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Letters to the Editor

A Voice of Morality

Christopher Derrick asks: “In recorded history, is there a single instance of a Catholic government…refraining from some advantageous military op­tion on purely moral grounds?” (letters, June). The last of the Habsburgs, Charles, did not be­come Emperor until late in 1916, when the Central Powers were nowhere near defeat. He and his wife were devout Christians. He immediately attempted to per­suade Germany and France to make peace, asking for nothing, offering to further the aims of Serbia, offering a separate peace if Germany refused.

His voice was one of sanity and morality — a Catholic ruler — in a Europe gone mad. He fail­ed, through no fault of his own; but there are those who urge that he be declared a saint. Derrick might find in Emperor Charles the moral Catholic ruler he seeks.

Sheldon Vanauken

Lynchburg, Virginia

In A.D. 390 St. Ambrose of Milan physically barred Emperor Theodosius from entering a ca­thedral. At the same time Am­brose exhorted Theodosius to do penance for his military excesses, which he did. Murillo’s famous painting depicts this event.

John D. Laino

Woodhaven, New York

The history of the Spanish conquest of the New World can­not be understood properly un­less the enormous influence of the Dominican friar Bartolome de las Casas is taken into ac­count. As an elderly man in the year 1550, he almost single-hand­edly ground the juggernaut of empire to a halt.

Las Casas, who spent years in the New World, grew increas­ingly shocked by the brutal treat­ment of the Indians in Mexico. He advanced his own theory re­garding Spain’s title to the Amer­icas: Pope Alexander VI had given Spain the right to proselytize, but not to conquer. He returned to Spain and immediately began protesting Spanish mistreatment of the Indians. The Hapsburg em­peror, Charles V, became so troubled by Las Casas’s charges that he convened a panel of theo­logians to ponder the justice of Spanish actions against the In­dians, and ordered all conquest to cease until the panel had reached a verdict.

The panel met in the city of Valladolid to hear Las Casas de­bate Juan Gines de Sepulveda, an expert in Aristotle and the em­peror’s chronicler. Sepulveda considered the Indians to be na­tural slaves, in the Aristotelian sense, and argued that the Span­iards were justified in waging war against them as an indispens­able preliminary to converting them. Las Casas replied by de­fending the Indians’ rationality and liberty.

The judges at Valladolid, most likely exhausted and con­fused, fell into argument and fail­ed to reach a decision. Neverthe­less, Hapsburg rulers after 1550 endorsed the view that Spain must occupy America to instruct the Indians in the faith until the Indians reached full cultural ma­turity as measured by Spanish standards.

Las Casas, worn out and in his mid-70s, secured a permanent cell in Valladolid. His opponents, no doubt hoping for a graceful retirement, were dismayed at his insistence on continuing in his official role as Protector of the Indians at the Spanish court.

For further reading, I rec­ommend any of the books writ­ten by the historian Lewis Hanke on this topic.

Edwin T. Callahan

Irving, Texas


Three deeply interesting letters; but only Callahan offers a real instance of what I was seeking. If the last Hapsburg Em­peror were to be a case in point, he would need to have had some practical military option before him, likely to be of great advan­tage to the Central Powers but grossly immoral in se, renounced by himself for that reason alone. Vanauken gives due honor to his noble attempts at peace-making: but I don’t think they included any element of precisely that sort. Nor did the penance done — after the event, and under ecclesiastical pressure — by Theodosius and various other such people.

My generalization appears to stand, with very few excep­tions. Catholic rulers and soldiers have long operated on the effec­tive assumption that in war, any­thing goes — that the end justifies the means, so that you need­n’t be bothered in conscience. That’s hardly “the mind of the Church,” and least of all in pres­ent-day circumstances. Yet we still find the Charlie Currans of the Right doing their sophistical best to perpetuate that ancient falsification of the Catholic con­science.

I find that among otherwise excellent Catholics, any serious raising of these moral questions will very often elicit a response of extreme anger; and I think I can see why. You are then asking them to flex intellectual muscles that have long been atrophied by disuse. That hurts, and they don’t like it.

But how did their muscles get into such a state? That’s a question of great historical, psy­chological, and ecclesiastical in­terest.

No Pap

I never even heard of you until someone who suspected I would like your magazine sent me a few back issues. Perceptive fellow. Enclosed is my check for a subscription.

A few of your articles were irritating, but all were thoughtful and provocative. There was no pap, no wishy-washy concilia­tion, no big political axe to grind. How on earth do you man­age to stay in business?

Liana MacKinnon

Yorktown Heights, New York

Ed. Note: Good question.

Old & New

As one who much enjoyed the Oxford Review published in Britain during the pre- and post-World War II years, my first re­action to the New Oxford Review was that it would not equal the old Oxford Review. But the evidence that I was wrong mounts with each suc­ceeding issue. The essential mes­sage continues, but is vastly more meaningful now than it was dur­ing the Great Depression when we still had the benefit of a com­monly understood language in­stead of the babel that now pre­vails in Western society.

L.J. Fournier

Prince Albert, Saskatchewan


Table Talk

Recently I was in New York City lunching with William F. Buckley Jr. and some other Na­tional Review editors. Jeffrey Hart mentioned the NOR, and I mentioned the letter in the June issue by Evelyn Whalen criticizing my support of biblical critic Raymond Brown. Concerning Whalen’s complaint (that people like Brown, and by implication people like myself who support him, “wish to hide their unbelief to keep us turkeys in the pews writing checks to support their ‘Catholic’ scholarship”), I was counseled by Buckley to take her excoriation stoically: “After all, Socrates was accused of corrupt­ing the youth of the city, which isn’t all that different from being accused of corrupting the tur­keys in the pews.”

James Jacob Hege

St. Benedict Priory

Still River, Massachusetts

Berrigan & Liberation Theology

Russell Shaw’s “The Vati­can’s New Look at Liberation Theology” (June) recalls Daniel Berrigan’s encounter with libera­tion theologians several years ago. Of the experience Fr. Berrigan wrote in Ten Command­ments for the Long Haul: “I was invited to a seminary class on lib­eration theology. They had agreed on two truths: violence in the third world as acceptable, indeed inevitable; and a Marxist economic analysis was crucial. I didn’t like either idea, and said so. It seemed to me that a Marx­ist analysis was old hat, that the West was as post-Marxist as it was post-capitalist. And that third world violence was as unac­ceptable to Christians as was first or second or fourth or any other.

“I could read the response in their eyes. I had broken a ta­boo…. Naive, jejune, I’d lost again.”

Obviously John Paul II and Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger are not the first to incur the enmity of those who would elevate Marxist “class warfare” to the realm of Catholic dogma.

Stephen C. Settle

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

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