Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: January-February 2010

January-February 2010

Bitten by Marian Theology

Although I am not a Catholic, I have been reading and profiting from the NOR for quite a long time. As a conservative Christian, I find I have more in common with orthodox Catholics than with my own liberal brothers and sisters.

Occasionally something in the magazine jumps up and bites me. In his review of Matt Baglio’s book on exorcism, The Rite (Nov.), Arthur C. Sippo writes, “The Scriptures promised that Mary would crush Satan’s head and that he would live in fear of her heel (Gen. 3:15).”

Is this statement Sippo’s opinion, an opinion expressed by Baglio in his book, or part of the theology of Mary not found in Scripture? If it is the official teaching of the Church, what is the source for it?

Jerry Sweers

Lexington, Kentucky


Genesis 3:15 is the source of my statement that we were promised that Mary would crush the head of the serpent — i.e., Satan. In the original Hebrew, the verse is somewhat ambiguous. It states, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; [she] shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise [her] heel.”

The literary form here is an archaic one that occurs in English as well: synonymous parallelism. There are three clauses here, all of which say basically the same thing: There will be enmity between the woman and the serpent. It is repeated three times for emphasis, which is typically Hebraic. This pattern can be seen in several places in the Old Testament and is echoed in Christian liturgy: “Holy, holy, holy, is the lord God of hosts.”

In classical Jewish exegesis, the woman was identified as the Daughter of Zion, the personification of the people of God. This verse was understood by the rabbis as expressing the eternal enmity between God’s people and the evil in the world. If we break down Genesis 3:15, we see the three parallel clauses: I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your seed and her seed; she shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise her heel.

We should note that in Hebrew the personal pronouns “your” and “her” are assumed by grammatical convention and not explicitly written. But the demands of synonymous parallelism require that the three clauses have the same subject and object: the serpent and the woman. Please note that in the first two clauses, it is clearly enmity between the woman and the serpent that is depicted. In the second clause that enmity is mediated by their respective offspring. There is no evidence in the second clause of direct enmity between the seed of the woman and the serpent himself. Such a shift would be necessary to break the threefold symmetry and justify the use of “he” in the third clause.

The problem is that in the third clause the Masoretic text (the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible) clearly uses the masculine pronoun “he” and the masculine form of the verb. But the pronoun is only identified as masculine by the Maso­rete marks that were not part of the original text. Without those marks (which were added in the eighth century A.D.) the pronoun is generic and could mean he, she, or it. As to the form of the verb, the difference between the male and female form can be similarly a mere gloss. The use of this verse by Christians as a prediction of the coming of Christ may have led to its alteration by Jews for apologetic reasons.

There are several instances in the Old Testament in which a virtuous woman strikes at the head of an evil man, killing him: Judges 4:21 (Jael nails Sisera’s head to the ground); Judges 9:50-55 (the killing of King Abimelech, whose head is crushed by a millstone dropped by a woman); and Judith 13:6-8 (Judith cuts off Holofernes’s head).

Several versions of the Latin Vulgate translate Genesis 3:15 explicitly as I have it above. The literary structure of the verse demands that the enmity between the serpent and the woman be the theme in all three clauses of Genesis 3:15. This is borne out by the recurring theme in the Old Testament of the virtuous woman who attacks the enemies of the people of God by striking at their heads. This reading has been acknowledged by the Church throughout her history, as early as the second century A.D. Pope Pius IX relied on it when he promulgated the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854 in his apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus: “The most holy Virgin, united with him [Christ] by a most intimate and indissoluble bond, was, with him and through him, eternally at enmity with the evil serpent, and most completely triumphed over him, and thus crushed his head with her immaculate foot.”

Topsy-Turvy Townsend

I read with great interest Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of Kath­leen Kennedy Townsend’s book, Failing America’s Faithful (Nov.), which displays typical Kennedy thinking regarding the Catholic faith. It’s like the man standing on his head in an art gallery, proclaiming that all the artworks are upside down!

Stephen J. Sanborn Sr.

Mead, Washington

A Mature Church Requires Resplendent Architecture

Dan Mattimore, in his letter (Nov.) responding to Michael S. Rose’s article “The Three Natural Laws of Catholic Church Architecture” (Sept.), points out that Masses in the early Church, a vital period in ecclesial history, were offered in private homes and underground catacombs. He asks how vital Church buildings such as the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris really are today.

When a little child offers his mother a wilting dandelion or a crayon drawing of a flower as testimony of his love for her, it is acceptable and praiseworthy. But when the child is grown and in his prime, such an offering would hardly be appropriate. Likewise, when the infant Church has grown to a powerful and beautiful maturity, she no longer worships God in a hidden cottage or hideaway — she now glorifies the God of all beauty and truth in the resplendent buildings that testify to all who see: Haec est Domus Dei et Porta Caeli!

Rev. Gerard J. Guli

Rochester, New York

The Wrecking Ball Destroys More Than Buildings

The Diocese of Peoria plans on closing all the Catholic churches in Streator, Ill., and building a modern facility east of the city. As a 27-year-old law student and lifelong parishioner of St. Anthony’s Church in Streator, I cannot begin to tell you how much my church means to me. It is the church where Franciscan priests taught me how to serve at Mass. It is the church where I still sit in awe of the stained-glass windows, statues, and altar that German immigrants so lovingly built to honor their faith. It is also the place where I have heard the people of Streator perform the music of Han­del’s Messiah before Christmas for many years. The Romanesque architecture of St. An­thony’s has stood as a beacon of faith in the heart of Streator since 1897. The thought of the wrecking ball hitting the twin spires of St. Anthony’s Church is impossible for me even to ponder.

I fear not only the loss of our beautiful parish churches but also the loss of parishioners themselves. According to the Council of Parishes, an organization that has opposed church closures in Boston, 30 to 40 percent of former parishioners disappear from the Catholic Church after their church has been shuttered. I have learned that several parishioners, already distraught at the prospect of the loss of their parish church, no longer attend Catholic Masses. Once our churches have been closed, I fear that more will follow the same path.

It saddens me greatly to imagine a Streator without St. Anthony’s, St. Mary’s, and St. Stephen’s. These viable parishes are jewels of the Catholic faith in Streator. Once they have been destroyed, nothing ever will replace them. Their architecture, altars, and stained-glass windows are irreplaceable works of art. I can think of no greater disrespect to our German, Irish, and Slovak immigrant ancestors than the destruction of the churches for which they sacrificed so much to build.

I invite anyone to come to Streator and visit our beautiful Catholic churches. Anyone who has seen our churches knows what a tragedy it would be for the Catholics of Streator to lose these inspirations of faith. As a young person and part of the future of the Catholic Church, I beg Bishop Daniel Jenky to stop the destruction of our beloved churches.

Sean Peters

Urbana, Illinois

In Wine, Truth

Apropos of your New Oxford Notes on the crisis in Anglicanism (“City of Confusion” and “Two Tracks to ‘Communion,'” Oct.): There was recently an interesting television documentary about the architectural rebuilding of London after the great fire of 1666, with a particular reference to Sir Christopher Wren and his construction of St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral. The narrator emphasized how its basic plan and great dome were based on St. Peter’s Catholic Basilica in Rome. (Indeed, there was at that time a tendency in the Anglican Church of England to portray itself as an equal alternative to Catholicism.) We were told how, although the constructional and architectural details of St. Paul’s were perfect, the ambience was lacking. The suggestion was that the lack of “Latin” temperament was responsible. I suspect something more profound — that the narrator sensed the Real Presence in St. Peter’s. And that’s what was lacking at St. Paul’s.

Some years ago an Eastern Rite priest mentioned this sense of the living Presence when he told us that he once had reason to visit a mosque. Although there were many present at the time, there was an emptiness about it — the same perception one gets in a temple or a Protestant place of worship, as opposed to the pleasant warmth one gets in a Catholic or Orthodox church when the Blessed Sacrament is present.

I witnessed the difference once at the Blessed Sacrament Chapel in Dublin. The building itself was unobtrusive, with an unmarked open door — it could easily be mistaken for a tavern, as indeed it was one afternoon. A “wino” waving his bottle made a noisy entrance, singing loudly. On see­ing the dozen or so praying visitors, he realized his mistake. As he re­treated, he suddenly noticed the mon­­strance with the exposed Host on the altar and, tipping his forehead in salute, loudly exclaimed, “Sorry, Sir. Very sorry, Sir,” a spontaneous apology to the sacred Presence.

In vino veritas, indeed.

M.G. Salter

Kilmacanogue, Ireland

No Moral Equivalence

In his letter to the editor (Nov.), Michael A. Mullenax equates the situation in which an aggressor is about to kill children at a daycare center using a machete with the situation in which an abortionist is about to kill unborn children surgically. The two situations are clearly not equivalent.

In the first case, using any means, including violence, to stop the aggressor before he can kill the children in the daycare center is morally legitimate. The children will be saved by this action.

In the second case, using any means, including violence, to stop the abortionist from performing abortions is not morally legitimate because no children would be saved. The women who are waiting to have abortions would simply find another abor­tionist.

The “necessity defense” fails.

Bob Brady

Fort Walton Beach, Florida

Fistfighting for Life

G.K. Chesterton wrote that women normally shy away from forcible physical contact, not because they fear it but because it disgusts them. Woman, the source of pleasant physical contact celebrating the joy of giving life, ought not to be the origin of physical harm or unpleasantness. Giving life and inflicting justice naturally require a division of labor between the two sexes. That might partly be why, as Chesterton again pointed out, when women do fight, “they don’t fight fair.” What they really must fight for, when they really must defend their own, seems worth fighting unfairly for, because the attackers are so clearly in the wrong.

These observations may well be relevant to the discussion by J. Ford, Michael A. Mullenax, and Judie Brown (letters, Nov.) of shooting, as opposed to peaceful protest, in defense of unborn humans. That discussion seemed to assume that shooting and peaceful protest were the only choices available, and it overlooked a distinction or two.

Shooting to death an abortionist peacefully attending his church is certainly murder. Shooting him on his way into his “clinic” may sound a little more excusable, if he refuses to stay out when warned, but it isn’t much different from shooting him in church. Shooting him as he is about to start committing an abortion would be perfectly justifiable if it were the only way to stop him, but in most cases it would not be the only way possible, and in those cases it would be wrong. We have become far too accustomed to the “justification” of “shooting in defense of life.” A firearm, even when necessary to defense, is not a defensive weapon: One does not parry with bullets; it is a weapon of attack, or of counterattack, and can defend only by threatening attack.

There is, however, an alternative course of action to shooting in church, shooting outside a “clinic,” or shooting an abortionist directly about to commit murder. A really defensive action against an abor­tionist’s aggression would entail simply standing between him and his victim or his “clinic” and responding with fair and purely proportional use of physical force to any effort (by anyone) to remove the defender. Or one might challenge an abortionist to a clean and honest fistfight over the life of a particular baby.

I would never expect a woman — I think no woman ought to be obliged — to defend anyone in that fashion. But that kind of action does appeal to many human males. A psychologist of whom I’ve read says human males take readily to the notion that certain kinds of conduct are “in bounds” or “out of bounds” according to circumstances. The notorious “rebellious young male,” especially, ought to relish thoroughly that kind of righteous rebellion in the best possible cause.

Such strife ought never to occur between men and women but between the male defenders of the unborn and male abortionists or fathers of the babies whose mothers want to abort them. (Women whose “men” disclaim even that responsibility ought perhaps to pursue capital punishment for fathers of babies whom women are “forced” to abort. That would be a logically chivalrous alternative to punishing females already unfortunate.)

I would expect any prolife woman to encourage any man she wanted to respect to undertake this line of defense and challenge the state to prove him a disobedient citizen rather than a straightforward and defiant foe, not of the state, but of those other, “pro-choice,” citizens who gave the state the authority to permit abortion. He should defy his prosecutors to establish in court that it was wholly unreasonable for him to believe he was preventing murder.

My attempts to get any prolife periodical to which I subscribe to even discuss opposition to abortion from this point of view have failed utterly; it seems as if being prolife means being pro one’s own life above all. That is essentially the position of the “pro-choice” crowd, to whose selfishness the tag “prolife” seems meant to appeal.

Colin Burke

Port au Port, Newfoundland

Character Assassination

I would like to respond to the near character assassination — hopefully unintentional — of Lyle Arnold in Mary McWay Seaman’s review of the book Waiting for the Apocalypse: A Memoir of Faith and Family (Oct.) by Arnold’s daughter, Veronica Chater. While I have not read the book in question, I know the man personally as a fellow parishioner at St. Margaret Mary Church in Oakland, Calif., where he is a serene daily communicant. This is no sedevacantist hideout but a diocesan parish church offering the Tridentine Latin Mass said by a priest of the Institute of Christ the King Sovereign Priest. I am also one of the editors of Arnold’s autobiography, Radical Catholic: My Eleven Roads to the Counter-Revolution, to be published in 2010. The maniac man in Sea­man’s review would make Savona­rola blush and in no way resembles the gentleman and views I know in Lyle Arnold.

Arnold always sought to meet the challenge of providing for his wife and eventual eleven children. After being honorably discharged from the Marines and marrying Marty (who died recently from pancreatic cancer), he found working in a supermarket not to his liking and fortunately was directed to a career in law enforcement. He went from a San Quentin prison guard to a deputy sheriff, and then became a highway patrolman and finally a highly paid corporate security czar with a Fortune 500 company. Also unmentioned in the review is that Arnold earned a degree in political science from San Jose State University with a four-point average in his graduate studies. He is currently a regular contributor to the globally famous Tradition in Action group of writers (www.TraditionInAction.org).

It was while living in San Jose that the local expression of Vatican II forced Arnold to take drastic measures to protect the sanctity of his family. Notwithstanding the arguments about the Council’s dogmatic or pastoral legitimacy, what is one to do on the ground in the midst of a liturgical revolution with the theological underpinnings loosed and vandals sacking the sacristy? Arnold related to me that a priest in his former diocese welcomed the new­found freedom by yanking apart a rosary while in the pulpit and exclaiming, “I’d rather read a dirty book than say the rosary!” The Arnolds’ parish in San Jose was ultra-conservative, so the chancery office removed the orthodox priest and replaced him with a progressivist Jesuit who fired the habited nuns, hiring instead mini-skirted, leftist lay teachers who were corrupting Arnold’s children. If this eventually led to the rash decision to flee with his then family of eight to Portugal where, Our Lady had said, “the Faith will always be kept,” well, perhaps we can forgive Arnold for putting God first.

What is perhaps most upsetting about Seaman’s one-sided review is her opinion that Lyle and his children are estranged. This simply is not so. The Arnold family is a very powerful family unit. With equal force, a paternal tension exists with Lyle because of the loss of faith of so many of his children, so he always looks for an opening to discuss religion with them, not to mention storming Heaven with rosaries. Heaven is on Lyle Arnold’s side and knows of his love for the Church and for his offspring.

Sean M. Connolly

Oakland, California

Ed. Note: When reading a book review, it is necessary to differentiate between the book’s reviewer and the book’s author. Part of the reviewer’s task is to summarize all or parts of the book in question, giving readers a feel for the tone, outlook, and scope of the author’s work. In her review of Waiting for the Apocalypse, Mary McWay Seaman does just that. Seaman has no bias for or against Mr. Arnold. She is merely reviewing a book about the man, written by his daughter. If there are qualms about characterization, they should be directed at Arnold’s daugh­ter, not Mary Seaman.

Is Thomism the Answer?

Murray S. Daw’s two-part series on science and Catholic culture (“Is Scientism Winning?” Oct.; “Can Thomism Save Science?” Nov.) sets forth the problem precisely, but his solution, while valid, might not have the force to be effective given the temper of the times. It is doubtful that the formal metaphysics of Thomistic natural law would prove to be an agent powerful enough to curb scientism or succeed as a “bridge” between theology and science.

Sjoerd J. Bonting, an Anglican priest and biochemist, has, without resorting to formal philosophy, largely succeeded in achieving substantial results in reconciling theology and science, stating that “the direct language of theological and scientific statements suffice without the use of a bridge” (Creation and Double Chaos, Fortress Press, 2005). I say “largely succeeded” because, while he correctly identifies the centrality of the new science of nonlinear dynamics, his conclusions are those of a decidedly high-minded, high-church Anglican. However, there is no equivalent effort to obtain an essentially intact Catholic reconciliation from a framework of biblical and scientific references couched in the exceptionally lucid English and coherent organization of material as found in Bonting’s work.

Daw uses the term “integration.” I prefer reconciliation. Integration implies a close coupling, which I fear would require the capitulation of theology to science, or a co-opting of theology already seen in the now fashionable veneer of “theistic evolution.” Reconciliation, on the other hand, would be guided by the principle of compromise between theology and science, retaining their respective essence, in a provisional and plausible framework.

As Daw points out, beyond broad generalizations of papal declarations, little concrete has been done by the Church to address systematically even the existing body of cosmology, much less the more formidable subfields of science, to Catholic doctrine in the context of the codified Catechism. This, however, does not deter the Vatican Observatory, the scientific arm of the Church, from calling an international conference on the possibilities and implications of extraterrestrial life forms. Perhaps a new order of priest-scientists, freed of the flagging Jesuits, is called for.

Thomas J. Czerwinski

Manning, South Carolina

Thank you for publishing the two articles by Murray S. Daw regarding the impact of science on modern culture and the Church. I’ve been reading Scientific American and Natural History magazines for many years and agree with most of Daw’s statements, including his observation that the gap between science and Catholic culture is huge. Most of the scientists who write for these publications make statements that indicate that they are philosophical materialists. In brief, they believe that the jiggling and wiggling of atoms will some day explain everything. Many times they mix scientific fact with philosophical materialism without recognizing that their science is completely compatible with theism.

Some of these scientists, like Lawrence M. Krauss, a theoretical physicist who writes for Scientific American, take the position that, when practicing his profession, a scientist must act like a practical atheist. Interested readers may read his recent opinion piece, “God and Science Don’t Mix,” published in The Wall Street Journal. His article is a far cry from the early European scientists who understood science to be a natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine.

It is my hope that if enough Catholics challenge the false philosophies and support the science, we can have an impact.

Philip Lehpamer

Brooklyn, New York


Mr. Czerwinski raises the question — among others — as to whether Thomism as an antidote to scientism is sufficiently powerful to work in modern times. Of course, the endorsement of every modern pope since Leo XIII in 1879 is not the best reason for us to undertake the task. The best reason is the same reason that prompted me to become Catholic: It’s true! In the context of science, the truth is that there is an objective reality and that we can know and understand that reality. These truths are implicitly assumed by anyone involved in science and theology, and yet many modern scientists will positively deny these obvious truths. These truths were also those recognized by Aristotle and later by Aquinas, the latter going on to affirm that these are not only consistent with Christianity but are required by it. The fact that the Church understands her dogmas in Thomistic terms — e.g., the Trinity, the Incarnation, Transubstantiation, etc. — underscores that fact.

I thank Mr. Lehpamer for his support, but I would be very unhappy if readers came away with the impression that the errors of scientism are somehow confined to scientists. Rather, the philosophical errors are pervasive, and spread to scientists and non-scientists alike, and can be found in all corners of the Catholic culture. The solution is not to convince some number of scientists of their errors; rather, the solution must begin with us, within the Catholic community.

Don't Forget About ITEST

Murray S. Daw, in his discussion of the separation of Church and science (“Is Scientism Winning?” Oct.; “Can Thomism Save Science?” Nov.), does not mention the work of the Institute for Theological Encounter with Science and Technology (ITEST) in bringing the two together. I have been a member of ITEST for 30 years. The Institute was founded in 1968 by the late Robert A. Brungs, a Jesuit and physicist. I am a chemist. Other members are engaged in all major professions: medicine, biology, law, physics, theology, philosophy, etc. ITEST can be contacted by calling (314) 792-7220 or writing to: Cardinal Rigali Center, 20 Archbishop May Drive, Suite 3400A, St. Louis, MO 63119

The website www.creationlens.org describes ITEST’s educational program, Exploring the World, Discovering God, designed for use in grades K-4. Its aim is to broaden our thinking about God using the discoveries of science about His creation as a tool. Fr. Brungs wanted to teach young children that men can learn about God’s plan by studying, through the eyes of science, the way all things in nature cooperate. God intends theology and science to blend.

Robert Jefferson

Goshen, Indiana

Keep On Keeping On

Your request for financial support (“How Many Victims Will the Revolution Claim?” editorial, Nov.) hit a responsive chord. Though my contribution is small, it is with appreciation for your attempt to present Catholic orthodoxy.

I am a recent subscriber and I appreciate the opportunity to consider blunt analysis of Church issues. All too often I get an uneasy feeling when I hear or read statements that try to include everyone and every position rather than boldly stating what the Church teaches.

Keep up the good efforts.

Patrick Desmond

Pearl River, New York

I am responding to your impassioned plea for contributions to the NOR in your November editorial. Please use the enclosed funds as you see fit.

It would be a huge loss for all of us subscribers to see the NOR go under. I advise you to consider a modest increase in your subscription rate — it’s always been cheap for the content we receive. I do not think you will lose many subscribers, and still would obtain some new ones.

God bless the staff and writers of the NOR. I know that the Lord will continue to bless you in your continuing efforts.

Chris Kachulis

Monte Sereno, California

Keep going! You are a beacon in this foggy world of half-truths, secular humanism, moral relativism, and confusion.

Thomas McGurk

Seattle, Washington

Please accept this small donation as my contribution toward alleviating the NOR’s budget shortfall for the upcoming year. Although I would hate to see you scale back on yearly issues, if this is what you must do to continue to remain in print, so be it. It would just make the anticipation of the next issue that much sweeter.

I guess I am one of those few oddballs who love newsprint periodicals, with no color pictures, and 2,500-word articles because I can read the NOR from cover to cover within an hour of receiving it.

May God bless you in your endeavor to remain a viable Catholic alternative in print media.

Barbara Renshaw

Surprise, Arizona

In response to your urgent November appeal: I don’t have a lot of money, but I believe this amount will be better used than the $1,000 I donated to my alma mater, the University of San Francisco, for prominently displaying new 1955-1956 NCAA basketball national championship banners in the gym, which were not yet in evidence when I returned home this past summer. If any of you in the Bay Area pass by the gym and see them, let me know!

As a lay missionary and college lecturer in Taiwan, I am witnessing the demise of moral values here for the sake of personal and monetary gain. All branches of media adore and glorify fashion, sexual innuendo, wealth, beauty, and prestige. Men are unscrupulous in advancing their careers and overworking their employees (with no overtime pay). Women want to be like men. Eighty percent of women of childbearing age here have stated that they do not want to have children.

In contrast is the complete joy that overtook me when attending a Spanish Mass at St. Philip’s Church in Pasadena, Calif., and seeing the huge congregation of families, with their outpouring of song and praise, and children galore, sitting, kneeling, praying, and playing.

Yes, the message of Christ must get out, but be of good cheer. He will always be with us. There are still many of us — Catholic and Protestant — who know how to pray and live. We can expect more opposition from the enemy the more our faith is expressed and proclaimed.

In my old age I have come to understand that only two things are important: the One Thing that Jesus told Martha, and that’s Jesus Himself. The other is salvation. Everything else is smoke and mirrors. So with your wonderful work at the NOR, let’s sit at the feet of Jesus and learn together through the writings of His many faithful followers.

Rey Bianchi

National Chengchi University

Mucha, Taiwan

Raising Eyebrows

I want to thank you for the immense generosity you have shown to me, and to prisoners like me, who receive the NOR through your scholarship program.

I first found your magazine floating around the county jail while I awaited trial. I was enrolled in an RCIA program at the time, and when I explained what I was reading, it raised some eyebrows among the chaplains! I thank you so much for helping to form me into a useful member of Christ’s Body.

As I have been cashless for some time now, please do continue to keep me on your scholarship list. And, when I receive some money, I will share some with you.

Patrick Seaton

California Men's Colony

San Luis Obispo, California

Ed. Note: For more information about our Scholarship Fund, through which gratis subscriptions are sent to those who can’t afford one, see the notice on page 19 of this issue.

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