Volume > Issue > Briefly: July-August 1989

July-August 1989

Justice, Peace, & Human Rights: American Catholic Ethics in a Pluralistic Context

By David Hollenbach

Publisher: Crossroad

Pages: 260

Price: $16.95

Review Author:

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

Pages: 276

Price: $19.95

Review Author:

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

Pages: 172

Price: $20

Review Author:

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

Pages: 140

Price: $9.95

Review Author:

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

Pages: 329

Price: $11.95

Review Author:

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

Publisher: Crossroad

Pages: 81

Price: $10.95

Review Author:

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.”

Enjoyed reading this?



You May Also Enjoy

A Bishop With Testosterone

Would that all bishops followed the lead of Robert F. Vasa.

A Giant Among Catholic Economists

Those who have studied conventional economics will find in Heinrich Pesch a starting point that is faithful both to economic facts and to the Church's teaching.

Reclaiming Jonathan Edwards for Political Progressivism

Am I alone in having grown up with this image of Jonathan Edwards? — a…