Justice, Peace, & Human Rights: American Catholic Ethics in a Pluralistic Context
By David Hollenbach
It’s a pity the author of this new collection of previously published essays didn’t update and revise certain of them, notably the three on peace. Those pieces could have benefited considerably if the author had tackled the scholarly and auspicious 1987 book by John Finnis, Joseph M. Boyle Jr., and Germain Grisez titled Nuclear Deterrence, Morality and Realism (see the July-Aug. 1988 and Oct. 1988 NORs).
Fr. David Hollenbach, one of the deans of Catholic social ethics in the U.S., correctly states here that “Catholic moral thought has always maintained that to intend an immoral act is itself immoral, even if the act is not in fact carried out.” Hence, regarding nuclear weapons: if their use is murderous, then the intent to use them, even if conditional, is murderous.
But Hollenbach says, in an article reprinted from 1982, that another “intent” of nuclear weapons is to deter nuclear war. Thus he asserts that if “reasoned judgment” shows that a new nuclear weapons system will make nuclear war less likely, then that system is “morally acceptable.”
Hollenbach also says, in a different article reprinted from 1983, that the U.S. bishops, in writing their peace pastoral, faced a situation where “a number of new weapons systems were being developed and deployed for the purpose of encouraging the U.S.S.R. to make concessions in arms-control negotiations.” The bishops were worried, he says approvingly, that “some of these new weapons threaten to destabilize the nuclear balance and thus to increase the likelihood of nuclear war.” The resulting pastoral pleased Hollenbach, but not the Reagan Administration or thoroughgoing nuclear pacifists.
Perhaps it was luck — Gorbie appeared on the scene, and Nancy pressured Ronnie, who was reeling from the Iran-Contra scandal, to revive detente so as to secure his place in history — or perhaps it was more than luck, but today, after the Reagan arms build-up, nuclear war seems less, not more, likely. Doesn’t this make hash of “reasoned judgment” about the supposed consequences of particular arms policies?
All of today’s nuclear powers say they make nukes with the “intent” of deterring attack and enhancing peace. Whose “reasoned judgment” can actually prove them wrong? If it’s concluded that “peace through strength” works — and if it’s a valid principle for the U.S., it’s valid for everyone — then mustn’t moral considerations be thrown out of the nuclear arms debate?
Hollenbach’s consequentialist reasoning is perilous in another respect. One can argue that even the use of nuclear weapons is “intended” to save lives and bring unavoidable war to a hasty end. See Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Few Christian social ethicists seem to realize that the middle ground between the thoroughgoing nuclear pacifism of, say, Finnis, Boyle, and Grisez and the peace-through-nuclear-strength of Reagan (or the peace-through-nuclear-war of Truman) is eroding fast. It’s time to file away your old essays, Fr. Hollenbach; write some new ones!
The Reshaping of Catholicism
By Avery Dulles
Publisher: Harper & Row
Pope John Paul asserts that Vatican II “remains the fundamental event in the life of the modern Church,” and Avery Dulles — a pre-Vatican II convert — helps us see why. Dulles focuses on ecclesiology, the Church’s understanding of itself. His new collection of essays explores a cluster of disputed topics, including pluralism, authority and conscience, ecumenism, politics, and mass communications.
For all its range, Dulles’s thought evinces a basic unity. It stems from a keen sense of history which invites a developmental view of the Church. Dulles follows in Newman’s footsteps.
A few particulars reveal an astute observer at work. If we easily forget even the recent past, Dulles does not; he reminds us of the several fissures in American Catholicism before Vatican II. Or if we lose sight of the larger world because we’re bewitched by our own experiences, Dulles points out that there are now more Catholics in the southern hemisphere than in the northern, which amounts to history “in the making.” The cultural diversity the Church now confronts “sets the main agenda for Catholicism in the decades to come.”
Because the Church is for all cultures, Dulles is not surprised to find that its tradition is not static, but rather a dynamic means to bring people into contact with Christ. The Church, in the words of Vatican II, “constantly moves forward toward the fullness of divine truth until the words of God reach their complete fulfillment in it.”
But if the Church is on pilgrimage, what is its final goal? And where is the center of its life here and now? Its purpose, its reason for being, is to bring us to salvation; the encounter with Christ starts a process that leads to a share in God’s life. And for now the center of our existence is the liturgy. As the Council teaches, the liturgy is the source of the Church’s strength, and it anticipates the Kingdom. We are in Dulles’s debt for his lucid efforts to put Vatican II “in the context of the entire tradition,” a context from which it has sometimes been cut away.
And yet, for all Dulles’s lucidity there is a strained and somewhat distant character in these essays. He himself speaks of American Catholics as having a sharpened awareness of their fragility and needing to struggle for their identity. One suspects that Dulles’s excruciating carefulness in these reflections has exacted its price, a price paid nonetheless for our sake.
But mightn’t we now say to Avery Dulles: “Write for us next a lyrical theology, and write it for yourself as well. However bent this world (and this Church), give over the brooding to the Holy Spirit!”
Sophisticated Rebels: The Political Culture of European Dissent, 1968-1987
By H. Stuart Hughes
Publisher: Harvard University Press
Although H. Stuart Hughes deplores our era as a time of “political reaction,” Sophisticated Rebels is not a wail of despair, but a testament of hope, an inspiriting survey of individuals and movements of the past 20 years that prefigure a brighter future for Europe — all Europe, a reunited continent in which barbed-wire fences and concrete walls have been banished to dim memories. Should that occur, it will be in no small part because of Hughes’s “sophisticated rebels,” a richly diverse group that ranges from the prominent (Lech Walesa, Andrei Sakharov, Pope John Paul II, and Willy Brandt, for example) to more obscure individuals, such as the Polish activist Adam Michnik, the French novelist Michel Tournier, and the West German social theorist Jurgen Habermas.
Why “sophisticated”? Hughes explains: “sophisticated in the sense of recognizing realistic limits and frequently defying conventional classification as right or left.” Sophisticated too in a devotion to nonviolence, both as moral commitment and as a strategy for reform. And “rebels”? Hughes’s protagonists refused to accept the conventional wisdom, the established routines, the ossified status quo. Polish Solidarity in the East and the German “Greens” in the West exemplify this tenacious search for “new formulations, new procedures.” Borrowing a phrase once applied to the Czechoslovak novelist Milan Kundera, Hughes writes admiringly of his sophisticated rebels: “they were engaged in an ongoing process of’ subversion in a minor key.'”
A Rocking-Horse Catholic
By Caryll Houselander
Publisher: Christian Classics
Say you want to construct an elegant piece of furniture — a coffee table, perhaps, or a stereo cabinet. Naturally, you start by selecting flawless wood. Poor God: he seems incapable of grasping this elementary fact. He sets out to fabricate a saint, and what does he do? He chooses the human equivalent of a warped, battered piece of scrap lumber, the sort of thing one might use to slap together a chicken coop.
Caryll Houselander was woefully inadequate raw material. A London doctor once called her a “divine eccentric”; others might have tagged her as just plain odd. Not expected to live at birth, she grew into a sickly, guilt-obsessed, censorious child, with enough neuroses to fill a fair-sized psychology manual. Entering the Church at the age of six (hence, a “rocking-horse” Catholic rather than a “cradle” one), she evinced a positive genius for running head-on into the worst features of Catholicism — everything from deranged priests to the “persecution of piety” instituted by her mother. She reached adulthood a spiritually and emotionally “displaced person,” bearing old scars and fresh wounds inflicted by a callous and loveless world. One might have expected her to end up in a padded cell; instead, God transfigured her into one of the spiritual heroines of the 20th century.
This transformation occurred through her “realization of our oneness in Christ…the only cure for human loneliness.” She seized this piercing insight and elaborated it into an all-consuming vision of the Mystical Body of Christ. As Maisie Ward remarks in her biography of Houselander, “her message can be summarized in a single sentence: we must learn to see Christ in everyone.” And she did, for she devoted the rest of her life (she died in 1954 at the age of 53) to bridging, as Ward phrases it, “the gulf dug by society between the respectable and the outcast.” Whores, drunkards, adulterers, raving lunatics, emotionally crippled neurotics, psychically battered children, hardened God-despisers — the whole flood-tide of broken, sin-cursed humanity: she saw Christ in each one, and, as a friend observed, “she loved them back to life.”
Both A Rocking-Horse Catholic, Houselander’s account of her early life, and Maisie Ward’s wonderful biography have long been out of print. Their republication establishes an absolute imperative: Get to know this extraordinary woman; 35 years after her death she can still love people back to life.
Caryll Houselander: That Divine Eccentric
By Maisie Ward
Publisher: Christian Classics
One reluctantly opens a book on Christian leadership, for such volumes generally rely upon a dreadful union between social science bromides and pious exhortations. Fr. Nouwen’s “reflections” avoid both of these horrors. In the Name of Jesus subverts the standard notion of leadership. Most self-styled “Christian leaders” would be appalled by Nouwen’s advice. Training in leadership normally requires the candidate to be schooled in everything from group dynamics and management techniques to how to dress for success. Nouwen instead proposes three “disciplines” for the Christian leader: contemplative prayer, confession and forgiveness, and theological reflection. Shrieks of dismay rise from church offices all over America: “Is he serious?” Most assuredly. A sampling of his mordant subversiveness: “Without solid theological reflection, future leaders will be little more than pseudo-psychologists, pseudo-sociologists, pseudo-social workers.”
Even worse for organization-builders and management specialists, Nouwen insists that the Christian leader must renounce power, relevance, and the trappings and perquisites of office. If we are to lead “in the name of Jesus,” then we must lead as Jesus did. “The world in which we live — a world of efficiency and control — has no models to offer to those who want to be shepherds in the way Jesus was a shepherd.” In a poignant departure from the general wisdom, Nouwen sketches a different model: “servant leadership…in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need him or her.” Rejecting the pragmatic measuring rod and the standard of practical success, he adumbrates the truly radical role of the Christian leader. It is breathtaking in its simplicity and totality: “the task of future Christian leaders is not to make a little contribution to the solution of the pains and tribulations of their time, but to identify and announce the ways in which Jesus is leading God’s people out of slavery, through the desert to a new land of freedom.”
In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership
By Henri J.M. Nouwen
Alfred Kazin’s memoir (first published in 1965 and now reissued in paperback) may be the best of the raft of books that recaptures the exhilaration of being young, Jewish, and radical in Depression-era New York City.
For Kazin, as for many visionary leftists, the decade’s urgent idealism suffered an irreparable blow in August 1939 when Stalin, the rock of anti-fascism, embraced Hitler in an unholy alliance. Kazin remembers his exact reaction: “‘No,’ I shouted at the radio. ‘It’s not true.'” But it was, and from the unswerving Stalinists he derived an enduring lesson: “I now saw that the ideologues among these people had no moral imagination whatever, and no interest in politics. They were merely the slaves of an idea, fetishists of an ideology; the real world did not exist for them, and they would never understand it.”
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