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Duel over Dualism

Dualists hold that the human person consists of both a soul (or mind) and a body. For healthy, fully-functioning human beings, the person is a unified subject, but at times such as physical death, dualists hold that persons (souls or minds) can survive the destruction of their bodies.

According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church : “The Church teaches that every spiritual soul is created immediately by God—it is not ‘produced’ by the parents—and also that it is immortal: it does not perish when it separates from the body at death, and it will be reunited with the body at the final Resurrection.” In his address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1996, Pope John Paul II said, “It is by virtue of his spiritual soul that the whole person possesses such a dignity even in his body. Pius XII stressed this essential point: if the human body takes its origin from pre-existent living matter, the spiritual soul is immediately created by God.”

St. Thomas Aquinas is sometimes described as opposing dualism. Indeed, as a follower of Aristotle he at times is readily thought of as claiming that the soul is the mere form of the body. But for St. Thomas the soul is no mere form as in shape; it is a subsistent being, requiring a special creation by God and capable of existing independently of the human animal body. In Summa Contra Gentiles, St. Thomas writes: “Now, it pertains to the human soul distinctively, in contrast to other forms, to be subsisting in its being. . . .But since the human soul does not have matter as part of itself, it cannot be made from something as from matter. It therefore remains that the soul is made from nothing. And thus, it . . . is created immediately by God alone.”

Regrettably, the term “dualism” today has become encrusted with assumptions that denigrate the body, such as the view that the body is a mere tool or instrument or, worse, that the body is some kind of prison that has entrapped our souls. Of course, there can be times of severe damage when the mind-body relationship is fractured, as with prosopagnosia (when a person can lose the ability to recognize other humans by their faces despite having good eye sight) or when physical damage causes one to experience “phantom limbs.” But dualists today (who include many scientists and philosophers) recognize the radical interdependence of mind and body.

In “Dualistic Delusions” (February), Patrick Lee and Robert P. George rightly note that the denial of dualism, materialism, is not established by the fact that physical damage causes psychological damage. In fact, the practice of the medical sciences seems to assume the causal interaction between the physical and the mental. If one were to restrict the study of persons to the language of neurology, one would not be able to study the experience of persons.

Why then do Professors Lee and George reject dualism? They seem to believe that dualism is linked to a range of highly questionable moral positions, including sexual liberalism, same-sex marriage, and abortion on demand. We do not see any evident link here. Because dualists today (and most historically) have insisted upon the profound inter- connection between mind and body in this life, they are no more likely to promote sexual liberalism or same-sex marriage than a materialist or Aristotelian. With abortion, the connection between dualism and what is immoral may seem more likely, on the grounds that (absent a developed brain and nervous system) it is highly unlikely that at conception or within the first week the fetus has any consciousness or feeling.

But dualism is not committed to the idea that the soul (person or mind) only exists when it is conscious. The Roman Catholic philosopher René Descartes held that view in the seventeenth century, but it is not representative of all dualists either then or today. Dualists are certainly not committed to holding that if you ever undergo a completely non-conscious state during sleep that you cease to be and then come back into existence when you wake up. Incidentally, many of the religious and philosophical opponents to slavery in the modern era were committed dualists, arguing that Africans, Native Americans, and others were (like Europeans) united souls and bodies. Their opposition to slavery is borne out in Richard Popkin’s studies of eighteenth-century racism.

Profs. Lee and George claim that belief in dualism is a delusion that is at odds with Catholic faith. We believe it is central to Catholic faith and practice and that, across the board in terms of the Eastern Orthodox and Protestants, dualism is central and not just the teaching of a select few thinkers such as St. Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, and so on.

Three ways in which dualism may be seen as a central component of Catholic teaching concern birth, death, and the incarnation. We have already noted the role of dualism in thinking about birth and death, though we add briefly that if human persons are literally the very same things as their animal bodies (as Profs. Lee and George contend), then the annihilation of their bodies must count as an annihilation of them. The whole idea of praying to a saint whose body you are venerating would make no sense if the saint is the animal body and not also a soul that is capable of existing independently of the body. The incarnation also becomes problematic given Profs. Lee and George’s anthropology. If Jesus Christ is (literally) the very same thing as the animal body born to Mary, then he did not pre-exist that animal body. It is because most Christians believe in the soul that they believe that the incarnation was literally an incarnation, the taking on of flesh and blood by the one who existed before the moment of incarnation and who dwelt in the world as the God-man, Jesus of Nazareth.

We have argued elsewhere for a positive philosophical case for dualism. Here we are principally interested in engaging Profs. Lee and George’s provocative, important article, challenging them and our readers to reconsider the orthodoxy of dualism.

Stewart Goetz
Ursinus College
Collegeville, Pennsylvania

Charles Taliaferro
St. Olaf College
Northfield, Minnesota

Patrick Lee and Robert P. George reply:

We are grateful to our friends Stewart Goetz and Charles Taliaferro for their challenge to our critique of body-self dualism. They believe that a form of dualism is philosophically defensible and, indeed, that it is taught by the Catholic Church and was embraced by St. Thomas Aquinas. We disagree.

The Council of Vienne (1311-1312) solemnly defined the proposition that the human soul, is “per se and essentially the form of the body.” The Catechism of the Catholic Church unambiguously reaffirms this teaching: “spirit and matter, in man, are not two natures united, but rather their union forms a single nature.” What is per se and essentially a form is necessarily distinct from the whole. Thus, the Church teaches that the body is an essential part of the person, not a distinct being with which the person or the self interacts.

St. Thomas Aquinas held—as we do—that the human soul subsists (has its existence of itself and not through the existence of the whole human being) and could not have emerged from matter and material forces but must be directly created by God. But he also vigorously defended the propositions that the human soul is incomplete in its nature and that the human person is not the soul but is rather the composite of body and soul. Commenting on St. Paul’s assertion that if there is no resurrection then our faith is in vain, St. Thomas wrote that this is because I am not saved unless my body is saved. Why? St. Thomas squarely faced the question and could not have been clearer in answering it: Because “my soul is not I.”

Regarding abortion, our claim was not that body-self dualism entails acceptance of abortion, but that it facilitates it and is an implicit (and sometimes explicit) premise in many pro-abortion arguments. By contrast, we argue that since a human person is a physical organism, then he or she comes to be when that organism comes to be—namely, at conception.

This point, however, was not (pace Goetz and Taliaferro), our reason for rejecting body-self dualism. We proposed an argument against that position from the fact that sensation is a bodily act, and that it must be the same agent, the same “I,” that senses and is self-conscious or engages in conceptual thought.

Profs. Goetz and Taliaferro claim that their type of dualism does not lead to viewing the body as a mere extrinsic tool and so does not imply sexual liberalism. Here and in other writings they stress that soul and body belong together in a harmonious relationship, and Taliaferro has described his position as an “integrative dualism.”

We believe such steps are in the right direction, but we also think that to set out an intelligible account of the harmony between body and soul one must, in the end, recognize them as co-principles of a single substance, the rational animal. If the body is distinct from the self, then it is difficult to conceive how the soul and the body could be harmoniously related in a way that is truly perfective of the soul. By contrast, if one concedes that the human soul naturally needs the body (shown by how we understand and will), then one also should grant that the soul is internally oriented to naturally cooperating with bodily organs, and that the soul is in its nature incomplete—that is, naturally only a part of the whole human being.

We are happy that Profs. Goetz and Taliaferro agree with us on issues in sexual ethics, but to give an intelligible account of sound sexual ethics, one must start with the truth that in the marital act husband and wife are truly united as one flesh. Yet, if the body is an entity separate from the self, it is difficult to see how sexual union could be so significant that it should take place only as part of the comprehensive union of persons in a marriage.

With respect to intercessory prayer to the saints, we must begin by clearing away a misunderstanding. We do not identify the person (St. Peter or anyone else) with only the animal body, any more than with the soul alone. Our position is precisely the position of the Church and of St. Thomas Aquinas: The person is the composite of soul and body. Is this position incompatible with belief in intercessory prayers to saints? St. Thomas sees no incompatibility, nor do we. Despite his emphatic rejection of body-self dualism, he plainly teaches that the souls of the saints, though incomplete pending the resurrection of the body, can hear our prayers and add their prayers to ours. The teaching of the Church is that the souls of the saints possess the powers of intellect and will, and it can be inferred that they are supplied with knowledge of particulars by having infused knowledge from God. Beyond that, the matter is shrouded in mystery for us humans. Envisaging the circumstances of the afterlife goes beyond what our natural cognitive abilities are proportioned to, namely, material things—we are able to understand something about purely spiritual things (whether through reason or through revelation) only through negation and analogy.

Concerning the Incarnation, Profs. Goetz and Taliaferro say, “If Jesus Christ is (literally) the very same thing as the animal body born to Mary, then he did not pre-exist that animal body.” But it seems to us that our friends have fallen into confusion on this point. The faith of the Church is that Jesus Christ is one divine person who exists for eternity, with a divine nature and a human nature (Council of Chalcedon). So Jesus Christ did pre-exist being conceived in Mary’s womb, for the divine person (and the divine nature, which is to say, the divine nature as communicated from the Father to the Son) pre-exists the Incarnation. It also is true, however, that with the Incarnation, the human nature of Christ—body and soul—comes to be as personally united (thus a hypostatic union) to the eternal Word. So, Jesus Christ is the living human animal body born to Mary, because he is both God and man. He was not man before the Incarnation, but he existed eternally as a divine person with the divine nature.

Their further assertion, “It is because most Christians believe in the soul that they believe that the Incarnation was literally an incarnation,” is, we think, highly misleading. It is de fide (of faith) that the Word became flesh, that he assumed a human body, not just an appearance of one (contrary to Docetism). But the Incarnation is not just the assumption of the body (which is the Appollinarian heresy). Rather, the Incarnation is the assumption of a whole human nature, both body and soul. Thus, the Church’s teaching on the Incarnation presupposes that Christ’s human nature includes both a soul and a body, which is true of our human nature as well.

I-It? I-Thou?

For almost thirty-five years, it has been my privilege to be involved in what Shalom Carmy (“Orthodoxy and Reticence,” February) disparagingly calls “official dialogues” between Catholics and Jews. Many of these have included representatives of Orthodox Judaism. Because of Rav Soloveitchik’s dictum, we have avoided calling these encounters “dialogues,” using instead the term “ongoing consultations.” Rabbi Carmy’s line of reasoning does not reflect an adequate understanding of the encounters in which I have taken part.

Reducing the ongoing relations between Catholics and Jews to a mere “transaction between organizations” misses the point of the endeavor. Rabbi Carmy quotes my dear friend and colleague Rabbi Walter Wurzburger, of blessed memory. But I am not sure that Rabbi Carmy has grasped the meaning of Rabbi Wurzburger’s reference to the Rav’s “wry remark,” which would seem to affirm rather than to reject (as Carmy would have it) a joint consideration by Jews and Christians of the meaning of Genesis on “man as the image of God.”

It is true that official consultations over the past three decades have spent a lot of time discussing our respective communal agendas. I see no inherent problem with that. We are communities of people, and both sides have priorities for which we would like the support of allies. Joint statements have been made by the Holy See and the International Jewish Committee for Interreligous Consultations (which includes Orthodox representation) on the environment, family, religious freedom and holy sites, education, and most recently on “tzedek and tzedakah” (social action and righteousness) in Buenos Aires in 2004. These statements have often involved a mutual exploration of the biblical, rabbinical, and patristic roots of our common religious understandings. In a similar way, the themes of repentance and forgiveness were deeply explored in dialogues in response to the Pope’s Liturgy of Repentance during the year 2000. The statements these dialogues produced are not the result of “bargaining” but of the quest for appreciation of each other in our very specific otherness.

What Rabbi Carmy calls “dialogue” is what Martin Buber termed an “I-It” relationship, as one has with one’s grocer. I argue for a relationship between our two ancient communities akin to that which one has, after thirty years or so, with one’s wife or husband. The Catholic Church believes it has a sacred, unbreakable bond with the Jewish People. We call it a sacramental bond. It is a relationship that we Catholics would like to understand better through ongoing relations with the Jewish people. In a good marriage, the spouses do not cease to be individuals; they become something more together.

The Church’s motivation in reaching out to Jews in what the Second Vatican Council aptly called a “dialogue of mutual esteem” is not to convince Jews to “accept the divinity of Jesus” or adopt any Catholic doctrine. The Catholic Church wants to understand, as deeply as we can, what Judaism means for Jews. This understanding means a lot to us because, as Pope John Paul II acknowledged in the Great Synagogue of Rome, Jews are our “elder brothers” in faith. Knowing where we come from tells us a lot about where we are supposed to be going.

More than that, it may tell us a lot about where humanity is going. My friend Walter’s apt story of the Rav comes back here. If we humans, all together, are “the image of God,” that means we come from some place certain in God’s will and are called to some place certain. Jews call this place the Malchut Shamayim. We would call it the Kingdom of God. Are we not all called to utter this unutterable mystery of God’s will for humanity to humanity? It matters little whether one calls the process of seeking understanding a “discussion” or a “dialogue.” It may matter greatly to human destiny that we address and proclaim the Kingdom of God together.

Dr. Eugene J. Fisher
Secretariat for Ecumenical
and Interreligious Affairs
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
Washington, D.C.

Shalom Carmy replies:

I cited Rabbi Soloveitchik’s remark (about Jews and Christians discussing the meaning of imago Dei) in the course of lamenting the fact that many Jews, including some who take their religion seriously, fail to appreciate the fruitfulness of discussing such matters with Christians while at the same time remaining insensitive to the dangers of uncritically accommodating secular perspectives on the human condition. I am sorry if I failed to make this sufficiently clear.

I have no intention to insinuate, in the absence of evidence, that theological statements by serious, intelligent religious individuals are the result of “bargaining.” Nonetheless, I believe that certain social and institutional frameworks generate pressure in this direction. One hopes that Dr. Fisher is not oblivious to these risks.

Insofar as Dr. Fisher agrees with me that much can be accomplished within the constraints advocated by Rabbi Soloeveitchik, the primary area of disagreement between us is rhetorical. I am suspicious of grand words pitched higher than the reality they describe. For me, therefore, the word “dialogue,” with its elevated Buberian associations, implies a level of achieved mutuality that one may aspire to, but must be wary of presuming. Indeed, I believe that Buber’s sharp dichotomy between I-Thou and I-It encounters is misleading as phenomenology. Likewise I am reluctant to employ the powerful image of marriage in describing the relationship between the Catholic Church and the Jewish People.

In a difficult world, I take comfort in the positive moral and intellectual contributions of Jews and Christians helping one another. As Dr. Fisher rightly concludes, we bear a great responsibility together.

A Convert and His Kin

As a recent Catholic convert myself, I am overjoyed to hear of the conversion of such a distinguished scholar as R.R. Reno (“Out of the Ruins,” February). At the same time, I cannot help but notice the somewhat mournful and resigned tone that colors Professor Reno’s apologia. For example, he interprets the Rule of St. Benedict in an essentially passive light. In strong contrast to Prof. Reno’s approach is St. Edith Stein’s commentary on the Rule, published in her Essential Writings. In it, the famous convert invokes the positive role of the Rule, called discretione perspicua. In her mind, “clear discretion” is a gift of the Holy Spirit that undergirds each of the classic Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is when “a soul listens in total surrender and unhampered flexibility to the soft voice of its fair Guest (the Holy Spirit) and awaits His least nod” that one obtains this gift. It does not “differentiate by thinking through a matter step-by-step . . . nor through concluding and proving,” but “distinguishes the sharp outlines of things in full daylight.” I hope that the insight of this eminent saint will guide Prof. Reno to a more joyful and balanced understanding of the conversion process.

Ching Yim
Woburn, Massachusetts

I am a Lutheran theologian with considerable sympathy for the horizon shared by Lutherans and Roman Catholics. Over the years, this has meant different things. Mostly it means I’m consistently more evangelical catholic than Protestant. There are a number of folks like me out there, maybe a growing number. But recently, a lot of those with evangelical catholic sensibilities seem to be converting. Reinhard Hütter, for one, Ola Tjørhom for another, and now one of the most prominent defenders of staying within one’s own tradition rather than converting, R.R. Reno.

Each time I hear about one of these conversions, I think and feel a number of things. First, I think I understand at least part of what drives these theologians. They can no longer justify staying in their denomination on any grounds other than stubbornness.

But they also make the move, I think, because they are unusually free to do so. They have just retired, or are on the verge of doing so, so a conversion makes no claims on their professional status. In Professor Reno’s case, it seems, his conversion does not affect his current work because his university does not require him to belong to a specific denomination.

I am a married Lutheran pastor. In my case, a conversion could not be undertaken so freely. Which is not to say that I am not sympathetic. Prof. Reno, who staked some of his academic and theological credibility on an argument for remaining, does take certain risks by converting. It is a difficult decision for anyone, and I want to honor that.

That said, I find these conversions suspicious and even angering. Maybe it’s the kind of feeling you have for close kin. Love and detestation run close together. Prof. Reno makes much of having originally decided to stay in the Episcopal church because of a “theory.” He has convinced himself that he loved an idea rather than a reality. But I believe his move to Rome was also motivated by love of an idea.

Prof. Reno now has a theory about what Rome is (mother church, an ocean, etc.), but this is not the reality we all know the Roman church to be. The Roman church is, like all other churches, a church “in the ruins,” because it is divided from other communions, first from the East and then from the denominations that spring from the Reformation. Rome is no more the “one church” than any other church, and any claims to this status fail to acknowledge reality. They are theories and ideas of oneness.

Prof. Reno proves this to be the case in his response to a friend who was present for his acceptance into the Roman church. When asked about what it was like to be received, Prof. Reno responded, “It felt like being submerged into the ocean.”

I’m sorry, but that’s a silly thing to say. The Roman Catholic Church is not the ground of all being, the unmoved mover, or the water that covers the depths of the ocean. It is a church, part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church that is grounded in Christ through the waters of baptism. To confuse the Roman church with anything more primary is to wander into idolatry of a ponderous sort. It also takes very little account of the history that has produced our current world of denominations. Why is a theologian as gifted as Prof. Reno willing to be so naïve on these points?

Prof. Reno digs himself an even deeper hole when he says that this mater ecclesia or ocean “needs no justification. . . .The Catholic Church needs no theories. She is the mother of theologies; she does not need to be propped up by theologies. . . .She is a given, a primary substance within the economy of denominationalism.”

This just doesn’t cut it. Mater ecclesia is obviously and substantially broader than the Roman Catholic communion. If mater ecclesia needs neither reasons nor theories, then certainly entrance into a variety of denominations (not to mention Eastern Orthodoxy) is reasonable and secure, because it is Christ who is the one foundation of the Church (1 Corinthians 3:1-23). To say that all denominations other than the Roman Catholic are in need of theories in order to stay put, while the Roman Catholic denomination “needs no theory,” is to engage in romanticism of the worst sort.

I am tired of what I can only term “Newman redivivus.” And I am tired of it for the same reason Reno is—modernity. Personal conversions to a new communion are always acts of the individual conscience. I was born into the LCA and became a member of the ELCA by merger. I have entered into full communion with other denominations by way of full communion agreements between churches.

At each point along the way, my being in communion with this or that body has been the result of actions of the church, not my own individual conscience and action. Note that Luther and other early reformers were excommunicated by the church. They did not leave individually.

I would find Prof. Reno’s conversion honorable and compelling if he had entered into communion with Rome together with his Anglican brothers and sisters. As it stands, I believe his conversion is more the result of modernist theory and romantic idolatry. Thanks for sharing, Prof. Reno, but the ruins are still there whether you bury your head in the ocean or not.

(The Rev.) Clint Schnekloth
East Koshkonong
Lutheran Church
Cambridge, Wisconsin

I was impressed by R.R. Reno’s account of his move from Canterbury to Rome. It is a move I often think about myself, and for the same reasons. I was saddened, however, by Professor Reno’s denigration of his former allegiance, in which he called the Episcopal Church “a smugly self-satisfied member of the liberal Protestant Club.” It could be argued that Roman Catholicism is simply a more splendid ruin than Anglicanism.

Prof. Reno’s account of his conversion rings true in those areas where he concentrated on the workings of his own soul in the light of St. Augustine’s journey. He is honest about the irritants of Anglicanism: “The most innocuous little divergences from the Prayer Book made me angry.” But the way the Roman Mass is celebrated in many places might irritate him, too.

Prof. Reno’s account was culpably naïve in its ahistorical understanding of Roman Catholicism. His reading of Augustine is skewed by his dismissal of the place of longing in our relation with God. To be sure, our longing is turned on its head with the good news that God longs for us, but Augustine and Dante had to go on a long and apparently “fruitless” journey to find that out. It was hard to see how this related to Prof. Reno’s floating, at last, to Rome. And why heap contempt on seekers just because he’s found his safe harbor? Prof. Reno writes, “When church becomes a choice, will we not guide ourselves to our own self-destruction?” Maybe so, but the reverse is also true. Prof. Reno’s is an idealistic picture of the Catholic Church, and while he despises the dabblers in religion, he may find that his own dabbling days aren’t over.

Meanwhile, the Roman Catholic Church is in as much disarray as any other denomination. The appeal to Newman is a double-edged sword. Prof. Reno’s reference to Newman made me realize for the first time that Kingsley had a point: Idealism does lead to a special kind of dishonesty. (Prof. Reno repeats the error, made more than once in First Things, that Bishop Gene Robinson divorced his wife to live with his male lover. He did no such thing.) Newman’s critique of liberalism and his insistence on the centrality of dogma are compelling, and I agree with Prof. Reno in his distress about the indifference to apostolic tradition and constraint. But then, I know no safe harbor from history. Apostolic Christianity is just as much of an idea or theory as Modern Christianity. “The faith once delivered to the saints” is an illusion.

The monk who most influenced me said, “Only God is Catholic. The Catholic Church hasn’t happened yet.” The idealist in all of us wishes it were otherwise. Prof. Reno writes, “The Catholic Church needs no theories.” He is right. But the Roman Catholic Church does.

Prof. Reno’s was an honorable and honest move. It was good to get out and it must be good to be home. I hope that, in five years or so, he will write a progress report. Perhaps, like Newman after 1870, he will find himself in a different place? As for me, for the time being, I remain a Catholic Christian and am grateful for the hospitality that many Roman Catholics afford me. I know that I am in the same Church with my Catholic friends and colleagues. Perhaps I will end up in my retirement a de facto Roman Catholic layman if there’s a Benedictine monastery close at hand that will welcome me. George Tyrrell wrote something like, “If the Roman Catholic Church flounders, the other churches may as well order their coffins.” May she one day be truly Catholic.

Alan Jones
Dean of Grace Cathedral
San Francisco, California

R.R. Reno replies:

Ching Yim is not the only reader to point out the less than entirely cheerful tone of my story of reception into the Catholic Church. One friend, who worries that I am a postmodern fellow traveler fat with irony, commented that the essay should have been titled “Catholicism by Default.” Here I must plead both innocence and guilt. I left the Episcopal Church when I finally faced up to my own spiritual mediocrity, so cleverly disguised as a neo-Jansenist pose against an Anglo-Catholic background. I believe that I truly saw my situation “in full daylight,” and when I did, I turned to the Catholic Church as one rushing to the emergency room, not as one coolly reasoning to a logical conclusion. It is natural that the balance of such a story should focus on the pale and grey details of my difficulties, but I do hope readers recognize that a sick man is very joyful when he receives (to quote T.S. Eliot) “the sharp compassion of the healer’s art.”

Perhaps the apology’s atmosphere of “midwinter spring” and its “frigid purgatorial fires” (Eliot again) stems from my sympathy with Pastor Schnekloth’s accusation that I remain in the grips of modernist theory and romantic idolatry. I am after all an American, and short of radical reprogramming, I am sure to feel the Emersonian undertow all my life. But however much I might be tempted, do I really need a “theory” of the Catholic Church? Pastor Schnekloth insists that “Rome is no more the ‘one church’ than any other church,” and he calls me “naïve and idolatrous” for claiming that the Catholic Church is the primary substance of Western Christianity.

I would have thought my claim factual and historical rather than theoretical and romantic. I do not know why Pastor Schnekloth feels the need to insist the Catholic Church is a denomination and I an idolater. He was born into the LCA and ordained into its ministry. These seem compelling reasons for remaining Lutheran. Add to that a commitment to serve as a pastor who wishes to return Lutheranism to communion with Rome, and I find myself concluding he is wise to stay with his ministry. I can only think that the modern Lutheran translation of the doctrine of justification into an epistemological principle explains Pastor Schnekloth’s ire. To treat any human institution (such as the Catholic Church) as capable of the infinite (such as the People of God) was, for Paul Tillich, a violation of the Protestant principle. Violating this principle is entailed in the pledge I made upon reception into the Catholic Church, and so the Protestant principle judges me an idolater. Thus do modern theories of Protestantism keep the anathemas of the Reformation alive. Here I must cite Eliot yet again, this time as a warning: “Last season’s fruit is eaten.”

As I look back on fifteen years of adult participation as a lay leader in the Episcopal Church, I cannot count the number of times I went down the rabbit hole at meetings dominated by the likes of Dean Jones. His letter is a collection of false assertions, distortions, innuendos, contradictions, and misreadings. It could not be argued, as Jones suggests, that Catholicism is simply a more splendid ruin than the Episcopal Church. In the Episcopal Church it is now an accepted practice to invite the unbaptized to receive communion. This is 9.0 on the Richter scale when it comes to sacramental convulsions.

It is a distortion to say that I heap contempt upon seekers, but I would condemn clerical savants who contemplate switching denominations upon retirement with the same cold dispassion as orthopedic surgeons who muse about taking a good second wife. It is a fallacy to suggest that because the Catholic Church has not fully realized her identity as the People of God she is not “truly Catholic.” It is a contradiction to praise my move as honorable and honest while calling me a culpably naïve, ahistorical, dishonest idealist.

But most of all, Dean Jones exhibits the smug self-satisfaction that he wishes I would not point out in the leadership of the Episcopal Church. Here we have a man who finds Newman’s criticisms of theological liberalism compelling and who agrees with my distress about the Episcopal Church’s indifference to the apostolic tradition—and who, not three sentences later, pronounces that very apostolic tradition an illusion. But worry not, for Dean Jones deems himself a “Catholic Christian.” Some of his best friends are Catholics, apparently of the Roman variety, and he looks forward to being welcomed into a Benedictine monastery. What does all this add up to? Dean Jones’ letter reflects the spiritual corruption of the Episcopal Church. It is, to appeal to T.S. Eliot a final time, “filled with fancies and empty of meaning / Tumid apathy with no concentration.”

Islamic Liberty

I much appreciated Lawrence Uz-zell’s review of Michael Novak’s The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations is Not Inevitable (February). I share Uzzell’s concerns that Novak is “so naïvely optimistic” as to be dangerous. While Mr. Novak’s “yearning” to reach out to Muslims is understandable, on a political level Christians have much more in common with modern secularists than with followers of Islam.

The modern secularist and the Christian natural law theorist agree that the moral legitimacy of the state is in providing the basic goods that a state should provide. With the possible exception of Calvin’s Geneva, there was never a full Christian theocracy. Indeed, the very purpose of First Things is to argue that there need not be such a theocracy.

Compare the distortion of natural law within secularism to the complete absence of natural law in Islam. To a faithful Muslim, a state which fails to enact sharia is illegitimate, because the only law is the revealed will of Allah. If our Western experience with Christianity is any indication, traditional Islam will continue to draw adherents, while revisionist Islam will become flaccid. We who live in freedom in the West—secularist, Christian, and Jew—will then have to consider what our options are, besides converting to Islam.

John Martino
Fellowship of Catholic
University Students
Fairfax, Virginia

Lawrence Uzzell replies:

I am most grateful to Mr. Martino for his generous words, but I fear that he may be in danger of falling into the opposite extreme from Novak’s. We simply don’t know how Islamic culture will evolve; it will probably not be along paths that we project from our own experience, such as European secularization or American revivalism. Most likely we shall see different paths in different countries: Indonesia need not mirror Morocco any more than Finland does Texas. The practice of full-scale theocracy in countries such as Iran has already helped discredit it among the Muslims themselves. Excessive pessimism about Islam can lead to the same outcome as excessive optimism: Wilsonian warmongering, which ends up inflaming extremism.

Jews and Jesus

In attempting to unravel the muddle David Klinghoffer presents in the Jewish reaction to Jesus Christ (February), Richard John Neuhaus creates some muddle of his own.

It is not erroneous, as he claims, to believe that the Gospels reflect a Pauline theologizing of the original Jesus message. Paul himself fought against the mainstream Jerusalem church that reflected most accurately what Jesus had taught, and the Gospels ignore completely the Jewish-Christians who were on their way toward being regarded as heretics. Paul’s Christianity was earlier than that of the Gospels but not necessarily more historical. It makes one laugh and cry at the same time to reflect on the fact that, for many Jews like Mr. Klinghoffer, Paul of Tarsus is too Hellenistic, while for Houston Stewart Chamberlain and the Nazis the “rabbi” Paul was too Jewish.

Fr. Neuhaus deserves credit for observing what few have, that many Jews must have become Christians in the first several centuries a.d., otherwise what happened to the millions of Jews in the days of Josephus? He also is right in regarding Christianity and Talmudic Judaism as two versions of pre-70 a.d. Judaism. The best authority here is Donald Harmon Akensen’s two books Surpassing Wonder and St. Saul.

But of course the real question, not addressed either by Mr. Klinghoffer or Fr. Neuhaus, is whether the Gospels can be considered anything more authoritative than Hellenized Jewish novels.

Norman Ravitch
Savannah, Georgia

Richard John Neuhaus’ generally helpful review of David Klinghoffer’s Why the Jews Rejected Jesus seems to reflect some of the same circular thinking that he rightly criticizes. The review employs the oddly redundant phrase “Messianic Christians,” apparently to describe Jews who believe in Jesus. Does this mean Father Neuhaus agrees with Mr. Klinghoffer “that Jews reject Jesus because they are already Jews, and the mark of being a Jew is that one rejects Jesus”? Many Jews who believe in Jesus call themselves Messianic Jews, but Fr. Neuhaus seems to avoid that term because of circular thinking: As soon as one accepts Jesus he is no longer a Jew of any description because Jews don’t accept Jesus.

But the Jesus movement that eventually became the Church evolved out of the same early Jewish matrix as did rabbinic Judaism. Thoughtful Christians are recognizing that the messiahship of Jesus does not necessitate a rejection of all things Jewish. Indeed, the original Jesus movement was entirely Jewish in demographics and outlook. Messianic Jews invoke this early Jesus movement as the model for our community. We seek a new, positive relationship between Judaism and Christianity by providing a living bridge between both.

“Messianic Christian” is a circular phrase, just as considering a person’s Jewishness to be automatically nullified by faith in Jesus is circular thinking. One may disagree with the convictions of Messianic Jews, but one cannot win the argument simply by re-labeling us.

Russell Resnik
Executive Director
Union of Messianic
Jewish Congregations
Albuquerque, New Mexico

RJN replies:

Jews who accept Jesus as the Messiah while insisting that they are Jews have used various terms to describe themselves. Mr. Resnik is reading entirely too much into the nomenclature I employed. I am sympathetic to the argument of Rabbi Michael Wyschogrod in Abraham’s Promise : Once a Jew, always a Jew.

Defending the Bishops

As a devoted reader of FIRST THINGS, I am aware that you have been critical of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops on numerous occasions. Such criticism can be beneficial, but in the February issue this criticism went beyond what is helpful.

Among the many points I could cite, I will emphasize four. First, the description of the election of Bishop William S. Skylstad as president of the Conference is seriously uninformed. Bishop Skylstad has been active in the Conference for over twenty-five years. His election as both vice president and president resulted from the bishops’ first-hand knowledge of his abilities and dedicated service to the Conference. Cardinal Francis George took the time to acknowledge this dedication from the podium shortly after Bishop Skylstad’s election.

I am also surprised that First Things would imitate the secular press by relying on innuendo instead of facts. The unfounded implication that Bishop Skylstad was irresponsible, if not worse, in governing his diocese is unworthy of First Things.

So, too, is the claim that Cardinal Theodore McCarrick was less than straightforward at the bishops’ June 2004 meeting about principles for worthy reception of Holy Communion sent to him by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. One would think that this canard had been dispelled by the subsequent letter from Cardinal Ratzinger affirming that the statement drafted by the task force chaired by Cardinal McCarrick and adopted by the bishops is very much in harmony with these principles.

I am troubled as well by the use of the phrase “John Paul II bishops,” with its implication that there are bishops in the Conference who are not faithful to the Holy Father. Since most of the bishops in the conference were appointed by this pope or received subsequent appointments from him, this claim amounts to a criticism of John Paul II himself, passing judgment on the pope’s ability to discern who should be made bishop.

Edwin F. O’Brien
Archbishop for the Military Services
Washington, D.C.

Social Justice in Sodom

Richard John Neuhaus states (While We’re At It, February) that we cannot tell what God thinks about health care in America. It is interesting that Father Neuhaus references God’s destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah earlier in this piece, because Ezekiel 16:46-51 specifically states that the sin of Sodom that lead to their judgment was ignoring the poor.

Fr. Neuhaus’ comments were in response to the call of Robert Edgar, head of the National Council of Churches, to include health care coverage (among other things) in the “moral values” discussion. While Fr. Neuhaus and I would both disagree with Mr. Edgar’s proposals on this issue, it is absolutely in keeping with Biblical teaching on society and “a religiously informed public philosophy” to include health care coverage in discussions of moral values. My concern is that Fr. Neuhaus seems to be dismissing the discussion, instead of advancing an alternate solution. In the Bible I find far more commentary on how to treat the poor than I do on homosexuality. Why, then, do conservative Christians often ignore the former while focusing so heavily on the latter? A meaningful public debate on moral values needs to cover all of the issues, not just a select few.

Tyson Wright
Sacramento, California

Correcting a Correction

Father Neuhaus had it right the first time! It was definitely Dublin—my native city—that had a Jewish mayor called Briscoe, not Cork. Your correspondent is confusing Mr. Briscoe, elected in 1951, with Gerald Goldberg, who became mayor of Cork in 1977. It is sad to reflect that we are unlikely to have a Jewish mayor in any Irish city again; there are almost no Irish Jews left because of emigration to the UK and Israel.

Eamonn Gaines
Blackrock, Ireland