that the Church is infinitely more than a religious association. After all, the first disciples, too, had all kinds of dandy plans for setting up an organization and distributing among themselves positions of honor and power. We say the Church is a mystery, an organic reality to which all organizational questions are incidental, but that too often meets with incomprehensibility, and, in any case, falls short of the radically incarnational claim that Christ apostolically ordered his Church to embody his saving presence through time. In the Catholic view, an indispensable part of that ordering is the Petrine ministry exercised by the successor of Peter, the bishop of Rome. Scholars can debate whether that claim is adequately grounded in the New Testament, and nobody denies that the exercise of that ministry has at times been sorely abused, but to surrender that claim is simply to give up on what distinctively constitutes the Catholic Church. Whether in the fourth, the sixteenth, or the twenty-first century, it is also to surrender that ecclesial zone of independence and freedom that enables the Church to resist the insatiable claims of earthly sovereignties, whether royal, managerial, or democratic.
Proposals now being bandied about betray an underlying, perhaps unconscious, assumption that the Church is a religious association whose primary problem is its dysfunctional structure. Such proposals are largely, sometimes completely, devoid of any reference to the Gospel understood as the mystery of the world’s redemption by which and for which the Church exists. While appealing to the “spirit” of Vatican II, they reflect little of the rich ecclesiology of, say, Lumen Gentium. Since they so clearly lack warrant in what is the Church’s teaching, their proponents call for Vatican III, Vatican IV, Vatican V, and on and on in order to establish what they think should be the Church’s teaching. When the Church’s teaching is contingent upon which faction has the edge in preparations for next year’s council, however, one may wonder what would be recognizable as the teaching of the Church. The media would be massively involved, cheering on those who, in the name of progress, would finally bring to heel the world’s largest institutional dissenter from the wisdom of the age. “Who will rid me of this turbulent priest?” asked an earlier Henry. Today, as then, there is no lack of volunteers.
Of course those who would undertake the taming of the Church are sincere, but there is slight comfort in that. As the transcendent mystery and adventure of the Church can be destroyed by royal tyranny, so it can be dissipated by insipid and, all too often, self-serving disputes over who is disaffected and why. Call in the dysfunctionality experts, consult the focus group oracles, test-market the product, and let’s see if we can’t put this religious club back together again as one big happy family. After all, isn’t that what our founder said he came to establish? What an awful bore, this vapid, trite chatter about “renewal.” If one must choose between tyrannies, one would almost prefer Henry’s to that of this democratic banality.
To make the Church boring is a greater treason than heresy and apostasy, although often accompanied by both. Or maybe it is simply the more common treason, and were the current heresies and apostasies very interesting, it might mitigate the crime somewhat.
Anyone looking for a direction deserving the name of renewal can readily find it in that alleged reactionary, John Paul II. His urgent proposals for world evangelization, Christian unity, and battling for the culture of life against the culture of death are an invitation to “cross the threshold of hope” into the Third Millennium with a spiritual dignity and daring worthy of disciples of the crucified and risen Christ. Compared, for instance, with the November 1994 apostolic letter, Tertio Millenio Adveniente (As the Third Millennium Nears), the media-acclaimed proposals for renewal by restructuring are little more than plans for interior redecoration and the rearrangement of ecclesiastical furniture. John Paul dares us to live in, and possibly die for, Veritatis Splendor (The Splendor of Truth), in response to which bishops and editorialists call for a committee which in due course reports its finding that timid souls do not much care for martyrdom and the Church should tailor its message accordingly. This might be called demand-side Christianity, and it perfectly fits the managerial mindset.
Consultation. Collegiality. Participation. Inclusiveness. These are among the words put to dubious use in the current round of conciliarism aimed at taming the Church and limiting the influence of this prophetic pontificate. Conciliarism has had a peculiar history. An earlier conciliar movement (Pisa 1409, Constance 1414–18, Basle 1431–38) was, inter alia, an effort to restore a measure of universality to the Church after a dismal century that witnessed “the Babylonian captivity” of a papal office that was virtually bought and sold by earthly powers. That conciliar movement was ended by the Council of Trent, which, among its achievements, went a long way toward restoring the integrity of the papacy. Today the papacy enjoys an independent moral stature and influence unrivaled by any other office in the world. It is a fine irony that at this historical moment a new conciliar movement arises that seems determined to plunge the leadership of the Church back into the perpetual commotion of national and ideological factionalism.
Yet another factor can help in understanding the irony. Historians suggest a connection between the fourteenth-century expansion of national and royal power, on the one hand, and the ascendancy of nominalism in philosophy and theology, on the other. Nominalism—which denied the reality of universals and declared it an “error to believe that there is something in reality besides the singular entity”—accompanied and explained the new order in which universal spiritual claims were displaced by the singular entity of the nation and by the exigencies of politics. The nominalist doctrine found expression, mutatis mutandis, in Cranmer and in the formula of the diet of Augsburg, cuius regio, eius religio.
Today we are culturally awash in an ideological solvent more acidic than nominalism, or perhaps it should be described as nominalism taken to the nth power. Variously called radical pluralism, multiculturalism, culture criticism, and deconstructionism—and sometimes self-declared as nihilism—it is a pervasive intellectual impulse that is at war with the idea of universal truth, whether that truth be human nature or Christ’s will for the ordering of his Church. I do not for a minute suggest that bishops, theologians, and activists who are agitating the new conciliar movement are disciples of Foucault or Rorty, or have even read them. Radical nominalism is simply in the cultural air that this generation breathes.
How else to explain the response of knowing disbelief to claims of universal truth and of teaching authority in the service of that truth? The only universal truth, it is said, is that there is no universal truth; there are only interests, felt needs, and ambitions, and the quest to satisfy them all. We should not be surprised that the nominalist air of the university and popular discourse has seeped into the churches. Almost everywhere the doctrine is advanced that the putative battle over truth is in fact a contest of power to impose “truths” that serve singular interests—whether of race, class, and gender or of ecclesiastics wanting a bigger say in the business of Catholicism Inc. Throughout there is an appeal to a sovereignty more powerful than that of the divine right of kings—the sovereignty of democracy understood as the will of that most singular of all singular entities, the autonomous self.
To be sure, these assumptions usually remain precisely that, assumptions. They are in the background, forming, as it were, the ideational ambiance of proposals presented in other terms. They are certainly not explicit in the June 29 address of John Quinn, retired archbishop of San Francisco, given in Oxford, not far from where Cranmer died 440 years ago. The very long lecture, “Considering the Papacy,” has quickly become a centerpiece of the new conciliarism.
In a carefully coordinated campaign of publicity, the address has been celebrated, along with other initiatives, as a bold call for Catholic reform. In the usual quarters, Archbishop Quinn was hailed for his “courage,” although it is not clear what he risked. He took early retirement from the office he held, had no other office either in hand or in prospect, and burning at the stake is simply out of the question these days. He did manfully accept the explosion of approbation from people of like mind who view Rome as oppressive and think (or at least hope) that this pontificate is drawing to its close, making it an opportune moment to press their preferred directions.
Archbishop Quinn had been for many years a major influence in the activities of the U.S. episcopal conference, and it is perhaps understandable that his Oxford address was treated as a major event, even if Origins, the documentary service of the conference, may have gone a bit far by printing not only the entirety of the address but a long interview about what Archbishop Quinn had said. The interview was unusual in that the Archbishop interviewed himself, both asking and answering all the questions. As might be expected, the interview was decidedly favorable to the Quinn initiative.
Among the Archbishop’s complaints is that, while the Pope consults with the bishops, the power to initiate new directions always lies with Rome. Although Quinn says he is speaking from his own experience, he does not specify how restraints imposed by Rome prevent a bishop from taking energetic initiatives in teaching, sanctifying, and governing (the classic responsibilities of a bishop) in a way that nurtures a vibrant, faithful, and growing local Church in places such as San Francisco. It might have been helpful if he had specified how Rome was responsible, if it was responsible, for that not happening during his many years as archbishop there. But a man can’t do everything, and over those years the Archbishop was giving himself unstintingly to the efficient management of the national episcopal conference and, as is now evident, to “considering the papacy.”
One hastens to say that John Quinn is certainly not Thomas Cranmer. There is no reason to doubt that the Archbishop intends to be a loyal son of the Church and sincerely wants to improve its governance. Yet the similarities between the tale told by MacCulloch and the Quinn initiative are not limited to the coincidence of their sharing the locale of Oxford. Quinn appealed to an allegedly widespread popular discontent with the current governance of the Church. As with Cranmer and Henry, the “woman question” enters the dispute, this time in the form of women’s ordination. Once again, we are told that the problem is not really with the pope but with the curia. Everybody would be better served, it is suggested, if decisions were made by general councils convened every ten years, reinforced by synods of bishops and national episcopal conferences with real power.
While bishops would be elected (by other bishops, with undefined participation by priests and laity), the Archbishop insists that he is opposed to such elections being “political.” Election results would be courteously submitted to the pope for his affirmation. Such proposals are cautiously and somewhat ambiguously presented, but the point of limiting the exercise of papal authority, if not papal authority itself, is unmistakable. The address is devoid of reference to universal truths touching on the divine constitution of the Church, devoted as it is to the singular entity of managerial imperatives. Theology gives way to the modern monarchs of efficiency, participation, and responsive management, all in the name of “collegiality.” Preoccupied with the regio of the Church and reflecting the regio of the culture, the address fails to attend to the ways in which, still today, regio may determine religio.
Of course, reflecting on the similarities and dissimilarities between Cranmer and Quinn is largely a whimsical exercise, for the latter surely does not intend to establish a new national church. It is not so clear that he is averse to a federation of national churches with the pope as international president. In any event, the Oxford address reminds us of the curious continuum of history in which, as they say, what goes around comes around. Those with a firm grasp of the past may greet the Quinn proposal with a yawn. Been there, done that. Others express alarm that he and his collaborators are launching another Protestant schism. Both reactions are unwarranted, I believe.
While the divinely constituted structure is permanent, the particulars of the governance of the Church have changed many times in the past and will no doubt change in the future. With specific reference to the Petrine ministry, John Paul said as much in last year’s ecumenical encyclical, Ut Unum Sint (That They May Be One). In that document he asked non-Catholics for help in reflecting on how the papacy might better serve the cause of Christian unity. The Pope was perhaps somewhat surprised that the first person to jump at the invitation would be a Catholic archbishop who, with only nominal attention to Christian unity, took the occasion to press the familiar progressive agenda that has dominated so much of the discussion in the thirty years since Vatican II. The fact that the gist of the Quinn proposal is not new does not mean it is not important. It can be useful to have these organizational concerns raised again, although they are more helpfully raised in the context of a developed ecclesiology that recognizes that the Church is ever so much more than a religious association. Absent that ecclesiology, as MacCulloch’s story reminds us, reorganization schemes can give rise to all kinds of unhappy incoherences and lead to transfers of sovereignty in ways that were not intended.
In any case, nobody should be panicked by the crisis-mongering of highly coordinated press campaigns. In a little-remarked passage in his book of reflections, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, John Paul expresses his gratitude that, for the first time in a very long time, the Catholic Church does not face any evident prospect of schism. That is one reason why this pontificate—which, far from winding down, goes on from strength to strength—can devote itself so energetically to setting out a comprehensive, coherent, and compelling vision for the future of the Church and the world. It is a sadness, but it is not surprising, that this bracing vision makes slight impression on ecclesiastics who live by organization charts and confuse renewal with deciding who chairs what committee with what powers to appoint whom to what. That the Pope seems to be relatively indifferent to such questions offends those trained to the curial mindset, whether in Rome or in national episcopal conferences. The controversy sparked by the Quinn initiative is essentially an intra-curial dispute.
The curialists also serve, no doubt, even if their anxieties and excitements seem far removed from the “new Pentecost” for which John Paul asks all Christians to pray. Somebody has to do the institutional grunt work with its inevitable, and often unseemly, contests for influence and power, and its stifling vision of corporate efficiency. Catholicism Inc. is not the Church, yet, in God’s mysterious devising, it is inextricably part of the mission for which and by which the Church is sustained through time. In these institutional struggles other sovereignties—royal, managerial, democratic—seem to triumph from time to time, but the Spirit keeps erupting and we have the promise that the sovereignty of Christ will out.
Thomas Cranmer, too, no doubt had some legitimate concerns. He lived too early to see the world-transforming resurgence of the Catholic Church in subsequent centuries and so decided it was necessary to switch sovereignties. In the maddening ways of history, not unrelated to the ways of God, his decision may have contributed to the resurgence. We must in charity assume that he did not intend to displace the sovereignty of Christ and the truth by which the Church is ordered. On the contrary, it seems probable that he sincerely believed he was liberating the Church from the oppressive yoke of Rome. But switch sovereignties he did, building a church not on the rock of Peter but on the sand of national identity, and the gates of history, if not of hell, have not been kind to it. There would seem to be no good reason why, four and a half centuries later, Catholics should be similarly flirting with the sovereigns—or, as St. Paul might say, the principalities and powers—of the present age.
To come back to where we began: For all the institutional risks it might entail, I hope Queen Elizabeth will decide to relinquish the pretension to being the supreme head of the Church of England. It has caused a great deal of mischief, and England deserves something better than a royally established denomination that no longer has even the dubious distinction of being the national religion. And I do recommend the reading of Thomas Cranmer, even if Mr. MacCulloch does draw the wrong lessons from his sad but intriguing tale.
We are told that this has no relationship to the initiative of Archbishop Quinn at Oxford, and I am prepared to believe that. The appearance of coordination, however, will tempt the more conspiratorially minded. Be that as it may, people with long institutional memories say they do not recall anything quite like it in the history of Catholicism in this country. The very public conflict between cardinals was triggered by an August 12 press conference at which Joseph Cardinal Bernardin of Chicago announced that he was launching a “Catholic Common Ground Project” aimed at reconciling differences among Catholic Americans.
The rationale of the project was set out in a three-thousand-word statement, “Called to be Catholic: Church in a Time of Peril,” which Monsignor Philip J. Murnion said had been in preparation for several years. Murnion, who heads the staff of the project, directs the National Pastoral Life Center in New York and has a long association with Cardinal Bernardin. Through dialogues, conferences, and publications, the project hopes to establish the common ground that will help mediate what its sponsors view as the “extremes” dividing the Church. The project will draw on the suggestions of an advisory committee of twenty-five persons, clergy and lay.
The response to the Bernardin initiative was swift and, in many cases, sharply critical. Although he had included Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles on the advisory group and had notified some bishops and the Holy See of his intentions, there was no advance consultation with, among others, the cardinal archbishops of New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, and Detroit. The day following Bernardin’s press conference, James Cardinal Hickey of Washington issued a statement affirming the need to seek fuller unity but asserting that the project’s declared purpose “obscures the true ‘common ground’ for any effort to bring about unity within the Church. That true ‘common ground’ is found in Scripture and Tradition as handed on through the teaching office of the Holy Father and the bishops. Indeed, we are fortunate to have a reliable and complete expression of our ‘common ground’ in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. We cannot achieve Church unity by accommodating those who dissent from Church teaching—whether on the left or on the right. To compromise the faith of the Church is to forfeit our ‘common ground’ and to risk deeper polarization.”
“To be sure,” said Hickey, “[the project’s statement of purpose] recognizes the Magisterium as authoritative and deserving of respect. But it also seems to regard magisterial teaching as only one element of a consensus that is to be forged out of contrasting opinions.” In fact, says Hickey, “the Magisterium guarantees that the Lord’s message will not be corrupted or manipulated by those who have a message of their own to offer. . . . Church doctrine on faith and morals is deeply rooted in what the Lord has said and done to save us. It is His message we must preach, even when it is distinctly unpopular.”
Bernard Cardinal Law of Boston was scarcely less critical. The project statement, he said, “breathes an ideological bias which it decries in others. The fundamental flaw . . . is its appeal for ‘dialogue’ as a path to ‘common ground.’” Law recognizes that there is often a “disconnect” between Church teaching and the views and practices of “some Catholics,” and he describes this circumstance as “alarming.” But he adds: “Dissent from revealed truth or the authoritative teaching of the Church cannot be ‘dialogued’ away. Truth and dissent from truth are not equal partners in ecclesial dialogue. Dialogue as a pastoral effort to assist in a fuller appropriation of the truth is laudable. Dialogue as a way to mediate between the truth and dissent is mutual deception.” On the claim (at least implied in the project statement) that the authenticity of Church teaching depends upon its popular reception, Cardinal Law says, “Reception by the faithful cannot be measured by polls which are subject to all the pressures of contemporary culture . . . any more than the schism of all the bishops save one in Henry VIII’s England can be ascribed to an exercise of collegiality.” With respect to the truth revealed by God, Law concludes, “Dissent either yields to assent, or the conflict remains irresolvable.”
Public statements by Anthony Cardinal Bevilacqua of Philadelphia and Adam Cardinal Maida of Detroit were similarly critical. Maida’s statement went very nicely to the theological heart of the matter. “Church unity will be achieved by recognizing the fact that we are members of one same body, sharing the life of the Lord Jesus. We do not ‘dialogue’ about membership in the Church any more than we would discuss our status in our family. . . . Unity in the Catholic Church will not be brought about by some kind of human consensus, but by the gift of the Holy Spirit as we consecrate all that we are and all that we have to the Lord Jesus and to His body, the Church.”
Many joined also in questioning what they viewed as the tendentious reading of the Catholic situation as “Church in a time of peril,” contending that a large, growing, and committed Catholic community is excitingly challenged by the teaching of the Magisterium and the call of John Paul II to prepare Church and world for the Third Millennium. The Common Ground Project, they say, defines the Catholic reality by divisions, discouragements, discontents, and dissent rather than by the equally evident virtues of faith, hope, and love. “It is essentially a negative document,” says one bishop who does not want to be publicly critical of Bernardin, “and can only exacerbate the divisions it says it wants to heal.”
In a letter sent to some prominent Catholics a few days before the Chicago announcement, Msgr. Murnion wrote that Cardinal Bernardin “will be assisted in this effort by an advisory committee who themselves find the statement an acceptable framework for initiating the project, even if one or another might see aspects of the present situation a bit differently from the viewpoint of the statement.” As it happens, a number of those who had at first agreed to serve on the committee have indicated that they take strong exception to the statement. Cardinal Bernardin seems to have been taken aback by the sharpness of the criticism, especially from his fellow cardinals. In subsequent comments he has tried to clarify the purpose of the project, although saying at the same time, “In no way do I wish to be distanced from the statement.”
Also central to this unprecedented public conflict between American cardinals is the question referred to by Cardinal Law, “the exercise of collegiality.” For many years now, what some observers call the Bernardin party has been adamant that bishops should speak and act collectively. Bernardin, a chief architect of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, has until now been loath to act even in concert with other cardinals, insisting on collective action through the conference. The puzzlement was considerable, therefore, when he unilaterally launched a project to resolve major disputes that have been around for years, completely bypassing the conference that is largely of his own making and, with the exception of Los Angeles, taking the other cardinals by surprise.
Nobody doubts Cardinal Bernardin’s deep devotion to reconciliation. His admirers have long dubbed him “the great reconciler,” while those less enamored of his leadership say that he believes almost everything is negotiable, and acknowledge his record of making improbable accommodations that, he is convinced, serve the Church. Across the board there is enormous personal sympathy for Bernardin. He has recently gone through the hellish ordeal of being falsely accused of sexual abuse, and the grace with which he bore himself both under attack and in unqualified vindication met with universal praise. In addition, since the announcement of the project he has made it known that the cancer with which he has been struggling is now inoperable and he likely has less than a year to live. His indomitable determination to carry on with his duties as long as he can, joined to his compelling public witness of hope in Christ’s eternal promise, have further increased his spiritual stature among both Catholics and the general public.
Personal sympathy, plus sympathy for the aims of the project itself, help explain why seven bishops agreed to be on the advisory committee. “This may be the last hurrah at the end of a remarkable career, putting the capstone on his legend as a reconciler,” said one bishop who asks to be unnamed. “How could I say no?” Personal sympathy, reinforced by a sense of collegiality, also explains why the criticism of the Common Ground Project has generally avoided any personal criticism of Cardinal Bernardin.
Although one can be sure it was not his intention, the project and the way it was launched gave the appearance that Cardinal Bernardin was elevating himself to the de facto leadership of the American hierarchy. More troubling, “Called to be Catholic” could fairly be read as a statement that the Common Ground Project was taking over from the hierarchy the pastoral responsibility that the bishops had failed to exercise effectively. This consideration weighed heavily in the criticisms, reinforcing Cardinal Law’s observation that the project statement “breathes an ideological bias.” In fact, the statement is carefully crafted and clearly strives to be evenhanded, as evenhandedness is perceived from the left of the Catholic spectrum.
In the statement, traditional ecclesiology gives way to a dominantly sociological view of the Catholic reality. “Unless we examine our situation with fresh eyes, open minds, and changed hearts,” it is said, “within a few decades a vital Catholic legacy may be squandered, to the loss of both the Church and the nation.” Among the signs of “peril,” the Number One issue is “the changing roles of women,” followed by the usual concerns about sexual ethics, the decline in priestly vocations (which it is implied will continue), and the inclusion of the cultural heritages of racial and ethnic minorities. The project also intends to take on “the responsibility of theology to authoritative church teaching,” and, in striking similarity to Archbishop Quinn’s Oxford initiative, “the place of collegiality and subsidiarity in the relations between Rome and the American episcopacy.”
As mentioned, many observers deny the premise that the Church is in peril. (“Church in Time of Peril” employs the locution of “Church” without the definite article, which for some reason has become a liberal fetish recently—as in “We Are Church,” the activist coalition currently trying to collect a million signatures protesting the allegedly reactionary ways of this pontificate.) At the same time, numerous Catholics who describe themselves as conservative or traditionalist would agree that Catholicism is in crisis, but they would draw up a very different list of reasons for the crisis, possibly beginning with the widespread assumption that authoritative teaching can be negotiated with those who oppose it.
The future of the Common Ground Project is very much in question. Msgr. Murnion says it had been in the works for several years. It was a wagon ready to go and was temporarily hitched to Chicago’s ecclesiastical star, but now that star is disappearing. Without Cardinal Bernardin, and with the possible withdrawal of the few advisors who gave the committee a nonpartisan cover, the project could go on as yet another moderately liberal discussion group. The proposed conferences that were to “model” the dialogue that might bring Catholics together would turn out to be something like a traveling Commonweal symposium. That is not necessarily a bad thing, of course, but it is a far, far way from the project’s initial ambitions to assume pastoral responsibility for ecclesial reconciliation. The unhappy and undeniable fact is that what started out to be a program for unity quickly became a cause of disunity at many levels of leadership in the Church.
There is a sadness in it all. Cardinal Bernardin deserves a worthier conclusion to his years of devoted service, and he should not be remembered for this initiative. In addition, one hopes that the bungling of this enterprise will not make dialogue a dirty word. As Cardinal Law observed, “Dialogue as a pastoral effort to assist in a fuller appropriation of the truth is laudable.” Dialogue is a way of teaching, and teaching is the duty of bishops—a duty that, few bishops will disagree, has often been neglected. The Catholic Common Ground Project may make the exercise of that duty more difficult in the years ahead, or it may spur other bishops to take up what was right and promising in this failed initiative.
• What to talk about on the first date? How to break the ice? Richard B. of Seattle solved the problem by putting her on the list of people to whom we should send a sample issue of FT. She was touchingly grateful. Even if you’re not looking for a long-term relationship, send us the names of family members, friends, and associates. If they subscribe, they will surely be better people for it. Richard B. is going with someone else now, but she is still grateful.
• To think of Africa is to weep. Back in the seventies I did a great deal of traveling in Africa, and even wrote a book about one aspect of all that was going on there (Dispensations: The Future of South Africa as South Africans See It). Today Africa is the continent that almost everybody would just as soon forget. Which is no doubt one reason why Pope John Paul II has been so persistent in calling the world’s attention to Africa, visiting it many times over. At the same time, as George Weigel points out in his column that appears in diocesan papers, the Pope speaks plainly to the responsibility that Africans share for their circumstance. This, for example, from a recent address to the diplomatic corps at the Vatican: “Today, I would like to direct my comments most particularly to the consciences of Africa’s political leaders: If you do not commit yourselves more resolutely to national democratic dialogue, if you do not more clearly respect human rights, if you do not strictly administer public funds and external credits, if you do not condemn ethnic ideology, the African continent will ever remain on the margin of the community of nations. In order to be helped, African governments must be politically credible.” Stretching diplomatic protocol a bit, the Pope specifically cited Muslim countries that “continue to practice discrimination against Jews, Christians, and other religious groups, going even as far as to refuse them the right to meet in private prayer. It cannot be said too often: This is an intolerable and unjustifiable violation not only of all the norms of current international law, but of the most fundamental human freedom, that of practicing one’s faith openly, which for human beings is their reason for living.” Having mentioned George Weigel, this is the occasion to congratulate him on being asked by the Pope to write the authoritative (but not authorized) biography and story of this pontificate. It is a very big honor and a very big job. Weigel has resigned as president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C., and is devoting his full energies to the book that, it is hoped, will be out in the several world languages in time for the Third Millennium.
• I don’t know when it happened that putatively ecumenical organizations first got into the excommunication business. Maybe it was when, in the early 1980s, the National Council of Churches excommunicated a majority of American voters by declaring that Ronald Reagan’s vision of America was heretical. Then there was the case of the Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC) kicking out South African churches that refused to declare apartheid a heresy. Now Milan Opocensky, general secretary of WARC, has another little list of items that are status confessionis—meaning that those who disagree are beyond the Christian pale. His list includes racism, gender equality, weapons of mass destruction, worldwide economic justice, and responsibility for the environment. WARC is a small organization and can’t do much about those really big problems, but under the rubric of “gender equality” it can force the ordination of women. Of its 198 member denominations, 25 percent do not ordain women, and Opocensky wants the minority position challenged without delay as a matter of faith, not just as a question of justice or equity. Ordaining women, he says, is a “question of whether we are ultimately obedient to the gospel or whether in practice we are led by an obsolete church order, tradition, and the convenience of surrounding cultures.” In view of the position of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and most evangelical Protestant churches on this question, it would appear that WARC is declaring that 80 percent or more of the Christians in the world are disobedient to the gospel and beyond the bounds of Christian communion. Those of us who are of a certain age remember when ecumenism was about dialogue.
• Things people may wish they had never said. In 1992 when Mrs. William Jefferson Clinton (then Hillary Rodham Clinton) argued that children should be viewed as autonomous rights-bearers in charge of their own destinies, it elicited sharp criticism. Scholar-journalist Garry Wills, however, came to her defense in the New York Review of Books, calling Mrs. Clinton “one of the more important scholar-activists of the last two decades.” Knowing Mr. Wills as we do, it is possible, nay probable, that he does not understand why he should wish that he had never said that.
• And now for a really big book. The Rise and Fall of the Communist Revolution by Warren H. Carroll. All 832 pages of it. (Christendom Press, Fort Royal, VA, $24.95
paper.) Dr. Carroll is chairman of the history department at Christendom College and spent many years as a U.S. intelligence officer studying every aspect of the Communist revolution. While expert on the ideological, political, military, and economic dimensions of the rise and fall of communism, Carroll is also a Christian and his concluding assessment is not of the kind to be found in most texts on the subject. “The defeat of the Communist Revolution was, above all, an act of God and an answer to prayer—the millionfold prayers of its victims rising to Heaven when almost no one but God would listen to them. When Lenin and his Communists took over Russia in 1917, many of the intellectuals of the West applauded, and most refused to listen to the evidence of the enormous evil of Communist rule, or blackened the reputation of those bold enough to tell the truth about it. When Stalin and his Communists took over Eastern Europe after World War II, and Mao and his Communists took over China, a significant proportion of intellectuals (especially in Europe) still defended Stalin, and most intellectuals throughout the West defended Mao. The United States developed a policy of containment of communism only over the vehement objections of intellectuals, who were able to gain enough support to prevent the adoption of a policy of liberation. The hundreds of millions conquered or victimized by communism were thus abandoned to an eternity of slavery. Only to God could they now cry; and to God they did cry. God heard them—and raised up as rescuers humble men who still believed in Him: Pope John Paul II, Lech Walesa, Father Gleb Yakunin and his like, and the holy warriors of Afghanistan.” Then this in a footnote: “After these, Mikhail Gorbachev—though clearly not a man of God—must be given his due. By breaking the political chains of the Communist system he made its ultimate destruction possible. We are still not sure why he did it. We may never know. But the Christian may well believe that, through the mystery of grace and the power of the omnipotent, God also had a hand in this, as part of His answer to the prayers.” Warren Carroll has no doubt about communism being an ersatz religion, and he ends his massive work with this passage from Whittaker Chambers’ classic memoir, Witness: “[Communism] is not new. It is, in fact, man’s second oldest faith. Its promise was whispered in the first days of the Creation under the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil: ‘Ye shall be as gods.’ It is the great alternative faith of mankind. Like all great faiths, its force derives from a simple vision. Other ages have had great visions. They have always been different versions of the same vision: the vision of God and man’s relationship to God. The Communist vision is the vision of man without God. It is the vision of man’s mind displacing God as the creative intelligence of the world.” Most intellectuals will be unhappy with Carroll’s unblinking recognition of the evil of communism, but that is their problem. The book is dedicated “to the memory of the martyrs under communism, especially those whose names are known only to God.” Attention must be paid. We owe it to them, and to ourselves.
• Affable fellows who appreciate a good cigar and bourbon are usually on my list of good guys, but Michael Horton is so very obdurate in attacking the alleged heresies of Rome that he makes it difficult. Horton, who has a California-based organization called Christians United for Reformation (CURE), is in the forefront of those opposing “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” as a Protestant sell-out to the Whore of Babylon. Writing in the interesting new journal, Regeneration Quarterly, he ponders why so many evangelical Protestants are becoming Catholics. One reason, he says, is the state of evangelicalism. “Reared in fundamentalist and evangelical churches myself, I am deeply sensitive to the frustration over the naive individualism and subjectivism that many in the evangelical community have sensed. Corresponding to Troeltsch’s ‘sect-type’ of Protestantism, many of these churches are really not Protestant at all, but owe their view of the church more to American democratic (especially populist) sentiments. Many of us really believed that the history of the church began at Pentecost and picked up again with the ministry of Billy Graham. Other things happened in between, but we were not particularly linked to that history. At its worst, our consciousness began with our own spiritual autobiography, our own ‘testimony’ of conversion.” Then there are strong attractions on the other side of the Tiber: “In addition to seeming doctrinal certainty, Rome offers a sense of moral conviction, especially on ethical issues that affect public policy, such as abortion. Even marriage and the family are ‘sacramental’ in Roman Catholic teaching, an idea that no doubt appeals to many ‘family values’ evangelicals who cannot find a theology of the family in popular evangelicalism.” The answer, says Horton, is not to go to Rome but to rediscover the theology of such as Luther and Calvin. “The best way to stem the tide of young evangelicals moving over to Roman Catholicism, therefore, is not merely to attack Rome, but to offer a Protestant alternative that answers these questions.” Not, mind you, that Michael Horton is going soft on the importance of attacking Rome.
• Max Thurian died on August 15, a day before his seventy-sixth birthday. A founder of the Taize ecumenical community in France, he was a Reformed Church pastor who played a key role in the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches. Over more than forty years he was largely responsible for some of the most solid of ecumenical advances, including the Baptism, Eucharist, and Ministry document of 1982. His little book Marriage and Celibacy, which I read and reread in my first year of seminary, was formative of my life and ministry. In 1987 he was ordained a Roman Catholic priest. Along with innumerable others, I owe him. Rest in peace, Father Max.
• In this business, it’s try, try, and try again. In Lingua Franca, which styles itself “The Review of Academic Life,” Alan Wolfe of Boston University takes up the question of religion and higher education, with specific reference to a number of arguments published in FT. Wolfe says he likes to have religious students in his classes because “at least they have something in their backgrounds to which I can appeal that was not the subject of last night’s prime-time programming. Teaching classes on abortion or AIDS to students who simply cannot understand that there really are people who think about such issues in other than utilitarian ways is incredibly frustrating.” He thinks students should “develop an appreciation of and respect for religion.” “The question is how. Efforts to reintroduce faith into public universities—and into large private research universities—are not the way to go.” Referring to my exchange with Stanley Fish and my recent piece on the Christian university, Wolfe contends that the crucial question is that of tolerance. “One cannot stand outside a liberal institution and ask for admission without being prepared to extend to others the tolerance which one demands for oneself. If you believe, as Father Richard John Neuhaus does, that ‘a Christian university has as its premise the knowledge that all truth is one and all ways to truth are one because the Author and the End of truth is One,’ you will probably be uncomfortable in a secular university, and the university will probably be uncomfortable with you.” With that, Wolfe concludes that religion belongs in the private sphere while the public, including the public university, remains thoroughly secular, since we can be “certain only that the university is not the place for certainties.” Wolfe’s long essay would require a book for adequate response, but allow me a brief point or two. First, the statement he cites applies to a Christian university. It may not be his intention, but Wolfe’s argument would exclude any believing Christian, Jew, or Muslim from the secular university. His claim is that, if you believe what I said about the unity of truth, “you will probably be uncomfortable in a secular university, and the university will probably be uncomfortable with you.” Only atheists or, preferably, agnostics may apply. I will assume that Mr. Wolfe misspoke himself. More frustrating is his missing the entire point that belief in the unity of truth is at the very foundation of tolerance. One tolerates—the better word is respects—all honest quests for truth precisely because one is confident that all truth is ultimately in the service of the Author and End of truth. This, I would suggest, is a much firmer foundation for mutual respect, in the university and elsewhere, than Mr. Wolfe’s proposed agreement on the certainty that there are no certainties. Both logically and in the dismal experience of the contemporary academy, his proposed agreement replaces the question of truth with power games between conflicting prejudices and interests. That Alan Wolfe and so many others fail to understand that will no doubt keep some of us busy, trying and trying again.
• Continuum Books has just published the paperback of Jewish Perspectives on Christianity (367 pp., $24.95
), edited by Fritz Rothschild. It features selections from the writings of five twentieth-century Jewish writers who were early participants in, or precursors of, the current interfaith dialogue: Leo Baeck, Martin Buber, Franz Rosenzweig, Will Herberg, and Abraham Joshua Heschel. Our full-length review of the book (May 1991) pointed out that, in addition to the excellent editor’s introduction, “the collection as a whole has something of the feel of dialogue in that each of these Jewish thinkers is introduced in an essay written by a Christian theologian.” It also “has the virtue of bringing together in one volume some of the essential writings on the Jewish-Christian dialogue from an earlier era, without which current and future dialogue might easily become shallow and uninformed.” Five years later, that is even more the case.
• About the Dow Jones Industrial Average you know, but you may not be familiar with the Religion Index kept by George Gallup and his colleagues at the Princeton Religion Research Center. Measured by a range of factors including church attendance, confidence in organized religion and clergy, church membership figures, and the such, the Center’s Emerging Trends headlines “Religion Index Hits Ten-Year High.” If everyone loved God and neighbor, went to church, and rated the clergy as heroes, the index would be at 1,000. As it is, the index stands at 665, compared with last year’s 658 and 1993’s rating of 649. But the current level is still a long way from 1955’s all time high of 750. One may be permitted to wonder whether God follows the polls. “Your negatives are down today, Lord.” That improbability aside, the Princeton Center does provide a useful take on what is happening in American society.
• Walsingham in eastern England has long been a bastion of Anglo- Catholicism, with more than 100,000 people per year visiting the shrine of the Blessed Virgin there. It is administered by a College of Guardians, and several members of the college, including its chairman, have announced that they are becoming Roman Catholics. According to news reports, business will continue as usual since “the shrine’s original constitution, dating from 1931, apparently did not specify that guardians had to belong to the Church of England.” In fact, its original constitution, going back to the medieval Augustinian priory at Walsingham, assumed that they would be Roman Catholic.
• If you believe that the idea of state-sanctioned religion is dangerous, read on . . . and then act without delay.” That is a money-raising letter from B’nai B’rith International in Washington, D.C. I read on, although I was not sure which meaning of “sanctioned”—to put up with, to bless, to control, to coerce—was intended. It turns out that B’nai B’rith is alarmed that Congressman Henry Hyde’s proposed Religious Equality Amendment will “fundamentally destroy the First Amendment and the separation of church and state.” I’ve always been of the view that fundamentalist destructions are the very worst kind. Some comfort might be taken from the fact that the enemies of the restoration of religious freedom are being reduced to incoherence.
• “I come not to serve but to be served. Power is the name of the game.” As Jesus didn’t say. From Menomie, Wisconsin, Lucy Rudenborg sends a recent excitement of Clark Morphew, religion columnist for the Saint Paul Pioneer Press. He has come across a book by Catherine Kroeger, Study Bible for Women, put out by the very conservative Baker Books. Kroeger is the founder of Christians for Biblical Equality, and her book is chock full of all kinds of good stuff about inclusive language, goddesses, and gender empowerment. Morphew writes: “Over all of U.S. Christianity, women are claiming power as never before and entering into the all-boys clubs at the top of the ecclesiastical ladder. Some theological seminaries have a population of 50 percent women, and a few are closing in on 75 percent. When women form a critical mass in the more liberal denominations, men will be forced to relinquish some of the power.” And when women close in on 100 percent, and all the non-ordained men and women have left, women get to be completely in charge—of turning out the lights.
• Please note that David Elkind, professor of child studies at Tufts University, approves of what he is describing. “School and Family in the Postmodern World” (Phi Delta Kappan) notes that “Modernity celebrated reason and paid homage to the ideal of liberty and freedom for all individuals. Postmodernism venerates language, rather than thought, and honors human diversity as much as it does human individuality.” Progress marches on. “The family can be defined as a social system characterized by a kinship system and by certain sentiments, values, and perceptions.” (They talk funny in education schools.) He continues: “These components of the modern nuclear family reflected the fundamental beliefs of modernity. The postmodern family reflects the basic assumptions of postmodernity and thus can be described as ‘permeable.’” If I follow the argument, it seems that modern families are modern and postmodern families are postmodern. According to Mr. Elkind, the modern, pre- permeable family carried with it all kinds of baggage about what is “normal”—a man, a woman, childhood innocence, the need for rules, and so forth. The craziest thing about the modern family is that it assumed that children were incompetent, that they needed to be cared for. With the postmodern family, all that has changed. “Children, in turn, are now seen as competent: ready and able to deal with all of life’s vicissitudes. This new perception of children, however, did not appear because of some new and revolutionary finding about children. It emerged because postmodern parents need competent children. We need children who can deal with out-of-home child care from an early age, who can cope with divorce, and who will be left unfazed by seeing people murdered in the streets or behaving wildly on drugs. The media reflect this new image of child competence. The title of the movie Home Alone is a nice metaphor for the postmodern competent child who not only is able to manage quite well on his own but can even outwit some stupid adult skullduggery.” Obviously, the postmodern family needs the postmodern school. “Very simply, the schools in postmodern times have continued the historical trend of gradually assuming parental functions. In the modern era, when families moved from farm to city, schools took over vocational training and some health responsibilities, such as vaccinations and screening for hearing and visual defects. In addition, our schools today are providing much more in the way of child care, education for children with special needs, child support services, sex education, drug education, values education, and parent education than they did in the modern era.” Mr. Elkind is worried about today’s education “reformers.” He writes, “Education reform geared toward improving academic performance simply ignores the many new functions the schools have assumed over the past half century. If our students are doing less well academically, perhaps it is at least partly because our schools are devoting more of their resources to meeting the nonacademic needs of students.” Academic failure, we are invited to believe, is a small price to pay for all the other good things schools are doing. Mr. Elkind concludes, “In keeping with our families and our society, our schools are already postmodern. It is the reformers who need to be reformed.” It appears that Phi Delta Kappan is a magazine for people who have excelled in postmodern education.
• You probably did not know that Snapple is produced by the Ku Klux Klan, that Church’s Chicken franchise is part of a program to sterilize black men, and that doctors prescribe AZT to kill blacks with AIDS. None of these things are true, of course, but some blacks believe them, and John Stossel of 20/20 recently did a program on that. The reason such nonsense tales are believed, he suggested, is that blacks, because of their history of oppression, find it hard to distinguish between fiction and reality. The indomitable Dorothy Rabinowitz of the Wall Street Journal takes the program to task: “A more blatant piece of condescension would be hard to imagine. In the eyes of Mr. Stossel’s producers, evidently, such condescension is infinitely preferable to other dangers: the danger, say, that the piece might seem to suggest certain shortcomings—in the common sense and reasoning department—on the part of believers who continue to argue that the K [for Kosher] on Snapple stands for the Ku Klux Klan. The report, of course, suggests exactly such shortcomings, and cannot avoid doing so. Here is a story whose entire reason for being is to reveal the outrageousness of what all these black people believe against all reason and logic—people who are shown up, again and again, as beyond reason.” Mr. Stossel, no doubt, would say he is simply doing his job as a journalist, but Rabinowitz isn’t buying: “It is dramatic television, all right—the kind, as is usually the case with the delicate issue of race, that has everyone involved in a tizzy of tip-toeing. Less of this would have been required, of course, if the 20/20 crew had expended a few minutes interviewing one or two of the vast numbers of blacks to be found everywhere who can in fact distinguish between fiction and reality, who would have no trouble dismissing the Snapple stories, chicken poisoning, and such as rubbish. But they, of course, would have undermined the big story advertised here—that these fictions are all the rage in black America.”
• “Everything goes better with Jesus.” I’m ambivalent about that echo of the Coca-Cola hype, even though there is impressive survey research evidence that committed Christians have better marriages, happier children, more vibrant sex lives, and much else. But there is that troubling business about taking up the cross, and so forth. So I almost welcomed the Washington Post story reporting that alcoholics in treatment centers who said that someone was praying for them had a lower recovery rate than others. Psychiatrist Scott Walker opined that that may be because family members were doing the praying and the alcoholics resented family members trying to “control their lives through prayer.” That resentment, he suggested, could have “blocked” the positive power of prayer. I’m thinking about it.
• The decline of oldline Protestantism continues apace. This from Religion Watch: “The largest decline in mainline Protestant membership last year was in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), according to the 1996 Yearbook of American & Canadian Churches. The church lost 98,630 members, a 2.6 percent decline. The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), lost 20,373 members (2.13 percent), while the United Church of Christ lost 28,868 members (1.89 percent). The Assemblies of God grew by 2.3 percent, the Southern Baptist Convention was up 1.4 percent, the Mormons up 2.1 percent, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses grew by 2.1 percent. But even denominations with declining members showed a growth in contributions. The Presbyterians had a 4.8 percent increase, to a total of $2.1 billion, while the Disciples of Christ showed a 3.3 percent rise, to $385.5 million.” It’s worth noting that the increase in giving is overwhelmingly at the local level, as support for national offices and programs continues to decline. As for the growth of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, they’ve been claiming rapid growth since their beginning early in the century but always remain under one million. Similarly, the percentage of Mormon growth starts from a relatively small base of 4.5 million. It is frequently reported that the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, or even Islam “is the fastest growing religious group in the country.” That is far from being the case. Now with 60 million members in the U.S., the Roman Catholic Church grows most rapidly through population increase, immigration (mainly Hispanic), and more than 200,000 adult converts received each year. We are cautioned that numbers are not what matters and there’s truth in that, but numbers represent people and people matter mightily. The striking thing about statistics on religion in the U.S. is the continuity, and the most striking continuity of the last quarter century is the steady decline of oldline Protestantism joined to the steady increase of Catholicism and evangelical Protestantism. So the gist of this year’s report is, once again, that nothing has changed. You may well wonder whether you really needed to know that.
• The building of a giant ferris wheel on London’s South Bank has been proposed to mark the millennium. The Daily Telegraph and many others are underwhelmed. The editors opine, “The millennium, after all, will not be just an excuse for a huge party. It will mark the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity.” Why not, they ask, “a millennial object of wonder” such as a huge statue of Christ, similar to the statues in Lisbon and Rio de Janeiro. “That, rather than a wheel, is the right way to mark the start of Anno Domini 2000.” Have those people never heard of the separation of church and state?
• There was a time when Southern Baptists would have been scandalized by one of their number raising a toast to the Pope. (With soda pop, of course.) And for some Baptists that time is not yet past. Writing in the Southern Baptist publication, Light, Dr. R. Albert Mohler, however, offers an appreciative account of the encyclical on the Gospel of Life (Evangelium Vitae). Mohler is president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and one of the most influential voices in the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant association. “In decades past,” says Mohler, “evangelicals would have taken scant notice of a papal encyclical. Now, the crisis of our culture has produced an altered environment. Evangelicals—holding to the sanctity to life—find the Pope making many arguments heard in evangelical circles, even as liberal Protestantism shouts the chorus of moral relativism.” He continues: “Evangelium Vitae is, by any measure, a brave and breathtakingly honest statement of moral conviction. In passages confronting the culture of death, the Pope is brilliant, and yet restrained. He is not given to rhetorical excess. His words are carefully measured and well-aimed.” Evangelicals, says Mohler, have much to learn about “the powerful character of a sustained moral argument” and also about how Christians should position themselves in our kind of culture. “Furthermore, evangelicals should pay close heed to the Pope’s condemnation of the culture of death. American evangelicals are too easily seduced by culture, and our ranks are deeply infected with a radical individualism which is foreign to the New Testament and hostile to the genuine gospel.” Even many who are strongly pro-life do not see the connection with contraception, says Mohler. He suggests it is time for some careful second thoughts on that question, too. “Without question, many evangelicals will quickly reject the Pope’s customary rejection of contraception. The Pope’s argument is, once again, based upon natural law and Catholic tradition. Evangelicals quickly, and correctly, assert that contraception is not addressed as such in Scripture. But this assertion is not sufficient. Evangelicals should be concerned with the ‘contraceptive mentality’ which is so intricately linked to radical individualism and so hostile to the very existence of children.” Dr. Mohler emphasizes that there is much on which evangelicals and Catholics disagree. “We should be candid in understanding that we find ourselves engaged as awkward allies in this culture.” Awkward allies indeed, but as a rapidly growing number of evangelicals and Catholics are coming to realize, the new and promising thing is that the accent is on “allies.”
• There was this bill in Congress to end U.S. funding for the parallel (read puppet) churches of the Chinese regime. Why we were funding them to begin with is a bit of a puzzle. Apparently the separation of church and state is suspended in the case of Communist-sponsored religion. In any event, the Justice and Peace curia of the U.S. Catholic Conference opposed the bill. Nina Shea of Freedom House, an organization that takes a different view on questions of religious freedom, summarizes the Congressional testimony of the USCC’s Tom Quigley: “Quigley argues that (1) the Communist-controlled-and-created Patriotic Catholic Association does not have the purpose of supplanting the Roman Catholic Church because it hasn’t succeeded; (2) the government does not refuse to permit ordination of bishops and priests, since some ‘quietly and secretly’ get ordained anyhow; and (3) the USCC favors funding the Communist Catholic association because the Pope seeks reconciliation and harmony among all Chinese Catholics.” Her summary is, we regret to say, accurate. The last point in Mr. Quigley’s testimony is also accurate. The Pope does seek reconciliation and harmony among all Catholics in China, as he certainly should. We are confident he would agree, however, that that goal is hardly advanced by U.S. support for those who are repressing, persecuting, and jailing Catholics.
• I don’t know what’s happening over there, but the last couple of months the New Yorker has been running some rather impressive articles, including Clive James’ critique of Daniel Goldhagen’s revisionist history of the Holocaust and, of all things, a generally sympathetic piece by Jeffrey Rosen on Justice Clarence Thomas. As Glenn Loury has argued in these pages, the choice for black thinkers is between W. E. B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, and a small but growing number of blacks are deciding that Washington was right after all. Rosen describes a speech-a-down-home black preachment, to be more precise—Justice Thomas delivered at Tuskegee University. “The real reason I’m here,” said Thomas, “is the dream that Booker T. had for all of us.” Then he got to business: “Many of you are the first in your family to go to college. I was there. Some of you have grown up in rural areas. I was there. Some of you were raised by one or neither parent. I was there. Some of you have barely or never seen your fathers. I was there. Some of you only have one pair of shoes. I was there. Some of you will be heavily in debt when you leave college. (The students cheer.) I finished paying my student loans two years ago. So I was there. Some of you may be frustrated. Some of you may be angry. Some of you may be confused. I was there. . . . I’m coming back today on a mission of love. I am no better than you-all. I’m no smarter than you-all. I’m no more talented than you-all. I’ve never been Number 1 in my class. I’m scared to death of aerospace, engineering, and physics. . . . I’m no brighter than you-all, and, except for being older, I’m no different.” Justice Thomas’ passion is against self-pity and playing the victim card. Rosen continues: “Blaming other people for your own troubles is disempowering, Thomas exhorted. ‘Yes, it is!’ a student called out. You have power when you can wake up and say ‘I am in control of what I do today.’ Thomas declared. ‘Uh-huh!’ the students responded. ‘A fellow black student once complained to me when I was in college that the Man wasn’t letting him get good grades. You know, this Man is all over the place. I’ve never seen him. He’s like the bogeyman or something. But the Man wasn’t standing between him and that book; laziness was standing between him and that book.’ Swaying and preaching, Thomas worked up to his conclusion. ‘Do you want your success as badly as Booker T. Washington wanted his? . . . Do you want your success as bad as Booker T. Washington wanted your success? Did he care more for you than you care for yourself? . . . I am proof positive. You think for yourself, some people will be upset. Some people resent free thought among blacks. It’s free for everybody else, but not for blacks. But I tell you-all you are not truly free until you . . . can say, I’ll make up my own mind on that, thank you.’”
• Gore Vidal is in high form as he unloads a lifetime of suppressed resentment in a five-page rant against John Updike. Writing in the Times Literary Supplement, Vidal “reviews” Updike’s most recent novel (In the Beauty of the Lilies), complaining that Updike “has taken to heart every far-out far-right piety currently being fed us.” Vidal is most particularly upset that Updike did not join the herd of independent minds in protesting the war in Vietnam. His current obsession, however, is with America’s police state, which, at the behest of its corporate masters, is waging “an ever more brutal and malign” war of the few against the many. If one did not know about Vidal’s Italian villa, one might think this screed issued from an armed holdout in Montana. In the far-out far-right populist mode that is his new leftism, Vidal tones down his usual tirades against the “Sky-god religion” that he has in the past blamed for America’s innumerable crimes against humanity. This most self-consciously elitist of revolutionary rabblers may yet throw in his lot with the rabble, religion and all. When revolution is afoot, you can’t be choosy about your allies.
• We have carried a number of forceful articles on euthanasia and physician-assisted suicide (PAS), and will be doing more as the arguments pro and con take new twists and turns. Students of the subject will not want to miss a eighty-three-page discussion of the subject, which includes a survey of almost all the pertinent literature to date, by Daniel Callahan and Margot White in the University of Richmond Law Review (January 1996). “The Legalization of Physician-Assisted Suicide: Creating a Regulatory Potemkin Village” criticizes, inter alia, the familiar claim that doctors are already helping people to kill themselves and legalizing the practice would bring it under protective safeguards. Callahan and White write, “We liken the effort to devise suitable legal standards to that of erecting Potemkin villages, an elaborate regulatory facade concealing a poverty of potential for actual enforcement. . . . If it is truly the case that the present statutes forbidding euthanasia and PAS are widely ignored by physicians, why should we expect new statutes to be taken with greater moral and legal seriousness? There is no available survey or other evidence to indicate that new laws will bring any increased commitment to following the law.” The allegedly common practice of PAS is difficult to detect and prosecute, even if authorities were inclined to do so. “The perfect formulation for combining legal obfuscation and patient seduction is when a doctor says something like the following to a patient: ‘I perfectly understand how much you would like to be relieved of your terrible pain and suffering, which seems so meaningless. Like other patients of mine, you may have considered suicide as a peaceful way out. I am sorry I cannot help you if you have had such thoughts. But I want to warn you that if you take more than twenty of the pills I have been prescribing to help you with your pain, you are going to die quietly and quickly in your sleep. So please be careful, doing what you know is best.’” Callahan and White are up-front in saying that they are morally opposed to PAS, even if it could be effectively regulated. But their point, very convincingly argued, is that it cannot be effectively regulated. As in the Netherlands, once PAS is immune from criminal sanction, it will necessarily bring with it euthanasia, including the killing of those who have not indicated a desire to die. It seems so obvious that it should not be necessary to point out that there are an awful lot of people who would like an awful lot of people out of the way. They should not be accommodated by the erection of Potemkin villages of regulation that regulate nothing.
• In Cambridge, Massachusetts, this past April a number of Protestant leaders, mainly from conservative Presbyterian churches, drew up “The Cambridge Declaration.” It is a searing indictment of the theological vacuity of contemporary evangelicalism and a ringing reaffirmation of the four “solas” of the Reformation: sola scriptura, solus Christus, sola gratia, and sola fide—with soli deo gloria thrown in for good measure. (Some Catholics might claim an Ignatian copyright on the last.) The conveners of the Cambridge meeting are vocal critics of the initiative known as “Evangelicals and Catholics Together” (ECT), and, although that initiative is not mentioned explicitly, the critics declare, “We also earnestly call back erring professing evangelicals who have deviated from God’s Word,” including those “who claim that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are one in Jesus Christ even where the biblical doctrine of justification is not believed.” Timothy George, Dean of Beeson Divinity School in Alabama, was not part of the Cambridge project but offers a generally sympathetic comment on it in Christianity Today. With respect to the theological engagement urged by ECT, George gently but clearly distances himself: “A reaffirmation of all five Reformation solae is also a good basis for continuing serious conversation between evangelicals and Roman Catholics. For all the brouhaha over the Evangelicals and Catholics initiative of 1994, the fact remains that evangelicals have more in common with Catholic Christians who affirm the Trinitarian and Christological dogmas of the early church than they do with certain liberal Protestants who aren’t sure whether Jesus was born of a virgin, walked on the water, or rose from the dead. True enough, the doctrinal chasm that separates confessing evangelicals and believing Catholics is deep and wide. No easy-going ecumenism should be allowed to sweep aside these differences including the nonnegotiable doctrine of justification by faith alone. But in the sixteenth century, Calvin, Cranmer, and Bucer, among others, engaged Roman Catholic theologians on this and other important doctrinal issues. Evangelicals need not fear the same kind of honest exchange today.”
• On this side of the pond, no major paper would dare to say it. Worse, none would be tempted to say it. “The Seed of the Church” is an editorial in the Daily Telegraph that reflects the less inhibited journalistic world of our British cousins. We publish it in the interest of multicultural understanding. “Lock up your sons, Zimbabwe. The World Council of Churches is coming to town. Its officials have secured agreement that homosexuals attending its assembly in Harare in 1998 will be allowed to indulge their desires without fear of prosecution. Homosexual acts are banned in the African nation, and punishable by twelve months in prison. President Mugabe regards homosexuals as ‘worse than dogs and pigs.’ Few issues could be better calculated to enrage council delegates for whom sodomy, which in traditional Christian teaching is a sin ‘which cries to Heaven for vengeance,’ is seen as a God-given right. Fearing that the assembly might take itself and its hard currency elsewhere, Zimbabwe has agreed to a memorandum of understanding relaxing the ban. Several thoughts arise, not the least of which is that the council would almost certainly, in other circumstances, disapprove of the ‘cultural imperialism’ of a demand that a third-world country change its laws to suit outsiders. Couldn’t these licentious clergymen manage to sleep alone for a week, if only in deference to local customs? After a hard day’s debate on poverty, couldn’t they practice a bit of chastity in the evenings? In the Acts of the Apostles and other records of the Early Church, one reads of the many trials and tribulations which the first Christians underwent as they traveled to preach the faith. St. Stephen was stoned to death. St. Peter was crucified upside-down. Paul and Silas were imprisoned. It seems unlikely that they died so that left-wing clergymen could bed one another in African hotels. But if these people insist on doing so, we feel that Mr. Mugabe should stick to his beliefs as they propose to stick to theirs, and may the best man win.”
• Lively discussions continue over Ex Corde Ecclesiae, the Vatican document urging that Catholic institutions of higher education should be, well, more Catholic. Brother Dietrich Reinhart, president of St. John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota, joins the discussion with this contribution: “These are colleges in the Catholic tradition, not Catholic universities or colleges.” Speaking of his own school, he says, “There is a greater feeling of calmness here because we are not measuring each other orthodoxically.” The calmness of some alumni was ruffled by the distribution of The Indifferent, a newspaper of attempted parody and financed by mandatory student fees. The paper features photos of naked students in erotic gambol, along with classifieds offering and soliciting sexual excitements straight and gay and whatever may be in between. Never mind about measuring “orthodoxically.” If The Indifferent is the measure of what it means to be “in the Catholic tradition,” look for a big increase in the juvenile ranks of Catholic traditionalists. Be it noted that, in response to interest expressed in goings on at St. Johns, Brother Dietrich has said, “I was disgusted by the ‘humor issue’ of our student newspaper.” Also, his remarks on the difference between being a Catholic university and being a university in the Catholic tradition, he says, were “wrenched out of context.”
• So here’s this discussion of a new recording of a Mass composed by Louis Spohr. The reviewer, writing in Crisis, likes it very much. “The highly original Angus Dei could come from 1921 rather than 1821. Despite its intricacy, it has great clarity and transparency of texture.” After so much aging, one can imagine the clarity and transparency, but wouldn’t it be awfully tough? But Angus Dei is without doubt highly original.
• Cistercian monks live in enclosed communities and their reading matter is limited. But, being the prior of the community, this reader allows himself to indulge a worldly taste for FT. He writes in response to our little comment on Father Richard P. McBrien (“Butts Not to be Rebutted,” June/July), who had said that he holds himself answerable only to “real theologians”: “Has it occurred to you to apply Father McBrien’s criteria for ‘real theologians’ to the Holy Father? The Pope has a Roman ‘theological doctorate,’ like Father McBrien himself. As Bishop of Rome and Supreme Pastor his ‘teaching position’ extends to the Universal Church, and is by any standard more impressive even than the theological faculty of Notre Dame. His ‘publications record,’ what with his encyclicals, apostolic letters and exhortations, and I know not what else, is ahead of anyone else I can think of. Even ahead of Father McBrien with his Catholicism and his little syndicated column. Father McBrien’s criteria clearly make Pope John Paul II the most real of all real theologians. Perhaps you will enjoy looking at the matter from this point of view.” Thanks to you, Father Prior, I already have.
• I expect that few of our readers subscribe to Mother Jones, but one who does sends along this issue with a big puff piece on the Interfaith Alliance. The plug reads: “Meet some religious leaders, like Bill Clinton’s pastor [J. Philip Wogaman], who are working to restore mercy, compassion, and justice to our national vocabulary. And getting smeared by the Christian right for doing so.” More particularly, they are smeared by that infamous Institute on Religion and Democracy (IRD) which, Mother Jones notes, was started by those notorious right-wingers, Father Richard John Neuhaus and Michael Novak. The Rev. Wogaman, who is a nice if desperately wrongheaded fellow, has become the object of fearful persecution. The expose asserts, “After J. Philip Wogaman became Clinton’s pastor, his work was pored over by a former CIA agent.” Why “former”? One could make the case that intelligence and security types have a legitimate interest in a person who might exercise influence on the President of the United States, although whether the interest is compelling enough to compel someone to pore over the writings of Philip Wogaman seems doubtful. It was probably just a retired agent with time on his hands, but Mother Jones has a sharp eye for the sinister. One is always amused when also the more reputable leftist press, such as the New York Times, reports that a government agency “kept a file” on this person or that. It adds the panache of persecution. After my youthful days on the left, I requested my FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act and got a big thick packet of materials, including news clippings, reports on my travels, and transcripts of speeches given. Since I didn’t keep clippings or a diary at the time, I was grateful for the FBI help. It might come in useful if I ever get around to writing memoirs. To the best of my knowledge, however, no agent was assigned the onerous task of poring over all I have written. One would think that J. Philip Wogaman, who has mainly published rather dry disquisitions on the ethical superiority of socialism, would be grateful for a reader. There is no pleasing some people. Pay attention or don’t pay attention, either way those who strive “to restore mercy, compassion, and justice to our national vocabulary” are prepared to pay the price for their heroic devotion. Being lionized by Mother Jones is small compensation for having to bear up under the disapproval of IRD and a retired CIA agent. Theirs is not an easy lot. But they can take comfort in the knowledge that, to paraphrase Tertullian, the ink about their martyrs is the lifeblood of the Interfaith Alliance.
• “This is the two hundredth commencement of the nation’s oldest Presbyterian seminary, and a goal was to show how far it had moved from its white, male, Scottish heritage, he said. The graduating class of sixty-three includes eight black students, double the number of any previous commencement.” The “he” alluded to by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is Samuel Calian, president of the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The seminary has indeed come a long way, and having eight black graduates is the least of it. The commencement speaker was Delores Williams, Paul Tillich Professor of Theology and Culture at Union Theological Seminary in New York. Mainly culture, it seems. She resoundingly endorsed the ordination of sexually active gays and lesbians. “If God has called gay and lesbian women, God has called them.” It’s hard to argue with that, but the question is who discerns the call to ministry. Williams’ answer: “No church body has the authority to counteract God’s authority.” So along come folk who say God has called them to ministry but they don’t want to go to seminary. No church body has the authority to counteract God’s authority? It might improve the quality of the ministry, but we expect seminaries would protest vigorously. They may have abandoned their white, male, Scottish heritage, but they do have some standards left.
• Hilary Rosen, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, complains, “I resent the fact they are going to play these records at the press conference and give the impression the record companies believe this music is appropriate for all audiences and all environments.” She is talking about Bill Bennett, Senators Joseph Lieberman and Sam Nunn, and C. DeLores Tucker of the National Political Congress of Black Women, who have joined in launching a new protest against gangsta rap and related degradations. The recordings that Ms. Rosen thinks are appropriate for only some audiences and some environments include a Sony label by the group Cannibal Corpse: “She was so beautiful I had to kill her. Tied her up, taped her mouth shut. Couldn’t scream, raped violently. Rope tight, around her throat. Her body twitches as she chokes.” Another song by the same group: “My mouth drools as I slice your perineum, my body smeared with the guts I’ve extracted.” Actually, that’s tame stuff compared with a big packet of lyrics sent over by Bennett’s organization, Empower America. There is page after page of songs peddled by Time Warner, Sony, PolyGram, Thorn EMI, and other corporations. One is a more graphic than you can imagine musical celebration of having sex with the corpses of dead children; dozens of others employ the f-word as verb, noun, adjective, and adverb, while enjoining “niggahs” to kill whoever gets in their way. Especially prominent are the joys of rape and beating up women in general. As Ms. Rosen, that model of corporate responsibility, says, such things are not “appropriate for all audiences and all environments.” They are very carefully designed for children. As for Mr. Bennett and his friends, she says they are “self-appointed guardians imposing their taste on all Americans. If they don’t like it, don’t buy it.” Freedom of filth. It’s the American Way.
• “Legal observers have called the Wilentz court one of the best state high courts in the country.” That’s from the New York Times’ obituary on Robert Nathan Wilentz, former Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court. The laudation notes that Wilentz “tried to streamline the state courts, make them more accessible, and use them to promote his vision of social progress and equality” (emphasis added). Among many other things, Wilentz successfully led the fight to compel wealthy suburbs to abandon zoning laws that got in the way of their accepting their “fair share” of poor people in New Jersey. Then this: “Two years after becoming Chief Justice, Justice Wilentz decreed that nonlawyers should have places on most court-related committees. He thought that many people felt isolated from the courts.” So he really believed in democracy after all, making sure that at least some of the people felt that they had a part in the judicial governance of the state.
• There has been a flurry of news stories about a revival of the old alliance between labor unions and liberal churches, and the National Council of Churches (NCC) is at the heart of the effort. Not at all helpful is the NCC’s problem with its own little union, the Association of Ecumenical Employees. The NCC, which in the last decade has become an institutional shadow of its former self, is still downsizing and “outsourcing” (contracting with outsiders for work formerly done by employees), and rather abruptly fired a number of union members. Diane Bratcher works with the NCC “corporate responsibility” unit, which has the portfolio of flaying wicked capitalists. But she is also a union member. She protests that the dismissed NCC employees were forced to leave the day they were notified, given no time to say good-bye to their friends, and blocked from reentering the building. “This is not only not Christian,” she declares, “it wasn’t even good standard corporate behavior. Big corporations don’t treat their people this way. It was really shabby.” It seems the office of corporate responsibility has some work closer to home.
• The Santa Clara Lectures, sponsored by Santa Clara University in—wouldn’t you know it?—Santa Clara, California, is an institution celebrating notable Catholic dissidents. This year’s lecturer was Mary Jo Weaver, who collaborated with Scott Appleby in producing Being Right, a book on Catholic conservatives (see FT review, June/July). During that project, Weaver, who is professor of religious studies at Indiana University, presented herself as the dispassionate scholar. She is obviously relieved to have that pretense behind her. She begins her lecture by imagining an international portrait gallery of “fundamentalists” that includes Bob Jones, Jerry Falwell, Middle Eastern terrorists, Theravada Buddhists in Sri Lanka, and John Paul II. So you can see where Ms. Weaver is going. During the book project, funded by the Lilly Endowment, she had to fake a measure of respect for those awful conservatives. But now: “Who are these ‘Catholics in good standing,’ or, as I prefer to call them, right-wing Catholics?” Well, it turns out that they’re right-wingers and not really Catholics at all. “I speak as a liberal feminist,” says Weaver, “but I was not reared to be one.” It seems she grew up in a home that was recognizably Catholic, but then went off to a university filled with secular humanists. In the language of her benighted past, she says she might have described that as, heh, heh, “a near occasion of sin.” But she didn’t lose her faith or stop going to church. “I did learn to keep my religion to myself, which was an implicit recognition that religious belief was a private matter, usually not interesting to others.” Right-and left-wing Catholics, she says, live in parallel universes that will never meet. “A traveler can get from one to the other, but only once in his or her lifetime.” Meaning, as her lecture makes clear, that she has made her change and is no longer open to alternative views. She has changed her mind about one thing, though. “Even though I knew that the Catholic Church was the most entrenched antifeminist institution in the Western world, I thought it could be different. I did not change my mind on this until Being Right.” The Church is beyond hope. Dialogue with those who disagree with her is impossible “because scholars begin with skepticism and ideologues start from first principles.” The scholarly Professor Weaver adds, “And, finally, that’s what’s wrong with being right. It avoids dialogue with outsiders in order to protect itself from contamination.” She is obviously well protected. She concludes with the thought that the big questions facing American Catholicism will have to be answered by a generation that “never had the luxury, or the burden, of being right.” One would like to think that neither Dr. Appleby nor the Lilly Endowment knew that, in Mary Jo Weaver, they were taking on a collaborator who was convinced of the futility of the project that produced Being Right. One would like to think that.
• “One of the most reprehensible organizations within the law.” That’s how Bill Bennett described the National Educational Association in a Jim Lehrer News Hour interview where the former and present secretary of education, Richard Riley, debated parental choice. President Clinton, who Bennett says is entirely “captive” to the NEA, is adamantly opposed to school choice except within the existing government school system. The interview also included this: “BENNETT: States can very well provide for this free education by providing an opportunity for parents through scholarships, to let parents get the money directly and choose whatever school they want. Again, the difficulty here is that the Clintons come to Washington D.C., they are given the choice of any public school in Washington, D.C., public school choice, which we’ve just heard lauded, but not one school, public school in Washington, D.C., was good enough for their daughter. That was their judgment, so they enrolled her in a private school, but that same choice is denied to the thousands, hundreds of thousands of parents in Washington, D.C. RILEY: Well, of course, when the Clintons were in Arkansas, Chelsea went to the public school and got along there and loved it. When she came here, it’s a whole different deal with the President of the United States and their daughter. They’ve got a perfect right and an obligation to send her where they think that they ought to send her. The President’s daughter is totally different from all other children. BENNETT: Most people think their daughters are pretty special and in terms—I understand the security considerations—but these have been dealt with before with other Presidents’ children. The question is, the issue is, do we get real educational opportunity in this country or not, do we say to the children of Washington, D.C., and their parents, you just go to these schools whether they’re good or bad.”
• Why do they keep doing it and then deny that they do it? The “it” in question is the suggestion that there is a moral equivalence between abortion and a host of other justice issues. This is Mr. John Carr, secretary of the U.S. Catholic Bishops Department of Social Development and World Peace, addressing a political responsibility workshop at College of St. Elizabeth in New Jersey. He allows that voting on the basis of a single issue is a legitimate option but “not the only legitimate option.” He notes that in the past people have voted on the single issue of civil rights, the Vietnam war, or support for labor unions. Abortion is a “fundamental human rights issue,” he said, but “we have a culture that is not only antagonistic to the unborn child but to the poor child.” Well yes, but four thousand children are not being legally killed each day in the U.S. because they are poor. The report in Catholic Trends, a publication of the bishops conference, continues: “What the church tries to do, Carr said, ‘is educate people so that they may take an informed conscience to the poll.’” What the Catholic Church, although apparently not Mr. Carr’s office, actually does is inform consciences with the authoritative teaching that abortion is an unspeakable crime and that it is morally impermissible to support or vote for the specious “right” to kill unborn children. It seems that Evangelium Vitae is not required reading in some bureaus of the bishops conference.
• Former Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in an interview with American Medical News: “I believe that Mr. Clinton was misled by his medical advisors on what is fact and what is fiction in reference to late-term abortions. Because in no way can I twist my mind to see that the late-term abortions as described—you know, partial birth, and then destruction of the unborn child before the head is born—is a medical necessity for the mother. It certainly can’t be a necessity for the baby.” Dr. Koop is charitable in saying President Clinton was misled. Much more likely in our view is that he knows the medical facts very well, but is the complete captive of pro-abortion extremists who won’t give an inch on the dogma that abortion should be permissible for any reason at any time for nine months of pregnancy, even while the baby is in the process of being born. Dr. Koop’s testimony on the medical facts, and the near unanimous testimony of other authorities, is welcome, but nothing should be permitted to obscure the fact of moral and political responsibility for Clinton’s veto of the ban on partial-birth abortion.
• The Welsh wing of Anglicanism will soon be voting on ordaining women. During a service in Bangor Cathedral, Gwynedd, Bishop Richard Holloway declared that opponents of the change are “miserable buggers” and the “meanest-minded sods you can imagine,” giving further indication that this question is unraveling that famous Anglican reserve.
• So it started out with that little comment on plagiarism, called “He Who Steals My Words . . .”. This prompted a rash of letters, including one complaining that I didn’t attribute the title to Shakespeare. In an unwonted moment of pique I retorted in this space that anyone who didn’t immediately recognize Shakespeare as the source shouldn’t be reading FT. Well, that did it. It seems a whole lot of people didn’t recognize it, and asked—with varying degrees of politeness—whether I was telling them to cancel their subscriptions. No, no, no. I have checked with some bright folk who think it eminently understandable that equally bright folk might not immediately recognize the allusion. So I withdraw my smart aleck retort—unequivocally and abjectly. And solemnly resolve, for the thousandth time at least, never to be out of sorts again.
• All our local newspapers and magazines carry classified ads. I have to confess I don’t spend a lot of time reading them. In fact—not having had to look for an apartment and being happy with my current job— I haven’t read them in years, and they seem to have developed a set of conventional abbreviations I can’t easily decipher. My friends tell me that “SF needs RM, SF, N/S, N/P, 2bed” obviously means that a single female wants to split the rent on a two-bedroom apartment with another single female who doesn’t smoke and has no pets. But most of the time, I have the feeling I really don’t want to know what the abbreviations stand for. The idea of classified ads, however, is something we’ve been reflecting on here at FT. With their display of the entrepreneurial spirit of capitalism on a very human scale and their ability to let local residents communicate with one another, classified ads may be the last thing left in most of our local papers that still shows the reach of community. Or it may be even be the other way around: what we read in common is one of the ways in which community gets defined. When I meet readers of FT I’m often impressed by the closeness they tell me they feel for other readers and their sense of belonging to a distinctive world of discourse. Thinking about these things has lead us to decide to carry classifieds in FT. There are services, jobs, books, and announcements that our readers may wish each other to hear about, and we’ve decided to give some space in the magazine for that, beginning in the January issue. If you’re interested in placing an ad, please call our advertising department at (815) 398-8569. One note: we reserve the right to refuse advertisements and, if we can’t understand the abbreviations, we probably will.
• Chris Slattery is an indefatigable champion of the pro-life cause in the New York region and a benefit dinner is planned for his Expectant Mother Care program which has over the years helped innumerable women and their children. Judith Brown of the American Life League is the featured speaker, and I will have a few words as well. The date is Nov. 21 at the Union League Club in New York, and tickets are $25
0. For reservations or information, contact Chris at (212) 635-3664 or 210 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010. If you can’t make the dinner, contributions are welcomed-and needed.
• Even grandchildren of a certain age and interest might be included on your list of people to whom we will send a sample issue of FT.
Sources: Pope John Paul II on Africa, cited by George Weigel, Pilot, April 5, 1996. On Lutheran World Federation and the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), Touchstone, Winter 1996. Garry Wills on Hillary Clinton, originally in New York Review of Books, quoted in New Republic, February 5, 1996. Michael Horton criticisms of RC Church, Regeneration Quarterly, Winter 1996. Alan Wolfe on religion and higher education, Lingua Franca, April 1996. Religion index in Emerging Trends, March 1996. On shrine at Walsingham, England, Ecumenical News International, April 12, 1996. Clark Morphew on women and religion, Saint Paul Pioneer Press, April 20, 1996. David Elkind on modern and postmodern families, Phi Delta Kappan, September 1995. Dorothy Rabinowitz on TV news magazine 20/20 in Wall Street Journal, April 29, 1996. Dr. Scott Walker quoted in Religion Watch, May 1996. On oldline Protestant decline, Religion Watch, May 1996. On millennial ferris wheel, Daily Telegraph, April 18, 1996. Dr. R. Albert Mohler on Pope John Paul II, Light, March-April 1996. Nina Shea on Chinese churches, Freedom House memo to various Catholic writers, May 14, 1996. New Yorker article on Justice Clarence Thomas, April 29 and May 6, 1996. Gore Vidal on John Updike, Times Literary Supplement, April 26, 1996. Brother Dietrich Reinhart on “colleges in the Catholic tradition,” The Record, May 2, 1996. Review of Louis Spohr’s Mass, Crisis, June 1996. On the Rev. Philip Wogaman, Mother Jones, May/June 1996. Dolores Williams quoted in Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, May 22, 1996. Gangsta rap lyrics and Recording Industry Association president quoted in press release from Empower America, June 6, 1996. Obituary of former New Jersey Chief Justice Robert N. Wilentz, New York Times, July 24, 1996. On downsizing at the National Council of Churches, Ecumenical News International, August 21, 1996. Mary Jo Weaver lecture, copy of text available from Santa Clara University. On moral equivalence between abortion and other justice issues, Catholic Trends, August 24, 1996. C. Everett Koop interview in American Medical News, August 1996. Bishop Richard Holloway on opponents of women’s ordination, Christian Challenge, May 1996.