Briefly Reviewed: October 1984
Together Toward Hope
By Philip J. Rossi, S.J.
Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
Review Author: James G. Hanink
At the center of this thickly webbed, and unfortunately flawed, theological essay is a hard question: Are freedom and community compatible? It is a question at the center, too, of a score of current debates. Rossi’s struggle to answer it merits respect, so I propose first to attend to his chief arguments and guiding themes.
We should begin with freedom. When is one free? A standard line is that one is free when one can choose as one wishes. Personal autonomy is charting one’s own course. And the social realization of this doctrine? It is a public realm in which the range of individual choice is progressively maximized. Supposedly, moreover, the philosophical credentials for all of this have been issued by none other than Immanuel Kant.
But such an account of freedom, Rossi insists, is wrongheaded — and sharply at odds with Kant. For Kant, we are reminded, links autonomy with an imperative to fashion one’s choices to promote a “kingdom of ends,” a moral commonwealth.
What follows if we admit this ordering of freedom to mutuality? Freedom and community become complementary. We see, in fact, that we can only be free in community.
Rossi’s final chapter — a set of applications — explores liturgy, marriage, moral education programs, and the imperilment of the professions. Some emphases, at least, can be mentioned: While liturgical reform, for some, has threatened Catholic identity, this reform has the potential to strengthen imagination and build community. And while marriage seems reduced to an expression of private choice, to restore it as an abiding covenant “would make it possible for us to understand [it] not as a private choice…but as a major paradigm of public choice.” As for the professions, they now show us a poverty of imagination in the service of others and a too eager capitulation to the marketplace.
The main lines, then, of Rossi’s essay are before us. We move from freedom to community and the stories that celebrate it. Imagination and hope, born of the limits of community, point us to grace. This vision, in turn, is critically directed at certain structures of modernity. Are we to fault Rossi for any of this?
Three important objections must be made. First, Rossi’s prose is pervasively gelatinous. Theologians face an occupational hazard of, in several ways, making hash of language. The results can be grotesque. Consider, for example, Rossi’s description of moral theology as “the endeavor we make to see and articulate with greater clarity the ways of going on together that are empowered by the abiding utterance of a ‘we.’”
A second problem is Rossi’s weakness for persuasive definition and its km. Is there a crucial concept that needs explicating? Characterize it in terms of a set of attractive and lofty properties! Perhaps, then, we can be persuaded that the concept means what we say or that its referent functions as we wish. “Narrative” is a special recipient of such hype: “In narrative, we are brought to encounter our mortality and finitude transformed to the service of mutuality in view of the completion that hope pledges.” Well, sometimes.
A third criticism is no doubt connected with the first two problems. Opaque discourse often leads to fallacious argument, and Rossi’s pivotal analysis of freedom strikes me as suspect. Is freedom, as he argues, inherently ordered to mutuality? Indeed, we best use freedom when we act to realize basic goods. These goods, community among them, enhance our flourishing. So, in a sense, we are ordered to community. But are we not also able freely to reject it? The case for affirming rather than rejecting community is not made, I think, by smuggling mutuality into the definition of freedom. One wonders if Rossi is not guilty of this tactic. If, of course, his theory of freedom is dubious, much more is in jeopardy.
Yet in the final judgment Rossi’s study is encouraging. For he is alive to the importance of philosophy in the Roman Catholic tradition. He sees, too, the damage resulting from the absence of philosophical grounding in much of contemporary moral theology. Whatever the weaknesses of his own attempt to repair this damage, the significance of his agenda cannot be denied.
Renewal and the Powers of Darkness
By Leon-Joseph Suenens
Review Author: John R. Young
One of the problems associated with the charismatic movement among Roman Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox Christians is the tendency of those who have received a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit and His works to “unhook” themselves from the government and counsel of the church as a whole, operating more or less on the “fringe” as parachurch groups.
A consequence of this tendency has been, in some of these circles, an obsession with diabolical influence and possession, sometimes ascribing even, minor difficulties in the Christian’s life to demonic activity. The subsequent need for constant confrontation and exorcism can result in an unhealthy state of constant tension, a problem in its own right.
At first glance, Renewal and the Powers of Darkness, a book with a somewhat baleful title by Leon-Joseph Cardinal Suenens, appears to have this exaggerated demonology as its theme. Closer scrutiny, however, reveals that this subject is actually only a springboard for an examination of the relationship of the charismatic movement to the church as a whole. There is no lack of works examining this subject in general, but the context of the Roman Catholic Church, with its strong authority structure and sacramental emphasis, provides unique elements not ordinarily found in Protestant circles.
Cardinal Suenens has had considerable personal experience with the Roman Catholic charismatic renewal, and he speaks not only as a bishop, but also as one who knows what an encounter with the Holy Spirit can mean in one’s life. From these dual perspectives he seeks to act as a bridge between those concerned with retaining the “aliveness” of the Spirit, and those concerned that everything should be done “decently and in order.”
These two are not easily balanced; in fact, those seeking to ease tension between the institutional church and charismatics have found that task almost impossible. The gap between church order and the “Spirit-filled meeting” has existed from the beginning of the modern charismatic movement and seems to be getting wider. Nevertheless, Renewal and the Powers of Darkness is a realistic attempt to perform the amazing feat of providing a blueprint for integrating the power of the charismatic movement into the church without diluting the former or weakening the structure of the latter.
Suenens’s basic approach is to show that the church entire is charismatic. The Spirit is given to all of its members, especially those of the pastorate. Since defeat of the Enemy rests fundamentally in the use of authority, it is in the hands of the bishop, and his alone, that true exorcism rests.
With practical clarity the Cardinal points out that cases of true satanic possession are rare, and that a distinction should be made between that phenomenon and satanic influence in the normal maladies that beset mankind. Though he does not make clear what the role of the laity should be in cases that fall short of true satanic possession, Suenens does emphasize the basic truth that our victory over the Evil One rests not in continual confrontation, but in our focus on the Lord and His grace which He administers through His sacraments.
Beyond this, Suenens urges a true reconciliation between church leaders and leaders of the charismatic movement. To the former he counsels that they become familiar with the workings of the Spirit among charismatics; to the latter he exhorts a submission to the church hierarchy and the operating rules laid down throughout the course of history. This approach holds out true hope for a church operating within the order of ecclesial orthodoxy, yet vividly experiencing the gifts and fruit of the Spirit.
No Easy Answers: Christians Debate Nuclear Arms
By Robert L. Spaeth
Publisher: Winston Press
Price: No price given
Review Author: Juli Loesch
No Easy Answers is — as far as I, a partisan, can judge — a scrupulously evenhanded exposition of the major points of contention in the nuclear arms controversy.
The subtitle refers to Christians in general, and a few Lutherans, Episcopalians, and Anabaptists are quoted, but most of the terrain seems to have been surveyed, mapped, and flagged by Roman Catholics. This stems from the fact that Catholics have gotten the most extensive press coverage for their recent war/peace deliberations.
Points I thought were slighted in this book were, after all, points not yet well developed in the public debate. A summary cannot presume to supply perspectives that are missing from the sources summarized.
Nevertheless, several points deserved fuller treatment:
First, Spaeth retells controversial history with no hint that it may be controversial. In one case he gives a basically Anabaptist interpretation of pacifism in early Christianity: William Most would surely dispute this. In another case he recounts Truman’s reasons for obliterating Hiroshima and Nagasaki civilians; he does not note that some historians deny the “necessity” of these massacres in order to end the war or to save lives that would have been lost in a hypothetical conventional invasion of Japan.
Second, in comparing counter-city and counter-force targeting, Spaeth does not adequately emphasize that, though the intention is different, the end result in terms of civilian casualties would be virtually indistinguishable. He fails to estimate prenatal and genetic injury which could be, over a period of time, 1,000 to 10,000 times greater than the injury to the war making generation. (Powerful genotoxins — these include, but are not limited to, nuclear radiation — guarantee that over time a larger and larger percentage, and finally the overwhelming majority, of the victims will be the unborn.)
Third, how can Spaeth discuss the possession of nuclear weapons as a deterrent, without quoting Germain Grisez? It was Grisez who pointed out that while we may tolerate other peoples’ evils, we may not invoke “toleration” in relation to our own evils.
Disarmament would pose a great risk to some values; nuclear armaments as they actually exist pose a great risk to other values. However, Spaeth does not analyze the moral licitness of risk-taking itself.
Partisans on both sides have often failed simply to define defense: what, specifically, are we, or are we not, defending?
If we were to list a hierarchy of values we wish to defend, we might come up with something like this: (1) eternal salvation (since it profits us nothing to gain the whole world and lose our souls); (2) the survival of the planet as a habitat for future generations; (3) presently living persons; (4) the unity and integrity of the family; (5) other human rights; (6) material comfort; (7) territorial independence; (8) access to global resources, and so on. People would undoubtedly order their lists differently. But what we must clarify is that most defense strategies defend some values while imperiling others, and possibly no strategy can, over the long run, defend them all. So what constitutes a “strong” defense?
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