Marriage & Mission
Patricia Snow (“Hawthorne’s Daughter,” January) may perhaps be unaware of St. Jerome’s error in countering Jovinian’s heresy, namely, his denigration of marriage in order to uphold the superiority of the virgin state. Snow makes Jerome’s mistake in her attempt to rationalize Rose Hawthorne Lathrop’s separation from her husband.
Snow’s opinion of Rose, which amounts to support of the dissolution of the marital bond to achieve self-fulfillment, is a strange one for a Christian to hold. Snow glosses over the central contradiction between Rose’s devotion to the suffering of strangers and her abandonment of her dying husband in his suffering.
Far from being justified in pursuing some “high and lonely destiny” (Uncle Andrews’s narcissistic self-delusion in Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew), Rose, if Snow is correct on her facts, had a simple task: to live out her duty to her husband until his death (just as a man, of course, must be faithful to his wife).
Our Lord himself elevated matrimony to a sacrament. It is a unity of two persons, one of the goods of which is fidelity. It is shocking, first, that Snow surveys the landscape and concludes that we suffer from over-emphasis on marriage, and second, that she attributes to Protestantism the blame for this nonexistent over-emphasis. The truth is that the current crisis is the growing numbers who do not even bother to marry. Children, when they are begotten, find themselves without the shelter of God’s first covenant with mankind. The challenge of Catholics today is to rediscover the goodness of the marital bond and thus recover the glory of consecrated virginity.
If Snow is right about the facts of Rose’s case, she has a point that George Lathrop’s reputation deserves rehabilitation, but she chooses an odd way to go about doing it: tolerating and even glorifying abandonment of spouses, noble intentions notwithstanding. That Snow would wish Rose’s beatification under such circumstances says more perhaps than she intends about the “relevant insights of feminism,” confirming my suspicion that proponents of that ideology, no matter how they condition their attachment, always seek to undermine marriage.
Snow argues: “For many women, the great temptation—their share in original sin—is the temptation not to grow, to remain dependent and undeveloped, frustrated and finally bitter.” This sentimentalism subverts Christian witness to the indissoluble bond of marriage—and thus also to the more praiseworthy vows of consecrated life.
Leila Marie Lawler
Patricia Snow’s article in the January issue is meant to correct mistaken accounts of Rose Hawthorne’s marriage to George Lathrop as well as wrongful portrayals of George himself. Snow asserts that the difficulties in and ultimate separation of the Lathrop marriage cannot be blamed on George, but are actually due to Rose’s personal search for meaning.
Ironically, however, Snow replaces the existing story with a new tale, much of it her own construction. She insists that only a revised account of the marriage between Rose and George will set the record straight.
Snow’s purpose is noble. She argues for the sanctity of marriage and the authentic recognition of the spiritual heroism and virtue of Rose. Rather than provide a more careful or critical analysis of the sources, which are plentiful, Snow suggests the Church should produce another rendition of history, one more sympathetic to Lathrop. It is not the Church that has produced the current profiles of Rose Hawthorne and George Lathrop, but historians and writers like herself. The charge must be more properly laid at their doors, then.
One of Snow’s most egregious misunderstandings is her suggestion that Rose’s Catholic formation was due to those who had embraced the consecrated life and that her Church-approved separation from George was inspired by a desire for the religious life. Rather, the correspondence carefully preserved in the archives of the Dominican Sisters of Hawthorne indicates a dependence on the influence and instruction of lay Catholic friends during Rose’s early years as a Catholic. The same sources suggest Rose had sparse contact with religious sisters. Formal instruction from priests was a standard part of any conversion to Roman Catholicism, but to suggest an intimacy with religious men and women, while possible, has little evidence in the historical sources.
Snow’s assertion that Rose’s desire to pursue the religious life and George’s unwillingness to cooperate in her plan caused their final separation is without historical foundation. There is no evidence that the Church-approved separation was inspired by the idea of establishing a religious community. In fact, the evidence suggests that the plan to form a religious sisterhood only became specific as Rose’s experience in the work of caring for the terminally ill developed. Here Snow fails to respect Rose’s own testimony that her lived experience of life with George was tinged with fear and dread, both for herself and for the spiritual good of her husband.
Snow must be credited with raising important issues, but they deserve more careful study. The failure of any marriage is likely the consequence of mistakes and blunders on the part of both partners. A more balanced picture of the Lathrop marriage may well produce a more positive picture of George and may reveal heretofore unrecognized weaknesses in Rose. As Snow wisely argues, only in knowing the authentic character of each of the spouses can their true worth and holiness of life be recognized and appreciated. Church norms in the canonization process require such honest evaluation. Snow’s status as a writer suggests an obligation to pursue both research and reporting that will bring the authentic holy lives of Christian men and women to the public forum.
Fr. Gabriel B. O’Donnell, O.P.
dominican house of studies
Patricia Snow replies:
Father Gabriel O’Donnell, the postulator for Rose Lathrop’s cause, correctly observes that in a few places in my essay I conflate Rose’s desire to nurse the sick poor with her attraction to religious life. Temporally, I understand, the two impulses were distinct. Rose left her husband in the first place in order to learn to care for indigent cancer patients. Only later did she found a religious community. But in Rose’s mind and heart I would argue that the two impulses were intimately connected.
It is no accident, for example, that when Rose first went out on her own, she sheltered in convents, looking to the nuns not only for guidance in charitable undertakings, but also for instruction in what she called “religious devotions.” Nor is it an accident that, en route to the first convent, when she compares in a letter her past with her anticipated future (“[the] beauty of a home is dross compared to the beauty of the shabbiest altar”), it is an altar that represents the future for her, rather than a clinic or a hospital. Moreover, in the same letter, she expresses her conviction that convent life would be perfectly suited “for one of my temperament and associations and talents (such as they are),” an “idea” and a “longing” that she says has been with her for three years, making it clear that her desire to be useful, her inspiration to serve Christ in the sick poor, and her attraction to religious life were always, for her, parts of one whole.
Nowhere in the essay do I suggest that Rose enjoyed especially close friendships with priests or nuns when she was a new Catholic. My point was not that she was instructed or “formed” by consecrated individuals, but that she was inspired by them—by saints like Jane de Chantal and by individuals whom she encountered in daily life. As early as 1892 she wrote from New London: “To know these priests and nuns at all intimately is to know that their . . . daily renunciation of natural impulses for comfort and ease . . . possess a power and virtue beyond our lay energy, our lay asceticism. I feel that I pass close to spirits that purify and give strength.”
The real question that hangs over Rose’s story—the one hardest to adjudicate—is the question about “fear and dread.” Was Rose genuinely afraid of her husband at a certain point? What exactly were the grounds for the separation? Et cetera. Ordinarily there would be notes in a person’s baptismal record referencing a Church-sanctioned separation, but there are no notes in Rose’s record. One of my tentative hypotheses, as I try to make sense of the whole, is that George’s distress over his wife’s decision to upend their lives turned physical at the last—that he tried to restrain her, for example, or to shake sense into her—and it was on this basis that the Church countenanced the separation. But any violence imputed to George has somehow to be squared both with Rose’s desire that he join her in her work, and with her final verdict on his life as one of “exquisite gentleness.” As Fr. O’Donnell concludes, more careful study is needed.
Turning to Leila Lawler’s letter, I confess I am unsure how to respond adequately in this forum to her detailed broadside. Since I have written previously about these issues, I suggest that she read my essay “Dismantling the Cross,” published in this journal in April 2015, or better yet, the original of the essay, published in Nova et Vetera, that places in a larger historical context the questions Lawler raises about the right relationship of marriage to religious life.
In passing, I have to admit I was grieved by Lawler’s contemptuous dismissal of feminism. Is it really not possible for Catholic Christians today to distinguish between destructive and constructive feminism, between a will to power and a desire to grow and to serve? Would Lawler really wish to reject the goods that feminism has obtained for her, including an education, a healthier relationship with her husband than was possible for many Victorian wives, the right to vote, and so on?
Reasonable Christians may disagree about Rose’s sanctity. My main purpose in writing the essay was to correct errors in the received wisdom, so that if individuals disagree about Rose, at least they are disagreeing about the same person. In this spirit, I would remind Lawler that Rose received permission from the Church to separate from her husband, that she never dissolved her marriage, and that she did not abandon George when he was dying but instead rushed to his side. Nor did she leave the marriage “to achieve self-fulfillment,” contemporary jargon that would have meant nothing to Rose. Her aim was to fulfill a mission, to respond wholeheartedly to a call that she was convinced came from God himself. Given Lawler’s ironclad categories, I understand that she does not believe that God would ever actually call a married person to such a mission, but the long tradition of the Church, and the example of many disciples and saints, suggests otherwise.
There is nothing sentimental about this tradition. Commenting on Luke 14:26 (“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children . . . and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple”), Raïssa Maritain wrote: “The demands of Christ as regards his disciples are absolutely inhuman; they are divine.” Defending this “inhuman” tradition against Jewish objections, Pope Benedict XVI, in his first Jesus of Nazareth book, argued that while the decision for Christ does initially break up the social order of Israel, as in every age it can break up natural relationships and blood families, Jesus’s goal is never destruction. Rather, his goal is the reconstitution of the family on a new and universal level, the family of all those who call God Father. (“Here are my mother and my brothers! . . .”) This is the same universalizing impulse we see stirring in Rose in the aftermath of her son’s death (“I loved a child as we should love / Each other everywhere”), an intuition that anticipates by ten years her momentous revelation in midlife, when she converts to Catholicism and encounters priests and nuns.
In “Catholic Zionism” (January), Gavin D’Costa steps where most Catholic angels fear to tread. He goes beyond the half-century-old Catholic affirmation of God’s continuing covenant with Jewish Israel to the bold declaration that Catholics should be Zionists, since Jesus himself was. In other words, not only does God still have a special love for Jews who do not accept Jesus (Rom. 11:28–29), but God also still considers the land of Israel to be part of his eternal purposes. The establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 was “providential” since, among other things, God’s many promises of the land (a thousand times in the Hebrew Bible, I would add) must be taken seriously if we continue to affirm the “trustworthiness of God.” Jesus links both contemporary and future Jews to the land (Matt. 5:5; Acts 1:6), and Paul accepts the promise of the land (Acts 13:19).
This article and D’Costa’s new book, Catholic Doctrines on the Jewish People After Vatican II, are learned and persuasive arguments for a “modest” Catholic Zionism. I would offer only two caveats.
The first is about D’Costa’s concern that Jesus’s identification of his risen body as the temple might “cut against this emphasis on the particularity of the land.” This apparent antinomy dissolves when one considers that Jesus also declares that God “dwells in” Herod’s temple (Matt. 23:21) and in all four Gospels calls that temple either “my house” (Matthew and Mark) or “my Father’s house” (Luke and John). According to the Gospel authors, Jesus thought of the temple in two ways, both as God’s house (the Father’s and his) and as a symbol of the way that his body would be God’s house. Just as the particularity of the Jerusalem temple pointed toward Jesus’s body in every Eucharist, the particularity of the land of Israel points toward God’s aims for the world. This is the biblical pattern of God using the particular to reach the universal.
Second, it is not balanced to say that modern Israel often fails to treat the stranger justly, is “far from pure morally,” and therefore may be “‘vomited’ from the land.” This is a biblical warning, but Israel’s efforts to heed that warning should also be acknowledged. Like every modern state (including the United States), Israel is far from perfect in its treatment of the stranger. Yet we should recognize that it is the only state in the Middle East that gives freedoms and rights to Jews and non-Jews alike. Palestinians in Israel have a better standard of living and more political and religious freedoms than anywhere else in the Middle East.
D’Costa suggests that “some portion [of land that] God gives may need to be sacrificed for the sake of God’s ideal of peace.” In fact, Israel has sacrificed land for peace several times. The government gave back 90 percent of what its army had won in the 1967 war (started by its Arab neighbors) when it surrendered the mineral-rich Sinai Peninsula. In 2005, Israel gave up all of Gaza to Palestinian control, hoping that this would bring peace. Instead the new government (Hamas) started shooting missiles at Israeli citizens on the other side of its border and has gone to war with Israel several times since.
The media regularly suggest that ethnic and religious minorities in Israel feel oppressed. But there are many who do not. Shadi Khalloul, a Christian Aramean who lives in Israel, has written, “We minorities [in Israel] get to enjoy nearly free medical care in one of the best medical systems in the world. We have full economic freedom to start a business and participate fully in one of the most vibrant economies in the world, and certainly the healthiest economy in the Middle East. Our children get free education in excellent schools, and we Christians can send them to schools that reinforce our faith. We feel privileged indeed.”
beeson divinity school
Save his specifically Catholic eschatology, which as a Jew it is not for me to agree or disagree with, the normative substance of Gavin D’Costa’s “Catholic Zionism” is quite agreeable to me as a Jew. My agreement with his main points—though certainly arguable among both Jews and Catholics—does have support in the Jewish tradition. Indeed, the concluding sentence of his article could have been readily said by a faithful Jew. “The existence of the Jewish state . . . secures the land in which they [the Jewish people] may live justly according to the Torah.” Indeed, it is the divinely revealed Torah, the foundation of the whole ongoing Jewish tradition, that properly constitutes the three elements D’Costa rightly recognizes as being essential to any authentic Zionism: the people of Israel, the land of Israel, the State of Israel.
The Torah unequivocally teaches that God freely chooses the people of Israel—since 586 b.c.e. the Jewish people—for a special, unending, covenantal relationship with him. The people do not elect God, nor are they necessarily connected to God, nor is God necessarily connected to them, nor do they elect themselves. The Jews can only choose to be God’s elect community by freely committing themselves to live according to the covenant. That is when we accept the Torah’s commandments, however imperfectly we keep them. One of these 613 commandments is: “You shall possess the land and settle it, for I have given you the land to you to possess it” (Num. 33:53). Many Jews now see God’s providence at work by enabling us to keep this commandment after so many centuries when we couldn’t keep it. That is why many of us say special psalms of praise (called Hallel) on Israel’s Independence Day. Nevertheless, the people’s task is this-worldly; it is not given to us to bring about universal salvation. That is God’s business, something we Jews can only pray for God to accomplish. “The mysteries belong to the Lord our God; but what is revealed to us is to do all the words of this Torah forever” (Deut. 29:29).
Just as the people do not elect God, so the people do not elect the land of Israel. It is given to us by God; we do not give it to ourselves, nor is it our natural habitat. And we are given the land in order to keep the Torah’s commandments there optimally or, in D’Costa’s words, “justly.” One of these commandments is: “A sojourner [ger] you shall not vex or oppress, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt” (Exod. 22:21). It seems to me that the Palestinians could be these “sojourners,” whom the rabbis called gerei toshav, which could be translated as “fellow residents” (see Leviticus 25:23). In the rabbinic view, these are Gentile inhabitants of the land of Israel, who accept Jewish sovereignty, and who accept what the Jewish tradition deems universally binding moral law. In return for accepting these obligations, these law-abiding Gentiles (who could even be deemed “Zionists” themselves) are entitled to the protection of Jewish civil and criminal law. Also, they are not required to convert to Judaism. And, according to one prominent rabbinic opinion, such Gentiles should also be allowed their own independent political system, which is about as close to sovereignty as they could come realistically (short of having an army rather than a police force, which the Israelis couldn’t accept for security reasons). Theologically speaking, there could be a Palestinian state that Jews could accept as Torah-legitimate. Nevertheless, what is possible theologically is at present quite unfeasible politically (as D’Costa himself recognizes).
The Torah is not clear (at least to us) as to what kind of government the people of Israel in the land of Israel can choose for themselves. Even when monarchy is proposed, it seems to be something the people themselves have to want (Deut. 17:14; 1 Sam. 8:4–21). As such, Jews have had the choice as to how they themselves want to be governed by themselves. D’Costa rightly sees that Jews today have wisely chosen to have a sovereign democratic nation-state in the land of Israel. Yet this nation-state is not an end in itself; rather, it is a humanly devised means for Jews to keep most effectively the Torah’s commandment to settle the land of Israel and dwell successfully and justly therein. This is contrary to the view of those—both some evangelical Zionists as well as many Jewish “messianists”—who questionably engage in what D’Costa calls “the deification of the present State of Israel.”
Gavin D’Costa’s Catholic Zionism becomes, therefore, another common point in the rich, theologically earnest Jewish-Christian interrelationship that has blossomed in the past seventy years or so. I for one welcome it.
the university of toronto
Gavin D’Costa replies:
I am grateful for Gerald McDermott’s support for my modest Catholic Zionism.
McDermott’s argument about the temple has one difficulty. Some Gospel writers wrote after the destruction of the temple. Thus, we cannot be assured that his plausible harmonizing can be attributed to “Gospel authors.” Mark 13 (and see also 14:58 and 15:29) contains Jesus’s reported predictions of the destruction of the Jerusalem temple, and John 2:19 directly puts this into Jesus’s mouth—and connects the risen Christ with the restored temple. If the temple had been destroyed by this point, then John’s text does eradicate the particularity of the temple. The Pontifical Biblical Commission noted that there are various trajectories present in the New Testament regarding the significance of the temple. Not all writers take its particularity with equal seriousness to that of the
people, the land, or Jesus Christ.
McDermott is correct in saying that historically Israel has walked many extra miles in seeking lasting peace with the Palestinians. It is to their credit.
However, we make different prudential judgments. Is Israel the “only state” in the Middle East that gives freedoms and rights to Jew and non-Jew alike? Many displaced Palestinians whose “right to return” has been denied may disagree with McDermott. I do not think that right to return can be exercised, but its denial must be acknowledged. And Lebanon, legally and constitutionally, is a democratic state that grants Jews freedoms and rights along with other religious groupings (even if that community is now virtually extinct). And is the Israeli government’s return of 90 percent of the land won in the 1967 war anything other than keeping international law (when so many do not), as well as getting a peace package?
That my Catholic proposals are “agreeable to [David Novak] as a Jew” constitutes, for me, the promising horizons of Jewish-Christian relations. Why? Because each of us is robustly loyal to our own traditions and norms and can come to significant agreement on such important questions.
Novak’s argument that there could be a Torah-legitimate Palestinian state is particularly welcome. Its lack of present political feasibility is one matter. Its Jewish theological legitimacy is another—and, in the long term, highly significant. Such legitimacy paves the way for moving toward real political change, should that opportunity arise.
Catholic Zionism is a challenge to Catholics that will not go away.
Oren Cass, in “The Problem with the Culture Problem” (January), argues that a “coherent conservatism” holds both that individuals are responsible for their choices, and that policymakers have a responsibility to think about how policies structure the decisions made by their fellow citizens. When confronted with the complex of problems facing our growing underclass, it will not do just to throw up our hands and blame the poor for the bad choices they make. We need to promote public policy that offers citizens a better set of choices.
From one perspective, Cass’s argument is a salutary move to overcome the polarized debate about the problem of poverty. To frame the problems of poverty as due either to economic and racial injustice or to cultural attitudes that lead to negative outcomes is to miss the complex forces that cause poverty. And Cass is also surely right to argue that attention to how economic and cultural forces impact individual behavior does not also entail a denial that individuals bear responsibility for the choices they do make.
A truly coherent conservatism needs to move beyond even Cass’s synthesis. My worry has to do with the narrative that underlies our understanding of the role of the policymaker. Cass recognizes the danger that policymakers can be tempted to think of themselves as social engineers. He thus proposes a role for policymakers that is limited to “areas where they might help to tip the scales.” But for Cass, the alternative would be a conception of leadership that exhibits “wisdom” by professing its “incompetence.” To frame the choice as such is to enter into a narrative wherein the role of leaders (or policymakers) is to do “serious social analysis” with the aim of structuring policies that generate good outcomes for people. It is the native language of the social sciences, in which social scientists develop models of human behavior using the same habits of thought natural scientists would use when developing their models of the behavior of molecules or ants. In such discourse, “we” (those interested in serious social analysis) have to learn about “them” (the poor), in the hopes that “we” can arrive at good policy decisions. Even if our analysis leads us to think there is a limit to what can be achieved through policy, our attention is centered on the question of what “we” can (or cannot) do.
Notice that the “we/they” distinction that is essential to such discourse mirrors the fractures in our society. To use Chris Arnade’s lexicon, “we” are the front row kids, who in the role of benevolent policymakers would like to make the lives of those back row kids better. The back row kids usually share this narrative framing. In those conversations, one hears a lot about what “they” (clueless bureaucrats) are doing to muck up “our” lives. Tocqueville warned about the danger that democracy would move in the direction of citizens increasingly thinking of government as the source of protection and prosperity. The story of the persistent and even worsening plight of the underclass is a symptom of a breakdown in society due to the adoption of such a narrative.
The measure of its traction can be seen in the reaction one might have to this position. If the problem is a broken narrative, what do you propose to do about it? What policy prescription would this issue in? How does it constitute “serious social analysis”?
There are resources within the conservative tradition to draw on. Part of conservatism is having respect for the emergent organization that bubbles up from below. Healthy narratives that employ a “we” that embraces us all would be part of that bubbling up. Perhaps it would be more likely to bubble up if we were to recognize the dangers of the implicit narrative of public policy discourse. We could imagine doing social science for an audience of people rather than for an audience of policymakers. We could imagine talking with people rather than about them. Who knows what that path would look like? That’s the point. We—the true we—might start to see ourselves in a story that is unfolding as a product of our conversations together. We don’t know how that story will turn out. That’s part of the adventure. But at least we would all have a part to play in such a story.
Oren Cass has become one of the most compelling voices for a new common-sense policy agenda, notably and correctly arguing for the priority of work over consumption. “The Problem with the Culture Problem” extends his general stance, outlining a rationale for a more active conservative policy program. He offers an astute summary of the problem with a neat-but-facile division of social issues into separate bins—economic and cultural. But although he promises to get us beyond the old debate, I wonder if that is because he has the place of culture wrong in the paradigm.
If the dichotomy between economics and culture is false, it is not because we cannot disentangle them, even if that is true. It’s because culture is to economics as soul is to body: The spirit gives life and nobility to what is otherwise dead. To borrow from Cass’s stop sign analogy: The problem is not whether to cut back the offending tree. The problem is whether we have enough light to discern that it is a tree that occludes our sight, not a stray child. In one scenario, a tool and a plan will serve; for the other, only a mother will do.
Are the present features of the American malaise a problem of inaction or a problem of insight? A sober read of social policy since the New Deal should prejudice us strongly against the former. But then if wisdom is lacking, we ought to prioritize matters of culture over economics—not because they are separable, but exactly because they are not. They will rise and fall together, and culture is the antecedent power.
What ought to keep policymakers up at night is wondering how to restore and expand the role of the institutions that nurture the proper loves of the human spirit—God, family, and country. These institutions are—chiefly—lifelong marriage, religious education, and the Church. This certainly means thinking outside the margin, and relinquishing 70x7 forms of governmental crowding out. If these culture-forming institutions can be revived, Americans on both sides of the knife edge of college education will thrive. In fact, the knife edge itself may become a relic of the dark ages of American anti-culture.
Catherine Ruth Pakaluk
the catholic university
Oren Cass contrasts economics-only and culture-only explanations for stubborn poverty, and cites William Ryan’s Blaming the Victim as a classic statement of the economics-only position: The poor are poor because of 1) “insufficient income” and 2) “no access to methods of increasing that income—that is, no power.” I believe Bill Ryan would have found more to agree with in Cass’s article than one might think.
I am married to William Ryan’s daughter Elizabeth, and was honored to know Bill from 1986 until his death in 2002 (and to know his remarkable wife, Phyllis, until her death several years earlier). In our many conversations, we often disagreed, but Bill’s confidence in the basic virtues of the working-class people who raised him in Everett, Massachusetts, was clearly the background for much of his thinking. He scorned the idea that working-class poor (black or white) would not know what to do with well-paying jobs and economic opportunity.
Cass makes the point that the two extremes are not sustainable—economics-only explanations must invoke culture, and culture-only explanations must invoke economics. Bill would have agreed that culture affects economics. In his book, the primary barriers to an increase in income for the poor were cultural: poor health, discrimination, and what he termed the ideological habit of “victim-blaming.” At the same time, he would have assumed that the poor do not need more income only, but more income earned through a well-paying job.
Bill did not follow the cultural left into the nihilistic swamp of the culture wars. When he asserted that the solution to poverty was an increase in income, and that the culture would then “take care of itself,” he was not envisioning a utopia of expressive individualism. The poor want intact families and strong, secure communities; so did Bill. He was in no way a closet conservative—his deep distrust of markets and economic power guaranteed that. But he could be an ally in surprising ways where culture was concerned—much like the poor working class themselves.
Andrew M. Yuengert
the catholic university