Really Cares About Christian Unity? (January) , Bruce
D. Marshall holds up the Jansenists as models of fidelity
both to truth as they saw it and to unity, since they never,
for their part, broke communion with Rome, even as they
denounced doctrinal decrees such as the bull Unigenitus
on the basis of Scripture and St. Augustine.
Is it of any significance that a similar attitude animated the late Archbishop
Marcel Lefebvre? And that it was Vatican IIs ecumenism itself which he came
to perceive as an error against the unity of the true Church? At any rate, while
denouncing the errors of Vatican II on the basis of tradition and infallible
acts of the magisterium, Lefebvre continued to name the Pope in the canon of
the Mass, like the Jansenists, even after John Paul II declared his episcopal
consecrations schismatic, consecrations Lefebvre conferred not in denial of
papal jurisdiction per se, but due to a state of necessity.
When Professor Marshall speaks of the risen Christ being absent from his Church,
but in such a way that the Church somehow perdures, his ecclesiology coincides
with the thesis of another traditionalist, M.“L. Guerard des Lauriers, O.P.
(d. 1988). Des Lauriers found certain Vatican II teachings in contradiction
with the previous infallible magisterium of the Church. Studying the abundant
theology of loss of papal office through heresy (see Robert Bellarmine for instance),
he concluded that Paul VI must have lost his authority from Christ to teach
and govern, since a pope would have been protected from promulgating such errors.
But just as Prof. Marshall thinks the Church somehow perdures even though Christ
has abandoned her, Guerard des Lauriers thought the papacy perdures materialiter
while lacking the forma which is Christ in his giving of authority; regular
elections provide a human and historical (material) continuity that will be
revivified when in the future a pope shall be elected who will not teach the
errors of Vatican II. In the meantime, the Church will perdure without actual
papal authority, as when a pope has died.
God, the risen Christ, and the Holy Spirit abandoning the Church”ideas such
as these were applied to the popes of Rome by the Byzantine sedevacantist
cited (on Christian funerals) in the Catechism of the Catholic Church ,
St. Symeon of Thessalonika. The Savior had abandoned the heretical popes according
to this monk“bishop, who wrote, Let [the Latins] only show that the pope perseveres
in the faith of Peter . . . and we will obey him not only as Peter, but as if
he were the Savior himself. But if he is not the inheritor of the faith of the
saints, then he will not be the inheritor of the Chair of Peter either.
Prof. Marshall pleads for divided churches to each acknowledge their incompleteness
within one Body of Christ and to repent. But this above it all ecumenism is
itself one of the divided positions within Christendom”witness the recent Russian
Orthodox declaration identifying the Church with Orthodoxy. And Catholics would
hope that Prof. Marshall might make his own the prayer of the twelve“year“old
Elisabeth Heselblad, recently beatified convert and refoundress of the Brigittines:
Lord, show me which of these churches is the true Church, the one fold under
one shepherd where you want us all to be.
Br. Ansgar Santogrossi, OSB
Mount Angel Seminary
St. Benedict, Oregon
Given the many failed attempts by the Church in the century just concluded
to foster, facilitate, manufacture, and negotiate its way
toward Christian unity, one can empathize with the ecumenical
burden expressed in Bruce D. Marshalls thoughtful essay
Cares About Christian Unity?
Indeed, it is legitimate to argue, as Professor Marshall does, that the sort
of ecumenism we have practiced has failed because God wants it to fail”legitimate,
that is, to the extent that these attempts issue out of negotiation and human
vision rather than inspiration of the Spirit and the heart of God. Truer words
have never been spoken in an ecclesiastical context than the authors observation
that officially sponsored ecumenism is not so much an affront to traditional
denominational sensibilities as an irrelevance that keeps getting in the way.
And I agree that for anyone who cares at all about Christian unity, the fact
of separated communions, despite our best ecumenical energies, is a hard and
bitter pill. But from precisely what does this bitterness derive? Should that
elusive unity in the end be predicated, as Prof. Marshall believes, on eucharistic
That a eucharistic notion of unity is too tenuous a criterion for Christian
unity would seem to grow apparent from a cursory glance at the Churchs history.
Forget the Reformation divide, which is the primary line of demarcation for
the author. If the Churchs unity consists, more narrowly, in a common eucharistic
life, then there has been no Christian unity for almost a millennium”i.e., since
The text of 1 Corinthians 10 and 11, material adduced by the author as support
for eucharistic unity, loses its weight in light of its function in 1 Corinthians.
Issues treated by St. Paul in chapters 10 through 14 of 1 Corinthians concern
corporate worship by the congregation when it is assembled; Corinthian issues
are inherently intra“community issues. The unity of Christs Church in its universal
manifestation, by contrast, is a theme of Pauls letter to the Ephesians. Hence,
a case for Christian unity must proceed from the relationship between the Head
of the Church and the members of the Church, as Ephesians 4 delineates it.
Christian unity, in its cosmic dimensions, is both a confessional reality (I
believe . . . ) as well as an ideal for prayerful pursuit (cf. John 17). The
same epistle to the Ephesians acknowledges both elements; the confession of
existing unity”There is one body (Ephesians 4:4)”is linked to the following
imperative to strive for a visibly manifested unity”until all of us come to
the unity of the faith . . . to maturity, to the measure of the full stature
of Christ (Ephesians 4:11“13).
In the conclusion of his essay, Prof. Marshall comes tantalizingly close to
identifying baptismal unity as that which authentically unites all Christians.
But alas, baptism is seen to be deficient, insofar as it unites us with the
dead Christ, deposed from his cross and ready for the tomb. For theological
reasons, then, I must respectfully take issue with Prof. Marshalls understanding
of baptism. Romans 6:5, which is cited by the author to emphasize the Christians
unity with Christs death in baptism, follows on the heels of St. Pauls two“pronged
theological affirmation: Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism
into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of
the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Thus can
the Apostle Peter write: And baptism, which this prefigured, now saves you
. . . through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:21). In baptism we
are united not merely with Christs death but also with his resurrection. This
resurrection has both future and present implications”a duality that is repeated
again in Romans 8.
Hence, applauding Prof. Marshalls yearning for unity, Christians may appeal
not merely to a eucharistic basis but also to a baptismal”or a broadly sacramental”basis
for unity as we prayerfully heed our Lords command to manifest visible oneness.
After all, the sacraments as a whole”not the Lords Supper alone”must be understood
to constitute a mark of the Church and thus identify authentic followers of
Christ at all times and in all places.
J. Daryl Charles
I read with interest Who
Really Cares About Christian Unity? by Bruce D. Marshall.
However, I was disturbed by Professor Marshalls reliance
upon Israels divided kingdom as an analogy about the divisions
in the Church signifying Gods abandonment and portending
This assumes the Davidic Kingdom with its centralized rule as a model. Gods
ideal had been forsaken during the time of the prophet Samuel. Israel, prior
to King Saul, had almost no civil or religious centralization. The diversity
of the twelve tribes might be a better comparison, rather than formal union
under one person. If that is true, the situation is not nearly as dire as Prof.
Henry T. Barton
Bruce D. Marshall replies:
Almost instinctively, we Christians try to subdue the threat to our life posed
by our own divisions. Br. Santogrossi seems to see no problem here. Those who
find themselves at odds with the one true Church over what the gospel requires
(Protestants, Jansenists, or whatever) are simply Lefebvrite schismatics, who
need to get into (or back into) this one Church. As claimants to the title of
the (or a) true Church now generally recognize, though, the chief premise of
this suggestion is simply false. There is division of the true Church and not
simply division from it. However much the true Church may subsist in the Church
of Rome, for example, according to the teaching of Vatican II (with which people
like Lefebvre and des Lauriers mistakenly disagreed), even those who find themselves
outside the Roman eucharistic communion may have a genuine, if imperfect, share
in the life and reality of the true Church. The divided eucharist wounds all
who are party to it”it wounds the true Church as a whole, and no one is above
it. The advice that we seek the true Church is therefore of no help at all.
The one true Church doesnt deliver us from disunity, but drops us right in
the middle of it.
Daryl Charles incorrectly supposes that I share his contempt for modern ecumenism;
he mistakes my description of the sentiments of others for my own opinion. Officially
sponsored ecumenism has failed not because of the spiritual poverty of ecumenists,
but because of the spiritual poverty of the churches they represent, whose profound
desire to remain divided ecumenism has not been able effectively to escape.
Whatever his attitude toward recent ecumenism, Professor Charles apparently
accepts one of its basic premises: that baptism is enough to unite the Church,
and we can build on it in order to reach eucharistic unity. At least as Prof.
Charles conceives it, this suggestion is exegetically implausible. Paul obviously
doesnt regard Corinthian eucharistic factionalism as a merely local problem;
the divided Corinthians show contempt for the Church of God (1 Corinthians
11:22), and not simply for the congregation at Corinth. Still less, as ecumenists
have long rightly understood, can we treat the unity for which Christ prays
in John 17 merely as a distant hope, since its absence entitles the world to
reject the gospel.
But even if this attempt to manage division were exegetically sound, it has
the disadvantage of unreality: it simply seems not to have worked. As John Henry
Newman observes on a not wholly unrelated matter, Were it not for matter of
fact, the theory would be great indeed; it would be irresistible, if it were
only true. Of course baptism promises a share in Christs resurrection according
to Romans 6:3“6, just as it even now gives us a share in his death. But how
the Church will get from one end of baptism to the other”the present significance,
as Prof. Charles observes, of the baptismal promise that we will rise with Christ”is
not settled by the certainty that this promise cannot fail. Whether the Churchs
way to the resurrection leads through its own death will depend on whether the
Church can repent of its divisions”can actually walk in newness of life. Of
that, alas, there is very little sign indeed.
As an evangelical, I read George
McKennas How the Evangelicals Saved America (February)
with a great deal of interest, but I take issue with the
following propositions: 1) that there was a large gap between
the religion of the evangelical masses and the politics
of the Whigs; 2) that evangelicalism is chiefly experiential,
without rituals and dogmas; 3) that Methodism was originally
a big tent religion.
While the evangelical masses certainly did not share the deism of Jefferson
and Paine, their religion had a lot to do with the ideals of consent of the
governed and the political supremacy of law over the officeholder. The bulk
of believing Americans during the eighteenth century were of the Reformed persuasion
(a.k.a. Calvinists). Their British and European forebears had already produced
a tradition of political theory, exemplified by such authors as John Knox, Christopher
Goodman, John Ponet, Theodore de Beze, Francois Hotman, Johannes Althusius,
Samuel Rutherford, and others. These writers all derived governments from the
consent of the governed, subjected the ruler to law, and affirmed a right of
resistance. The classical catechism of Anglophone Calvinism, the Westminster
Larger Catechism (1647“49), devotes more space in its exposition of the Fifth
Commandment (fourth to Lutherans and Roman Catholics) to the sins of superiors
(parents, masters, rulers) than to the sins of inferiors (children, servants,
citizens). Perhaps one reason why these people were open to the political ideas
of the Whigs was that they sensed a kinship between Whiggery and their own tradition
of political thought and organization.
The various shades of evangelicalism, from classical Calvinism to Pentecostalism,
all have their distinctive doctrines, some of which are fiercely cherished (consider
how differing interpretations of saving faith and the meaning of adult immersion
keep Baptists and Campbellites separate to the present day). The doctrine of
justification by faith was a staple of the biblical Christianity preached by
such stalwarts as Edwards, Whitefield, Tennent, Freylinghausen, and others.
Similarly, the Wesley brothers had fallings out with Whitefield and Toplady
over predestination. Most evangelicals also looked askance at the anti“Trinitarianism
sweeping eighteenth“and early“nineteenth“century New England. And, I dare say,
if walking the sawdust trail isnt a ritual, what is?
I agree, however, that there was a tendency, at least after the Second Great
Awakening, to stress experience over doctrine. And this raises a further problem
in the thesis that evangelicalism saved America. Looked at closely, this experientialism
is not too far from the radically anti“doctrinal stance of liberalism”which
represents the self“destruction of American Protestantism and its laying society
wide open to all the baleful idiocies against which First Things so eloquently
protests. I cant help but note that apart from the last, crumbling bastions
of hard“core confessional Lutheranism and Calvinism, American evangelicalism
also has its voices calling for openness to the sexual revolution, radical
feminism, goddess worship, and Third Worldism (full speed ahead to 1968).
Early Methodisms harsh attitude towards Calvinism and Calvinists is scarcely
big tent. (Lincolns birth among Primitive Baptists and his wifes association
with Old School Presbyterianism may have prompted the Methodist Peter Cartwrights
charging him with being an infidel.)
If the evangelicals saved America, it was because their preservation of historic
Christianity in larger or smaller doses served as the social leaven that once
leavened the whole lump of the republic.
Peter J. Herz
George McKenna replies:
I just read over my article and am trying to figure out why Peter Herz thinks
I argued that there was a large gap between the religion of the evangelical
masses and the politics of the Whigs. There is not a word to that effect in
the article, and in other recent writings I have discussed at length the ties
between the evangelicals and the Whig Party.
His other criticisms also seem to be based on misunderstandings. When I spoke
of early American Methodism as a big tent religion I did not mean that it
did not differ theologically from Calvinism but that it welcomed blacks and
women into its ranks, and even elevated some to leadership positions. It was
a demographic big tent. Even so, as the nineteenth century progressed, the doctrinal
differences among evangelicals began to melt away, and here Mr. Herz apparently
agrees with me. Its just that he doesnt like what he considers the post“1968
effects of the meltdown: the sexual revolution, radical feminism, goddess worship,
and Third Worldism. This of course is entirely beyond the scope of my article,
which was about the beneficent social effects of evangelical religion in the
early years of the nineteenth century. Here again, Mr. Herz and I seem to be
in substantial agreement: he observes, correctly I think, that the evangelicals
Christianity served as the social leaven that once leavened the whole lump
of the republic.
As for the meaning of ritual, the misunderstanding may be mutual. As a Catholic
I tend to think of it as something more formal, structured, and deeply rooted
in liturgical tradition than walking the sawdust trail. But that may be too
narrow a definition.
I found myself nodding in agreement as I read Matthew
Roses Unremarkably Lutheran (February). I think he
has it right about us Lutherans in practically every respect.
It is worth pointing out that those whose sane phrases Mr. Rose borrows and
cites are not themselves Lutherans. May we indeed claim Hans Urs von Balthasar,
Reinhold Niebuhr, Falstaff, Josef Pieper, Henry Adams, Edward Burke, and the
inestimable Dr. Johnson as anonymous Lutherans?
What Mr. Rose calls Lutheran irony and Lutheran composure are true and shared
as a stance toward human life in the world, because they tap into something
more than mere Luth eranism. Lutherans do not seek to establish a distinctive
identity, but want to remain mere Christians. Lutheran irony reflects nothing
less than Christian realism. Lutheran composure arises, I suggest, from the
merely Christian distinction between the certainty and clarity of our status
coram Deo , and the ambiguity and contingency of our existence in the
Not very remarkable, perhaps, but true. And very, very Lutheran.
William W. Schumacher
Department of Historical Theology
St. Louis, Missouri
Shame on First Things. I thought that if any conservative
voice would set aside political expediency and squarely
face the logic and implications of Bush v. Gore it
would be yours. Alas, all we got from Richard
John Neuhaus (The Two Politics of Election 2000 ) and
(Winning Semi“Ugly ) in your February issue was spin,
the same warmed“over talking points repeated by conservative
flacks on the chat shows. There are four such talking points,
all of them disingenuous.
First, avoid any mention of the equal protection arguments actually made in
the Supreme Courts opinion, arguments that sound remarkably like liberal expansionist/activist
interpretations of the Fourteenth Amendment (although these are usually made
on behalf of folks the Amendment was actually intended to protect rather than
presidential candidates). I realize the Court does not really want anyone to
read its opinion”it fell back on a per curiam form, and the two swing
justices refused to affix their names to any part of it”but it may be worth
a look in light of the rights judicial arguments over the last few decades.
Second, make the absurd claim that the decision actually opposes judicial activism
by checking an out“of“control Florida Supreme Court. Thank goodness the federal
courts are ready to step in and tell us what state election laws actually require
when state courts dont produce the interpretations federal judges think appropriate.
If using transparently flimsy reasoning to take over a political process properly
settled by a) the voters of Florida, acting under laws passed by b) the Florida
legislature, including contest provisions empowering c) the Florida courts to
oversee recounts, leaving any final Electoral College disputes to settlement
in d) the United States Congress is a way of resisting judicial activism, then
the cure looks strikingly like the disease.
Third, argue that the U.S. Su preme Court was correct to stop the Florida
courts from trying to change election laws after the election. Never mind
the legitimate issue of when interpreting laws becomes changing them (usually
at the point we dont like the interpretation). This argument is actually one
set aside by the majority of the Court, but it nicely deflects attention from
the equal protection arguments that they did use.
Fourth, just as Clinton tried to shift the apparently plain meaning of the
word is, shift an apparently clear 5“4 vote to a much more comforting 7“2
one. Usually, the vocal presence of four dissenting justices makes this
impossible, but its worth a try.
The conservative obfuscation concerning Bush v. Gore is unfortunate.
At the very least, a closer examination would solve a mystery troubling the
right for some time now. Why, conservatives ask, do black voters insist on staying
loyal to a liberal camp that takes them for granted and offers nothing but hollow
rhetoric and failed social programs? Why dont black voters respond to the rights
message of cultural conservatism, economic opportunity, and individual responsibility?
Why, in short, dont black voters trust the right? Let no conservative ever
ask such questions again. Bush v. Gore has answered them.
Black Americans know that when push comes to shove they still cant trust the
right”not even to stay faithful to its own principles. The five (yes, only five)
majority justices in Bush v. Gore have proven so again, and your journals
silently rolling over in the face of the Courts decision has done nothing to
change that impression. Shame.
David Carroll Cochran
Assistant Professor of Politics
James Nuechterlein defends the Supreme Courts decision in Bush v. Gore
as the least messy solution available to avoid what might otherwise have evolved
into a constitutional crisis. Thats a plausible reading of what happened.
How did we end up in such dire straits? Mr. Nuechterlein places the entire
blame on the Florida Supreme Court, which prolonged the recount in an effort
to ensure a final result consistent with voter intent. But what are we to make
of the role of the Florida legislature, which resolved to select Republican
electors even if Mr. Bush received fewer votes than Mr. Gore? Mr. Nuechterlein
passed over that aspect entirely because the legislature, as he put it, was
constitutionally charged with selecting [Floridas] electors.
So the prudential judgment of a closely divided court in a case of first impression
brings us to the edge of disaster while the contempt of a legislative majority
for our democratic traditions is of no consequence? Its that kind of tortured
logic that has left me feeling more like a Democrat these past several months
than at any time in recent memory.
I am very disappointed in First Things response to the
U.S. Supreme Courts Bush v. Gore decision, which
effectively decided the presidential election. James
Nuechterlein called it far from indefensible, while
Richard John Neuhaus
opined that the decision was the right one. Not so very
long ago, First Things came close to advocating civil disobedience
in response to court decisions that were not nearly as egregious
an expansion of federal judicial power at the expense of
citizens and the several states. The immediate intent of
the decision may arguably have been to rein in an out“of“control
state court. However, the expansive (to say the least) view
of the equal protection clause relied on by Chief Justice
William Rehnquist and his colleagues insures that the decision
will be cited as precedent by judicial activists seeking
to have federal courts impose their views on states and
In order to understand how they could support such a decision,
I would appreciate answers from Mr. Nuechterlein and/or
Father Neuhaus to two counterfactual questions. First, if
the facts had been reversed and the Gore campaign had been
seeking to reverse the Florida court, do they honestly think
that Justices Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas
and the rest of the majority would have used the same equal
protection arguments and reached the same conclusion, stopping
the recount and giving Gore the presidency? Secondly, if
the facts had been reversed and a liberal majority of the
Court, using the same equal protection arguments, had given
Gore the presidency, would they have supported the decision,
or would they have condemned it as the latest example of
the judicial usurpation of political power?
I am saddened by your editorial estimate of the 2000 election. Whether I was
correct or not, I judged for years that First Things represented a credible
conservative voice given to engaging the culture wars with integrity. Now
I fear that you have become just another partisan warrior for whom credibility
and legitimacy are less important than victory.
I respected your willingness a few years ago to raise the difficult subject
of a judicial usurpation of our democracy. In the face
of the invective and vituperation of your critics, you placed
before us the possibility that our government was increasingly
a judicial oligarchy, a regime no longer grounded in
the consent of the governed. Russell Hittinger wrote, Since
the political common good depends on no branch of government
taking more than its share of authority, obedience [should]
not be given to an act that violates the foundation of the
rule of law ( The End of Democracy ?
FT, November 1996). At this latest moment when the Supreme
Courts of both Florida and the United States overreached
by acting in violation of the constitutional prescription
of legislative remedy in electoral matters, the best that
you seem to be able to argue is that the wrong of the lower
court justified the wrong of the higher. But Hittingers
point remains: Why should we obey an act that violates
the foundation of the rule of law? Why should we consent
to the illegal appointment of this President? Because conservatives
did the deed?
Before and after the election outcome was determined by the U.S. Supreme Courts
intervening to prevent the Florida Supreme Court from rewriting the election
laws, James Nuechterlein and I were agreed that, had Mr. Gore prevailed by the
laws in force on election day, or even by the changes imposed by the Florida
court somehow resulting in his winning a majority in the electoral college,
he should be recognized as the legitimate President. We make no secret of the
fact that we are glad that did not happen. But our devotion to the rule of law,
and therefore against the judicial usurpation of politics, has in no way been
compromised by partisan interest.
James Nuechterlein replies:
In Winning Semi“Ugly ,
I argued essentially that the U.S. Supreme Court majority
had excellent prudential reasons, and defensible (if arguable)
constitutional reasons, for ruling as it did in Bush
v. Gore . I therefore do not consider the decision an
act of judicial usurpation. As I said, Not every active
use of the Supreme Courts authority constitutes an exercise
in judicial activism. Most of the points raised by my critics
I dealt with in the original article, and I will not burden
readers by repeating what I said there.
One matter I did not address was the majoritys reliance, in part, on the equal
protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. That indeed could be used by
a Court so inclined to vastly expand the Courts role in interpreting state
election laws. But as a number of observers have noted, the majority, aware
of that danger, said in effect that this was a narrow decision addressed to
a unique set of circumstances and therefore not a basis for a wholesale expansion
of the Courts power. The majority understood, in other words, that hard cases
make bad law”and acted accordingly.
With regret I write to say that I will not be taking up the recent invitation
I received to renew my subscription at a generous rate.
The reason is what I find to be the appalling remark by
Richard John Neuhaus, in an effort to balance the acknowledgment
of a long history of Christian anti“Judaism that was
exploited by the Nazis, that there was also a long history
of Jewish anti“Christian hostility ( While
Were At It, February ).
What can the latter term possibly mean? Does the sheer refusal of Jews to regard
the Christian religion as true merit comparison to the long history of Christian
pogroms against the Jews? Nor is the long history of Christian violence against
Jews that you go on to acknowledge balanced, as you imply, by the long history
of Christian peoples providing refuge, albeit often insecure refuge, for Jews:
against what was the refuge being provided except the persecution by other Christians?
Should Jews therefore feel grateful to Christianity, as distinguished from individual
Christians, for that occasional refuge? Surely your statement that since Christians
were primarily in charge, Christians bear more responsibility than Jews for
how [their relations] did turn out severely understates the matter as well.
I applaud your concluding acknowledgment that Christians, and . . . Christianity,
bear a large measure of responsibility for the rise of Hitler and the Holocaust.
But the remarkable qualifications of this acknowledgment quoted above so weaken
the acknowledgment as to render it in my judgment embarrassing and even offensive.
David L. Schaefer
Professor of Political Science
Holy Cross College
My comment no doubt runs against the grain of the achingly correct line reinforced
by, for instance, James Carrolls recently published Constantines Sword
(see review elsewhere in this issue), which depicts two millennia of Jewish“Christian
relations in terms of the unremitting persecution of Jews by Christians. The
history is a great deal more complicated than that, beginning with the apostolic
era and continuing for centuries. See, for example, Robert Louis Wilkens John
Chrysostom and the Jews, which describes the ways in which Christians reacted
to a large and very hostile Jewish community of the time. True, Christian refuge
was provided against other Christians, but also, and very importantly, against
Muslim rulers. (See The Decline of Eastern Christianity under Islam: From
Jihad to Dhimmitude by Bat Yeor.) In retrospect of the Holocaust it is
very easy to forget this history. With respect to that unspeakable catastrophe,
and contra Professor Schaefers misreading, I did not intend and did not suggest
a symmetry of moral responsibility between Jews and Christians.
I write this letter to take issue with a small, yet significant, point Richard
John Neuhaus makes about the recent decision of Duke University
to permit the blessing of same“sex unions in Duke Chapel
Tolerance is Trump , Public Square, February). Father
Neuhaus cites Stanley Hauerwas for the proposition that
in contemporary liberalism the procedural overrides the
substantive, and compromise in the name of tolerance displaces
the deliberation of truth. A more appropriate statement
might be that todays hard left permits the procedural to
override the substantive, but only in the service of achieving
the desired substantive end.
Leftists are quite willing to disregard the procedural
when it suits them. This has been on display most prominently
in the last several years with the investigations surrounding
former President Clinton. Each time a duly qualified official
sought to conduct an investigation of a Clinton scandal
using an appropriate process, the left demonstrated its
contempt for the procedural by obstructing and otherwise
diverting the investigation at every turn. Thus, we were
treated to the transformation of a serious inquiry about
potential perjury and obstruction of justice by the President
into a sideshow about whether an investigation into the
Presidents sexual behavior was appropriate. Once the inquiry
could be portrayed as a systematic violation of the Presidents
privacy, facts and law became irrelevant and the investigation
Once we accede to the lefts definition of the terms of debate, the debate
is over and we have lost. The appropriate process was rigged from the start.
Permitting the blessing of same“sex unions was not a compromise in the name
of tolerance; it was the end sought to be achieved, as one more front in the
war on traditional values. No process which achieves a result that undermines
an institutions fundamental principles could ever be called appropriate.
Benjamin E. Landon
South Williamsport, Pennsylvania
Bishops Speak (Public Square, February) speaks clearly
about the need to improve communications between the bishops
and the laity in the Catholic Church. Never has there been
a time when the bishops guidance was so essential to cut
through the deliberate and unintentional obfuscation of
moral issues in what passes for public debate today.
Yet from my lay perspective, our shepherds frequently fail to connect with
and energize the members of the Church. I believe there are two principal causes
for this failure to communicate.
First, the positions of the U.S. Catholic Church often seem to be driven by
political considerations. When Bishops Speak sheds some needed light on the
narrow path the bishops walk between politicization of the pulpit and moral
guidance. The obligation to be shepherds of all the faithful clearly argues
against the partisan positions and endorsements practiced in some churches.
However, that same obligation would seem to argue against temerity toward the
IRS or a lack of forcefulness when addressing moral issues. Our young people
ask, What Would Jesus Do? and perhaps the bishops should ask their advisers
the same question.
Second, instead of speaking in terms of moral principles, the bishops tend
to speak in terms of specific legislative programs and positions, often raising
questions about their own credibility. The inappropriate pastoral letters mentioned
in When Bishops Speak are good examples of the problem. Specific guidance
may have been required for an uneducated Church years ago, but now the Church
needs to also speak to an educated laity. Outlining clear principles instead
of specific positions could energize the laity to apply their collective knowledge
and experience to some of the tough moral issues of our day. Instead, the laity
often feel patronized instead of energized.
W. R. Watts
The brief review of Eugenio Cortis The Red Horse ( Briefly
Noted, February ) was rather superficial.
The autobiographical nature of the book makes it extremely valuable. Corti
himself experienced what he writes about. This is World War II history up close
Another aspect of the book, sadly to a great extent now also history, is the
morality possessed by many of the characters. They speak to us of a more idealistic
life, encompassing respect, fidelity, and selflessness.
Occasionally, literary judgment should bow to works of such substance and
we should cherish their authors while they are still with us.
Mary I. Pasciutti