Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: April 2014

April 2014

Retract that Intolerable Smear!

In your New Oxford Note “Bringing the Gospels Back to the Big Screen” (Jan.-Feb.), you state that Tim LaHaye, a prominent Protestant pastor and popular author, is “a noted anti-Semite and anti-Catholic.” Perhaps you can provide evidence for this smear, which I find intolerable.

I was professor of history, social science, and geography at Christian Heritage College in El Cajon, California, which was founded by LaHaye, Arthur Peters, and the late Henry M. Morris Sr. In my time there, I never witnessed one instance of anti-Catholicism, anti-Semitism, or any other malicious prejudice among the administration, faculty, or students. Indeed, people were sensitive to my Italian and Catholic background. While I never met Pastor LaHaye in person, I read many of his books and followed the brilliant career of his wife, Beverly, a very laudable Christian worker.

I ask the NOR to retract this scurrilous remark about Tim LaHaye. As for his having called Catholicism “a false religion,” I tend to believe that many of us, Catholics and Protestants alike, have at earlier times used this term but later came to regret it.

Michael Suozzi

California Right to Life Committee

La Mesa, California


Can we provide evidence to support our description of Tim LaHaye as “a noted anti-Semite and anti-Catholic”? We sure can.

Exhibit A: The Catholic view. Jimmy Akin wrote a lengthy “Special Report” for Catholic Answers, where he is now senior apologist, on LaHaye and his Left Behind book series. According to Akin, “In 1987 Jack Kemp named Tim LaHaye as national co-chair of his presidential campaign, but LaHaye resigned days later when newspapers published anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic remarks he had made. These included references to Catholicism as ‘a false religion’ and to Jews being responsible for the death of Christ.”

As for the Left Behind series, Akin says it “involves a direct attack on the faith of Catholics,” and he proceeds to explain in great detail why this is so. (Akin’s report, “False Profit: Money, Prejudice & Bad Theology in Tim LaHaye’s Left Behind Series,” can be found at the Catholic Answers website, www.catholic.com.)

But you don’t have to take Jimmy Akin’s word for it. Catholic writer Carl E. Olson, in an article in This Rock magazine (Nov. 2000), noted that two of LaHaye’s nonfiction books, Revelation Under Attack and Are We Living in the End Times?, both co-authored with Jerry B. Jenkins, “contain lengthy and blatant anti-Catholic attacks which would make Jack Chick, Loraine Boettner and Dave Hunt proud, especially since much of the anti-Catholic material used is directly or indirectly taken from those authors.”

Exhibit B: The secularist view. Heck, you don’t even have to take the Catholics’ word for it. According to a 2002 report by Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, after LaHaye resigned from Kemp’s campaign, “more damaging revelations soon leaked out. It came to light that LaHaye’s church in San Diego throughout the 1970s had sponsored an anti-Catholic group called Mission to Catholics. One pamphlet produced by the group asserted that Pope Paul VI was the ‘archpriest of Satan, a deceiver, and an antichrist, who has, like Judas, gone to his own place.'”

If guilt by (paid) association fails to convince, the aforementioned report says of the man himself: “As might be expected from a Bob Jones University graduate, he also has a long history of vitriolic attacks on Catholicism. In his 1973 book Revelation Illustrated and Made Plain, LaHaye writes that the Catholic Church ‘is more dangerous than no religion because she substitutes religion for truth…. Rome is also dangerous because some of her doctrines are pseudo-Christian.’ Elsewhere in the book LaHaye compares Catholic services to pagan rituals. In 1999’s Are We Living in the End Times?, LaHaye and Jenkins imply that the Catholic Church may be the ‘whore of Babylon’ mentioned in Revelation.”

Exhibit C: The Jewish view. Instances in which LaHaye has been accused of anti-Semitism, either personally or because of his books, are abundant. Suffice it to say that decorated journalist Jeffrey Goldberg, who is himself Jewish, once said of LaHaye, “Of all the evangelical leaders I have interviewed, LaHaye is capable of some of the most anti-Semitic utterances, which is troublesome, because he is also the most popular author in the evangelical world.” One example Goldberg gave is this comment LaHaye made to him in an interview: “Some of the greatest evil in the history of the world was concocted in the Jewish mind.”

In our New Oxford Note, we purposefully understated LaHaye’s anti-Catholicism (and his anti-Semitism); this wasn’t the focus of that Note. And though Prof. Suozzi says that “many of us” have bandied about the term “false religion” and later came to “regret it,” there is no record of LaHaye retracting or expressing regret for any of his remarks or attitudes about Catholicism or Judaism.

Andrew Bieszad

Ider, Alabama

Islam: Not so Charming

I appreciated William Kilpatrick’s article exposing the flirtation of some Catholic bishops in the U.S. with Islam (“Has the Church in the U.S. Succumbed to the Charms of Islam?” Jan.-Feb.). As someone with an advanced degree in Islamic Studies who has written and given talks on the subject, I would like to elaborate on a few points Dr. Kilpatrick made.

First, there can be no true “ecumenism” with Islam. Ecumenism presupposes, at the very least, an appreciation of the intrinsic human dignity of the other person. Islamic theology teaches that human dignity comes from, and is conditional upon, belief in and practice of Islam. Islam teaches that non-Muslims do not have human dignity as long as they remain outside the faith. This is the reason why, in spite of the Church’s best efforts, Catholic-Muslim dialogue remains at best stagnant and at worst non-existent.

Second, Islam is a Machiavellian religion in that its theology permits its adherents to take any and all steps to advance their religion. This does not mean that Muslims must use violence, lying, or deceit to propagate their religion, but neither are these forbidden, nor are they considered sinful. In the most liberal readings of Islamic law, they are classified as “permissible” (maqbul). In other cases, they are considered “commendable” (hasan), and some of the more conservative Islamic scholars press to classify them as “obligatory” (wajib) for salvation.

Third, for bishops to ignore or dismiss the grave situation Catholicism finds itself in today with regard to Islam is cooperation in sin. It has been well documented and consistently reported that Islamic attacks against Christians are growing. If this situation does not change, it is possible that the Church could suffer a second great persecution from the peoples whom she once converted to the faith. It is true that Catholic bishops have many responsibilities to attend to and battles to fight. However, there is absolutely no excuse for (a) not understanding the situation of the Church vis-à-vis Islam, or (b) suppressing fellow Catholics who publicly criticize Islamic theology in a well-articulated and theologically sound manner.

St. John Chrysostom, in his third homily on the Acts of the Apostles, said, “I know not if there be many in the priesthood who are saved, but I know that many more perish.” Given the responsibilities bishops have in leading what is, generally speaking, a poorly catechized and dwindling Church, they would do well to follow the examples of the Church’s saints who confronted Islam throughout the centuries. After all, if history is any guide, there may come a day when the Church militant will once again have to fight for her survival against an invading Islamic army.

Thomas F. Brands

Los Angeles, California

William Kilpatrick seems to be a voice crying in the wilderness. Many more of these voices need to be heard and amplified. Would it be prudent for Americans to be required to read the Koran in school in order to learn what we are up against, or might that be counterproductive because of the prevailing left-wing bias in those same schools?

Rita Strow

Princeton, New Jersey

If anyone doubts William Kilpatrick’s assessment of Islam, let him find out what this religion is really about from someone who was once a devout Muslim — that is, until her experiences and study revealed to her what Islam truly is. I am referring to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s books Infidel and Nomad. Predictably, a fatwa has been issued against her for what she has written about her former religion.

Alice von Hildebrand

New Rochelle, New York

We should not underestimate the arduous task of those engaged in an interreligious dialogue, which obviously aims at “building bridges” and underlining what religions have in common. On the other hand, in an age of confusion like ours, the two interlocutors should carefully avoid making statements that are likely to be misread.

When dialoguing with Muslims, the truth of monotheism should be loudly proclaimed: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share this fundamental belief. Such a proclamation has a double advantage: It tacitly challenges the widespread notion among Muslims that belief in the Trinity disqualifies Christians from being monotheists. Moreover, it avoids the sensitive question of God’s nature; obviously, a Triune God is very different from one that excludes a Trinity.

It is also crucial to underline our common love of truth and the reasons why Muslims and Christians should unite in fighting dictatorial relativism, the spread of secularism, and the lack of respect for the dignity of every single human person, including the unborn. The greatness of marriage (while abstaining from mentioning de facto polygamy), the nobility of man’s freedom, and the fact that truth should never be imposed by force should also be proclaimed. Finally, a duet should be sung to the universal validity of the natural moral law, perceptible to “all men of good will.”

Robert Greenwell

El Cajon, California

William Kilpatrick’s article appears to be a rehash of Robert Spencer’s Not Peace but a Sword, a book that troubled me very much. Mr. Spencer is a member of the Greek-Catholic Melkite Church. I attended a seminar in Orange County, California, last fall on the status of Christians in the Middle East that was sponsored by the Society of St. John Chrysostom, Western Region. Bishop Nicholas Samra of the Greek-Catholic Melkite Eparchy of Newton, Mass., was one of the speakers. During a Q&A session, Bishop Samra made it clear that Mr. Spencer does not speak for the Eparchy of Newton, which encompasses the entire U.S., nor does he speak in accordance with the documents of Vatican II regarding dialogue with other religions.

All of the speakers at the seminar emphasized that the Koran is not authorized to be translated from seventh-century Arabic into any modern language, and since there is no central authority in Islam, anybody is free to make his own interpretation of what the Koran actually says. Sadly, this has led to some radical interpretations by those who represent a small percentage of Islamic believers, just as there are “fringe” Protestant groups such as Jehovah’s Witnesses, Shakers, and venomous snake-handlers who do the same with the Bible.

Norman Ravitch

Savannah, Georgia

From an early Christian point of view (see St. John of Damascus, an Arab Christian), Islam is a Christian heresy, an amalgam of Nestorianism, Ebionitism, and Monophysitism, with a sprinkling of Docetism and Gnosticism. From a secular point of view, informed by Oswald Spengler and Arnold Toynbee, Islam is the revenge of Semitic religion against the Hellenization of Christianity. Deeper yet, we fear and loathe Islam because it preserves those Semitic characteristics of our own faith and of Judaism that we are embarrassed about: intolerance, heresy-hunting, and religious primitiveness in general. Islam refuses to modernize as Christianity and Judaism have.

Camille Giglio

Concord, California

Distracted by an Overabundance of Choice

As I read Judie Brown’s article “The Modern-Day Little Shop of Horrors” (Jan.-Feb.), I thought to myself, this is an interesting report on selfishness, choice, and greed, but I am not affected by this degradation of humanity.

Then my husband and I went shopping for a new mattress and, lo and behold, I was hit broadside by the truth of her article. Who knew there were so many choices to be made in selecting a mattress? The mattresses we looked at had nine different styles and comfort levels, and started at $3,000 and went up to $10,000 — just to have a decent night’s sleep.

Brown’s article focuses on the choices in conceiving or not conceiving a child. She cites a case in which it would be possible to “purchase” a designer baby for as little as $10,000. That amount is way too much for a bed but not nearly enough for a human life. Yet I could purchase either one for the same amount.

Don’t get me wrong, I like to make choices, but I am beginning to realize that choice just for the sake of choice is not a privilege, it’s a distraction. We went shopping for a new car last year and the same thing occurred. One no longer buys a car because of what’s under the hood but for how many apps one can get with the car in order to make the “driving experience” as pleasurable a sensation as possible. It’s not even a simple matter anymore of going to a grocery store and buying a can of dog food. The choices for animal cuisine fill one entire aisle of the store!

But the funny thing is that, along with all these choices, legally protected by law, for human comfort and convenience, we are becoming ever more legally restricted from making moral choices. Businesses are required by force of law to provide birth-control coverage (of which there are a multitude of choices) in their insurance policies or face serious penalties. Common Core education — one size fits all — is the new top-down educational mandate. Our children will now be trained by the new educators, from kindergarten onward, to fit the job market. We have a number of choices in how we die, but we might have no choice about when we die if we’ve signed an advanced medical directive that authorizes a third party to choose for us when they think we should go.

There are no more consequences for the decisions we make, only more choices. Judie Brown appropriately draws her article to a conclusion by reminding us that all these continual choices tend to draw us away from our ultimate choice and goal: to be with God in Heaven.

William J. Tighe

Allentown, Pennsylvania

A Whiff of Pelagianism

While I find myself in total agreement with all the positive statements and claims Fr. John A. Finn made in his letter “The Hermeneutic of Deletion” (Jan.-Feb.), it contains one significant omission.

In contrasting the old and new official English translations of the Opening Prayer (or, as it was traditionally termed, the Collect) of the Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Fr. Finn has demonstrated the radical infidelity of the earlier translation to the unchanging Latin original, and the fidelity of the later one. But it would have been useful to note that the ending of the original Latin version of the Collect was altered in the 1960s in such a way as to tone down “the distinction between now and eternity,” the attenuation of which Fr. Finn rightly deplores.

The original Latin version of that prayer ran “O God…grant that we may so pass through the good things of this world that we may not lose the eternal” (…sic transeamus per bona temporalia ut non amittimus eternal), while the revised version runs “O God…grant that we may make such use of worldly goods that we are able to inherit the eternal” (…sic bonis temporalibus nunc utamur ut possumus inhaerere mansuris). The first, in other words, commends the traditional Christian attitude of relative detachment from the good things of this life so as to focus primarily on eternal salvation; the second, with its stress on the “use” of worldly goods “enabling” us to inherit eternal life, carries with it a distinct whiff of a kind of “action-centered” Pelagianism. Such alterations of the wording of venerable Latin prayers (so as to make them more “agreeable” to modern man) were, sadly, not uncommon in the liturgical “reform” — a reform with frequent “vandalizing” overtones — of the 1960s.

Patricia Chaffin

Van Buren, Arkansas

Against Modern Arianism

In her article “Finding the Christ in His Apostles” (Dec.), Maria Hsia Chang informs us that modern Christology “seeks to know the historical Jesus, which means Jesus the man, instead of Jesus the Christ.” She identifies this approach as problematic, quoting Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI to wit: “The identification of only one historical person, Jesus of Nazareth, with…the living God, is now relegated as a relapse into myth.” Indeed, as Dr. Chang notes, a 2002 survey found that one-third of Anglican clergy doubted or disbelieved in the physical resurrection of Christ. Clearly, as theologian Edward Schillebeeckx concluded, Christology has “fallen apart.” It has lapsed into what I call “modern Arianism,” that system of belief that sought to teach Jesus as only an excellent human being, deliberately eliminating His divinity. Accordingly, with such a limited understanding, where can we find the real Jesus in modern Christology?

As Dr. Chang accurately concludes, we can know the real Jesus, Jesus the Christ, through His Apostles, the actual percipient witnesses who lived with Jesus, eating with Him, traveling with Him, laughing with Him, and performing all daily tasks with Him as they watched Him work miracles that only God could perform. But, as Dr. Chang rightly points out, they witnessed no greater miracle than Jesus appearing to them as the resurrected Christ. This was the event that transformed the Apostles into “in your face” Gospel evangelizers. These were frightened men, hiding in the upper room after Jesus was so horribly tortured and put to the most terrible death the Roman Empire had to offer. Ask yourself this question: Would you continue to follow Jesus the man, knowing that your life was in grave danger if you did, and knowing that this man had just been executed?

Without the Resurrection, all was for naught. And of course, Jesus sent the Apostles the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete and Advocate, from whom they received many gifts and graces, thereby enabling them to teach the real Jesus to thousands of people, converting and baptizing them with great efficiency, effectiveness, and enthusiasm. And we know that they then were not afraid to die cruel, horrific, and terrible deaths themselves, such as crucifixion, stoning, being flayed alive, beheaded, thrown down from a large height, etc.

Indeed, it is the Apostles who bring the Gospels to life, providing the Gospels with credibility, which Jesus expected them to do, because it was they who brought Jesus to the world; they consecrated the bread and wine to become the body, blood, soul, and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ in the first Masses, which they offered in the areas of the world where they evangelized. It is through the first Apostles and their ongoing apostolic succession throughout time, up to and including the present, that we continue to know the real Jesus, in the Holy Eucharist, the source and summit of our faith. As St. Athanasius said, in the Holy Eucharist “God has made Himself accessible to us.”

James Farrell

Meriden, Connecticut

Temper Your Criticism

One thing overlooked in your recent analysis of Pope Francis’s public comments (“The Poor Misunderstood Pope?” Nov.) is that, in what almost seems like a direct response to your critique of his remarks on homilies, the Holy Father released Evangelii Gaudium, an apostolic exhortation that contains almost ten pages of suggestions for giving effective homilies (nos. 135-159).

Some of us have no ability or time to read the pro-Francis gush pieces that others put out, and so we look to the NOR for a balanced view of what is really going on. It would seem that your harsh criticism of the Pope, though warranted by his strange remarks, is untempered by what he also says in his official writings, which are much less disturbing. Perhaps a sentence or two at the end of your next criticism, summarizing a few positive statements made by Francis, might provide the needed balance.

Tony Ambrosetti

Post Falls, Idaho


Though citing Evangelii Gaudium might have helped bring “balance” to that New Oxford Note, it would have been impossible for the simple fact that the Holy Father didn’t release his apostolic exhortation until after our November issue was published.

We should note, however, that this isn’t the first time such a tack has been taken by this Pope. As Russell Shaw reports in Our Sunday Visitor (Feb. 9), “In a letter to Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, a retired Vatican diplomat and curial official, the pope praised a book he’d written on Vatican II for providing ‘the best hermeneutics’ of the council…. In his letter to Archbishop Marchetto, Pope Francis accused himself of ‘error or imprecision’ in speaking of these matters and thanked the archbishop for setting things straight.” What did the Holy Father say that was erroneous or imprecise? According to Shaw, Francis “was apparently referring to remarks he’d made in his [America] interview…saying the council was useful in supplying an up-to-date ‘reinterpretation of the Gospel.'” Imagine, a sitting pope actually saying that an ecumenical council could “reinterpret” the basic Christian message. Astounding! Thank heaven Francis had the good sense to clarify that careless zinger.

For this reason, and for many others, we’ve cautioned that the Pope’s habit of giving interviews and impromptu addresses can only lead to ambiguity and confusion. But rest assured that, from now on, we’ll try our best to anticipate what Francis might need to write down in order to clear up his extemporaneous utterances.

Nobody Can "Be Gay"

I was dumbfounded by the statement, “Kichi, who is gay…,” in the News You May Have Missed entry “And Then There Were Five” (Jan.-Feb.). I have never seen anything in Catholic doctrine to support the idea that someone can be a homosexual. As I understand our faith, someone can engage in homosexual activity; but that does not mean that such a person is a homosexual. You may be tempted to think that this is a minor quibble; however, when we cede the high moral ground to those who try to convince us that they were “born that way,” we have already lost the war.

That someone “is gay” has to mean, essentially, that his DNA was coded by God for him to have proclivities toward sodomy, one of the four sins crying out to Heaven for vengeance. We must not confuse temptations and environmental stimuli with the essence of each human being. And, of course, it need not be said that just because a man has more effeminate mannerisms than other men (or a woman more masculine) that he was coded by God to “be gay.”

Pope Francis can ask all the rhetorical questions he wants about the matter, such as last summer’s “who am I to judge” comment regarding homosexual priests; but just because his theological formation is poor doesn’t mean we should all buy in to his mindset. Besides, the obvious answer is that there is no such thing as a homosexual priest.

I Have Been Misread

I feel it necessary to make a few points in response to Christopher Zehnder’s generally favorable review of my book Liberty, the God that Failed (Jan.-Feb.).

First, Mr. Zehnder states that I cite only St. Thomas’s De Regno in support of my demonstration that Catholic teaching does not recognize any “right to revolution.” On the contrary, I cite and quote precisely the section of the Summa on which Mr. Zehnder himself relies (II-II, q.42, a.2). What is more, Mr. Zehnder’s conclusion is precisely my conclusion. Writing of a ruler whom “the subjects choose (or, better, consent to),” Mr. Zehnder concludes that when their chosen ruler “is a tyrant, revolution may be permissible if it does not bring about a greater evil than the tyranny it seeks to remove.” But, as I wrote in Liberty, “A true tyrant, however, if chosen by the people to rule over them in the first place, may be deposed or his power limited as a matter of self-defense of a whole people, provided the deposition does not provoke even greater harm to the common good.”

Second, Mr. Zehnder seems to contradict himself by arguing that I am wrong to suggest that “Catholic tradition does not countenance any notion of popular consent as the root of governmental authority,” only to state three sentences later that “popular consent…is not the formal principle of governmental authority — that comes from God — but it provides the material principle of that authority….” The “material principle” of authority cannot also be its root. Rather, as Pope Leo XIII taught in Diuturnum, civil authority “emanates from God as its august and most sacred source” (italics added). Popular consent to a ruler, Leo insisted, is a mere designation of who will exercise the authority that comes only from God: “The rights of ruling are not thereby conferred. Nor is the authority delegated to him….”

Mr. Zehnder’s reference to the consent required for marriage is misplaced: It is God who joins the couple together, not the couple. Without God, their consent is revocable at will. And that is precisely the problem with political authority “rooted” in popular consent. As Pius XI warned in Quas Primas, “With authority derived not from God but from man, the very basis of that authority has been taken away, because the chief reason of the distinction between ruler and subject has been eliminated.” On the other hand, if Mr. Zehnder’s use of the phrase “the root” does not in any way denote “the source,” then I fail to see where we disagree.

Third, Mr. Zehnder complains that I am too hard on Washington, Jefferson, and other Founders for their tyrannical actions once they gained power. But their own contemporaries condemned their actions as tyrannical and hypocritical, as I demonstrate abundantly in my book. The motives of particular Founders are irrelevant to my point: Those who demanded Liberty from the King denied it to the common people once they themselves attained power. This caused many to object — quite rightly — that the new rulers were worse than George III. Query: How has taxation with representation worked out for us?

On this score, Mr. Zehnder admits that “Ferrara marshals impressive evidence for his contentions,” but he wonders “if he is giving all the pertinent facts. And if he isn’t, one is left with the doubt that his thesis of Liberty’s failure to deliver what it has promised has been sufficiently proven.” Expressing doubt concerning my central thesis on the basis of unknown facts about whose existence Mr. Zehnder “wonders” is hardly a well-founded criticism. He suggests that the book lacks “fairness,” yet it is he who unfairly launches this rather serious accusation, which casts doubt on my integrity as an author, without providing a single example to substantiate it. On the contrary, he cites only my “impressive evidence”! Nor does it seem fair to intimate that I must be tricking the reader somehow because I am “a prosecuting attorney, going all out for a conviction.” Have I proved my contentions? That, not my chosen profession, is the issue.

Finally, it appears that Mr. Zehnder has misread the book respecting the scope of its critique. He writes, “Ferrara is not arguing against all [Liberals] who espouse Liberty…but only against a subset of them — the libertarians.” There are, he writes, “other sorts of Liberals, both of the ‘right’ and the ‘left,’ who view the pre- and post-Lincoln political developments…as a great good….” But on the very first page of Liberty I state my intention “to avoid conventional ‘conservative’ and libertarian narratives,” not just the libertarian narrative. In fact, one of my central contentions is that “the current state of America is not the result of a…defection from the ‘vision of the Founders,’ nor the wartime tyranny of the Lincoln presidency, as the conservative/libertarian narrative holds.” Further on I show that “modern liberals and libertarians alike” have a false notion of civil liberty, and that there is an “illusory conflict today between liberals and ‘conservatives’ over just how big and powerful the federal government should be.” In my discussion of the Civil War I note that Lincoln, “as a Lockean liberal of the North…was pitting Locke’s confused and self-contradictory theory of sovereignty against the Lockean liberals of the South.” In fact, my book contains at least 221 critical references to liberals — both “conservative” liberals and liberal liberals — not just the “subset” of libertarians.

Regarding liberal liberals, Mr. Zehnder notes — as if I had overlooked it — that “one can argue that the problem is not that Liberalism has failed to achieve its purpose but that it has achieved it all too well.” That is exactly what my entire book contends! Its main thrust is that the people were promised Liberty — freedom from the “tyranny” of monarchy — but instead got the final triumph of Liberalism, meaning more government than ever existed before. As I state in my closing chapter, “Christianity having been locked up in the ghetto of private opinion with the agreement of Christians…the secular state faces no challenge from a populace united by a public witness of the faith. Liberty’s work is done, its reign secure.” That is, Liberty has achieved its purpose while breaching its original promise of liberation: “Liberty is Power directed to the destruction of the old order so that the new order, and the new man who would be subject to it, could emerge from the ruins.” Mr. Zehnder has entirely missed the point.

Having said all this, I certainly understand how a reviewer could miss or misconstrue certain points in a 726-page book, which the author knows like the back of his hand but the reviewer has only a limited time to consider. I am grateful to the NOR, and indeed to Mr. Zehnder, for their kind attention to my work and their recognition of the elements they consider meritorious.

Christopher Ferrara

Fairfield, New Jersey


It is true that in Liberty Christopher Ferrara quotes the same article of the Summa with which I challenge his assertion that Catholic tradition does not countenance revolution. But Mr. Ferrara’s reference to the article is not the basis for his conclusion that “a true tyrant…if chosen by the people to rule over them in the first place, may be deposed or his power limited as a matter of self-defense of a whole people.” Rather, he arrives at this conclusion from a reading of De Regno. What Liberty draws from the Summa (II-II, q.42, a.2) is the conclusion that sedition is a mortal sin. What Mr. Ferrara does not explicitly address, either in his book or his letter, is the section of the article I cite — the answer to the third objection — wherein St. Thomas allows for a revolution against a tyrant because a tyrant is, by definition, himself seditious.

In his letter, Mr. Ferrara claims that my conclusion about the right to revolution is likewise his conclusion. But I doubt that it is. I assert, I think with Thomas Aquinas, a right to revolution against a tyrant. Mr. Ferrara writes in Liberty that a tyrant “may be deposed or his power limited as a matter of self-defense of a whole people,” but only if he was “chosen by the people to rule over them in the first place.” But does this qualify as a revolution? And if it does, how does it square with Ferrara’s earlier assertion in Liberty that “the political tradition of Christendom recognizes no such right [to revolution],” as well as his statement in his letter that “Catholic teaching does not recognize any ‘right to revolution'”? Perhaps Mr. Ferrara means something very specific here by revolution and right, but he gives no clear definition of either.

And what about the condition, “chosen by the people to rule over them in the first place”? Since in neither Liberty nor in his letter does Mr. Ferrara address the passage from St. Thomas’s Commentary on the Sentences (dist. 44, q.2, a.2) that I cite in my review — that a tyrant who gains power by force may attain legitimacy “either through the consent of the subjects or through the authority of a superior” — it is not clear that the phrase “if chosen by the people to rule over them in the first place” refers to Thomas’s first condition of legitimacy, “consent of the subjects.” If it does, why didn’t Mr. Ferrara clarify the matter in his letter? If his condition does not refer to popular consent, which I argue is one of two ways a government gains legitimacy, to what does it refer? Is Mr. Ferrara envisioning an exceptional circumstance — say, where a ruler is merely a minister of a sovereign people but has no real sovereignty? If so, then he is not asserting a right to revolution but the right of a sovereign to remove a delegate from power.

In his letter, Mr. Ferrara asserts that “the ‘material principle’ of authority cannot also be its root,” and he seems to equate root with the word source in Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Diuturnum. But if a principle is anything, it is a source. It is constituent of a being. For instance, a principle of Mr. Ferrara’s being is his soul, for it is his soul that makes him human. But Mr. Ferrara is not merely human in the abstract, universal sense; he is an individual human being. If we follow the Thomistic tradition (which Pope Leo XIII assiduously promoted), the principle of Mr. Ferrara’s individuality is not his soul but his body, and this principle is called material while his soul, the principle of his humanity, is called formal. Both the formal and material principles are thus sources of his individual existence as a man.

If we apply the same mode of thought to sacramental marriage, we see that the formal principle of the marital union comes from God, through the mutual vowing of the marriage partners and their physical union. But the Church also teaches that no marriage is valid unless a man and a woman both freely consent to it. This consent is a material principle of marriage and a source of its legitimacy. By itself, of course, that consent does not constitute marriage; but there could be no marriage without that consent. In my review, I draw the analogy between this mutual consent and the consent of a people to a governing authority. Yes, the authority to rule (as a formal principle) comes from God alone; but without the consent of the governed — the material principle — no one could possess true governmental authority. Consent is a necessary condition for legitimacy. This is the contention of the passage from the Commentary. For even a governor appointed by a sovereign is legitimate only if the sovereign is legitimate; and how can the sovereign be legitimate, save by the material condition of the people’s consent to his rule, since sovereignty is not a delegated authority? It thus appears that a people’s consent is a source, though not the formal principle, of a government’s authority to rule.

I do not think that my review was at all unfair to Mr. Ferrara. What I addressed was what I perceived to be the polemical tone of his work and the impression and feeling that that tone can leave with a reader. How an author presents his evidence, and the atmosphere he creates by his exposition, are often as important as the evidence he presents when he attempts to convince a reader. If a reader feels that an author is going all out for a conviction, he may wonder whether the author is giving all the facts. In saying that Mr. Ferrara writes like a prosecuting attorney, I was not referring to his avocation but to the mood of his work. I shall leave it to the readers of his book to determine for themselves whether my impression is accurate.

As for the scope of Mr. Ferrara’s book, I maintain that he addresses only a small subsection of Liberals. He argues that the pre-Civil War American republic was not the halcyon period of liberty that Liberals claim it was — but many, if not most, Liberals would not make that claim; nor would most Liberals of either the Left or the Right look to the southern Confederacy as a regime of Liberty or to its war against the Union as a second American Revolution. And yet, more than 200 pages of Mr. Ferrara’s book are devoted to debunking this myth. If he were addressing all Liberals, and not just the Confederate-loving libertarians, why would he spend so much time on this subject? Moreover, Liberty says nary a thing about post-Reconstruction developments, which many, if not most, Liberals would count as thresholds of progress in realizing the “blessings of Liberty” for more and more individuals.

Finally, when I wrote in my review that “Liberalism…has achieved [its purpose] all too well,” I was not contending with Mr. Ferrara that it has led to “more government than ever existed before.” This, I think, is clear from the examples I cited. I wrote that the forces of Liberalism, divided though they are among themselves and pushing often contrary policies, “have triumphed in establishing the protection and promotion of individual liberty as the guiding principle of state and society and have allowed for a wider expression of individual liberty (for good and ill) than perhaps any other society has granted its citizenry.” That such liberty comes with much government (and some Liberals think this a good thing) does not belie the fact that Liberalism has delivered on a good number of its promises. It is not a failed god, as Ferrara insists, but a triumphant one. And this I think both Mr. Ferrara and I would agree is a great tragedy.

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