Highlighting the Abyss
I am indebted to Stephen J. Kovacs for reviewing my book The Dark Night of the Body (March). He is correct that the last chapters should have been placed at the beginning, but this was not written as a book; the publisher simply collected some of my many articles dedicated to this topic and put them in the order in which they first appeared.
I chose the words intimate sphere over the more popular word sex because I wanted to highlight the abyss that separates humans from animals, who do not know, and cannot know, what intimacy is.
The title Dark Night of the Body points to the fact that the Evil One has a particular hatred for a domain meant both to express love and bring new lives into the world. He uses all his talents as Tempter to find ways and means to make us trip and fall. Darkness points to danger. A priest friend once told me that the intimate sphere is the one most sinned against.
The special object of Satans hatred is woman, for she is the mother of the living, and being a murderer from the beginning, he wants to desecrate the mystery of femininity. I dub him the Father of Feminism. Abortion is his greatest victory since original sin.
One of the many paradoxes of Catholicism is that it has the noblest and most beautiful teaching on the intimate sphere let us not forget that marriage is a sacrament yet keeps warning us how dangerous it can be.
By the way, I found out accidentally that Dark Night of the Body was a title Fulton J. Sheen gave to one of his books.
Alice von Hildebrand
New Rochelle, New York
How the West Was Wonderful
Terry Scambrays review of Vishal Mangalwadis The Book that Made Your World (March) speaks to the truth that as people think like God and obey His laws, they will see the world as it is and hence be able to expand their knowledge and improve their material well-being. And, while the pre-Christian Jews spent a huge amount of time in anticipation of the Messiah, mature Christians have their hope fulfilled and thus are free to discover His physical laws. Christians, with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, form the picture of Western civilization on the march!
Scambrays review provokes further thinking as to why Christianity resulted in the flowering of the West while other cultures influenced by different religions never blossomed. This is so because Christianity teaches that man is not merely a bag of chemicals but has intrinsic value, as evidenced by the Incarnation. Therefore, it is good to better mans condition through material discoveries. Furthermore, God, being rational rather than capricious, created a rational and designed universe whose laws are discernible and useful in fulfilling Jesus promise of a more abundant life here on earth. Man, being created in the image of God, is also a maker of things.
Scambrays review also hints at the Christian idea that history is linear and progressive, which is contrary to the pagan view of history in which man is doomed to suffer through an eternity of endless cycles.
There is one more reason for the great influence of the Bible in Western history: freedom, which is so important that God made it a consistent theme. From the Old Testament to the New, the Bible is full of freedom talk: freedom from bondage, freedom from sin, freedom from fear, freedom to worship God in spirit and truth, freedom from final death Christ has set us free!
Cultures dominated by religions that deny their people freedom remain stagnant since they stifle curiosity, entrepreneurship, and courageous exploration. These cultures entangle their people in spurious, man-made rules that control and manipulate them to inhumane and satanic ends.
As man is set free by the truth that is Jesus Christ, he finds God revealing more of the how and why of the structure of His creation, resulting in blessings in the here and now and also in the future life. Praise God!
Not a Formal Schism
In your New Oxford Note Losing the Liberals (March), you write that the 1988 consecration of four bishops by Archbishop Marcel Lefebvre of the Society of St. Pius X (SSPX) brought about a formal schism in the Church. This is simply not true. In an interview some years ago, Darío Cardinal Castrillón Hoyos, then-prefect of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, said that the consecrations did not properly accomplish a schism and that the SSPX is not a formal schism but has irregular canonical status.
By his courage and holiness, Archbishop Lefebvre saved and preserved the beautiful Tridentine Latin Mass. I believe he is a great saint in Heaven.
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
On the very same day Lefebvre illicitly consecrated four bishops for his priestly society, the Vatican Press Office issued this statement: According to Canon 1013, the consecration of bishops on June 30 by Monsignor Lefebvre, in spite of the admonition on June 17, has been carried out explicitly against the popes will; this is a formally schismatic act according to Canon 751 (emphasis added).
Canon 1013 states that no bishop is permitted to consecrate anyone a bishop unless it is first evident that there is a pontifical mandate. Canon 751 defines schism as the refusal of submission to the Roman Pontiff or of communion with the members of the Church subject to him. And Canon 1364 states that a schismatic incurs automatic (latae sententiae) excommunication.
Lefebvres refusal to submit to Pope St. John Paul II, who warned Lefebvre against consecrating bishops without a papal mandate, qualifies as an act of schism, by which he and the four bishops he consecrated incurred automatic excommunication.
Accordingly, John Paul, in his apostolic letter Ecclesia Dei issued just two days later (July 2, 1988; note how quickly the Holy See acted), wrote with a heavy heart that the unlawful episcopal ordination conferred on 30 June was an act of disobedience to the Roman Pontiff in a very grave matter and of supreme importance for the unity of the church, such as is the ordination of bishops whereby the apostolic succession is sacramentally perpetuated. Hence such disobedience which implies in practice the rejection of the Roman primacy constitutes a schismatic act. In performing such an act, notwithstanding the formal canonical warning sent to them by the Cardinal Prefect of the Congregation for Bishops on 17 June last, Mons. Lefebvre and the priests Bernard Fellay, Bernard Tissier de Mallerais, Richard Williamson and Alfonso de Galarreta, have incurred the grave penalty of excommunication envisaged by ecclesiastical law (emphasis in original).
Twelve years earlier, in July 1976, Lefebvre had illicitly ordained 13 priests for his society in defiance of a formal warning and a personal plea from Bl. Pope Paul VI an action that resulted in his suspension a divinis, meaning he had been barred from exercising his priestly and episcopal ministries.
Sadly, Lefebvre remained recalcitrant until the end; he died in a state of separation from the Catholic Church. In our October 2014 issue, we reprinted excerpts of an interview Fr. Beniamino Di Martino conducted with Silvio Cardinal Oddi in November 1991 an interview that included mention of a revealing episode about the Holy Sees efforts to reconcile Lefebvre at the end of his life. When Msgr. Lefebvre became critically ill, writes Fr. Di Martino, Oddi prepared to go to Ecône, the Swiss center of the Lefebvrian community. At the least sign of repentance, Cardinal Oddi would have immediately released the excommunication that burdened the dying bishop. The mission that Oddi wanted to carry out did not happen because Lefebvre remained immovable to the end. It is improbable that Oddi could have made the decision to visit Lefebvres bedside in the hope of granting absolution to the schismatic bishop were this not desired and directly requested by John Paul II. [Lefebvre] died on March 25, 1991.
Is Lefebvre a great saint in Heaven? Only God knows for sure, but were not aware of any canonized saints who died in schism.
If we had to guess why Cardinal Castrillón would try to walk back the Holy Sees decree at a twenty-year remove, we would speculate that it had much to do with the delicate nature of the negotiations between the Vatican and the SSPX at the time. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had recently issued Summorum Pontificum and had lifted the excommunications of Fellay, Tissier de Mallerais, Williamson, and de Galarreta. Optimism was in the air, and the Holy See was again making extraordinary efforts to reconcile the rogue society to the Church. Cardinal Castrillón must have thought he could further the cause of normalization by minimizing the nature of the separation.
In another interview, the cardinal said, With this motu proprio [Summorum Pontificum] the door is widely opened for a return of the Society of St. Pius X to full communion. If, after this act, the return does not take place, I truly will not be able to comprehend.
To the good cardinals undoubtedly great consternation, the hoped-for return has not taken place, and it looks more remote than ever. The SSPX has rebuffed all of the Holy Sees offers of reconciliation, most recently a 2012 doctrinal preamble that would have bestowed the status of a personal prelature on the society. Even though the Church remains willing, even eager in some quarters, to welcome the SSPX back into the fold, this decades-long effort clearly isnt high on Pope Franciss list of concerns.
Where does that leave the SSPX vis-à-vis the Church? In the words of Gerhard Cardinal Müller, current prefect of the Pontifical Commission Ecclesia Dei, The canonical excommunication for the illicit ordinations has been lifted from the bishops, but the sacramental de facto excommunication for schism remains; they have departed from communion with the Church. We do not follow that up by shutting the door, we never do, and we call on them to be reconciled. But on their part too, they must change their attitude and accept the Catholic Churchs conditions and the Supreme Pontiff as the definitive criterion of membership.
Dont Participate in the Lies
The 2008 interview in which Bishop Richard Williamson of the SSPX tried to cast doubt on the crimes of the Nazis will go down in history as one of the most morally disgraceful episodes in the history of the Catholic traditionalist movement. In doing so, he dishonored the victims of the Nazis, humiliated the Holy Father, and continues to cause millions of people worldwide to equate preference for the Latin Mass with neo-Nazism. He also contributed to my own exit from the local SSPX chapel I had been happily attending since 2003. It was simply too horrifying to be screamed and sworn at by two of my fellow parishioners for refusing to defend the indefensible.
Since his infamous interview, Bishop Williamson has been expelled from the SSPX for, among other things, demanding the overthrow of its superior general, Bishop Bernard Fellay, whom he considers a traitor for even being willing to talk with the Holy See about a possible reunion. The sole good to come out of the whole affair was Bishop Fellays strictly enforced ban on sermons relating to unproven historical theses.
And this March, Williamson consecrated one of his followers as a bishop, excommunicating himself once again.
Bishop Williamson travels the world, visits his remaining loyalists, and, according to one eyewitness, continues his former practice of preaching conspiracy theories from the pulpit. His theories are not confined to the subject of the Holocaust. He believes that 9/11 was all smoke and mirrors created by the U.S. government. I have personally heard him preach from the pulpit that Pope John Paul I was poisoned by a Masonic Lodge inside the College of Cardinals. Williamsons other theories, relating to an alleged Judeo-Communist-Masonic conspiracy that controls the world, have existed among Catholic clergy and laity for more than a century.
In a 1941 essay, Dietrich von Hildebrand, whom Pope Pius XII dubbed a 20th century Doctor of the Church, pointed out the ludicrous nature of such ideas: The myth of a conspiratorial Jewish clan ruling the world is as ridiculous a fable as the widely spread tale of world domination by the Jesuits. Great masses of people have always been susceptible to such illusions and are always glad to have a scapegoat. They willingly swallow propaganda to the effect that some Jewish world center is responsible at one and the same time for Communism and Capitalism, for wars and pacifistic defeatism.
Whenever I think of Williamson and others like him, I am invariably reminded of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who sharply criticized similar conspiracy theories within the Russian Orthodox Church, and who offers a way out for traditionalists who are disturbed by such false allegations but who fear speaking out. The simplest and most accessible key to our liberation, Solzhenitsyn once wrote, is a personal non-participation in lies! Even if all is covered by lies and is under their rule, let us resist in the smallest way . Like parasites, [lies] can only survive when attached to a person . Our way must be: Never [to] knowingly support lies and we will be amazed how swiftly and helplessly the lies will fall away, and that which is destined to be naked will be exposed to the world.
Brendan D. King
St. Cloud, Minnesota
A Needless Effort
In his reply to the letters (March) about his article The Crisis in Biblical Scholarship (Dec. 2014), Hurd Baruch makes a needless effort when he says he must strive to harmonize various passages in the Gospels because of seeming inconsistencies, for example in the timing of Jesus cleansing of the Temple. The synoptic authors clearly set it before Jesus final Passover, after His climactic entry into Jerusalem, while St. John relates it at the first Passover of Jesus public ministry.
In the Catena Aurea for St. John (2:14-17), both St. Augustine and St. John Chrysostom two of the greatest commentators ever on the Gospels explain that these were two separate occurrences. Chrysostom also notes that Christ uses severer language in Matthews account, which is just before His Passion, while in Johns account, which is at the beginning of His miracles, His answer is milder and more indulgent. Thus, there is no inconsistency here and no effort needed to harmonize.
Anne Barbeau Gardiner
Brewster, New York
Hurd Baruch posits an inconsistency between what the synoptic Gospels have to say about Jesus cleansing of the Temple and what John says. No way! While it is perfectly true that the synoptic cleansing comes before Jesus final Passover, as compared with Johns, which seems to occur at the first Passover of Jesus public ministry, there could easily have been two cleansings, one more violent than the other. As Mr. Baruch himself says, we must strive to harmonize various passages.
There are two versions of the Our Father. But Jesus is likely to have taught the prayer on various occasions, and to children as well as adults. Similarly, there are two versions of Jesus stump speech with different settings mountainside vs. plain. The words of consecration at the Last Supper vary, once again, depending on the Gospel one reads. But as in all other cases of apparent contradiction, reconciliation is possible. There were multiple distributions of bread and wine at Seder suppers, and the words that were spoken in each instance could have varied, especially if the speaker was Christ the Lord.
We are dealing, ladies and gentlemen, with the Word of God, and God does not err. In 1893, when scriptural skepticism appeared to be carrying the day in Protestant circles, Pope Leo XIII released Providentissimus Deus, his great encyclical on biblical scholarship, in which he labeled any interpretation foolish or false that makes the sacred writers disagree one with another. All books of the Bible, wrote Leo, are written wholly and entirely, with all their parts, at the dictation of the Holy Spirit, and it is impossible that God Himself, the Supreme Truth, can utter what is false (see nos. 14 and 20).
Just so. The Gospels must be given the benefit of the doubt.
Frederick W. Marks
Forest Hills, New York
HURD BARUCH REPLIES:
My latest interlocutors are too quick to conclude that I was wandering off base. According to my dictionary, to harmonize is to bring into harmony, which is a pleasing combination of elements in a whole. Attempts to harmonize Gospel accounts are a longstanding and orthodox tradition, as practiced, for example, by St. Augustine in his Harmony of the Gospels. Harmonizing does not require that one account of two be discarded to create a one-line melody. And I did not speak of inconsistencies, but of seeming inconsistencies. To use an old legal expression, the horse lies buried in the word seeming. Personally, I accept the Gospel accounts as showing two cleansings of the Temple, just as I accept two separate multiplications of the loaves and fishes.
In such matters, I find it helpful to refer to the visions of Bl. Anne Catherine Emmerich, which I wrote about extensively in Light on Light: Illuminations of the Gospel of Jesus Christ from the Mystical Visions of the Venerable Anne Catherine Emmerich (Maxkol Communications, 2004). In particular, I find her accounts useful in harmonizing the seeming inconsistencies between the synoptic accounts and the Gospel of John as to when the Last Supper took place. The former depict it as the Passover Seder, while John clearly depicts the supper as having occurred on the night before the normal celebration (because Jesus was slain at the same time as the lambs were slain for the regular feast). According to Sr. Emmerich, while the Sanhedrin was considering the case of Jesus, a charge was made against Him that He had eaten the Paschal lamb early. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (members of the Sanhedrin) were asked why they had allowed Jesus and His disciples to celebrate the Passover early, on their property. These worthies then proved that a custom existed of allowing Galileans to celebrate a day early so that they could come into Jerusalem and leave early, making way for other pilgrims, to avoid overcrowding.
How about that for harmonizing seeming inconsistencies?
Stung by Francis
As a practicing Catholic and the mother of 10 (five adoptions and five pregnancies), like C. Jacob Johnson I too felt the sting of Pope Franciss suggestion that responsible parents avoid breeding like rabbits (Rabbitgate: Twelve Questions for Pope Francis, March). I filed this away with the Holy Fathers other thoughtless remarks that reporters find so humble and charming, quips like Who am I to judge? in reference to homosexuality, his advice to right-to-lifers to stop obsessing over abortion, and his supposedly lighthearted expressions of understanding the terrorists motives in the recent atrocity in Paris since some (but not all!) of the victims had insulted Islam. In his effort to find an analogy, Francis said even a dear friend could expect a punch if he insulted the Popes mother!
Mr. Johnson and I know that the Popes unscripted remarks do not constitute part of the official moral teaching of the Church. As an older Catholic, I was well catechized in the moral law prior to Vatican II, but other Catholics, especially the young who are growing up in an age of sound bites and mass communication, are not so fortunate. Teens are sexually maturing and will go on to raise families. In this fast-paced world, few of them are poring over the Churchs actual documents on moral theology. The very real danger from some of the Popes most publicized sound bites is that many understand them as the teachings of the Church.
The Pope is not being misquoted by the press on the contrary, he is being recorded! and he has not retracted any of his statements or apologized for them. And now, even though he probably didnt intend this, he has his own motto. Popular mottoes can be good. Ask any Catholic to give a quote from Pope St. John Paul II and most would say Be not afraid, perhaps seeing in their minds eyes his hands outstretched in blessing and embrace. Ask for a quote from Pope Francis and you will get Who am I to judge? An appropriate gesture for such a quote is a shrug of the shoulders; the phrase can represent a kind of moral neutrality or even indifference. And it influences behavior. For example, when it was announced that gay-pride groups would march in this years St. Patricks Day Parade in Boston (even after the Supreme Court decided in 1995 that they could be excluded), the parades spokesman, in response to queries from reporters, simply quoted the Holy Father: Who am I to judge?
Oak Ridge, Tennessee
I would love to hear Pope Franciss responses to the 12 questions posed by C. Jacob Johnson. I am one of 10 children raised by humble, faithful Catholic parents. We are all productive adults now, raising our own children in the faith. As my mother lay dying, surrounded by my father and her 10 grown children, she told us that she loved and wanted each one of us from the moment she realized she was pregnant. Despite the hardships and financial difficulties of raising 10 children on my fathers meager salary, my parents never thought of themselves as being irresponsible.
St. Catherine of Siena, that great Doctor of the Church, was one of 25 children. Would Pope Francis refer to her parents as rabbits?
During the papacies of St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI, it was common to hear the lament that a large segment of society was missing out on their erudite teachings due to our headline-news and sound-bite culture. Thankfully, the scholarship of these two popes prevented them from succumbing to the temptation of reductionism that allows for cheeky sound bites.
Pope Francis appears to be operating under two distinct pastoral approaches. To those who are considered marginalized, he is tender, generous, and compassionate. To those Catholics who have made sacrifices to live their lives according to Church teaching, he is critical, challenging, and flippant. For instance, when he was offered a spiritual bouquet of 3,525 rosaries prayed for his papacy, his response was that Pelagianism is still alive in the Church! This remark was just as callous as his more recent one about the parents of large families behaving like rabbits.
Jesus Himself operated on this pastoral model as well. The object of His criticism, however, was commonly the scribes and Pharisees. If Pope Francis operates under this paradigm, does that mean that he sees faithful Catholics as todays scribes and Pharisees?
Why doesnt Francis exercise the same tenderness and compassion with the parents of large families that he does with homosexual persons who seek the Lord and have goodwill, of whom he famously said, Who am I to judge? Why did he not assume that the woman he boasted of reproaching because she was pregnant with her eighth child had made a well-thought-out decision with her husband? It is not like the C-sections were unduly risking her life. In what way was she tempting God, as Francis claimed? Instead, the Pope gives the benefit of the doubt to homosexuals. There is nothing wrong with providing encouragement to a sinner who is genuinely seeking God. Yet I am troubled by his reproach of a sinner who is genuinely seeking God by living out her vocation as a mother.
I am not ignorant of the irony of my writing this, since, by the evidence of his papacy thus far, I am favored by the Pope due to my self-marginalization. After all, I came to prison because of my vices and sinful actions. Yet because I am in prison I am granted his tenderness, generosity, and compassion. However, were it not for the actual and practical generosity and compassion of supporters of the NORs Scholarship Fund, I would not be able to read the NOR and learn about our faith. That does not remind me of the scribes and Pharisees at all but of the children of God who show they are Christians by their love. Does the Pope not see this?
My heart breaks for my brothers and sisters who feel attacked or abandoned by our Holy Father. Nevertheless, I love our successor to Peter and remind all of my brothers and sisters to pray for him. We live in an age of confusion, and only the Immaculate Heart of Mary is our refuge and the way that will lead us to God.
Earl J. Hinson
Martin Correctional Institution
I understand C. Jacob Johnsons urge to question Pope Franciss manners. However, upon reflection, I have come to believe that the Pope was reminding the flock that although we are called sheep, we are not mere animals that give in to impulse, instinct, or desire. We are that most wonderful creation man who can reason and discern the best, most prudent things in our behavior.
C. Jacob Johnsons guest column made me realize that theres something about Pope Francis that makes me cringe. Is it that he should have recused himself from being nominated for Pope, if he were truly humble and obedient to his vows as a Jesuit? After all, Fr. Anthony Spadaro, a Jesuit who has written a book about Francis, has said, We never imagined that a Jesuit could become Pope. It was an impossible thing. It sent me into a crisis, in a sense, when he was elected. We Jesuits are supposed to be at the service of the pope, not to be a pope.
Or is it that Francis speaks without thinking, exhibiting a garrulous trait that is troublesome for the Church? After all, our Lord said, Let your yes be yes and your no be no, for anything beyond these is from the evil one (Mt. 5:37).
Or is it that the Pope has not said, Go and sin no more (Jn. 8:11) to the divorcées, abortionists, and practicing homosexuals, but rather Who am I to judge? as if he were not the one and only infallible moral compass in the Church?
Who knows? Perhaps the good Pope Francis does e.g., cleaning up the Vatican Bank will outweigh the bad.
Richard M. DellOrfano
San Marcos, California
Who is Pope Francis? He has insulted faithful Catholics, calling them, among other things, Pelagians, museum-piece Catholics, and now rabbits. [For a then-comprehensive list of Franciss insults, see our New Oxford Note Pope Francis: Put-Down Artist? April 2014 Ed.] Hes said we shouldnt obsess over abortion. He has called proselytism solemn nonsense. He even invited a Spanish woman who underwent gender-reassignment surgery and her female fiancée to have a private audience with him at the Vatican. Francis is reported to have said to him/her in a phone call, God loves all his children, whoever they are; you are a son of God, who accepts you exactly as you are. Of course you are a son of the Church! Google the name Diego Neria Lejárraga if you dont believe me.
The NOR needs to add a new section to follow The News You May Have Missed and New Oxford Notes. It should be called Francis Explained. There would never be a shortage of material for such a section.
C. JACOB JOHNSON REPLIES
To Janice Hicks
Thank you, my fellow rabbit, and may God richly bless your family.
The best I can say is that the Holy Father seems to be strumming the chord of relativism in order to make friends, and has tickled the ears of reporters and popular society. For example, Franciss Who am I to judge? remark contains within it a special universe of mis-meaning that is characteristic of our relativistic age: The phrase tries to mean what it says (dont judge people) but at the same time means the opposite (judge people who judge behavior).
Your parade reference is another terrific example: The constitutional principle on which the Supreme Court based its decision it is a private parade and nobody can be compelled to communicate somebody elses message in his own parade has somehow morphed into it is a private parade and nobody can be compelled not to communicate somebody elses message in his own parade.
But we had better be careful, for the closer we examine these things, the nearer we come from papal rabbits to Carrollian ones, taking us into a completely alternative world.
To Name Withheld
My fellow rabbit, may God richly bless your family as well. Your letter and your experience go to show that perhaps there is something more to people, families, and life itself than cost-and-benefits analysis, financial projections, and making it financially. Just maybe there was something very responsible about your parents and St. Catherine of Sienas parents.
To Earl J. Hinson
I agree completely, and have great love and affection for our dear successor of Peter. But the age of confusion you wisely point to at times seems to threaten to drag into it the speech of our very holy leadership, to the peril of many. And the particular brand of dual-pastoralism may contribute.
My family will pray a rosary for you and your intentions.
To Dennis Wichterman
It would seem well to point out that the Holy Father has since issued various corrections to his unfortunate rabbit comment, even if he did not retract his original statement. For instance, on February 11, he went so far as to say The choice to not have children is selfish, which is enough to make any rabbit cheer, were they able.
But I am not so certain of the interpretation you suggest. Lower animals do only that which benefits them, based on instinct. We, however, the most wonderful creation, are privileged to do what does not benefit us including accepting difficult pregnancies and living the difficult lives that bringing new souls into the world entail, so that we may bring new souls to Him. It is, in popular terms, imprudent. In taking on difficulties that we need not, we are acting unlike lower animals, muting our impulses.
To Richard M. DellOrfano
Im sure youd agree that not a few of us will cringe at ourselves on judgment day.
As a Jesuit-educated (two degrees) student myself, I understand your point about the modern Jesuit and the mechanics of the Jesuit order more practically. It is a very good point.
To my mind, as long as there is an Ignatius of Loyola (and there is and always will be), due credit must be given to the Jesuit order and to all Jesuits. We risk letting them (all and each) off the hook when we refuse to hold them up to the measure of this great saint and all that he stood for when we say of them, Who are we to judge?
To Douglas Rose
A cogent and consistent application of the Holy Fathers logic would dictate that if we are not allowed to judge those on the peripheries, even more so are we not allowed to judge the Holy Father! For if a priest who seeks God can openly advocate sodomy (with his public lifestyle) and not be subject to judgment, how can the Supreme Priest himself advocate transsexualism (by calling a transsexual a son of the Church) and be subject to judgment? This is the irony of the Pope as judge teaching us that we cannot judge. It is like a sphere being against circularism. But if the supreme representative of Judgment Itself says we must not judge, where in the world will authentic human judgment come from? How can there be standards at all anymore?
A Prophet of Contradictions
Reading Carl Sundells article Isaac Newton: Scientist, Theologian & End-Times Prophet (March), I knew not whether to laugh or cry. Newton is firmly canonized as a saint of modern physics, and as such, commands suitable hagiographical respect. Beneath the halo, however, an unmythologized Newton should command much less esteem. It is difficult to take Prof. Sundells quotations of Newton seriously because Newton changed his opinion so often. Newton can be found saying many things, not a few contradictory. A good example is his ruminations about light. He first exclaimed that he had discovered an amazingly simple linear principle of light. But afterward he thought the principle was parabolic. Many years later, he published his Optics, in which he finessed the whole matter. And a century later, Newtons theory of light was proven false.
Other instances could easily be given. Newton insisted the location of the sun was absolute, and that space and time were absolute physical realities.
As for Newton the theologian, he is more like Jefferson or Lincoln, men who operated from a belief in God, seeking to understand its meaning. While admirable in their sincerity, a truncated belief makes the task of understanding that much more difficult.
As to Newton the prognosticator, he was an arrogant and vindictive man. As such, it might be prudent to consider his end-times predictions as kind of a joke.
Newton is to physics what Martin Luther is to Christianity. Both men had great energy, both were intuitive in their thinking, both caused great revolutions in their culture, both had dramatic effects on history, and both were wrong.
I commend Sundell for his effort to bring a discussion of Newton to the fore. Just as it is difficult to understand the present difficulties without studying Martin Luther, a study of the real Newton can also illuminate our present difficulties.
Joseph R. Breton
Diverting the Debate
In his reply to my letter (Dec. 2014) addressing some errors in the New Oxford Note The Blood Crying Out From the Ground (Oct. 2014), the NOR editor effectively damaged his own argument. I decided not to reply for the simple reason that when Rumpelstiltskin stomps and rages into rhetorical oblivion, its best just to get out of the way. Yet, after reading the letters of others who did reply to our exchange, and the editors further responses (March), I could not keep quiet.
Like Mike Hargadon, I, too, am disturbed by our co-religionists lack of awareness that our government and its allies have used deceptive tactics to sway public opinion and sell their agenda. However, Mr. Hargadon reveals his own hysterical agenda when he states that George Weigel was key in selling the Iraqi genocide to Catholics. I cant recall Weigel promoting the liquidation of the Arab people or the systematic elimination of any of Iraqs ethnic groups. Would Mr. Hargadon like to rephrase that statement, or better yet, could the NOR editor defend this emotionally charged lie? Or does he believe every word of it?
Throughout this debate, the editor has attempted to draw readers attention away from the truths at hand. For example, Andreas Loeffler suggested that the editor, in his reply to me, could have dealt with me with a little more humility, for which the editor scolded him, saying, If pointing out our leaders lack of prudence is a sin against humility, then the Popes are as guilty as we are. Could the editor show us where the Popes used such caustic language as he used against me and those who fall on my side of the Iraq war debate? Mr. Loeffler did not call the lack of restraint a sin, but the editor must have thought that changing the subject would flummox his critics.
In his reply to my letter, the editor absurdly wrote, There is no evidence whatsoever to support the notion that by lengthening our occupation we would pacify and civilize Islamic extremists. The editors use of scare quotes implies that I used those terms. American armies dont pacify terrorists. They kill and imprison a few and let the majority of the residue die off of natural causes.
The most egregious example of the editors diversionary tactics was in response to Mario Rubino: We certainly hope Mr. Rubino isnt suggesting [which he certainly was not] that a pre-emptive military strike against, say, North Korea would have been justified in response to last Decembers Sony Hack cyber-attack. Mr. Rubino might have imagined a future cyber-attack altering computers that run the water supply within major cities or shutting down the U.S. electrical grid, say, in the cold of January, when thousands of elderly and other vulnerable people would freeze to death in sub-zero temperatures.
Nonetheless, this wrangling is a moot point anyway because Saddams Iraq invaded a foreign nation, raping and killing during its occupation of Kuwait. His regime killed thousands of Shia, Sunni, Christian, and Kurdish fellow-citizens through poison gassings and starvation, trained al-Qaeda in a grounded jet fuselage near Baghdad, aggressively shot at U.S. jets in the northern No-Fly Zone, and reneged on its peace-treaty obligations. Thus, Democrats and Republicans united in purpose President Clinton said in February of 1998, If Saddam rejects peace and we have to use force, our purpose is clear. We want to seriously diminish the threat posed by Iraqs weapons of mass destruction program and agreed to have the U.S. intervene in a defensive struggle to halt a state hostile to itself and countries around the planet.
THE EDITOR REPLIES:
At the risk of raging into rhetorical oblivion, we offer this brief reply to Mr. McEwan.
We dont have the space or the inclination to parse every questionable statement in the letters to which we reply, preferring to address the larger issues. But if we must, we will.
1. Mr. Hargadons characterization of Weigel is not at all unclear when read in relation to his earlier statement that our governments decision to engage in this unjust, undeclared, preventive war result[ed] in the deaths of thousands of civilians. Taken out of context, it sounds odd. So we offer this rephrasing: Weigel was key in selling what would become Iraqi genocide to Catholics. Fair enough?
2. Mr. Loeffler did not suggest that we deal with you with a little more humility. What he said was, A small amount of humility when assessing what we know about war and its justification would have illustrated the editors better judgment (italics added).
3. Suggesting that we consider the possible distinction between a lack of charity and a sin against charity is itself a needless diversionary tactic.
4. You did indeed use the terms we put in quote marks. Heres what you wrote in your December letter: This country no longer has two parties in the government supporting endeavors meant to pacify and civilize defeated enemies.
5. Mr. Rubino didnt limit the scenarios in which he imagined a preventive military strike might be justified to cyber-attacks on our electrical grid; he included cyber-attacks on our financial system. We pointed out the absurdity of such a proposition using a recent, real-life example.
As Messrs. McEwan, Hargadon, Loeffler, and Rubino surely know by now, we could go around in circles debating this topic endlessly and never come to a resolution. Forgive us if we have the final word. (Uh oh, does that reveal a lack of humility? Heaven forbid!) In questions of prudential judgment, well stand with the popes and Rome over any president of a secular government. And its no secret that St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI came out clearly and vocally against U.S. military action in Iraq.
Well end by paraphrasing Dr. Joel I. Barstad (letter, April) who recounted his friends debate about the first Gulf War: Wed rather be wrong with the popes than right with the president because the pope is at the center of the consciousness of the Christian people. If we are wrong together, then we will be corrected together in time.