Letters to the Editor: December 2023
All Hail, Catholic Inc.
As much as I would like to disagree with Fr. Robert McTeigue — being at odds with Jesuits is all the rage these days — I read his article “The Cult of the Imperial Self” (Oct.) as if he wrote it with a kindred spirit to my own. Though the whole thing is worth reading, the following sentence encapsulates the spirit of his article and the spirit of the age: “Too many Catholics have apostatized in favor of the secular culture and the imperial self, playing the roles of entertainer and the entertained. Among them, the worship of God and the sacrifice of self continue to fade.”
This statement should serve as a wake-up call, an occasion for putting on sackcloth and ashes as we beg the Lord to spare Nineveh. Alas, Fr. McTeigue’s statement — to which many of us can relate with ease — seems to have gone largely unnoticed by the gatekeepers of what I call “Catholic Inc.”
Perhaps the reader is aware of the term “Big Eva,” a short form of “Big Evangelical,” which refers to the industrial and commercial sides of Evangelical Christianity. In the Evangelical world, as in all niches of society, there exist the “cool kids” who are invited to the best parties, hired by the best companies, and get to speak at the best events. More rugged and respectable Protestants — such as Doug Wilson — refer to this “in crowd” of the American Evangelical machine as Big Eva. You see, to be a part of Big Eva you must be conservative — but not too much! — you must be likeable, and you must be photogenic. In essence, you must be celebrity material and deliver a message with a veneer of orthodoxy (I speak here of relative orthodoxy in the world of heretics) while not offending those curious about religion with rabble-rousing claims.
Catholic Inc. is our own Big Eva. Now, just because someone is acceptable for Catholic Inc. does not mean he is unorthodox or unvirtuous — far from it — as there are many Catholic speakers who are experts in topics that are acceptable to Catholic Inc. due to the nature of their expertise. For example, within Catholic Inc. we find a host of excellent Bible scholars who need not venture into the world of unacceptable opinions because it is enough to talk about typologies and prefigurement without getting into the Liturgy Wars or statements of episcopal failure.
The problem with Catholic Inc., however, is that Catholic Inc. must sell you something. Now, there is nothing wrong with making a living as a professional Catholic; we all must make a living somehow. But given the fact that Catholic Inc. relies on permission from this or that bishop to speak in Catholic places in Catholic dioceses, it is unlikely that anyone will be working for Catholic Inc. for long if he has anything critical to say about the powers that be or the present state of affairs. Which bishop or school president is going to support a Catholic speaker who says to a congregation or a conference, “Well, the liturgies in this diocese are bad, the catechesis is poor, the schools are hunks of junk, and Augustine has a lot to say about not dressing like a lady of the night”?
As a result, if Mr. Famous Catholic wants to book another gig with Catholic Inc., he must either ignore the real crisis in the very parish in which he is speaking or spin reality so it appears to be the opposite of what it is. I do not condemn anyone for being positive — I do not revel in sardonic apocalyptic realism as much as does our beloved Fr. McTeigue — but there is a difference between trying to be positive and putting whipped cream on a pile of dung and calling it chocolate pudding.
So, Mr. Famous Catholic — even if he is a good man — must inevitably resort to catering to “the secular culture and the imperial self, playing the roles of entertainer [for] the entertained.”
Since no one will work for Catholic Inc. for long if he stands in front of an auditorium and does his best impersonation of St. Jerome or St. Vincent Ferrer, he must find a way to keep the people entertained. How can he entertain the masses of un-Massed Catholics? Well, he does what the world does, but in a “Catholic way.” If the world is playing rock music, he plays rock music while saying Jesus and calls it “praise and worship.” If the world is laughing at comedy reels on InstaVanity and VanityBook, he makes Catholic reels showing how hip and cool Jesus really is. If the bishops call for a Eucharistic Revival but don’t fix the major liturgical issues, he finds a way to pull on heartstrings and emotions, using his best acting skills and available smoke machines.
Again, I do not criticize or condemn Mr. Famous Catholic; in many ways. I pity his lot. I imagine that most who work for Catholic Inc. did not envision themselves working the conference circuit, doing their best impression of a Catholic Billy Graham, hoping to sell enough books via the publishing arm of Catholic Inc.
Of course, the entertainment Catholic Inc. offers — even if momentarily or temporarily edifying — is fleeting in the grand scheme, and, therefore, Catholic Inc. must book Mr. Famous Catholic for another show in another town, and after he has given the same talk for the same book a number of times, he must figure out a new way to stay relevant. How foreign this sort of Catholicism would be to our ancestors! Of course, there have always been laymen with something to say who have helped the lay faithful, but the fact that a star-studded lineup for Catholic Inc.’s next show at Big Catholic University has a ratio of 10 laymen for every priest, well, that should give us pause.
John the Baptist said he must decrease so Christ may increase, but the modus operandi of Catholic Inc. seems to be “influencer status must increase so ticket sales don’t lag.” Ultimately, as Fr. McTeigue rightly says, “Among them, the worship of God and the sacrifice of self continue to fade.”
Peril awaits the man who chooses self over God. A heavenly war raged over an angel who did. All the more peril awaits the man who treats God as a therapeutic or, worse, a cabaret act. Fr. Robert McTeigue sketches for us, with masterful panache, the consequences of this new non serviam, not only for the Church but for society as well. Only man’s humble oblation to God permits him to be himself and to treat others as himself. Otherwise, man becomes, in Fr. McTeigue’s felicitous phrase, the Imperial Self. Or, as Whittaker Chambers put it, Almighty Man.
The Church’s traditional architecture, traditional piety, and sacramental expression provided a home for man, where he could cultivate self-effacement in the presence of the Face of God. This ascent to holy charity found itself translated into that civil filia of which Aristotle speaks in Politics. Put another way, that effortless “friendliness” is the cement of all societies. It allows the spirit of comity that makes possible cooperation, decency, and tranquility.
Fr. McTeigue speaks directly to the issue when he describes the striking summons that traditional architecture, with its effusion of transcendent details, evokes: “Inside [the Gothic church] were delights for the mind and the senses; the colors of the windows, the coolness of the stone, and the sternum-stirring rumble of the pipe organ. At every moment, my eyes, heart, and mind were called upward…. I wanted to pray here. I wanted to worship here. I wanted to see and say, and sing and do…what Catholics have done for centuries and centuries around the world. Those who love the truth, beauty, and goodness revealed by the order and craft of a Gothic church — I wanted to be one of them, one with them, loving the God who inspired it all. I wanted to be like the saints who brought intact to the shores of the new world the perennial piety and costly fidelity their forbears had entrusted to them, and I hoped that in God’s Providence I might take my place in line to receive those treasures and hand them on to the next generation.”
That soaring transport is what made men jealous to steal Heaven and create a society that could be a glimpse of that heavenly society. Tragically, the modern Church, with her new liturgy, leaves men cold, flattened, and bored. How else can a normal man with blood coursing through his veins react to “polyester-clad concelebrants” on the altar, an “alb-clad woman moving obtrusively” about the nave, and a celebrant “performing for his audience”?
Some might say Fr. McTeigue is generalizing in pointing out these things. No, he isn’t. This is the rule in most parishes. The exception is the parish where God still reigns, the priest acts in persona Christi, and the faithful kneel in awe. If you don’t believe me, look at the Mass at this year’s World Youth Day in Lisbon. Chesterton said it perfectly, “Modern theologians put first things last.”
The coarsening of our culture shall continue its descent. That descent shall cease only when the Church announces her raison d’être as the ascent to God, only when every Catholic church and Holy Mass makes present the staggering Face of God.
Only then shall Almighty Man bend his knee to Almighty God.
Fr. John A. Perricone
Secaucus, New Jersey
Fr. Robert McTeigue makes note of a “Gothic and Glorious” parish, mirroring the architecture of a time when people gave their best to God. The cathedral of old was the center of society, sometimes physically but always culturally, and the care given to its majestic design was reflective of that reality. We weren’t producing gorgeous buildings because that’s where we wanted to worship, but as an act of worship itself.
Of course, we weren’t supposed to stop showing our reverence once construction of the building concluded. Our worship inside that building should complement its grandeur and be made easier by the reminders that therein surround us. We owe God our best, yet we have become too comfortable with — or too expectant of — less.
When we are blessed to enter buildings that reflect a rightful ordering of priorities, we can see the sharp contrast between what ought to be and how we currently worship.
Quoting statistics about the lack of belief in the Real Presence has become trendy, but it seems to be used more for fundraising efforts than serious introspection. Perhaps if we fund a Eucharistic Congress, or maybe a synod, we could fix the numbers, it is implied. Or maybe pastors should just cite doctrine from the pulpit — as if the problem is simply that people haven’t heard it.
When our priests use the fastest Eucharistic Prayer possible, are haphazard about genuflections, and act like entertainers appealing to an audience, it’s no wonder people struggle to believe. They are watching priests who act as though they don’t believe either. What happens at the altar is a miracle. How can you rush a miracle? Why would you want to? As Fr. McTeigue notes, some pastors worsen the offense by inviting parishioners to take part in acts of irreverence.
Fr. McTeigue’s article reads like an expression of grief — of someone who does believe and is thus aware of the scope of the injustice. Yet, our faith is timeless, and there will always be some who, as he says, do “what Catholics have done for centuries and centuries around the world.” May we work to be counted among them, in keeping alive the traditions and acts of reverence that men have died defending.
Winston Salem, North Carolina
Sometimes I feel as though Fr. Robert McTeigue and I are the same person, only he’s much smarter, funnier, and holier than I. We have the same pet peeves. It seems we’re both driven half-mad on a daily basis simply by looking at the world around us. I was struck by his description of New Babylon. “I saw what most Americans see daily,” he writes, “strip malls, graffiti, pitted roads, litter, and a nearly complete absence of nature or beauty. How do people endure this? How can anyone say it’s not an affront and a harm to the human spirit?”
Yes, yes, yes. Not a day goes by when I don’t find myself asking, How do people live this way? Then I realize that I am one of the people living this way. I inhabit the same world they do. We are neighbors. Then I feel extremely put-upon. My overweening sense of justice goes into revolt. What right do you people have to foist all these ugly sights, sounds, and smells on me?
Sometimes, though, in a rare moment of self-awareness, I remember, This is why Our Lord commands us to love our neighbors. And if I’m feeling really Zen, I’ll ask myself, And can you imagine what it’s like having to live with you?
Fr. McTeigue is rightly incensed by the problem, but he sees the perpetrators through the eyes of love. “The dearth of civility in the public square results from a loss of self-respect, a loss of charity for neighbor, and a consequent failure to observe and enforce the rule of law,” he writes. This is true — alas. Our neighbors are obsessed with “living their best life,” though they’re doing exactly the opposite. We’re appetitive, overstimulated, anxious, unhealthy, and lonely. We treat ourselves and our neighbors as though we and they are unworthy of love. And that’s a kind of despair.
As a society, we are committing the unforgiveable sin. We’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And this is the one sin God can’t forgive — either in an individual or in a civilization. We’re going to Hell in a handbasket, and we’ll keep going until we let Him help us. And we won’t let Him help us until we learn to love and to be loved.
That’s the lesson Christ came to teach mankind: how to love and to be loved. Each one of us is called to share that Good News with the world. What an honor!
Michael Warren Davis
Manchester, New Hampshire
FR. ROBERT MCTEIGUE REPLIES:
Writing is a solitary activity. I’m so used to writing alone that it’s almost startling to learn that anyone reads what I have written. It is a most satisfying and pleasant surprise to find that perceptive and articulate readers have taken the trouble to write thoughtful replies. I am delighted to be able to respond to my “comrades-in-letters.”
Kennedy Hall, with his reference to “Big Eva” and “Catholic Inc.,” calls to mind a phrase I used (but did not coin) in my latest book, wherein I speak of “the Business of Churchianity.” For those in Catholic media, the challenge is to remain “interesting” (often understood to be “clickbaity”) without being so provocative that one becomes unwelcome. That’s bad for business — both for the “vendor” selling Catholic stuff and for the owner of the venue, who needs to keep his audience both entertained and reassured that God is on their side.
One might say that the challenge is worse for priests. A priest may, like Mr. Famous Catholic, become unwelcome in one diocese or another. If his bishop or his religious community wants to make him “disappear,” the priest could find himself “not in good standing” — and then his public life is frozen out of existence. No preaching, no sacraments, no publishing, no broadcasting — maybe not even a place to live. St. Paul exhorts us to preach the Gospel “in and out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2), and he also proved that a faithful preacher must be prepared to pay the price for his fidelity. That price can wreck many a business plan.
Fr. John A. Perricone rightly notes that “the coarsening of our culture shall continue its descent. That descent shall cease only when the Church announces her raison d’être as the ascent to God, only when every Catholic church and Holy Mass makes present the staggering Face of God.” Sadly, we know from the ongoing incoherent efforts at “Eucharistic revival” that, barring dramatic divine intervention in the form of an overwhelming agere contra, the descent will continue. After all, the ideology masquerading as “the new springtime” and “the second Pentecost” (and all their bitter fruits) still governs many who exercise institutional power. Remember McTeigue’s Axiom: “Most institutions would rather die than admit that anyone ever made a mistake.” A real revival would include an honest reckoning with the depredations of the past 50 years. Humanly speaking, I can find no reason to expect that such a reckoning will take place, unless and until there is a complete collapse of the Potemkin village of St. Typicals in dioceses across the United States and the rest of the West.
Sarah Cain astutely observes that current discourse about crises of contemporary Catholic life focus on the lex credendi, which, if left untethered from the proper order of lex orandi, lex credendi, lex vivendi, may be “managed” — with the true power of the sacred corralled at a safe distance: “Quoting statistics about the lack of belief in the Real Presence has become trendy, but it seems to be used more for fundraising efforts than serious introspection.” It’s easy to rearrange words when an audience isn’t really listening, to give the audience what it wants and shield it from what it doesn’t want. Words, even sacred words, do not become “sharper than any two-edged sword” (Heb. 4:12) unless they make a claim upon our conscience, our actions, and our resistances. When worship is seen as a human response to a divine initiative, when it is acknowledged as a divine summons, an imperium in all its fullness, when we worship God on His terms and not ours — only then will the informative, formative, and transformative power of words be released. Without the priority of lex orandi, the lex credendi falls on deaf ears.
I’ve enjoyed lively exchanges with Michael Warren Davis in person, on air, and in print. I wish all three would happen more frequently. In his response, he touches on a theme I hoped I had made salient: “We as a society are committing the unforgiveable sin. We’re blaspheming the Holy Spirit. And this is the one sin God can’t forgive — either in an individual or in a civilization. We’re going to Hell in a handbasket, and we’ll keep going until we let Him help us. And we won’t let Him help us until we learn to love and to be loved.”
As curmudgeonly as I am, I want to highlight, with great sorrow and regret, that our present way of proceeding is a failure in charity and justice to both God and man. The husk of Christendom that we now call “the West” is anti-human and, therefore, anti-God and anti-Christ. The consequences of these failures of charity and justice can be seen in both the sanctuaries and the city streets. That fact is the source of a terrible scandal I wanted to announce in my article.
Of course, apart from Christ, and then set against Christ, human efforts can only fail, and then the law of the jungle encroaches further upon human civilization. That is no surprise, no scandal. It is as predictable as a sunrise and as impervious to human preference as a law of mathematics. For me, the searing scandal of our times is that among the baptized, within the sanctuaries built by generations of Christians in response to God’s grace, we now see the same ideologies, the same delusions, the same idolatries that we see in the marketplace, in the forum, and among the ruins of once-great cities. We Christians were supposed to be inoculated against the fevers of godlessness by our baptism, and then “boosted” by revelation and the order of grace, including authentic Catholic culture, so that we could welcome and sustain all humanity for the fulfillment of God’s purposes. Yet, now it seems as if successive captains and crews have beached the Barque of Peter and have joined the revelers on the shore, even as the dark skies pour down a cold and bitter rain.
I hope readers might review “The Cult of the Imperial Self” and see that “the stone rejected by the builders” (Ps. 118:22) is the only cornerstone — it cannot be otherwise. As Hilaire Belloc said, “Christ or chaos.” We have seen chaos in the sanctuaries and in the cities. I’m scandalized but not surprised by the fact that chaos in the former has helped to foment chaos in the latter. My prayer is that a faithful remnant, even at this late date, may still choose Christ over chaos.
Those Nazis Keep A-Knocking
I read the four letters (Oct.) regarding Brian Besong’s article “Are ‘White Lies’ Ever Permissible?” (Jul.-Aug.), including Besong’s reply to Monica Migliorino Miller. He did not reply to the other three letters, due, he wrote, to “reasons of space.”
One of those letters, from Randall Petrides, deserves a response. Petrides disagrees with Besong’s contention that lies should always be prohibited under the moral law, citing the example of “lying to a Nazi officer to protect a Jewish family in hiding.” Well, does the moral law allow lying to Nazi officers, assuming the Jewish family in hiding could end up in a concentration camp, where they would face death in a gas chamber, if they were discovered? Or is that lie, too, prohibited, according to Besong’s moral law?
Silver Lake, Michigan
On the chance that the argument has not gone beyond the readers’ interest, and being of a lesser mind than Professors Brian Besong and Monica Migliorino Miller, I see things in a simpler way.
If a Jewish family asks me to hide them from Nazi murderers, and I agree, it means I have made a pact or a promise to protect them. If not, I would have said “no” and sent them on their way. Now, when the storm troopers come to my door and ask if I am hiding the family, I have a moral obligation not to betray the family, to stay true to my word. If this constitutes a “white lie” and sends me to Purgatory for a time, so be it. I would leave it in God’s hands.
It seems to me that betrayal, whether done with a kiss or with words, is a far greater offense and worthy not of Purgatory but of Hell.
Glendale, New York
BRIAN BESONG REPLIES:
I thank these readers for pressing an important point. Is it a violation of the natural law to lie to save a life? The answer is simply yes, even these lies are wrong, for lying always frustrates one’s natural appetite of communication, using the communicative power unnaturally by asserting against one’s mind.
As St. Thomas Aquinas clarifies in response to a similar objection, “A lie is sinful not only because it injures one’s neighbor, but also on account of its inordinateness…. Now it is not allowed to make use of anything inordinate in order to ward off injury or defects from another: as neither is it lawful to steal in order to give an alms, except perhaps in a case of necessity when all things are common. Therefore, it is not lawful to tell a lie in order to deliver another from any danger whatever. Nevertheless it is lawful to hide the truth prudently, by keeping it back, as Augustine says (Contra Mend. x)” (Summa Theologiae, II-II q.110, Art. 3, ad. 4).
A Complete Misrepresentation
Normally, I would let a response like Alex Pinelli’s to my letter (Oct.) regarding his review of Matthew Continetti’s book The Right: The Hundred Year War for American Conservatism (Jul.-Aug.) go unanswered. However, Pinelli completely misrepresents my political thought, either willfully or out of ignorance, even though I have expressed my viewpoint on conservatism in two books and numerous articles published over the years.
I was a student of George Carey’s at Georgetown University, and I believe in Carey and Willmoore Kendall’s interpretation of conservatism and their understanding of the American political tradition. The book that best reflects the authentic conservatism I am talking about is The Basic Symbols of the American Political Tradition by Kendall and Carey.
It is disingenuous of Pinelli to leap to the conclusion that somehow my criticism of his review means I am an adherent of the thinking of Paul Gottfried. That is not the case. I have read many of Gottfried’s articles but none of his books. I disagree with him on a number of issues. Why did Pinelli bring up Gottfried instead of responding to my many criticisms of Continetti’s book?
About the only thing I agree with in Pinelli’s response is his reference to George Nash’s book The Conservative Intellectual Movement in America Since 1945, which is a far better guide to the history of the modern conservative movement than the revisionist history of conservatism authored by the neoconservative Continetti.
ALEX PINELLI REPLIES:
Let me first say that my response never meant to offend. Nor did I intend to insinuate that Tom Pauken is in any way an adherent of Paul Gottfried’s brand of conservatism. A brief clarification, I hope, can bring some resolution to this misunderstanding.
In my initial response, when I mentioned Gottfried as “the most ardent defender of this position,” I did not mean to imply that he and Mr. Pauken share the same overarching conservative philosophy. Rather, the “position” I was referring to was what seemed to be a singular area of overlap between Pauken and Gottfried and the crux of the argument against Continetti’s work, that is, the contention that neoconservatism was an aberration of conservatism.
Nevertheless, I apologize for any confusion that occurred due to the lack of clarity in my response. I hope I have made my position a bit clearer, and I am glad that Pauken and I both value George Nash’s scholarship.
Pregnant with Causes of Beings Still to Come
In his column “The Rise of Immanent Metaphysical Time” (Cultural Counterpoint, Oct.), Jason M. Morgan eloquently reminds us of the fallacies of materialist thinking regarding the possibility of evolution. To the atheistic materialist, the evolution of life on Earth is a meaningless and purposeless process in which ordered life emerges spontaneously from unordered random events. Such a position is a blatant error in logic because an effect cannot be greater than its cause. Moreover, it contradicts the incontrovertible thermodynamic law of entropy, whereby the order of the universe must actually decline over time.
There is an alternative theory called theistic evolution that avoids all these atheistic blunders in reasoning. Theistic evolution proposes that the seed of the universe was created by God in a highly ordered initial state, with predesigned physical laws so finely tuned that life would inevitably flower. In this way, life as a latent effect was hidden within the formal cause of a pregnant universe. Yes, time and death — that is, change — are necessary components, but the principal cause is the complex initial order of the predesigned nature of the universe that is guiding the process in a meaningful and purposeful fashion. Order does not arise out of disorder but is made manifest beautifully over time.
St. Augustine unintentionally gave support to the possibility of theistic evolution. He reasoned, as paraphrased by French philosopher Étienne Gilson in The Christian Philosophy of St. Augustine (1960), that “because of these hidden seeds which contain everything future ages are to see unfolded, the world created by God may be said to be pregnant with causes of beings still to come. In one sense, then, the world was created complete and perfect, since none of the things seen in it escaped the creative act; but in another sense, the universe was only created in an unfinished state because everything that was to appear in it later was created only in germ or seminal reason.”
It is not surprising that God would bless the physical universe, as He does all creation, with the sign of the inseparable unity of intelligibility and generous action. Through the intrinsic, though unconscious, intelligible agency resident in the natures of things, the universe, through secondary cause and effect, can become life giving. In a similar way, as conscious creatures aided by grace, man and the angels can also become genuine, intelligible agents of generous life-giving behavior. Of course, man could not have evolved but had to be a separate creation because he also possesses the spiritual powers of abstract reasoning.
Douglas Miller, M.D.
Hickory, North Carolina
Before reading Jason M. Morgan’s column, I had to check the definition of the words in the title. It seems that immanent means that God is everywhere, and metaphysical time is God’s “time,” which is beyond our senses.
Morgan alludes to temporal and eternal (or metaphysical) time. When pondering eternity, we can easily grasp the concept of time’s going forward. But try to envision time going backward, that is, all the way back to the Big Bang. Then imagine God’s being satisfied with nothing but Himself forever (backward in “time”), which is beyond our comprehension.
Of course, eternity has no timeframe. One way of defining eternity is to say that it is always the present tense — never yesterday, never tomorrow, always now. But we will not understand metaphysical time until we reach eternity upon death.
Dan Arthur Pryor
Belvidere, New Jersey
I read with great pleasure Jason M. Morgan’s column, in which he points out that too many people today believe that the universe is such a big entity that there must be many living forms — some primordial, some intelligent like us, some even more developed and more intelligent — inhabiting other planets in our galaxy or in another nearby or faraway galaxy. This is enough for some contemporary thinkers to conclude that God is not necessary.
As Morgan mentions, the Darwinist theory of evolution — a materialistic theory — requires that the cosmos be a perpetual-motion machine that, driven by time, would naturally produce millions and millions of living forms without any problem. On the other hand, according to Albert Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity (1915), the universe is not really a perpetual-motion machine but an enormous space-time sphere expanding at velocities on the order of the velocity of light. According to the NASA satellite WMAP (2003), later confirmed by the ESA satellite Planck (2013), the universe has been expanding for about 13.7 billion years, on the order of 1012 stars on the order of 1012 galaxies. Within the radially expanding galaxies, stars burn away their constituent atoms of hydrogen and helium and eventually explode, sending out as dust heavier atoms that later collapse gravitationally to form new stars. So, during radial expansion, the universe’s material density dilutes while the cosmic background radiation becomes progressively cooler. Cosmic background radiation was discovered by Arno Penzias and Robert Wilson (1964) and was measured with unprecedented precision by John Mather and George Smoot (1993), providing support for the Big Bang Theory and discrediting competing theories like the so-called Steady State Theory of Fred Hoyle, Hermann Bondi, and Thomas Gold (1948).
Stephen Hawking, former occupant of the Lucasian Chair of Mathematics at Cambridge University, in his book A Brief History of Time (1988), concludes that the universe does not need a Creator by introducing a complex time to avoid the singularity at the real time.
The late Fr. Stanley L. Jaki (1924-2009), a regular contributor to the NOR for many years, had a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Pontifical Athenaeum of St. Anselm (1950) and another Ph.D. in physics from Fordham University (1957), supervised by Victor F. Hess, who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery of cosmic rays. Fr. Jaki was an internationally known historian of cosmology and winner of the Templeton Prize (1987). In his book God and the Cosmologists (1989), Fr. Jaki unfolds crucial contributions of 20th-century cosmology that imply God’s existence as Creator of a contingent universe.
At a summer course on astrophysical cosmology held at El Escorial, near Madrid (1993), I talked with Fr. Jaki about the enormous size of the universe as seen by NASA’s telescopes. I told him that, in my view, any contingent, finite universe, no matter how large, would not be too difficult for an infinite God to create — and God is Himself infinite. Fr. Jaki agreed.
Julio A. Gonzalo
Professor of Materials Physics, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
JASON M. MORGAN REPLIES:
Julio A. Gonzalo brings up the name of a man I have admired for some time: Fr. Stanley L. Jaki. Reading Fr. Jaki’s books opened intellectual doors to the serious contemplation of physical reality as a complement of a metaphysical reality infinitely greater. The contingency of our world, which Prof. Gonzalo notes in his final paragraph and upon which he elaborates throughout his rich letter, is, to my mind, a conclusive argument in favor of metaphysics. The universe did not have to exist. There is no reason which the universe confesses to us as to its necessity. Everything about the universe — from black holes to buffaloes — suggests that the entire arrangement is not, as Gonzalo rightly points out, a “perpetual-motion machine,” but a machine with origins and energies entirely elsewhere. That we, for some reason, live in space and time is a mystery that acts as an eternal prelude to a mystery beyond.
The late Stephen Hawking, whose works I have studied almost as much as Fr. Jaki’s, knew the immanent mystery of things, but he did not, or could not, accept the mystery behind them. I remember Prof. Hawking’s attempts to explain the origin of the universe using phrases like “dance of mathematics” and “light[ing] the blue touch paper.” But these flights of poetry merely beg the question of where the paper and the math (and the professor) came from.
I will always remember a talk I attended by Fr. Robert Spitzer, a well-known Jesuit scientist and friendly critic of Hawking’s views, in which he could hardly contain his excitement over recent scientific developments indicating, yet again, that before the Big Bang there was a whole lot of nothing — no math, no paper, no atoms, no particles, no professors, nothing at all.
Nothing comes from nothing, of course. Hawking knew that very well. He chose to romanticize the nothing, however, instead of admitting there must be a radically other something — Someone — that made all the stuff we can see. That visible stuff points to its own invisible origins, if only we have the humility to admit that there are things the human mind simply cannot comprehend.
Dan Arthur Pryor puts it beautifully when he says we won’t understand metaphysical time until after we die. God’s time is the time in which, effortlessly, God brings whole worlds into being ex nihilo as He chooses. A syllable, a private word by the Logos Himself, and the equations, forces, and charges surge into existence in stupefying heat, light, and pressure. Nearly 14 billion years later, after what must have been a fantastic fireworks show, I, a lowly man nevertheless made in the image and likeness of the Author of volcanoes and supernovae, and so those mere material things’ superior, look into the night sky and wonder. That wonder is the beginning of our journey home.
The wonder also tells me that, as a creature, I will never understand metaphysical time. Evolutionists, by contrast, don’t even have to wait to die. They have domesticated metaphysics and made it the plaything of material existence. Quite a feat! But a Pyrrhic victory.
Douglas Miller writes beautifully that “life as a latent effect was hidden within the formal cause of a pregnant universe.” Aristotle’s formal cause was the design of something, the plan for a thing that a maker (the efficient cause) makes out of pre-existing matter (the material cause) for some purpose or end (the final cause). Our universe is the bare, and yet realized, plan for itself, the blueprint for the very thing the blueprint maps out in advance. All the laws and balances of forces are present, manifest.
The universe is just that, the formal cause of itself, naked in its formality. And yet, because the material in the universe (including our bodies) is utterly contingent, the universe tells us, in plain code, that what we see is not all there is or even could be. The maker, the One who drew up the plan, is identical with the purpose, the end, the final cause of the entire operation. That means the formal cause cannot possibly be here among us. The formal cause, the plan, must be in some other mind, a “superintellect” which, as even the atheist Fred Hoyle admitted, has “monkeyed with physics,” such that “there are no blind forces worth speaking about in nature.”
The formal cause is not monkeys. Contra Darwin, they aren’t even the formal cause of us. Fiat lux, said God, who is light itself. We humans have mistaken the universe for something it is not. The light we see, the ground we stand on, the neutrinos coursing through us — these are not their own material, final, or efficient causes. The form we can detect is from the mind of God. That mind is with us but can never be pulled down from Heaven to work exclusively in this material realm.
Regarding Pieter Vree’s column “The Latest Episode of the Francis Follies” (New Oxford Notebook, Oct.): I’m surprised so few people have been able to understand Pope Francis. A half-century ago I attended a third-tier Jesuit college, at which I received a wonderful education. One of my instructors was a Jesuit priest about the same age as Francis. This priest taught college-level chemistry classes and performed useful basic chemical research. Around the same time, Jorge Mario Bergoglio worked as a chemist after having studied chemistry at the high-school level.
William M. Selenke
PIETER VREE REPLIES:
It is true that Jorge Mario Bergoglio received a certificate in chemistry from a secondary school before entering seminary in his early 20s (rumors that he received a master’s degree in chemistry have been refuted).
As Mr. Selenke hints, Francis is something of an academic lightweight where Jesuits are concerned — and even more so where popes are concerned. His two immediate predecessors are known for their theological chops, both having studied philosophy and theology and both having earned doctorates in theology. And Francis? Well, let’s just say he’s never been known as much of a scholar. After entering the Society of Jesus, he earned the equivalent of a master’s degree in humanities — which is fitting given that he often speaks like an amateur sociologist — and later the equivalent of master’s degrees in philosophy and theology.
Forget speaking like an amateur theologian, the Holy Father sometimes struggles to articulate basic theological concepts — or even understand them. Back in 2015, for example, when asked why Lutherans can’t receive Communion in Catholic churches, he admitted to having difficulty comprehending the concept of doctrine. “It’s true that in a certain sense, to share means that there aren’t differences between us [Catholics and Lutherans], that we have the same doctrine — underscoring that word, a difficult word to understand,” Francis said. “One baptism, one Lord, one faith. Talk to the Lord and then go forward. And I wouldn’t dare — I don’t dare say anything more.” (For the full story, see our New Oxford Note “Francis & the Lutherans: Intercommunion Confusion,” Jan.-Feb. 2016).
I think we all know who Pope Francis is by now. That isn’t hard to understand. The challenge is in understanding what he says and does in his capacity as supreme pontiff and successor of Peter. Even beginning to try, as I wrote in my column, “would be exhausting and not a little discouraging.”
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