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I noted with interest Edward T. Oakes’ review of Luther (“Luther, the Movie,” January). His remarks about the film’s theological deficiencies were well founded. What I found disappointing were Father Oakes’ wholly unnecessary swipes at Lutheranism. Two can play at this game. For example, the striking inconsistency between what the Vatican says and what American Catholics believe. A recent survey reveals that average worship attendance in Roman Catholic parishes nationwide lags behind Protestant congregations (though neither group has much to boast of in this respect). Fr. Oakes saved his cheapest shot for a comment on the contrast between celibacy and clerical marriage. Does Fr. Oakes really want to do this? In response, would it be unfair to wonder if such an imposed celibacy does not provide a breeding ground for immoral homosexual and heterosexual behaviors in the Roman priesthood in this country? My point in mentioning these things is simply to ask that First Things help its authors exercise restraint when they are tempted to indulge in such polemics. Indulgences, of this and other kinds, strike this Lutheran as, to say the least, unhelpful.

(The Rev.) Paul T. McCain
Concordia Publishing House
St. Louis, Missouri

One does not expect a Jesuit commentator to offer a paean of praise for a movie about Martin Luther.

The first paragraph of Edward T. Oakes’ review of Luther informs us that the Church of England is in a bad way. He then segues into comments about Lutheranism’s diminishing numbers.

That out of the way, in the third paragraph Father Oakes speculates darkly that the movie “might be a total bomb.” He was not disappointed. He found fewer than twelve patrons in the theater, judged the film to be “monumentally dull,” and was astonished that it “makes no effort to give the viewer any notion of what the real Luther was like.” Worse, he is alarmed that so much money went into producing such a flop.

But there is more. Fr. Oakes is surprised that the “lumpy” word “justification” is not once mentioned, that the Diet of Worms scenario is given such cavalier treatment, that rederick the Wise and Luther are caught off guard by the event they have precipitated, that Luther’s wife, Katherina von Bora, comes across as a “sex-starved Long Island housewife””a curious observation coming from a Jesuit”and, finally, that when the going gets tough the writers and director “resort to shameless hokum.”

Did I see the same movie? We all have our individual filters. Though not a Lutheran, I found much merit in the film, not least the winsome scenes where Luther, with his engaging command of Scripture, offers his various congregations words of pure grace, words that in all likelihood were being heard by them for the first time. If nothing more (and there is more), the presentation of the contrast between the theologies of Johann Tetzel and Luther, as well as the superb acting of Joseph Fiennes and Peter Ustinov, makes the film both memorable and inspiring.

Duane A. Walker
Carlsbad, California

In his review of Luther , Edward T. Oakes says that he thought the film was dull. And yet, Father Oakes wanted Johannes Eck’s interrogation of Luther to resemble a theological debate more than a grilling by the House Un-American Activities Committee. He also would have preferred Katherina von Bora to be less shrewish and Luther’s encounter with the devil to be something other than the “writhings of a schizophrenic.” If these things are dull, one is tempted to ask Fr. Oakes what he considers exciting. While the world would probably be a better place if films that got down to the details of justification by faith were as popular as Finding Nemo , a filmmaker who acts on that assumption will soon be out of a job.

Fr. Oakes has made the mistake of criticizing Luther for not being the film he wanted to see. He forgets that when a film is made for commercial release (as opposed to for free evangelical or educational distribution), its first goal is to be entertaining to as many people as possible. Historical and theological precision is much farther down the list of priorities. The need for dramatic energy is why Luther starts with a bang”literally”as the famous lightning bolt sends him into the monastery. From that point on the action never stops. While it is true that the real Luther was older and fatter than Joseph Fiennes, the actor does portray well Luther’s courage, his flair for the dramatic, and his pivotal role in a complex and dynamic period of history.

While a theologian such as Fr. Oakes may be unimpressed, I hope his disappointment will be offset by the thought that a portion of the moviegoing public now knows a little more about Luther than they did before, and at least some of what they know is accurate.

Karl D. Stephan
San Marcos, Texas

Edward T. Oakes replies:

My review of the movie Luther seems to have been misunderstood. What I took to be a whimsical and lighthearted essay has somehow been taken as an attack on Lutheranism. Granted, I’m not a Lutheran. Still, when I saw at the end of the film’s credits that two Lutheran bodies underwrote the project, I could only assume that most Lutherans would be as disappointed in the final result as I was; or actually even more so, since it was their money, after all, that was being squandered on a movie that makes such a hash of Luther’s own witness and theology. Karl D. Stephan defends such corned-beef hash with that time-honored Hollywood trump card, the box office. Unfortunately for Mr. Stephan’s thesis, the movie bombed, which perhaps should be a lesson for us all. Attempts to lure the unchurched to the gospel by emptying it of its theological contents for entertainment purposes won’t even be entertaining ( pace Duane A. Walker), let alone effective as a tool for evangelization.

That was the real gravamen of my review, which makes doubly puzzling Paul T. McCain’s accusation that my (very short) essay was spent entirely in taking potshots against Lutheranism. Quite the contrary. Even if I was naïve in thinking I could adopt the persona of a fleeced Lutheran, I took no position whatever in the review itself on the relative merits of a married and celibate clergy, justification and works, and so on. All I said was that if the movie wanted to recommend, for example, a married clergy, it sure went about it eccentrically, by making Luther’s wife act like a pinch-lipped shrew. But at least I can agree with the Rev. McCain on one point: rates of church attendance tell us something about the health of our respective churches. Although I cannot prove it here, I am sure that drops in church attendance at Catholic parishes are rooted in the same strategies that have emptied the mainline Protestant churches. Buying into the very secular presuppositions that one is supposedly trying to convert people from is a strategy so obviously self-contradictory that it is bound to fail.

Famously irenic ecumenist that I am, someone who would never dream of following the example of St. Paul (or of Martin Luther for that matter) by indulging in Christian polemics of my own, I shall pass over the Rev. McCain’s cheap shots. But if it’s any consolation to him, I could equally point to some Catholic boondoggles that cost a lot of money and did nothing whatever to advance the gospel, such as the Pope John Paul II Museum in Washington, D.C., or the abortive attempt by the U.S. Catholic bishops to set up their own TV network to rival Mother Angelica’s Eternal Word Television Network on cable. But let me end by thanking the writers for the letters. Even if they all misread my essay, at least they seem to take Martin Luther’s theology more seriously than did the silly movie I reviewed.

Debating Free Exercise

I very much enjoyed Vincent Phillip Muñoz’ article (“Establishing Free Exercise,” December 2003). He has exposed the incoherence of the Supreme Court’s establishment clause jurisprudence and ably demonstrated how that jurisprudence has become a powerful enemy of the free exercise clause. I must disagree, however, with Mr. Muñoz’ historical exegesis and with his reading of the two religion clauses.

According to Mr. Muñoz, the Founders (James Madison in particular) intended the establishment clause to prohibit any special privileges to religious citizens, while the free exercise clause prohibits any special penalties against them. Mr. Muñoz’ “no privileges, no penalties” interpretation of the religion clauses would require government to strike a pose of strict neutrality, neither favoring nor penalizing religion in any particular. History, however, does not favor Mr. Muñoz. The same Congress that passed the First Amendment also established the Congressional chaplaincy system and authorized salaries for the ministers who staffed it. Most of the early Presidents (including Washington, John Adams, and Madison) issued proclamations designating national days of prayer and thanksgiving to God. As president of the University of Virginia (a public school), Jefferson decreed that his students attend chapel at least once a week. As President of the United States, Jefferson obtained the Senate’s approval for a treaty with the Kaskaskia Indians, which, among other things, paid the salary of a Catholic priest to minister to the Indians’ needs.

Justice Joseph Story, the leading constitutional law scholar in the early nineteenth century, argued that the First Amendment accorded well with “the general if not universal sentiment in America . . . that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship.” In a careful dissent in the 1985 Wallace v. Jaffree case, Justice William Rehnquist concluded that Madison “saw the Amendment as designed to prohibit the establishment of a national religion, and perhaps to prevent discrimination among sects. He did not see it as requiring neutrality on the part of government between religion and irreligion.”

This view departs dramatically from Mr. Muñoz’ reading of the establishment clause as “prohibit[ing] the state from singling out religious citizens [rather than religious denominations ] for special legal privileges” (emphasis added). This distinction is critical because a legal, constitutional commitment to absolute neutrality between religion and irreligion is culturally unstable: every society inevitably creates a cultural environment that is either supportive of or hostile to religion. Forty years after the Supreme Court declared state-sponsored prayer in the public schools unconstitutional, too many public school officials are still trying to purge those institutions of overt signs of individual devotion and religious expression.

The better, and historically more accurate, view of the religion clauses is twofold: the free exercise clause prohibits government from discriminating against individuals on the basis of their religious views; and the establishment clause prohibits the government from discriminating for or against religious denominations or traditions. Neither clause prevents the government from promoting or encouraging the expression of religious sentiment in the public square. This approach would end the evisceration of the free exercise clause (which Mr. Muñoz rightly decries) and allow the government, unapologetically, to make room for religion in public life.

Joseph G. Cosby, Esq.
Arlington, Virginia

I found Vincent Phillip Muñoz’ article to be clear and helpful. But I wonder if he might discuss what I find to be an ambiguity in the way the Supreme Court uses the word “religion.” Its meaning in the thinking of the Founders seems to be clearly spelled out by Madison as “the duty we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it.” Yet much of the current discussion uses the term in a more expansive way to mean just about any comprehensive worldview. No longer is a concept of God necessary. It seems to me that recent jurisprudence has been affected by this shift in meaning away from the one embedded in the Constitution.

It also seems that in filing his suit about the Pledge of Allegiance, Michael Newdow is assuming this latter-day definition of religion. In order for Newdow to claim that his daughter was somehow harmed “when compelled to watch and listen” to the recitation of the Pledge, with its acknowledgment of God, he must view his daughter as an atheist (her mother would dispute this) whose injury is an impediment to the free exercise of her religion. Indeed, if her injury were not of this sort, then she could have no complaint, since she was not punished for refusing to participate. Otherwise, anyone could claim injury anytime he was subjected to, or even overheard, unpleasant or displeasing speech. This would render any notion of free speech null and void.

If the Court decides that Newdow’s injury took the form of an infringement upon free exercise, then it will be acknowledging atheism as a religion, just as it might give this status to nontheistic forms of Buddhism, Wicca, or a host of other cultural possibilities, including extreme environmentalism. In this eventuality, government would become incapable of maintaining anything resembling religious neutrality, since the public funding of just about any secular activity could be construed as supporting the religion of atheism.

The incoherence of this position is as obvious as it is destructive.

Jake Noland
College Station, Texas

Vincent Phillip Muñoz replies:

I thank Joseph G. Cosby and Jake Noland for their letters.

Mr. Cosby blames me for faulty “historical exegesis,” claiming the “no privileges, no penalties” approach I suggest misinterprets the religion clauses. To clarify the record, I never attributed “no privileges, no penalties” to the Founders as a whole or suggested that it represents Congress’ “original intention,” as Mr. Cosby claims. However, my article makes clear, I believe, that “no privileges, no penalties” represents a distinctly Madisonian approach to church-state jurisprudence.

The original meaning of the establishment clause has been exhaustively debated by scholars and Supreme Court Justices. Mr. Cosby favors the “non-preferential” approach first advocated by Justice Rehnquist in Wallace v. Jaffree. Whatever might be said in its defense, that interpretation does not capture the original meaning of the establishment clause. In drafting the First Amendment, Congress sought to make clear that the new national government lacked jurisdiction over matters of religion”that is, church-state arrangements, including the question of religious establishment, remained a matter of state jurisdiction. This is why the amendment begins with the word “Congress” and includes the awkward phrase “respecting an.” In the minds of the drafters of the First Amendment, Congress lacked authority to make a law “respecting an establishment” because the state governments possessed all constitutional authority over that field of legislation. Congress did not intend, as Mr. Cosby (and Justice Rehnquist) claim, to mandate that government treat all religions equally.

The reason that the Founders did not adopt “non-preferentialism” is because it is bad constitutional law. While some of the Founders thought government could and should nurture religious sentiment, all agreed that if government did support religion, it should distinguish between those religions that support republican principles and those that are hostile toward them. They certainly would not agree to a principle that cannot distinguish Judaism and Christianity from Wahhabism.

I advanced Madison’s “no privileges, no penalties” principle because it offers a formula that a majority of the Supreme Court might accept. It does not perfectly capture the establishment clause’s original meaning, but returning to the original meaning is impossible without overturning the incorporation of the establishment clause”something no sitting Supreme Court Justice has entertained.

Mr. Noland rightly criticizes the Court for failing to adopt a coherent or consistent definition of “religion.” It should be noted, however, that Michael Newdow’s claim is not that his daughter’s “free exercise” right was violated, but rather that public school teacher-led recitations of the Pledge violate the establishment clause. If the Supreme Court were to rule that merely hearing the words “under God” violates an individual’s right to religious free exercise, it would be, as Mr. Noland suggests, incoherent and destructive. But even the contemporary Supreme Court, I pray, is not that foolish.

Cowling on Lewis

David B. Hart’s essay on Maurice Cowling, “A Most Partial Historian” (December 2003), is terrific. It is beautifully written, with many excellent observations and much wisdom. If the books in Cowling’s trilogy are half as interesting as the review, they must make good reading.

I am perplexed, however, at Mr. Hart’s approval of Cowling’s critique of C. S. Lewis (an “uncomfortably accurate pastiche”). Cowling’s assessment”as well as Mr. Hart’s approval of it”seems odd. Mr. Hart has done a good job of describing Cowling as a fairly cloistered academic, whose curmudgeonly rants against modernity have not gained him much of an audience. This is exactly the opposite of Lewis, whose clarity and appeal on the subjects Cowling holds dear are second to none, and whose arguments on behalf of the faith have stirred millions of highbrows and lowbrows, intellectuals and “common” men and women, of the past and current century. Lewis was all that Cowling apparently is not, among both academics and the rest of us. Cowling’s criticisms of Lewis sound like those of a talented yet inferior Monday-morning quarterback criticizing Terry Bradshaw for some defects of form while not acknowledging that he led the Steelers to four Superbowl triumphs.

Richard K. Mason
Altadena, California

David Hart replies:

First, let me remark that I am fairly certain that Richard K. Mason is the first person ever to draw a comparison between C. S. Lewis and Terry Bradshaw. Johnny Unitas would have been nearer the mark, of course, but really in matters so exalted one should draw one’s analogies solely from baseball.

Second, let me assure Mr. Mason that I yield to no one in my esteem for Lewis, and have long thought him a profounder theologian than even his most fervent admirers often grasp. Moreover, Cowling’s criticisms of Lewis are, measured by his standards, exceedingly mild. Nonetheless, his is an “uncomfortably accurate pastiche” for all that. To an American ear, especially many decades after the fact, Lewis’ one notorious flaw as a writer is probably all but inaudible; but in his time and place, many of the breezy expressions he employed to make himself “accessible” often had about them the ponderous quality of an inauthentic demotic. Imagine such a man today, in the midst of an otherwise wholly lucid and compelling essay, suddenly writing, “and here is where Christianity offers a really cool answer,” and you will understand what prompts Cowling’s (gentle) satire.

Which Diversity?

In “Diverse Diversities” (January), Barry Bercier presents a false opposition between an ideological commitment to diversity and a serious and sober university. Yes, many contemporary defenses of diversity are philosophically shallow and undermine the university’s search for truth. However, we can endorse cultural diversity without appealing to such defenses. John Paul II showed how this is possible in his remarkable 1995 address to the United Nations General Assembly. In the early 1990s, demagogues took multiculturalism to terrible extremes, killing hundreds of thousands of people in the name of ethnic solidarity.

At the same time, new nations emerged, demanding recognition of their cultural heritage. Confronting these realities, the Pope maintained that the human person always navigates between universal and particular values. Cultures, he insisted, must acknowledge the person’s dignity and rights, setting limits on dangerous cultural chauvinism. However, they must also protect a culture’s particularity, because it represents one way of understanding the mystery of human existence. Diverse cultures point to the transcendent dimensions of human life, revealing the extraordinarily rich ways humanity relates to God.

Contra Bercier, it is not justice that demands that we value diversity, but respect for the person’s struggle to understand his existence. John Paul II has taken this argument to places such as Cuba and the Republic of Georgia, and he has used it to oppose globalization’s homogenizing influence on cultures. He has repeatedly insisted that a healthy approach to cultural diversity creates a dynamic exchange between the universal and the particular. This vision applies as much to the university as it does to the world of nation-states, and it provides educational institutions with ample philosophical justification for promoting diversity as a means of pursuing truth.

In The Closing of the American Mind , Allan Bloom revealed how cultural relativism dangerously undermines the mission of the university. Since his death, others have repeated his criticisms, and at the beginning of this century, we should be fully aware of them.

It is high time we move beyond such negative critiques and embrace a positive vision of a university that properly values cultural diversity.

Derek S. Jeffreys
Assistant Professor of
Humanistic Studies and Religion
University of Wisconsin, Green Bay

Barry Bercier replies:

Derek Jeffreys is surely on the mark, insisting that there is a kind of diversity”one not defined by the current ideology of diversity”that is a proper concern of the university. And he’s also correct to attribute the source of that diversity to the immeasurable richness of the human person.

But I’d go one step further to say that there is yet another crucial source for diversity”one that arises, oddly enough, from the defects of our race. The story of the great city of Babel makes the point. When all people of our world together, “speaking one language,” are threatened with subordination to any single and global human power, God Himself acts to break up our language, fracture our works, and scatter us to the four corners of the world. Political and cultural diversity, coming here even at the cost of much strife and confusion, is better than the dissolution of the image of God in men who have been made hopelessly uniform.

The current ideology of diversity works against this sober rebuke to Babylonian arrogance. In the name of a kind of universal peace it seeks to undo the serious claims that any particular culture”the Judeo-Christian West in particular”would make for itself. But proper cultural self-assertion is a necessary, even if ambivalent, trait for children of Adam like ourselves”one that serves and saves the freedom and dignity of us all. The ideology of diversity seeks the reduction of all cultures to a placid universality, a somehow noncontroversial equality in a single, homogeneous, and global culture of all cultures.

There is a dichotomy here: On the one side, the university seeking the truth about man; on the other, the ideologues of Babel obscuring and falsifying that truth at every turn.

Gadamer’s Being

In his informative essay on Heidelberg philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer (“Gadamer & the Light of the Word,” January), Edward Tingley argues in favor of Martin Heidegger’s ousiology, the ousiology that informs Gadamer’s major work Truth and Method (1960). I would argue against this move.

The Greek term ousia is usually translated as “essence.” What is meant by ousiology, then, is a discourse that essentializes Being. By way of illustration, Mr. Tingley gives us many ousiologemes from which to choose: “Being is speaking to us. And all Being will lead us home.” Or: “Language has placed us in connection with Being, and in such a way that we can receive the guidance to live fully.” Or: “Being is speaking to us”in effect, it hears our most intimate questions and holds out the answer.” Or: “The more you know about Gadamer’s sense of Being, the closer it brings you to your own God.” Or: “Hermeneutics is entering into the presence of Being itself.”

Identifying Being with essence, ousiology collapses the Mosaic distinction between uncreated Being (God) and created Being (creatures). Gadamer’s teacher Heidegger had already denigrated the Mosaic distinction as “onto-theological” and therefore not properly philosophical. Gadamer follows suit, and in so doing obscures the “genuinely philosophical import” of the real distinction between existence and essence, the real distinction between God as the pure act of existence and his creatures as recipients”precisely as creatures”of the gift of existence.

As Jean Grondin, Gadamer’s biographer, writes: “At most, he [Gadamer] professed what Plato called ‘the divine,’ though only in the neuter: this neuter, he thought, referred to no living being, as for Aristotle and later the Catholic Church, but signified that we all know that we have not made ourselves and our death is out of our hands. For that reason, Gadamer stated ironically, the Catholic Church could only appeal to Aristotle. Plato was too spiritual for it.” In reply, I would suggest that Gadamer’s attempt to ironize a purportedly sub-Platonic church signals a failure on his part to understand how a revised version of Plato’s “doctrine of participation” plays into the Catholic synthesis. If God is Being itself; if God is the pure act of existence; if God’s existence is his essence, then creatures as creatures can only be what we are: “partakers” of existence, not however as emanations of God but as recipients”in our very status as creatures”of the gift of existence conferred by God.

John F. Maguire
Natural Law Jurisprudence Center
Berkeley, California

Edward Tingley replies:

When I first read John F. Maguire’s letter I was a little nonplussed. Now that I have read it many times, I declare myself officially at a loss as to what to reply, as I didn’t knowingly “argue in favor of Heidegger’s ousiology,” and if by accident I did so (which I strongly doubt) it was unintentional, since I have little idea what that means. Mr. Maguire calls this “the ousiology that informs Ga-damer’s major work Truth and Method .” Well, that could mean either that Gadamer’s work is riddled with a grand theory about Being lifted from Heidegger (but I doubt that and so I feel pretty relaxed on this score) or that some of what Gadamer says about Being is genuinely Heideggerian (which probably is true but strikes me as rather slight support for heavy-duty terminology like “Heidegger’s ousiology”).

If in saying that “ ousia is usually translated as ‘essence,’” Mr. Maguire is reporting a traditional error of translation, I’m all ears. I might be on his side if I knew his argument”but then one of us would first have to say something concrete about Being and essence. Not only did I not use the term “ousiology,” I neither translated ousia nor made a single mention of “essence.”

If Heidegger collapsed the Mosaic distinction between created and uncreated being, that tells us nothing about his pupil. “Gadamer follows suit”? Try as I might, I can’t find any identification of Being with essence in Gadamer’s talk about Being or in the expressions I used to convey it.

When I say the real implication of his work is that “Being is speaking to us” and will “lead us home,” I am not saying anything about what Being is (essence or anything else). I was talking about what Being seems to be doing all around us. I was trying to get at the astonishing implication of the grace that, by the “light of the word” (in Scripture, poetry, conversation, and language of all kinds), shows us what is, allowing us to find our way.

That is an extraordinary sort of care for us. It is not us caring for ourselves. That there are “linguistic events” of the sort I mentioned”“unauthored” communications that reoriented the lives of Frankl and St. Augustine, and marked the path they saw was theirs”is phenomenal, an illustration of God’s concern, presence, and means of communication. Well, in any event, that is what I was trying to say.

Mary and Ecumenism

As one who takes great interest in the quest for Christian unity, I was delighted to learn of Mary in the Plan of God and in the Communion of Saints , recently issued by the interdenominational Groupe des Dombes (“Protestants, Catholics, and Mary,” Public Square, January). It is no small accomplishment when Protestant theologians consider the two Marian dogmas defined by the Catholic Church”namely, the Immaculate Conception and the Assumption”as “legitimate conclusions flowing from reflection by the Catholic consciousness of the faith and its internal coherence,” even if they conclude that the acceptance of these dogmas would not be required for church unity.

The proposal seems to rest on the premise that “legitimate conclusions” are not necessarily ontologically true conclusions; otherwise, communion in the fullness of truth would demand their acceptance. As irrevocably committed as the Catholic Church is to ecumenism, I cannot imagine the Magisterium ever endorsing the demotion of defined dogmas to the status of venerable opinion. From the Catholic side, the Marian dogmas are de fide , not because they cohere with the whole network of Christian doctrine (not all intrasystemically valid beliefs are binding on the faithful), but because St. Peter’s successors have unerringly affirmed them.

Are we, then, at an impasse? Not necessarily. Like Richard John Neuhaus, I find much promise in the ecumenists’ awareness that the fundamental Protestant-Catholic differences, especially in soteriology and ecclesiology, converge on the Mother of God. For Catholics, Mary literally embodies what it means to be fully redeemed by Jesus Christ and deified by grace, first here on earth and then in the glory of heaven; she is the perfect icon of the Church and the icon of the perfected Church. Ascertain the truth about her and the rest will eventually fall into place.

But does “the rest” include the vexing question of ecclesiastical authority? It has been noted in these pages that Pope John Paul II insists (following Vatican II) that authority is subordinate to, and in the service of, a much larger “Marian” enterprise, namely, Christian discipleship (see “Evangelicals in the Church of Mary,” December 2000). Discipleship encompasses, among many other things, preserving and passing on the deposit of faith without distortion, yet with true development”a complex process involving the lay faithful as well as their pastors, as John Henry Newman explained. Ecumenical doors remain open so long as Scripture, the development of doctrine, and the Magisterium are seen as part of the Church’s “Marian” experience of receiving God’s Word, pondering it, “magnifying” it (explicating what was implicitly understood), and authoritatively expounding its marvelous implications for all who live in Christ”starting with the first Christian.

(The Rev.) Thomas M. Kocik
St. Anne’s Parish & Shrine
Fall River, Massachusetts

Missal Clarifications

First of all, I want to thank Richard John Neuhaus for calling attention to my article “Theological Principles that Guided the Redaction of the Roman Missal (1970)” (While We’re At It, January).

For the sake of clarification, however, it should be noted that in the article I only examine the eleven orations advanced by the peritus who headed the study group charged with the revision of orations as examples of how the principles of reform were concretely applied. I do notdraw any conclusionsabout the character of the orations of the new missalas a whole. My article goes no further than identifyingdisturbing alterations tothe original texts of a very small number of prayers and calling for further study so that we may knowwhether similar changes were made throughout the corpus, and, if so, to what effect.

Also, Father Neuhaus reports that I blame the problems of the Latin missal on the haste with which it was assembled. While I do remark that the revisers did a huge amount of work in a relatively short period of time, I do notargue thathasteis the cause of the deficiencies it contains. If I were to speculate, I would guessthat the problems uncovered in the study derivefrompresuppositions that were brought to the task rather than from the hurry with which it was done. Nevertheless, while Fr. Neuhaus seems to welcome hurryin remedying the weaknesses of the Paul VI missal,my personal view isthat hastein dealing with things asdelicate and deep as our liturgical texts, no matter how pressing the need,can only result in further harm.

Dr. L. Pristas
Caldwell, New Jersey

Necessary Judicial Activism

“The Culture Wars Go International” (Public Square, January) identifies a range of very significant concerns about judicial activism. Nonetheless, here in India the judicial activism enabled by the “suo moto” power of judges is the last redoubt against a political culture of rampant corruption and caste politics. If Indian politics can eventually change this self-destructive culture, then we will have to see if the judiciary has the self-control to return areas of its activism to democratic processes. But in the meantime the well-being of Indian society owes a great deal to its activist judges.

Chris Barrigar, Ph.D.
Chennai, India