Volume > Issue > Letter to the Editor: March 1990

March 1990

Failure of Omission

Bryant Burroughs’s review of Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism (Dec.) was on target — as far as it went. What Burroughs failed to men­tion — but I do not fault him for it, for Keating also over­looked it — is that there is a huge gulf separating Catholi­cism and fundamentalism in the area of social morality. How could the eagle-eyed Keating not notice the differ­ence between the socio-eco­nomic pronouncements of New Right fundamentalists and the more profoundly Christian teachings embodied in the Holy See’s social encyclicals and the U.S. bishops’ pastoral letters?

The omission is evident in a similar book: Catholic and Christian by Alan Schreck. Why is it that defenders of orthodox Catholicism often turn a blind eye to the official social teach­ings of the Church? Is it possi­ble that some of them are ac­tually discreet sympathizers with the fundamentalist politi­cal agenda?

Walter White

Evergreen Students for Christ

Fort Worth, Texas


After reading Bryant Burroughs’s review of Karl Keating’s Catholicism and Fundamentalism (Dec.), as well as the book itself, I came to the conclusion that everyone gets incoherent when he starts ragging on another’s faith. First, Keating quickly passed over the distinctions between fundamentalism and evangelical Protestantism. This is a serious mistake, because the fundamentalist theology he questions is not unique to fundamentalism. Sola scriptura and private interpretation are tenets of evangelical theology. Yet to disprove this theology he relies upon the theological fragments included in anti-Catholic tracts. Keating would have faced a more formidable challenge if he had not picked the straw-man arguments of Jimmy Swaggart and Bart Brewer.

Secondly, Burroughs’s ap­peal to the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed to dis­prove the hermeneutical prin­ciples of sola scriptura and private interpretation is faulty. The fact that neither creed supports these viewpoints does not really mean a whole lot. Creeds, like New Testament epistles, were written for a particular pastoral need. The early church creeds focused on Christology and the Trinity, since that was the need of the time. Biblical authority and sufficiency have become more significant issues in the past 500 years.

Greg Smith

Flin Flon, Manitoba

Olympia, Washington

Ed. Note: Yes, the creeds, like the New Testament epistles, were written for a particular pastoral need. But they were also written for all time. We find it ironic that you, presumably an evangelical Protestant, would appeal to what is in effect the principle of the development of doctrine in an attempt to de-emphasize the creeds. Of course, Catholics, who have a kind of trademark on the development of doctrine, would find this deployment of the princi­ple highly eccentric at best. It is even more ironic that you would, in attempting to rescue sola scriptura, de-emphasize the Scrip­ture’s epistles.

John C. Caiazza

West Berlin

Lynnfield, Massachusetts

Contra Lukacs

While I certainly agree that Whittaker Chambers’s Witness is a vital work that deserves reconsideration, I was disappointed with the essay on it by John Lukacs (Nov.). The main thing that disappointed me was the general tone or line taken by Lukacs, known as an intelligent historian who takes far-reaching perspectives on historical events. The entire aim of Lukacs’s essay appar­ently was to dismiss Chambers’s work in some way or other, and he attempted a number of different ways to accomplish this. While he couldn’t plausibly claim that Hiss was innocent and there­fore a victim of anti-Commu­nist hysteria, Lukacs went along this path as far as he could by claiming that (A) Hiss’s spying didn’t do great damage, and (B) Hiss had probably already given up spy­ing for the Soviets (Lukacs doesn’t really know if this is true), and had Hiss stayed in government, perhaps he would have turned out to be a neoconservative (again, pure speculation on Lukacs’s part). There is an equal likelihood that Hiss would have turned out like Kim Philby, bragging about his exploits from his Moscow retirement home. Lukacs also takes the tack that the Cold War is already over, so that Chambers’s ef­forts were redundant at best. Yet this ignores the debacle that resulted for the nations of Eastern Europe as a result of the Yalta Conference at which Hiss was a principal advisor to Franklin Roosevelt. The cur­rent events favoring freedom in Eastern Europe do not in­dicate the futility of the Cold War so much as they consti­tute the undoing of the effects of the Yalta Conference. Most Europeans are not so casual about the effects of Yalta as Lukacs.

There are at least three specifics worth questioning in Lukacs’s essay. One, if as Lukacs declares, Chambers had a conspiratorial sensibility that he inflicted on his inter­pretation of events, did Cham­bers not have good reason for it, having himself been an or­ganizer of the conspiracy? It was the apparent murder of the former agent-turned-in­former Walter Krivitsky that pushed Chambers and his family into hiding.

Second, with regard to Chambers’s homosexuality, Lukacs asserts that Chambers and Hiss had a homosexual relationship. Allen Weinstein, in his well-researched book about the Chambers-Hiss case, Perjury, never claimed that this was true, even though he gave a full account of Chambers’s homosexuality and its signifi­cance for the case. In fact, Weinstein quotes only one source who said this was true, namely, Richard Nixon. Does Lukacs have another source, or is he taking Nixon’s word for it, or is it his interpretation of events (to which he is obvious­ly entitled as a historian)?

Third, Lukacs ends his essay with the Latin tag, “the corruption of the best is the worst,” an offensive claim with regard to Chambers that the evidence does not uphold. In what way did Chambers be­come “the worst”? Unlike McCarthy or Nixon, he did not use anti-Communism to vault a political career, nor did he even go on the lecture circuit. Lukacs apparently means to say that anti-Communism is bad in itself, even though he tells us that he himself was an anti-Communist once. At what point does anti-Communism become bad? Apparently at the point it becomes successful.

Finally, it seems to me that Chambers’s true signif­icance is to have put anti-­Communism in a religious context. It is easy enough to read today’s headlines and to assume that the issue between the West and the Communist nations is economic, political, or military, and not to see the conflict in terms of God and freedom. True, the issues are more complex now than in the 1950s, when Stalin’s empire was encroaching on Europe, and the West can hardly claim to live up to the standards it once proclaimed. But Cham­bers was a witness, and in de­claring that the conflict was a religious test he did enough to vindicate one lifetime’s work.

Joseph Patrick Postel

Northbrook, Illinois


John Caiazza writes that I “went along the path as far as [I] could” of claiming that “Hiss was innocent and therefore a victim of anti-Communist hysteria.” But I wrote that from the first moment in 1948 “I had an instinctive feeling that Alger Hiss was guilty” and that “everything I read about Hiss since confirms this view.” I also wrote that “I had, and still have, nothing but sympathy for Whittaker Chambers.” I also wrote that “I did not and do not hold his homosexual relationship against him.” (Incidentally, I learned about Chambers’s homosexuality not from Wein­stein but from Bill Buckley.) I find it disagreeable to quote myself. But I am compelled to do this because Caiazza does not seem to have read what I actually wrote. Instead, he read all kinds of potentialities into it, which is the lamentable habit of all kinds of ideo­logues, very much including our American conservatives.

“Most Eastern Europeans are not so casual about the effects of Yalta as Lukacs,” Caiazza writes. My article, and the entire Hiss-Chambers af­fair, had nothing to do with Yalta; but, again, I am compell­ed to say that I was a truly an­ti-Communist refugee from Hungary as early as 1946, and that I have written plenty of strong stuff about Yalta during the last 40 years. But I am an American, too; whether the Cold War is over or not, I have consistently believed that the equation of anti-Com­munism with American patri­otism has been not only short­sighted but disastrous. Cham­bers unfortunately contributed to that by explaining just about everything in the 20th century as the result of the International Communist Con­spiracy. It is because of the deplorable effects of such a single-minded thesis that I wrote “corruptio optimi pessi­ma,” which does not at all mean that, as Caiazza writes, I described Chambers as “the worst.” To the very contrary, it is because Chambers was a good man that the self-indul­gent corruption of his worldview was lamentable. Caiazza writes that the Hiss-Chambers case was “a religious test.” It was nothing of the kind. Hiss was a liar, while Chambers was not. Neither Hiss nor Chambers was particularly re­ligious. Nor did (or does) the conflict between “Commu­nism” and “capitalism,” or that between Russia and the United States, have anything to do with religion.

S. David Kaplan

Hickman, Nebraska

Whittaker Chambers the Prophet

Let me tell you why I have not renewed my sub­scription. While you are or­thodox, your liberal-left politi­cal bent has gotten to be more than I can bear.

The last straw was the es­say by John Lukacs, which was stridently critical of Whit­taker Chambers. Lukacs seem­ed to be mindlessly mouthing the liberal party line, without having the least idea of what he was talking about. Cham­bers was one of the greatest prophets of this century, and for you to print a piece so critical of him, without editori­al comment, leaves this “Wan­derer Catholic” feeling quite alienated from you people.

Thom Tschetter

University City, Missouri

Roger Hiss Was Framed

Please cancel my subscrip­tion. The final straw was the piece by John Lukacs on Whittaker Chambers and Alger Hiss (Nov.). I am not ready to swallow propaganda that con­tradicts the truth. Here is what I call false propaganda: “As for Hiss,” says Lukacs, “my irrita­tion also arose because the revelation of his former Communist activities led to an ex­treme preoccupation with do­mestic Communism, because it was the Hiss case that led to the rise of Richard Nixon, and because the Hiss phenomenon led to a political atmosphere in which ideological anti-Com­munism became an even greater obstacle to the conduct of an intelligent foreign policy than the influence of pro­ Communism in 1945 had been.”

Lukacs blames the victim. He turns history backward and upside down. The Hiss frame-up was the result of virulent anti-Communism, not its cause. The conspiratorial worldview of Chambers is shared by Lukacs.

John Poulin


Green is Difficult

I read with enthusiasm Stratford Caldecott’s article “On the ‘Greenness’ of Cathol­icism & Its Further ‘Green­ing,'” in the December issue. I particularly appreciated the connection he made between the Church’s relationship to birth control and its rela­tionship to ecology. I have noticed that very often people are strongly advocating Hu­manae Vitae while ignoring ecology or vice versa. Caldecott made casual reference to Natural Family Planning as a means of birth control which the Church al­lows. I agree with the Church’s position on this subject and am happy that Caldecott wrote what he did about it. In addition to what he said, I think it is worth noting that natural methods of birth control are by no means easy or simple, and that na­tural birth control does not have a particularly good repu­tation for effectiveness. As an effort to avoid misunderstand­ings and possibly to shed light on the realities of natural birth control, I would like to rec­ommend a book which deals exclusively with that subject in great detail: Your Fertility Sig­nals by Merryl Winstein.

Jim McCrea

Piedmont, California


I was most disappointed with Larry Chase’s slander of Pope Pius XII in his letter to the Editor (Nov.). While such people as Golda Meir strongly praised the Pope for helping Jews during the dark days, you allowed Chase, a “deist Jew” (an oxymoron that only ignorance of Jewish history and the Old Testament would permit), to say the exact op­posite.

Then, after a few cal­umnies about Our Lord and Our Lady (no, Mr. Chase, Jesus was definitely not an “ethics teacher” — either He is the Son of God, as He said, or He was a deluded lunatic), Chase goes on to praise bish­ops for dabbling in social work, which arguably they should not be doing (remem­ber, “My Kingdom is not of this world”?), and in effect says, “oh well, at least Catho­lics run good hospitals.” Real­ly, this is too much! Does Chase seriously think people like Mother Teresa are only rather undereducated regis­tered nurses?

William M. Klimon


More Hoyt!

I hope to see more of the writings of the Berkeley car­penter Will Hoyt. The man is truly graced with insight and the ability to express himself with beauty.

I am writing in an attempt to clarify, or have clarified for me, the matter of Vladimir Soloviev’s conversion to Cathol­icism. In the brief review of Fr. Copleston’s Philosophy in Russia (Dec.), it is stated that Solo­viev “toyed with conversion to Rome, but died in the Ortho­dox communion he loved so irrevocably.”

In The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, however, it plainly states that, “In 1896 he was received into the RC Church, but without abandon­ing his critical attitude.” Don­ald Attwater, in his Translator’s Preface to Soloviev’s God, Man and the Church, elaborates: “In 1896 Solovyev was received into the communion of the Roman Catholic Church by a priest of the Byzantine rite, Father Nicholas Tolstoy, at Moscow.” And certainly the title of Msgr. Michael d’Her­bigny’s book Vladimir Soloviev: un Newman Russe would make little sense if Soloviev had not converted. But an equal num­ber of sources claim the oppo­site. As I say, I am seeking a clarification.

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