Ex Corde and the Dilbert Effect

The controversy over Notre Dame’s awarding President Obama an honorary degree raised a fundamental question: What is a Catholic university? Many rich examinations of Catholic mission exist, of course, (from the works of John Cardinal Newman in the last century to Ex Corde Ecclesiae today) but they rarely have any effect on attempts to build Catholic mission. One reason for this may be that these examinations are too rich to serve as guides to definite action. Those in favor of stronger Catholic identity have difficulty maintaining focus on the best among many related concepts… . Continue Reading »

The Motivated Belief of John Polkinghorne

The word fundamentalist was first used in July 1920, and for much of the next decade American Protestants fought bitter internal battles over who would control their denominational seminaries, mission boards, and local churches. While those liberal Protestants who called themselves “modernists” sought to accommodate traditional Christian beliefs to modern science, politics, and culture, their conservative opponents were eager “to do battle royal for the fundamentals,” in the militaristic language of the Baptist preacher who coined the word… . Continue Reading »

Christianity Will Be Victorious, But Only In Defeat

Editor’s Note: In the August/September 2009 issue of First Things, currently on news stands, is a major new essay by René Girard drawn from his recent book, Achever Clausewitz, forthcoming as Battling to the End: Politics, War, and Apocalypse from Michigan State University Press. Here, as a First Things Online exclusive, literary journalist Cynthia Haven interviews Girard about his book.Continue Reading »

How God and Science Mix

Two weeks ago, the Wall Street Journal published an article entitled “God and Science Don’t Mix” written by a physicist named Lawrence M. Krauss. I wrote a reply, which the Journal decided not to run. The text of my reply is given below. Those who read the Krauss article should be warned that Krauss makes a false insinuation about the views on miracles and the Virgin Birth of Br. Guy Consolmagno, a Jesuit astrophysicist at the Vatican Observatory. I e-mailed Br. Guy and he assured me that Krauss completely misrepresented his views. Here is the reply to Krauss that the Wall Street Journal decided not to run… . Continue Reading »

From the Apocalypse to the Rule of Law

The new issue of First Things is out”the August/September issue, filled with as broad a range of material as we’ve ever published. There’s economics, politics, legal theory, literary theory, history, poetry, and ethics. And then there’s René Girard”the grand literary theorist turned anthropologist turned theologian”who contributes an essay, drawn from his forthcoming book, on the lessons of war and the apocalypse. “Christianity is the only religion that has foreseen its own failure,” he writes… . Continue Reading »

Calvin, Conversions, and Catholicity

Since the sixteenth century, conversions and counter-conversions between Protestantism and Roman Catholicism have been the stuff of controversy, polemic, and recrimination. The Lutheran-Catholic concord on the formula cuius regio, eius religio virtually guaranteed the escalation of political strife as parties competed for sovereignty. With the emancipation of church from state in the post-Reformation era, churches in North America have inherited a rather different set of implications for the conversion of political figures. When Newt Gingrich announced earlier this year that he had converted to Roman Catholicism, and when news broke in 2002 that Sen. Sam Brownback of Kansas had done the same, relatively few outside of the Beltway took more than passing notice… . Continue Reading »

The Uncharacteristic Catholic Moments of Friedrich Schiller

Peter Oswald’s version of Friedrich Schiller’s “Mary Stuart,” whose run at New York’s Broadhurst Theater ends in mid-August, succeeds in making this 1801 warhorse of the German Classic crackle on a modern stage. Schiller (1759“1805) was guilty of historical distortions no worse than those in Cate Blanchett’s “Elizabeth” films, and his treatment of character is infinitely superior. At his best, no tragedian after Shakespeare surpasses him. “Mary Stuart” depicts the conflict between the Protestant Elizabeth and the Catholic Mary, quite differently from the two Blanchett films, which crawl with ominous Spaniards and lurking Jesuit assassins. It is noteworthy that the Catholic cause gets a more sympathetic look from a nineteenth century enemy of the Church than from twenty-first century Hollywood… . Continue Reading »

The Social Gospel of Charles Dickens

“I hold my imaginative capacity,” Charles Dickens once wrote, “on the stern condition that it must master my own life, often have complete possession of me, make its own demands upon me, and, sometimes for months together, put everything else away from me.”

And yet, such isolation always made him uneasy. Privately and publicly, Dickens extolled the vita activa and warned of the dangers and vices that often overwhelm those who withdraw morosely from society, or who hold themselves above the common run of humanity. Dickens’s novels repeatedly make snobs, solipsists, and self-absorbed spongers the targets of satirical scorn. In Bleak House Harold Skimpole appears contemptible when he boasts of his egocentric and conniving ways”his brazen habit of cadging money and sympathy from susceptible friends.

Of course, in the same novel, the kind and generous Esther Summerson behaves quite otherwise. … Continue Reading »

Defending Truth

Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange, O.P. (1877“1964), was the twentieth-century Catholic theologian whose outlook and intellectual projects epitomized the confident intransigence of the pre-Vatican II Church. Professor of theology at the Angelicum in Rome for many decades, Garrigou-Lagrange taught Aristotle and St. Thomas to many generations of seminarians. As a consultant to the Holy Office, he played an important role in the intellectual politics of mid-century Catholicism. His reputation was clear: hardnosed about truth and in favor of the use of church authority in its defense.

In recent decades, Garrigou and the Catholic sensibility he embodied has been out of style, very out of style. Richard McCormick, Roger Haight, Elizabeth Johnson, Monica Hellwig, Charles Curran, Gregory Baum, David Tracy, and other post-Vatican II theologians emerged as the standard bearers for what they hoped would be a new church, a new spirit, and a new age. They wanted to be flexible and pluralistic when it came to truth, and they were suspicious when it came to authority, especially church authority.

Time has passed. The young progressives have aged and grayed… . Continue Reading »

Caritas and Economics

Editor’s Note: In 1995, Michael Novak wrote a lecture on the subject of “Caritas and Economics.” The original text is reprinted here in the hopes that it will shed further light on the widespread reflection on caritas and economics about to be requested by Benedict XVI’s upcoming encyclical

In one of the two greatest lines of world poetry, Dante bows gently toward “The Love that moves the sun and all the stars.” Many moralists speak of love as the one fundamental and universal moral principle, the golden rule honored in all traditions. But what do we mean by love? In English we are hampered by having but one word for many kinds of love. In Latin at least six different terms are available for six different loves.

The most general term is amor”the term that Dante used for the force that moves the sun and choreographs the stars in their millennial dance across the skies. Amor means pull, attraction, being driven together. One can use it of Earth’s gravity, the passions that pull the sexes to cohabitate, and “the force that through the green grass drives” (e.e.cummings).

But eros is a love more driving, and obsessive, almost mad… . Continue Reading »