Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: June 1993

June 1993

Peter or Peter's Confession

Sheldon Vanauken presents his case clearly for recognizing the Catholic Church as the Church (“Choosing a Church,” April 1993). Though I have great respect for the Roman Catholic Church, having studied at a Catholic universi­ty, I am a retired Baptist minister. Vanauken quotes from Matthew 16:18: “‘You are Peter, the Rock; and on this rock I will build my church….” With Jesus’ delightful play on words, Petros and petra in the Greek New Testament, it seems obvious that Christ is referring to Peter’s confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is on the rock of that confession that the first Christian church was established in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost. Using Van­auken’s terminology, we are all sects of that church, but I prefer to look upon us as living branches.

Earl H. Byleen

Maryknoll School of Theology

Stromsburg, Nebraska

Too Catholic

I write to protest the pub­lication of Sheldon Vanauken’s “Choosing a Church” (April 1993). This article proclaims the Ro­man Catholic Church as the only true church and consigns all other Christians to second-class citizenship in God’s Kingdom. It accomplishes no worthy purpose, and its offensive smugness and silly arrogance are destructive of Christian brotherhood. Be­tween its lines I hear something like the self-satisfied murmur of the Pharisee in Luke: “God, I thank thee that I am not like other men…Luth­erans, Anglicans, Presbyter­ians, Methodists.”

Even worse, Vanauken’s article is simply irrelevant. The key question is about faith, not denomination: Did or did not Jesus rise again to save us from our sins? The answer has little to do with which Chris­tian tradition one feels most comfortable in adopting as the expression of one’s faith.

In its ads the NOR offers itself as a forum for the discussion of ideas that matter. Nothing is said about its being a platform for Roman Catholic triumphalism. If I have been misled about your magazine’s purpose, please let me know now, so I can cancel my sub­scription in time to avoid an­other such distasteful surprise.

David Nicholson

Marquette University

Irvington, New York

Not Catholic Enough

I don’t usually write to ed­itors, as it seems a futile ges­ture when something more concrete needs to be done. However, I have endured the cloying, stultifying, perverse, or naïve tone of some of your writers long enough.

When Planned Parenthood is wreaking moral and physical havoc throughout the world and the U.S. is turning into a Third World country, you choose to analyze the methods and motives of Anna Freud, as if she were some sort of sem­inal thinker (April 1993).

If you make minute observations on the thought of learned liberals (certainly a contradiction in terms), why not a balanced, direct summa­tion of the obvious truths and answers coming forth from the Vatican? Are you Catholics or are you a sect or go-between among sects? There is quite enough trite feminist and other drivel emanating from the me­dia without its being purveyed from a Catholic (?) magazine. Your place of publication gives you away.

Cancel my subscription.

John T. Sinnot

Tacoma, Washington

Too Fast

Sheldon Vanauken’s “Choosing a Church” (April 1993) is a drive down the highway of Christian history and theology at excessive speed. At such speeds, a lot of important de­tails are missed. I’ll mention only two.

In the “Protestant Revolt,” Vanauken writes, Luther and others “left the Church.” But Luther, an Augustinian monk, saw himself as a reformer within the one church. He was excommunicated from the Catholic Church; he did not choose to leave it. Secondly, the article claims that the dis­tinction between the visible and the invisible church is a Protestant invention created to justify schism. Actually, St. Augustine, in the context of an earlier schism, began to reflect on the visible and invisible limits of the one church. This is not a Protestant notion.

The Rev. Timothy D. Lincoln

Maryknoll, New York


As in his books, Sheldon Vanauken writes in your April 1993 issue (“Choosing a Church”) with passion and purpose. I am again moved to love and appreciate the Roman Catholic ethos, but am not motivated to join (yet). I agree with Van­auken about what it means to be a Roman Catholic — which is, regretfully, why I cannot join. To be a Roman Catholic is to embrace the Roman Catholic faith in its entirety. It is a seamless robe. Given this, the­ologians such as Matthew Fox, Hans Küng, and Rosemary Ruether, while offering some valuable insights, should hesi­tate to call themselves Roman Catholic.

D.P. Richmond

Dauphin, Manitoba

Just Right

Sheldon Vanauken’s “Choosing a Church” (April 1993) was enlightening. I, a Protes­tant, always seem to be too busy, but I really must go and speak to a priest of the Catho­lic Church — just blocks from where I live. Really, we should all be together with the Pope, telling the Good News and helping the poor. Shouldn’t we?

Wally Leitel

Janesville, Wisconsin

The Wrong Reason

I was saddened to read Sheldon Vanauken’s “Choosing a Church” (April 1993). The many divisions in the body of Christ should be cause for shame and humility, not pompous gloating and smug triumphalism.

A man of Vanauken’s talents ought to be able to develop a more appropriate re­sponse to Vatican II’s exhorta­tion that we take an active and intelligent part in the cause of Church unity (Decree on Ecumenism). Has it escaped his notice that the Council fathers ap­plied the term “Church” to the separated communities which Vanauken denigratingly and pointedly calls “sects”? The first step recommended to us by the Council is that we avoid expressions that make mutual relations more difficult. However, Vanauken insists on us­ing an offensive expression.

The entire tone of the ar­ticle demonstrates rates that Va­nauken may also need to re­view the Dogmatic Constitution on the Church, in which the Council fathers teach us that the community founded by Christ subsists in the Roman Catholic Communion — delib­erately a less strong claim of identification between the uni­versal Church and the Roman Catholic Church than made by Vanauken.

If one is attracted to the Catholic Church, it should be because we exemplify the love of the Father made incarnate in Jesus Christ, because of our Eucharist, our commitment to justice and human rights, our ministry to those forgotten or ignored by society, our rev­erence for human life and dignity, our respect for con­science, and most of all be­cause of our sacramental vision of reality by which we see the hand of God in all creation. But Vanauken asks people to choose the Catholic Church for the wrong reason.

R. Raymond Lang

New Orleans, Louisiana

Ed Note: Vanauken was using, as he indicated, a dictionary defini­tion of “sect.” Such usage can be heard in common parlance, from street corner to newscast. You are right that “sect,” not a term favored by the Decree on Ecume­nism, can be offensive, but Va­nauken explicitly said he was using the term in a restricted sense and “not to give offense.” Indeed, he recently wrote elsewhere that the differences between Catholicism and historic Protes­tantism are “slight” compared to their common differences with modernism, relativism, secularism, and materialism. As for “subsists in,” the official Vatican relatio (explanation) given in the Holy See’s Acta says: “The Church [of Christ] is one only, and here on earth is present in the Catholic Church, although outside her there are found ecclesial elements,” which is exactly what Vanauken was saying. The reasons you offer for becoming Catholic could be offered by a Lutheran for becoming Lutheran or an Anglican for becoming Anglican. The Decree on Ecumenism itself gives uni­que reasons for becoming Catholic — e.g., “Our Lord entrusted all the blessings of the New Covenant to the apostolic college alone, of which Peter is head, in order to establish one Body of Christ on earth to which all should be, fully [not partially, as with Protestants] incorporated…,” which was the reason Vanauken offered for becoming Catholic.

Welcome to Come Home

Regarding Norman Lear’s “The Cathedral of Business” (April 1993): Lear seems to write of God in a flirtatious way. I hope he will enter into an abiding faith in God. If he does, I hope he will also real­ize that God’s teachings in the Bible are the bulwarks against paganism/barbarism.

Martin Berman

New York, New York

No Prodigal Son

Hearing the thoughts of Norman Lear on the social/spiritual state of modern Amer­ica (“The Cathedral of Busi­ness,” April 1993) has the same kind of fascinating appeal as would hearing from Slobodan Milosevic on the ethnic ques­tion in the Balkans. If there is a group that could be said to be particularly representative of, if not responsible for, the turn this country has taken with respect to the disappear­ance of spiritual awareness and the dissolution of community, one would have to place Lear in that group. But Lear is right about one thing: The barbar­ians are here, and they came from within. How thoughtful that they have supplied one of their number to explicate our condition.

Michael Humphrey

Austin, Texas

The Casual Factor

Norman Lear aptly de­scribes our present-day society (“The Cathedral of Business,” April 1993), but falls short of the causal explanation, which is also unfashionable. We live in a society that has lost sight of God, the natural law, and a true sense of freedom.

But Lear cuts to the truth as he describes a society that has lost its path, destroys its unborn, and ultimately will destroy itself.

Therese Akins

Altadena, California

Deserving Death

It is not an argument against the idea of retribution to call it “primitive and pre-Christian,” as Mark W. Roche does in condemning capital punishment (“Inconsistencies in the Abortion Debate,” March 1993), for many primitive ideas which pre-dated Christianity have been whole­heartedly endorsed by it. The idea of desert, which is the basis for retribution, is one of them, as in the social doctrine that a worker deserves to share in wealth which he had a hand in producing. In the same way, a man who produces death deserves a share in being dead. Otherwise, what happens to the idea that a person can deserve anything?

Roche seems not to realize that an argument for capital punishment can be drawn from his very suggestion that a criminal who is actually en­dangering life at present may be killed in the defense of his intended victim. For if a merely would-be murderer may be killed to prevent his murdering, it is surely clear that, after the murder has been committed, the murderer ought now be dead. People who would kill to defend life, but not to punish the unjust taking of it, ought always to be asked whether they would kill the executioner — as a last resort — to save the life of a murder­er properly convicted.

Colin Burke

Port au Port East, Newfoundland

Our Turn to Be Tested

Tie two pieces in the March 1993 issue — the editorial on “Prolifers and the Reagan/Bush Tease” and Mark W. Roche’s “Inconsistencies in the Abor­tion Debate” — were of partic­ular interest to me. My prolife friends wonder why I, a prolif­er, am not a Republican. I, in turn, wonder why they are. My wonderment does not stem primarily from their willing­ness to agree with (or over­look) the pro-death policies of the Reagan and Bush adminis­trations on war, nuclear weap­ons, the death penalty, and the like, or from their inability to recognize that the primacy of individual liberty that so dominates Republican thinking is also the philosophical un­derpinning of abortion rights. Rather, my amazement comes primarily from the fact they really think Reagan and Bush were on their side. As your editorial pointed out, that was not so. Moreover, Reagan and Bush basically just preserved the status quo by vetoing cer­tain legislation that would have expanded abortion rights. But a status quo where more than 4,000 children are killed each day is not acceptable, and these Presidents did little or nothing to stop that killing.

Perhaps prolife Republi­cans are just ideological con­servatives at heart and are therefore guilty of the incon­sistencies of which Roche wrote. Roche, however, ap­peared to state that a consist­ent prolifer must support sex education, subsidized daycare, and universal health insurance. Although this may be true in theory, Roche should not con­sider all prolife opposition to such programs as signs of inconsistency. Instead, the oppo­sition may be a consistent re­sponse to a particular program. For example, the consistent prolifer cannot support sex education that teaches about abortion in a positive or “mor­ally neutral” manner. Likewise, a prolifer cannot support uni­versal health care if it is going to fund abortions.

“Liberal” prolifers, like me, have in one sense had it easy the last 12 years. So long as we were on the outside, it was easy to criticize conservative Republicans for being incon­sistent. But now it is our turn to be tested. We have a chance to see policies implemented we have long supported, such as health-care reform. But at what price? If we make the wrong choice or remain silent, we will be the ones called inconsistent.

Christopher T. Dodson

Riverside, California


The heavy-handed title, “Examining a Manichaean Ap­proach to Abortion,” of Mark P. Shea’s essay on John Medina’s The Outer Limits of Life (April 1993) is sensationalist and deceiving. First, Medina’s book is decidedly not about abor­tion. The term does not appear in the chapter Shea focused on, and no specific approach to this issue is even broached. Second, the term “Manichae­an” is normally used of an an­ti-Christian position, one which refers Good to one God and Evil to another. On both charges Medina is innocent.

The review-essay unchar­itably critiques Medina for not developing a full presentation of the sacramentality of crea­tion — something Medina nev­er set out to do! By a strange bit of alchemy, Shea transmutes Medina’s rather modest personal wrestlings with the boundary between human life and human tissues into a chal­lenge to an evangelical view of the sanctity of life! On the contrary, the only challenge that Medina’s book issues is to concerned Christians who might not want to hitch their wagon to an anachronistic view of scientific knowledge. This is a good reason to read Medina and forget Shea.

The Rev. Gordon L. Isaac

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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