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.
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
CHRISTOPHER DERRICK REPLIES:
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.
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?
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.
Prince Albert, Saskatchewan
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
You May Also Enjoy
Review of Evelyn Waugh: The Early Years by Martin Stannard
Of what do they dream
— the white-robed monks?
with half-shaped forms
In our December 1984 editorial, we needed to appeal to you, our subscribers, for donations…