Hungary: The Envy of Nations
Christopher Gawley’s article “A Faith Enshrined, a Nation Renewed” (March) was much more than excellent. It is the first time that I have read an objective and at the same time concise review of Hungary and its struggle against all odds. For this tiny and poor country, stripped of its ancient natural borders, its natural resources, and a significant portion of its population to stand up and announce to a pagan world its belief in God and all that He taught us is nothing less than heroic.
St. Stephen of Hungary placed the Hungarian nation under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. During its centuries of untold hardships it didn’t seem like she heard him. Maybe, just maybe, she will now come to the aid of the Magyars. St. Padre Pio once said that he envied the Hungarian people because they will be the singular beneficiaries of special graces from God. Indeed, Isten áldja a magyart — “God bless the Hungarians” — are the first words of the nation’s new Constitution.
Andrew S. Erdelyi
Professor of Philosophy, St. Francis College
Merrick, New York
Hungary: A Small First Step
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches in De Veritate (q.5, a.5), “Almighty God would never allow any evil to take place in His works unless He were so powerful and so good that He could bring good even out of evil.” God commits not a scintilla of His good creation to some cosmic ash heap. It is a wonder of His might that never ceases to amaze us, whether in world history or our own very personal history. As Edward Leen confirms, “God’s power is shown, not in replacing, but in reconstituting what has been ruined by the sinful folly of man. In the scheme of redemption a certain splendor of order and a wondrous congruity are observable throughout.”
The 20th century has seen its share of this truth. From the hell of Auschwitz is forged the heroic sanctity of St. Edith Stein and St. Maximilian Kolbe; from the satanic Dachau is plated the nimbus of Bl. Titus Brandsma, and who knows how many more undeclared martyr saints. Similarly, from the detritus of Eastern European communism rises a new marvel: the Hungarian Constitution. Christopher Gawley brings this to our attention with fitting fanfare and insightful analysis.
Gawley rightly demonstrates that this new instrument of Hungarian self-identity is outstanding not only for its sound and timeless content, but it sees the light of day against the thick night of European Union decadence. This “night” was captured in 1991 by journalist John Waters when he described the New Man of the European Union as a “people who had pulled themselves away from their roots, who had scraped the last trace of Christian cow dung from their souls. They were well-educated and had been to university and studied concepts like dialectical materialism, positivism, gradualism, and democratic centrism. They had long been appalled at the fact that their own countries refused to reveal themselves in terms of the learning they had accumulated.” In contrast to such colossal hubris, the new Hungarian Constitution is truly the stuff of miracles.
But the war is not won, as Gawley’s citations from the U.K.’s Guardian and the ever-reliable leftist Paul Krugman demonstrate. Nonetheless, this is an auspicious beginning, not only for Hungary but for Western civilization. It’s a small first step, but small first steps are the beginnings of momentous strides. In our own fashion, we should take heed. As Eric Voegelin exhorts us, “No one is required to participate in the crisis of his time. He can do something else.” Hungary has. It’s about time the rest of us do.
Fr. John A. Perricone
MDLA Professor of Law, University of Mississippi
Brooklyn Heights, New York
Hungary: Not Yet Out of the Woods
I was greatly heartened to read Christopher Gawley’s article on the new Hungarian Constitution. Americans rarely see the kind of political will to defend life and support marriage that is reflected in that document. Unfortunately, there are some reasons to be concerned about the ultimate triumph of this political will, and those reasons provide important lessons about governing and national sovereignty.
The new Hungarian Constitution was amended in March 2013 (after Gawley wrote his article). Among other things, the new amendments strip some power from the Hungarian Constitutional Court (similar to the U.S. Supreme Court) regarding its ability to invalidate provisions of the new Constitution, and they reinstated some provisions of the Constitution that the court had declared invalid.
There is a valid argument for the amendments. After all, previous decisions of that court were premised on the former communist Constitution. It would make little sense to judge the new Constitution with authority based on a rejected Constitution.
The amendments passed the legislature on a 265-11 vote (33 abstentions). Despite their popularity within Hungary, the amendments have not been well received elsewhere. In a joint statement, the Secretary General of the Council of Europe, Thorbjørn Jagland, and the European Commission President, José Manuel Barroso, said that the amendments raise concerns under European Union law and Council of Europe standards. The non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch has called for the European Union to consider suspending Hungary’s voting rights.
At one level, this criticism of the amendments reflects legitimate concern about overreaching the lines of authority. Separation of power is a crucial part of the American government. Limiting the authority of a branch of any government should only be done with extreme caution, even if it is being done with the best of intentions.
At another level, there is a lesson here about national sovereignty. Diplomacy to avoid international conflict is a matter of crucial importance; union of diverse nations into a single entity is not. Those who think that a one-world government will end all wars conveniently neglect the fact that at any given time there are more civil wars than international wars. Joining different cultures together can easily result in the suppression of the good by the majority. That may happen here.
I greatly appreciate Gawley’s good work in bringing these matters to our attention. I hope that he will be able to write a follow-up in the near future, explaining how the Hungarian Constitution is having a positive impact on that nation. For the time being and despite its new Constitution, however, Hungary is not yet out of the woods.
Ronald J. Rychlak
Asst. Professor of Humanities & Trivium, Wyoming Catholic College
CHRISTOPHER GAWLEY REPLIES:
Mr. Erdelyi’s paean to Hungary and its Catholic antecedents is welcome, and I say with holy envy that I only hope my ancestral homeland of Ireland (another small and historically brutalized country) would emulate the Hungarians and also fight desperately for its spiritual patrimony. Erdelyi correctly identifies the battle for Hungary’s soul — and that of Christendom — in the supernatural realm. After all, as St. Paul reminds us even today, “Our wrestling is not against flesh and blood: but against principalities and powers, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places” (Eph. 6:12). For the Hungarians, as Erdelyi points out, the Virgin Mary’s intercession and succor is necessary for this project to bear fruit.
Fr. Perricone’s erudite comments also put the entire Hungarian question into proper — and divine — perspective. Who would have thought it was possible for anything good to come from the modern European political process? I assumed, like many, that the new Europe was congenitally opposed to its Christian roots and would inevitably continue its lamentable slide into obscurity and irrelevance. But the Prophet Isaiah instructs us: “For my thoughts are not your thoughts: nor your ways my ways, saith the Lord” (55:8). Fr. Perricone reminds us that there are no lost causes where God is concerned — our duty to stand and fight is never more pressing, never more needed, and never more rewarded than at exactly the time and place our good God deemed to place us on the stage of human history. Even if the present Hungarian government fails in its attempt to keep this remarkable Constitution in place, those brave Hungarian leaders have demonstrated that the fire and zeal of European men of good will exists in what was once the heart of Christendom.
Prof. Rychlak’s realpolitik analysis of the situation in Hungary and Europe is similarly welcome. I too have followed the most recent events in Hungary and agree wholeheartedly that the battle is far from over. The usual suspects are circling Hungary, looking for any excuse to take punitive action lest its refreshing constitutional approach to faith, family, and life take broader hold.
While Prof. Rychlak’s point on separation of powers is a valid one, I wonder whether our relatively recent experience of the Supreme Court operating more or less like a nine-headed Caesar on every important question has given credible pause to other nations embarking on constitutional forms of government. Given the opportunity to rethink our constitutional system, many thoughtful American conservatives would question whether the judiciary ought to be the effective final voice on every important moral and governance question. I see Hungary’s attempt to curtail its Constitutional Court in such a context and, in that sense, am sympathetic. But Prof. Rychlak’s broader point is well taken: As our Lord advised His disciples, “Behold I send you as sheep in the midst of wolves. Be ye therefore wise as serpents and simple as doves” (Mt. 10:16); as the Hungarian political leadership enters into this critical phase, they should be as strategic and cunning as their ruthless adversaries.
James J. Drummey
Ecclesial Weather Forecast
Kudos to Frederick W. Marks for his article “A Long Winter or a New Springtime?” (March). Is there anyone on the contemporary scene who can put together in a single article more useful information, from a wide variety of sources, than Dr. Marks? His familiarity with sources ranging from the Bible to the Wall Street Journal, from Warren Carroll’s masterful history of Christendom to recent works dismantling the myths about Galileo, the Crusades, and the Spanish Inquisition is marvelous to behold. Marks is encouraged by what he calls “a new springtime of truth” in the world of publishing and elsewhere. His readers should likewise be encouraged, and edified, by his grasp of the truth and his ability to shed considerable light in the darkness of the modern world.
Piroska Molnár Haywood
West Lafayette, Indiana
Frederick W. Marks has brought together a number of facts which, taken together, do support a realistic judgment that we as Catholics are passing from a long, self-inflicted winter into the early March, with still unsteady weather, of a new springtime. It seems to me that all these positive signs are the result of the members of the Church — with little help from the hierarchy — re-asserting the unique nature of Catholicism as against the world. The theological support provided by Pope John Paul II and especially Pope Benedict XVI has been essential. But operational support from the administrative apparatus of the Church has been sorely lacking. In fact, it is fair to say that the administration of the Church, from the Vatican bureaucracy through national conferences of bishops to individual bishops and down to the parish level, has, in most cases, acted against this re-assertion of Catholic identity.
At the same time, I do believe that the bad news is that the world around us has become more and more corrupt and hostile. Yet I also believe that this has contributed to the re-awakening, as Marks describes, to our Lord’s admonitions against co-operation with the world. We can only convert the world by maintaining our own strong identity based on our possession of the truth, and thus precisely by being different from the world.
At our annual parish walking pilgrimage (30 miles), one of the banners we carry bears an inscription from the Song of Roland: Païens ont tort et Chrétiens ont droit — “Pagans are wrong, and Christians are right.” Frederick Marks’s article is itself a sign of this re-awakening, of the coming of the springtime.
Frederick W. Marks’s article “A Long Winter or a New Springtime?” seems spot on in identifying the mixed nature of the times in which we live. There is much to give us hope, but much to give us serious concern.
As Christians, we have hope that the truth will set us free, and Marks points out areas in which the truth is beginning to cut through the clouds of confusion that have threatened our way of life for too long. This is particularly true in recent scholarship, which has found that the Inquisition was not as bad as it’s been made out to be and that there were far worse things in history than the Crusades.
Unfortunately, too few Catholics take the trouble to read good books, such as the ones Marks recommends. Rather, they continue to inform themselves by means of a mainstream news media — as well as social-media networks like Facebook and Twitter — that continues to miss the point on the Gospel. Certainly, it’s good to be informed by various sources, but there’s a danger of getting lazy and relying too much on these means.
It is, perhaps, one reason why a majority of Catholics voted in 2008 for Barack Obama — and voted to send him back to the White House in 2012, even after he demonstrated himself to be the most pro-abortion president ever and a man who would trample the conscience rights of individuals and the religious liberty of churches and religious institutions.
Obama’s healthcare reform and its attendant HHS mandate is the greatest threat to our religious liberty in quite a while. If we cannot roll it back through legal and/or judicial means, it will be the occasion of martyrdom for many — in the sense of sacrificing to the point of witnessing to our faith and moral values in a very public way. In other words, we might not find ourselves on the scaffold or the firing range for refusing to cooperate with the evil of providing contraception and abortion-causing drugs, but we might find ourselves going without health insurance. We might have to choose between paying an onerous tax or, refusing to do so, putting our home-ownership at risk.
Hispanics were a large part of the Catholic vote that sent Obama back to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It’s ironic. They obviously supported him in the hope that he would go to bat for their main cause: making it easier for the millions of people seeking a better life in this country to work here legally — and bring their families. And yet their hero is the very one whose policies threaten their faith-based way of life. Yes, they and their families will be able one day to live here legally. But thanks to Obama and his ilk, their children will go to schools here and learn that being “gay” is completely normal and acceptable, that it’s no different to have two men as parents than it is to have a mother and father. They will learn English by immersion, while being immersed in a sex-saturated culture, able to get condoms and birth-control pills and devices, and even abortions, without their parents’ knowledge.
What, we may ask, is the Church doing to help immigrants see that? Rather, those who work in the Church’s social-justice offices support candidates like Obama.
All of which is to say that, yes, we can be very grateful that there are signs of hope in so many spheres of life, but the things that give us concern are also the things that are going to keep us on our knees and keep our minds and muscles engaged in efforts to re-evangelize the culture.
I read Marks’s article on the eve of the 2013 conclave and, like so many Catholics, felt a mixture of sadness that the pontificate of Benedict XVI was so short and gratitude for almost eight years of splendid teaching and important developments affirming Catholic tradition. I write this letter a couple of days after the election of Pope Francis, who appears to be deeply concerned about the New Evangelization, about living the Gospel in a most radical way. Marks could not have known about this stunning development when he wrote his article, but this may turn out to be the best news for quite some time.
New York, New York
Externally, the Church is always under attack. It began in Palestine with the crucifixion of Christ, spread to Rome and throughout the Empire, and has continued throughout history. But the true life of the Church is internal, consisting of the day-to-day spiritual life of Catholics in their practice of the faith, and the true winter of the Church occurs when people become lukewarm in this practice. As Jesus warned, “Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth” (Rev. 3:16).
Frederick W. Marks has given us a well-documented description of the condition of the Church today, and he presents the case that we are experiencing a progression from winter to spring. But most of his account relates to the externals, and much of this involves the turnaround in historical scholarship. He does mention a few indicators of the Church’s internal vitality, such as more traditional Catholic schooling, a revival of the consecrated life, and an increase in conversions. But he does not mention what is probably the strongest indicator of a healthy Church, which is the willingness of thousands, perhaps even millions, of Catholics to give up their lives rather than deny the faith, as reported by Robert Royal in his book The Catholic Martyrs of the Twentieth Century.
These 20th-century martyrdoms occurred in many parts of the world but notably not in the U.S. The Church in the U.S. is today threatened by a rampant secularism that many Catholics (the baptized but unconverted) have joined. Internally, the Church here is experiencing a spiritual winter. Consider the drop in Mass attendance, the decline in the ranks of priests and sisters, the greater numbers of Catholics receiving Holy Communion than going to confession, the involvement in pornography and cohabitation, the couples practicing contraception, and poll reports on the percentage of Catholics denying the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist and favoring same-sex marriage.
All this is contrast with the period from World War I until the 1960s, which we tend to think of as a peaceful period when the Church appeared to be thriving. Mass attendance was at a very high rate, there were long lines for confession on Saturdays, seminaries and religious orders were flourishing, and Catholic schools and colleges were full. Unfortunately, the external peace concealed a serious spiritual decline. Taking part with large numbers of other practicing Catholics gave us a sense of social comfort, yet something important was missing, which led to the great falling away after 1960. This upheaval was blamed on Vatican II and on the rise of the drug and sex culture, but it was the advance of the lukewarm in prior decades that allowed it to take place.
In that peaceful period there was a huge flaw in Catholic life. Many of us regarded the truths of faith as mere objects of knowledge, of liturgy as conventional ritual, of the moral law as something to be observed simply because it was the law. Prayer, even the Mass, instead of being a meaningful two-way conversation with Christ, became merely the recitation of a formula of words. What was missing was the thing that holds it all together — the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that takes place through His Church and which is nourished by a healthy, vibrant life of prayer. The trees did not take root because the soil was shallow. We had a superstructure without a foundation.
So, what is the state of the Catholic Church in the U.S. today? It is a period in which the trees that have survived are being pruned but need further pruning. The hope we have is based on the fact that Catholic schools are beginning — but just beginning — to change from teaching our children to feel good about themselves and to be accepting of all cultures to emphasizing the development of a personal relationship with Christ. Vocations are thriving in religious orders that have this emphasis on Christ, such as the Franciscan Friars and Sisters of the Renewal, the Sisters of Life, and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia and of Mary, Mother of the Eucharist. Catholic institutions of higher learning like Thomas Aquinas, Christendom, and Steubenville are being joined by others, such as Ave Maria, Thomas More, and John Paul II, while the Cardinal Newman Society keeps urging the others to return to the fold by observing Ex Corde Ecclesiae. The Church’s involvement with the pro-life movement is gradually helping it gain ascendancy. And efforts to induce fallen-away Catholics to return are beginning to pay off.
But externally, things will most likely get worse before they get better. Barack Obama is effectively placing a bet with the Catholic bishops in the U.S., telling them, as it were, “Say whatever you will; your people will not follow you,” and he is determined to win that bet. The vast majority of American Catholics are still in a lukewarm state, without the spiritual strength to meet the challenge, and a large percentage of these are not even aware they are being challenged. Evangelical Protestants are probably better prepared today to defend their faith than are baptized Catholics.
There is much talk in the Church today about the need for a New Evangelization, and the term itself refers to re-evangelizing now those who were evangelized before but for whom the faith did not stick. Recognizing what went wrong in the past should give us clues as to what is necessary to correct our situation, to energize the lukewarm, and to confront, and eventually overcome, the challenge of secularism. We need better preparation of the soil so the seed may take root, but we also need better sowing of the seed than was done in Catholic education over the past 60 years. The objective must not be simply that of increasing the numbers of Catholics, either in absolute numbers or versus those of other religions, but of concern for individual souls so that as many as possible may turn their minds and hearts to Christ and His means of salvation.
But it cannot be a success if we try to do it by our own efforts. God is the One who wins hearts. What we must do now is learn to pray earnestly, from the heart, in a way that brings us to a meaningful personal relationship with Christ, and to make prayerful use of the sacraments. In prayer God will first convert us and then tell us what He wishes us to do so that He Himself can win the additional converts and re-win the “reverts” He longs for, which would constitute a genuine new springtime.
Palm Bay, Florida
Regarding your New Oxford Note “The Revolution That Wasn’t” (March): Speaking as a “traditionalist conservative,” to use Fr. Anthony Ruff’s term, while admitting that our desire is indeed, as the Note states, the restoration of the pre-reform Tridentine Latin Mass, other than with the Ecclesia Dei and SSPX people, one could hardly call it a “project.” The contention that we “couldn’t care less about the new missal or reforming the reform” is inaccurate. On the contrary, this change was a favorable interim step toward that restoration, after 40 years of patiently putting up with the Vatican II missal — a shabby, inaccurate, incomplete but sacramentally valid parody of the Mass whose only accomplishment was to give new meaning to the expression “Holy Crap.”
A principal and repeatedly stated purpose of the reform of the missal is to make the liturgy more closely and accurately reflect the original Latin. The full authorization and growing frequency of Tridentine Masses is also a very encouraging sign. It seems precisely these trends in the correct direction, along with their broad acceptance by the faithful, that are the source of Fr. Ruff’s discomfiture.
Realizing that Pope Francis has more pressing matters to address than the continuation toward a full return to the Tridentine Mass begun by his predecessor, it is still to be hoped that he will, in Fr. Ruff’s words, “be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit when the time is right to change structures” — a very odd thing for him to say, since one of the “features” of the Vatican II missal was precisely the elimination from the Mass of the epiclesis.
There is one thing that bothers me in the new translation of the Roman missal: In the Creed, we now say, “He suffered death….” In this case, suffered means tolerated. We all suffer bad neighbors, wild kids, diseases and other dirty tricks of fate. We’ll all suffer death. To say that Christ “suffered death” negates His passion. It should have remained, “He suffered, died, and was buried.” By merely saying that “He suffered death,” we pass over His agony, His scourging, His terrible trip up to Calvary, and His excruciating death on the cross.
Yes, I’m one of the old ones who liked the way it was before. As a child, I was taught that we should contemplate the passion of our Lord every day. The new translation of the Creed wipes it out completely. What happened?
Thomas Storck’s apologia for philosophy in general, and for Thomism in particular (“Why Study Philosophy?” Jan.-Feb.), is tightly reasoned and convincing. We can all agree that, in the general revival of the faith promised by the new Bergoglio pontificate, the Aristotelian-Aquinian tradition should play a major role.
But who are “we”? It may include readers of the NOR and other orthodox Catholics. But it probably does not include the majority of North American or European Catholics. It surely does not include the 58 percent of Americans who, against all reason and realism, reportedly support same-sex marriage. It does not include our lost youth, who stuff their heads with noise and chatter to blot out the existential chasm in their souls, and to whom truth and virtue are boring abstractions. Nor does “we” include the many Western intellectuals who, under the rubric of postmodernism, have eschewed all general philosophical schemes, all objective standards of ethics and morality, and the very notion of objective truth. Yet it is these who seem to define our age. In that case, Storck’s call for a return to Thomism will fall on deaf ears.
But that is the West. As the Church’s center of gravity moves to the South and the East, Western pathologies inside and outside the Church will become marginal. To be sure, in this process Catholic truth will encounter other traditions and philosophies. Perhaps a new Thomas will synthesize the great philosophical traditions of China and India with Catholic theology. But the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas will surely remain central, for its message is human and universal, and therefore valid and comprehensible to men of all cultures.
In that case, Storck’s call will be heeded. I certainly hope it is.
The Architectonic Paradigm for Thought & Action
Thomas Storck’s “Why Study Philosophy?” is a solid defense of Aristotle and St. Thomas as the indispensable guides for American cultural and Catholic ecclesial renewal. But in his attempt to defend these masters of the philosophia perennis, he inadvertently slights others. Moreover, although having correct philosophical answers is vitally important, the capacity truly to question ourselves and the reality around us is just as important, perhaps even more so for us denizens of what Alasdair MacIntyre has called “a culture of answers, not of questions.” That is, we need both 21st-century Thomases — not mere Thomists — and fearless Socrateses.
Storck claims that the perennial philosophy began with Aristotle, but it is certainly arguable that it began earlier with Plato, about whose work Alfred North Whitehead once quipped that all philosophies are mere footnotes. But I don’t think this is an incidental matter for Storck, for he suggests that Aristotle got right what Plato got wrong. This is correct in some respects, but not in others, and Storck neglects to mention that Aristotle got some vitally important things wrong that Plato got right. For example, in his Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle criticizes Plato’s theological approach to ethics, studiously avoiding any talk of the “Good,” and relying exclusively on the “good-for-man” as it is linguistically, conceptually, and empirically found in nature and Athenian culture. Because of these limitations, his depiction of the magnanimous man, the pinnacle of virtue, is, one must admit, a jerk. Some of what Aristotle gained in conceptual rigor by his more earthly and systematic inquiry he lost in spiritual depth and comprehensive insight by his secularism, for want of a better word. One must join Plato’s soaring participatory metaphysics to Aristotle’s earthly empiricism to have the right balance.
Boethius, for example, did not see Aristotle’s thought mainly as a correction of Plato’s but as its indispensable complement, and thus he spent his career trying to synthesize the two. Indeed, Aquinas’s philosophical thought is as much Platonist as it is Aristotelian, since he was as much an Augustinian as an Aristotelian. St. Thomas’s metaphysics of esse and his understanding of the status of universals go way beyond Aristotle’s thought, and are in great tension with it, and in lesser tension with Plato’s. (See Lloyd Gerson’s Aristotle and Other Platonists, Cornell, 2005; and Scott M. Sullivan’s “Aquinas the Neoplatonist,” http://www.scottmsullivan.com/academic-papers/aquinas-the-neoplatonist/.)
Regarding ethics, St. Thomas’s primacy of the intellect and the transcendental of truth does preclude voluntarism and fideism, but this doesn’t mean that a moderate emphasis on the will and the transcendental of love, as is found in St. Bonaventure, is necessarily problematic. There is, after all, no definitive Church teaching on this issue, and an overly intellectualist notion of human action has its own problems. Is prudence mainly about rigorous thinking in accordance with right theoretical principles, or about the heart’s reasons that reason cannot always fathom? While the latter can lead to irrationalism and sentimentalism, the former can lead to neurotic, rigid eggheadism.
I commend Storck for calling the Church back and America to — that is, for the first time, as mid-20th-century neo-Thomism never really caught on here — Thomism as the architectonic paradigm for thought and action. I agree that Thomism is the only foundation on which we can effectively build a culture of life and inaugurate the reign of Christ the King. Yet we need Thomistically formed Catholics who can think for themselves — creatively, analogically, and prudently. The old manual Thomism, like the old Baltimore Catechism, was good on the answers but bad on the questions. We need a Socratic Thomism.
MacIntyre wrote in The Tasks of Philosophy: “We have within our social order few if any social milieus within which reflective and critical enquiry concerning the central issues of human life can be sustained…. This tends to be a culture of answers, not of questions, and those answers, whether secular or religious, liberal or conservative, are generally delivered as though meant to put an end to questioning.”
What is the antidote to this? A new St. Thomas? Yes! But not only him. MacIntyre says we need a new St. Benedict — and we just lost a good one. But I wonder if we shouldn’t add Socrates to the list. Thomistic Catholics with a genuine spirit of erotic, Socratic questioning, souls with true metaphysical courage, are, I think, the most effective antidote to the suffocating, anti-questioning, partial-truth culture we live in, in both its “traditionalist” and “modernist” varieties. Paul Evdokimov, an Eastern Orthodox theologian, writes, “The outdated religious person and the modern sophisticated irreligious individual meet back to back in an immanence imprisoned within itself…. The denial of God has thus permitted the affirmation of man. Once this affirmation is effected, there is no longer anything to be denied or subordinated…. On this level total man will not be able to ask any questions concerning his own reality, just as God does not put a question to himself.”
Perhaps what is really important in life is not so much the right answers as the true questions, for they themselves open the heart to the mystery of God. As Origen said, “Every true question is like the lance which pierces the side of Christ causing blood and water to flow forth.” St. Thomas was as much a questioner as an answerer, and we need to imitate him as much as we need his grace-filled philosophy.
THOMAS STORCK REPLIES:
It is certainly true, as Dr. Sorokowski notes, that “the majority of North American or European Catholics,” and “the 58 percent of Americans who, against all reason and realism, reportedly support same-sex marriage,” and so many others as well, do not seem especially eager to embrace Thomism. But, alas, this is the situation of the Church in our day, and St. Paul’s exhortation to Timothy to preach the Gospel in season and out surely applies to the Church’s philosophical heritage as well, whether or not anyone is attending to what we say.
As to the wish that “a new Thomas will synthesize the great philosophical traditions of China and India with Catholic theology,” this might be possible, but only to the extent that the philosophies of the East share the fundamental philosophical insights of Aristotle and Thomas. I’m sure that Dr. Sorokowski would agree with me on the importance of the primacy of truth, and that nothing is gained by attempting to make use of faulty philosophy. My entire point was that, in its fundamentals, Aristotle’s philosophy is true, and if that is so, then it is true for all peoples, regardless of their prior philosophical speculations or cultural traditions.
I realize that scholarly opinion currently makes St. Thomas less of an Aristotelian than it did, say, in the 1920s. This was a beneficial corrective, but like most correctives in scholarly opinion, it tended to go too far. It is certainly the case, as Dr. Kozinski points out, that in many particulars Thomas corrects, supplements, or develops Aristotle. All I am affirming is that in the main outlines of his philosophy, Thomas follows Aristotle. Certainly, Thomas cites St. Augustine repeatedly and very often follows him. But does that mean Thomas is as much a follower of Plato as of Aristotle? More than once Thomas notes and rejects the teachings of the Platonici and in at least one instance, in explaining why he disagrees with Augustine on a certain point, mentions that Augustine had been influenced by the doctrines of the Platonists (Summa, II-II, q.23, a.2, ad 1).
I heartily endorse Dr. Kozinski’s last point, that we need “Thomistic Catholics with a genuine spirit of erotic, Socratic questioning, souls with true metaphysical courage.” Genuine Thomism was never the stale repetition of distinctions and formulas but was the fearless investigation of reality, an investigation that could be boldly undertaken because one was sure of one’s intellectual foundations. That is the kind of Thomism we need now and always, a philosophy that is not afraid to look at any aspect of reality because it is secure in its principles and knows that we need fear nothing that is real or imaginable, provided that we grasp it as it is and as it relates to God, the first principle of all reality.
The Limits of Satire
Regarding James Tillman’s article “Why Liberals Love Satire” (Nov.) and Sophia Mason’s letter “Destroying the Right Targets” and Mr. Tillman’s reply (March): In college, as an English major, I was taught that true satire was not aimed at individuals but at their attitudes, practices, or beliefs. My American Heritage College Dictionaries (1993 and 2002 editions) seem to agree. Satire is defined as “a literary work that attacks human vice or folly through irony, derision, or wit,” and “irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to attack or expose folly or vice.”
Satire is not satire because its creator refers to it as such, but must be identified and evaluated within the limits of its definition. “Good” and “bad” satire would be judgments of the writer’s skills and the extent to which the work meets the limits of the definition.
What the “liberals” or, more properly, the progressives love is not satire but outright ridicule. They are interested in destroying opponents, a practice right out of Saul Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals. Gossips and bullies do this, but they’re amateurs compared to the professionals’ devious planning that keeps the source undercover and times the attack to achieve the greatest possible damage.
As examples, eight years of political cartoons depicting George W. Bush with sheep’s ears was not satire but ridicule. The vicious attacks on Sarah Palin and her family in 2008 cannot be described as satirical in any way, nor were the ad hominem attacks on Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann in 2012.
Not a Nutjob
Andrew J. Kawalec claims (letter, March), in response to a letter by James L. Koeser (Dec.), to be one of the “nutjobs” to whom Koeser referred because Kawalec believes that unbaptized infants “will never see God.” To Kawalec I say, “You are not a nutjob — just not informed.” Nor was Koeser.
I miscarried just three days ago; the funeral for my “unbaptized infant” is in two days. I have referred to my miscarried child as my angel in Heaven, for surely a pure and sinless soul could be nowhere else but with God.
Reading Kawalec’s words made my heart jolt. I had forgotten about original sin.
But the International Theological Commission’s 2007 study, “The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized,” states that no one can know for sure what becomes of unbaptized babies because Scripture does not shed light on the answer. This would include aborted children and miscarried children like mine.
The study does go on to discuss various opinions on the matter and explores theological arguments. It concludes with the following: “The many factors that we have considered…give serious theological and liturgical grounds for hope that unbaptized infants who die will be saved and enjoy the beatific vision. We emphasize that these are reasons for prayerful hope, rather than grounds for sure knowledge. There is much that simply has not been revealed to us…. What has been revealed to us is that the ordinary way of salvation is by the sacrament of baptism. None of [our] considerations should be taken as qualifying the necessity of baptism or justifying delay in administering the sacrament. Rather…they provide strong grounds for hope that God will save infants when we have not been able to do for them what we would have wished to do, namely, to baptize them into the faith and life of the Church.”
It is important for Catholics to research what the Magisterium actually teaches before stating what they think the Church teaches or should teach. This prevents the spread of misinformation about Church teaching, and it enlightens the mind by the instruction of those whom the Holy Spirit guides to keep the Church in the way of the truth.
Andrew J. Kawalec must be unaware of the quite formidable tradition in favor of a state of “natural happiness” for the souls of infants who die without being baptized. Only sanctifying grace confers on the soul the capacity for the beatific vision. Even if, impossibly, a soul that lacks sanctifying grace were to be admitted to the beatific vision, it could not “see” God. Therefore, a state of purely natural happiness is really the most it could possibly endure.
John F. Kippley
From Criminalization to Medicalization
Anne Barbeau Gardiner’s review of Philip Rafferty’s Roe v. Wade: Unraveling the Fabric of Society (March) reminds me of a historical lesson, that state tyranny comes to pass when the Church is weak. Roe v. Wade owed its passage in part to the general abandonment of discipline after the Second Vatican Council, the internal schism caused by Humanae Vitae, Woodstock fever, and the sexual, cultural, and moral revolution associated with the late 1960s. In that sense, the chief justices who misread the opinions and overwrote them to favor abortion were caught up in dissent, disobedience, and the loss of the faith. We all got that under our belt some time ago.
Quo vadis? Rafferty needs to find a gifted lawyer and apologist from one of the new Catholic universities in America who could remarket the story he has told with such verve, brilliance, and passion for a new generation of people in search of “radical orthodoxy.” The “salt of the earth” needs to be brought out into a wider reading public. As the drift from legislation that criminalized abortion to legislation that medicalizes it as a health issue has already been well told, Rafferty’s project exposes the terrible dearth of books about truth. Yet his solitary crusade and sacrifices for truth still could be rerouted into a new resistance movement of trained constitutional lawyers working under legitimate authority. Bonded together in a confraternity and under a bishop with clout, young lawyers could work to get the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn the law as it stands. We should never forget that God works miracles. When they were offering up human sacrifice in Mexico, our Lady appeared at Guadalupe and — presto! — the pagans were baptized. The rest is history.
Praying With Prisoners
The letters from prisoners and ex-prisoners that are frequently published in the NOR indicate a need for religious materials. I have published a way of praying the rosary that expands on what Bl. John Paul II gave us in the Luminous Mysteries. The Pope did this partially to overcome the problem of boredom and partially to give us meditation topics from the public life of the Lord Jesus. The Seven Day Bible Rosary adds three more sets of mysteries to give us a separate set for each day of the week, including Mysteries of the Public Life, Mysteries of the Last Supper, and Mysteries of the Church. A Scripture verse precedes each Hail Mary, except for a couple obvious exceptions.
The normal pricing is $5 for one, $12 for three, and $15 for five. I will send a free packet of five via USPS media mail to prisoners who request it. They will need to give me a proper address and some sort of assurance that a hand-addressed Kraft envelope containing booklets with two metal staples will get through the prison censors. The reason for giving five is that I hope they will be able to develop a group that can pray in common, or at least have something more in common by way of prayer.
Requests may be sent to:
American Rosary Press
P.O. Box 112035
Cincinnati, OH 45211
For more information, visit www.sevendaybiblerosary.com. There you will find a short history of the rosary that will help you understand some of the little changes in this compilation.
You May Also Enjoy
The June 2007 issue of U.S. Catholic magazine contains an article titled “A Betrothal Proposal.”…
All capacities with which God endowed us must be employed in the quest for truth.
Sunday Mass can be one of the most painful events of the week for my…