Volume > Issue > Letters to the Editor: June 2020

Letters to the Editor: June 2020

The Buzzing of the Hive

Before commenting on Kenneth Colston’s review of Stephen Greenblatt’s Tyrant: Shakespeare on Politics (April), I should confess a class prejudice against those who dispense received opinion in the now illiberal arts, whether in Cambridge, Mass., or Podunk, Mo. An instructor who hopes to prosper in these frog ponds must learn to look about warily before croaking, let alone committing to print, a deviant opinion. Cultivation of this essential skillset pretty well roots out incorrect thought and quirky personalities. A consolidated need for peer approval renders social criticism from these redoubts entirely predictable — and boring — on all the divisive issues of the day.

Greenblatt’s Tyrant is yet another exercise in amateur psychoanalysis disguised as literary criticism. It appears to be standard-issue lib-speak, the kind of drivel one endures with alternating waves of anguish and boredom in faculty lounges and broody professional-development settings. Joe Sobran, one of the past century’s original and perceptive Shakespearean critics, coined a term for this suffocating campus ideology: the hive. It alluded to a certain instinct for buzzing in unison, sensing the direction of movement, and a quickness to sting at the slightest intrusion of a threatening object — or opinion.

Judging from Colston’s dissection of Tyrant, Greenblatt seems to qualify as a drone in good standing. Drearily and predictably, Trump’s election “devastated Ivy League English departments,” where all great minds group-think alike. And so, at the urging of the hive, or as Colston more precisely and gently says, “110 colleagues,” Greenblatt, Harvard’s “dean of American literary criticism,” fired off Tyrant. Taking the wildest of guesses, Colston identifies the 110 colleagues as “Trump-haters.”

Guess what decades of poring over those plays and sonnets led Greenblatt to conclude? That Shakespeare would not have voted for Trump.

Not only was Shakespeare the greatest writer in the English language — which, certes, would be enough of an achievement — he was evidently also a prophet, forecasting throughout his plays the degradation of the Trump presidency. For W.H. Auden, poetry was a thing apart from the world of business and politics, surviving only in a valley “where executives / Would never want to tamper”; but for Greenblatt, Shakespeare could be a change-agent in the real world. Submission to Trumpian tyranny would not have been possible if the electorate had brushed up on their Shakespeare under the tutelage of Prof. Greenblatt, or of one of those 110 colleagues who urged him to issue his blistering Shakespearean insights. If only the deplorables had attended a Greenblatt seminar on Julius Caesar, English departments throughout the land would be in the clover; our not-quite-virgin queen, Hillary Clinton, would occupy the White House; and Agent Orange would be clapped in his gaudy Manhattan tower. But of all the sad words of mice or men, the saddest are it might have been.

Greenblatt likens Hillary to Queen Elizabeth I, not for the latter’s ruthless persecution of Catholics, which doesn’t seem to trouble him, but for “her fundamental respect for the sanctity of the realm’s political institutions, and her prudent sense of the limits of power.” Don’t you see how this applies to Hillary? No? Maybe that’s because Greenblatt mistakes the cardinal virtue of prudence for its worldly caricature, a cagey sense of what one could get away with — like the private email server, the covering of traces, and the enlisting of national and foreign spies to undo her opponent. Where the monarch and Hillary do coalesce is in their ruthless quashing of enemies: Catholics for Good Queen Bess, deplorables and opponents for Hillary.

But Greenblatt has eyes only for the putative sins of Trump. The professor’s frenzied loathing disallows attributing the slightest redeeming feature to his bête noire. Those rust-belt proles, those pathetic dupes who elected him, were too dumb to get that Trump “hates the smell of their breath.” Colston cites a list of Greenblatt’s sneering epithets for the working class that leave little doubt that it is he, rather than Trump, who finds nothing remotely appealing in the lives of the underclass. But assuming that readers of the NOR (perhaps for Lenten penance) occasionally watch CNN or read the Old Gray Lady, I’ll forgo the reiteration.

Despite rifling through all of Shakespeare for a clue, Greenblatt’s condescending explanation of why the working class went for Trump misses the obvious. Machinists, construction workers, tradesmen, coal miners, et al. weren’t attracted to Hillary’s offer to remake them and retrain them to sit in cubicles with computers, in the hire of government or the “renewables” industry. Greenblatt attributes this to, yes, fear of change. Just as with the “once-esoteric technology” of literacy, “they do not imagine they can master this new skill.” Trump, by contrast, didn’t promise to remake or retrain them. In the coal fields of Appalachia, he talked respectfully of the mining profession and made a shoveling gesture that made it seem that he had actually used that implement. The miners laughed.

Let me conclude with one reason why I voted for “someone dangerously impulsive…viciously conniving.” It was during one of the debates with Hillary. There are certain protocols that a well-bred person doesn’t violate on the rarefied medium of TV, certainly not on CNN. Trump was too crude to understand that certain things are simply not said in the opera season: “Well, I think it’s terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby right out of the womb of its mother…. Now you can say that’s OK, and Hillary can say that’s OK, but it’s not OK with me.”

Hardly Elizabethan blank verse, that peroration. Prof. Greenblatt would no doubt have demanded a rewrite or an expulsion, had a student submitted such crudity in his class. Maybe my ancestry is tainted with a touch of coal-miner blood, but that’s when I decided to vote for the crude, rude, libidinous billionaire from Queens.

Peter Maurice

Washington, Missouri

Beyond the Reef

As regards Carl Sundell’s article “The Resurrection: A Case of Collective Hallucination?” (April): Science and religion are not at war with each other, as both seek the truth. Truth cannot contradict truth. Scientism, a modern heresy, assumes that the human mind has outgrown its childhood state and no longer requires belief in a creator God to explain anything.

Pope Benedict XVI, in his magnificent tome Jesus of Nazareth, has a chapter on Jesus’ Resurrection from the dead, in which he explains this miraculous phenomenon. Benedict writes, “Anyone approaching the Resurrection accounts in the belief that he knows what ‘rising from the dead’ means, will inevitably misunderstand those accounts and will dismiss them as meaningless.” He quotes Rudolf Bultmann (1884-1976), a German Lutheran theologian, who raised an objection to Resurrection faith by arguing that even if Jesus had come back from the grave, Bultmann would have to say that “a miraculous natural event such as resuscitation of a dead man” would not help and would be existentially irrelevant. Benedict reiterates, “If we are dealing with the miracle of a resuscitated corpse, it would be of no concern to us.” The New Testament, he says, leaves no doubt that the Resurrection of the Son of Man was entirely different. It was a Resurrection to a new form of life, no longer subject to the natural laws of dying and being — a new dimension of human existence, an “evolutionary leap,” the opening of a new kind of future for mankind.

The preaching of Christ Crucified and Risen is the reef upon which the link between faith and reason can break up; but it is also the reef beyond which the two can set forth upon the boundless ocean of Truth. Scientific research on the Shroud of Turin may substantiate with circumstantial evidence the plausibility of the Resurrection.

The Rev. Mr. Benny Phillips, M.D.

Lubbock, Texas


I thank Dr. Benny Phillips for pointing out that many skeptics of the Resurrection misconceive what resurrection entails. We will not return in our present state and be subject once again to the fate of our present bodies. There will be no crime, no toil, no sin, no illness. It will be a new world beyond the imagining of skeptics, and, therefore, it will be more believable as the merciful resurrection promised us by God than the skeptics allow.

By the way, scientism is not a recent development. The great 19th-century Catholic apologist Orestes Brownson, for example, published a brilliant essay in 1875 titled “The Conflict of Science and Faith.” It can be freely accessed at the Orestes Brownson Society website: www.orestesbrownson.org/103.html.

Ecclesiological Solipsism

Pieter Vree’s column “‘Love’ Conquers All” (New Oxford Notebook, April) contains, in the first sentence of its antepenultimate paragraph, a half-truth — namely, that “the only significant corporate body still beating the drum for [holy] tradition is the Catholic Church.”

Not only is that statement Church-historically (kirchgeschichtliche) false and misleading, it is ecclesiologically solipsistic.

Having followed the history of the NOR from its Anglo-Catholic days into the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church, having been an Anglo-Catholic Episcopalian myself for 26 years (12 years as an Episcopal priest, watching the Episcopal Church fall into heresy and worse), having been a member of the Orthodox Church for 23 years, having experienced virtually every major Christian tradition from the inside, having been accompanied by many boon companions along the way, and having finally converted to Catholicism on December 8, 2017, at the age of 74 — a very long journey indeed — I can testify to the narrowness of Mr. Vree’s remark.

The fact is that Vree’s remark would be true only if the Undivided One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church still existed as the only game in town. But that is no longer the case due to the Great Schism of A.D. 1054 between East and West (some Church historians date the Great Schism later, from the Council of Ferrara-Florence in A.D. 1438-1445), which gave birth, on one hand, to the Western Catholic Church (largely Latin rite, though it also includes the Ambrosian and Mozarabic rites, and, recently, the Anglican Ordinariate) and, on the other hand, to the Eastern Orthodox Churches. All are in full eucharistic communion with one another and share the same faith and practice.

Orthodoxy is, in the words of some Orthodox Christians, “the world’s best-kept secret.” Many Latin-rite Catholics are not even aware of Orthodoxy’s existence, though Pope St. John Paul II called Orthodoxy “the other lung of the Church.” Rome recognizes the validity of both the sacraments and the ministry of the Orthodox Churches, and thereby the reality of the Orthodox Church as a real Church founded by our Lord Jesus Christ and once, like the Latin Church, part of the Undivided One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

There are, furthermore, 23 Eastern-rite Catholic Churches in full eucharistic communion with Rome.

Finally, since the 16th century, there have come into existence a number of Catholic-minded ecclesial communities, both in Anglican and Lutheran confessions, that share in the Catholic patrimony of the Church Fathers, the early ecumenical councils, and the ecumenical creeds. And there are also a number of conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Protestant communities that owe the essentials of their Christian heritage to the Catholic Church, whether they admit it or not.

All of these Christian communions do absolutely share in the same attitude — biblical, theological, pastoral, and so forth — and, therefore, take the same position that Vree so well expresses in his excellent column.

The bottom line is that those who take the same position vis-à-vis the exceedingly careless definition of love, which Vree justly criticizes, as “any gender, any orifice, any circumstance, any combination of people” (my words) encompass a far broader fellowship of Christians around the world than the ecclesiastical limits of the Catholic Church. We Catholics should stop acting so solipsistic, as if the Catholic Church is the only Church that exists, while affirming at the same time that the Catholic Church (what about Orthodoxy?) is the One True Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Hampton Tonk

North Fort Myers, Florida


Welcome home! Yours has been a long and winding road, one of many that, happily, lead to Rome.

I appreciate your corrective regarding the Orthodox churches, with which I am familiar. I am not familiar, however, with any recent official documents or statements emanating from the Orthodox Church as a “corporate body” that defend traditional marriage against its many modern counterfeits — or, for that matter, any such statements or documents from “Catholic-minded communities” within the Anglican, Lutheran, conservative evangelical, or fundamentalist confessions.

Would you care to offer examples?

Shameful Talk

In his reply to my letter (April), Casey Chalk protests that he “did not argue that Catholics, or any Christians, should ‘doubt’ our own faith.” Rather, he says he “posited that we need to be open to the possibility of errors in our own thinking” — after he falsely asserted that I claimed he was “in effect, arguing that we should ‘doubt the gift of faith given by God.’” My actual criticism of Mr. Chalk’s quote was that it failed to clearly make precisely the distinction that he here affirms is valid!

Chalk ends his comment with a false and personal attack on me with his claim that my criticisms evince a Protestant paradigm: “A common trend among Protestant fundamentalists…is this conflation of doubt with contemplating the possibility of error in one’s beliefs, as if just imagining that one is wrong would open the door to Satan’s machinations.” I submit that “imagining that one is wrong” is sinfully different from recognizing that one might not correctly understand important details of God’s revelation. It is a subtle but vast difference! You are halfway out the door with the first statement while open to solid evidence, if such is ever produced, with the second. That is the difference between the Catholic and biblical affirmation of the vital importance of faith and the Protestant error of faith alone.

Chalk defends his thesis that Catholics have reason to feel “shame” for Christian disunity by quoting article 817 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church that “serious dissensions appeared and large communities became separated from full communion with the Catholic Church — for which, often enough, men of both sides were to blame.” Yet he stops short of the wisdom in article 818: “However, one cannot charge with the sin of the separation those who at present are born into these communities [that resulted from such separation] and in them are brought up in the faith of Christ, and the Catholic Church accepts them with respect and affection as brothers.” I trust it is equally obvious that one cannot charge today’s faithful Catholics with the sins and failings of earlier or, indeed, any other Christians.

But there is more and worse in Chalk’s response to my letter. He writes, citing 1 Corinthians 12, that “ecclesial division is part of our shared inheritance as members of Christ’s body,” and “by analogy, we feel shame for any of the sins of the Church.” Chalk’s error here is his failure to recognize the difference between the faith from God and membership in Christ’s extended body that we do truly share (whether Catholic, Protestant, or other validly baptized Christian), and the effects of our personal errors and sins, which are what separate us to one degree or another from Christ’s body and its visible manifestation, the Catholic Church. Our sins and errors are not attributable to the body of Christ because they partially or, in the case of mortal sin, totally separate us from the Church.

Where in 1 Corinthians 12 is the foundation for our feeling personal “shame” for the failings or misconduct of other members of Christ’s body? Our failings and misconduct are not derived from our participation in the body of Christ; rather, they are obstacles to our full and total participation in the body of Christ during our sojourn in this vale of tears. Sorrow and regret, yes! Shame, no! Shame is a personal quality related to our own actions, not a collective quality.

As for Chalk’s insistence that Catholics personally study Luther and Calvin before offering any corrections to the errors of their followers, Catholics would make far better use of their limited time by studying the faith from God’s protected font. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. We all come into personal contact with the widespread flaws in the presentation of God’s revelation. Every such contact is a personal challenge to grow in the truth and an opportunity to share the truth.

James J. Harris

San Diego, California

Both of Casey Chalk’s assertions about shame in his reply to James J. Harris are incorrect.

Article 817 of the Catechism is an open admission of what occurred surrounding the Protestant Reformation. The Church accepts blame for the role her clergy may have played in bringing about the Reformation; there is no “shame” in accepting your share of responsibility. Shame should fall only on the instigators. If a person was born out of wedlock, should he feel ashamed? I would not think so, as it was not his fault; he was merely the product of the action of others.

Yes, we have a shared inheritance as members of Christ’s body. Our inheritance is the product of the actions of others, beginning with Jesus, the Apostles, the early Church Fathers, and the numerous clergymen who have followed them over the years. Should I be ashamed of the many heresies that plagued the early Church? No. It is what it is: history. Likewise the Reformation: It is history.

When a person sins, he offends both God and His Church. The shame lies with the sinner, not with the offended. Yes, we do share in the suffering and joy of the Mystical Body of Christ as stated in 1 Corinthians 12 — suffering due to the offense of the sinner, joy when the sinner repents. But we don’t share in his shame.

Alphonse C. Bankard III

Baltimore, Maryland

Our Lord promised that the infallible Magisterium of Holy Mother Church is, and always will be, protected by the Holy Spirit. Though we fallen men can err, the Magisterium does not, and this is why we adhere to it with absolute surety. For this reason, we must reject the opinion of Karl Barth, who wrote that “such ‘absolute surety’ undermines any ecumenical dialogue before it begins because it demonstrates an unwillingness to be transparent about our own intellectual vulnerability.”

Our surety is a powerful sign of faith for non-Catholics, a solid foundation that they can see for themselves in their relationships with us. Personally, I have had more successful discussions with Protestants regarding the tenets of our holy Catholic faith precisely because of my refusal to regard Protestantism as “true” than I have by engaging in “dialogue” that allowed room for an ambiguous interpretation of “Christian faith.”

Charity does not involve denying our faith in an attempt to be accepted, in order to sway another into orthodox belief. When Pope St. Pius X condemned le Sillon, a French modernist movement that tried to bring Catholicism into greater conformity with socialism, in 1910, he taught, “Catholic doctrine tells us that the primary duty of charity does not lie in the toleration of false ideas, however sincere they may be, nor in theoretical or practical indifference toward errors and vices in which we see our brethren plunged, but in zeal for their intellectual and moral improvement as well as for their material well-being.”

Why must we Catholics muddy the waters of truth in an effort to convert non-Catholics? There is a real danger in learning what false religions believe because unless we have an almost supernatural ability to compartmentalize what we read, we can, over time, become corrupted by exposure to erroneous beliefs and false doctrines. It is far safer to adhere to the eternal teachings of Rome. We need not embrace error to propagate Truth.

Keith Andrew Cornett

South Dakota State Penitentiary

Sioux Falls, South Dakota

Apropos of nothing more than the mention of Karl Barth in your letters column (April), here is a delightful anecdote.

Once, when Pope Pius XII was asked his opinion of Barth, he replied, “He’s the greatest Christian theologian since Thomas Aquinas.” When that assessment was passed on to Barth, he exclaimed, “Now even I can believe in papal infallibility!”

Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas

Editor, The Catholic Response

Pine Beach, New Jersey


Thank you to all for the comments and reflections on my column on ecumenism, Balthasar, and Barth. Let me first address the most important claim by Mr. Harris that I made a “false and personal attack on him” when I argued that his criticisms of my article evinced a Protestant paradigm. I made no attack on him but on his arguments. The reader will find nothing negative in my previous response, or this one, about Mr. Harris himself, whom I presume to be a gentleman and faithful Catholic.

Harris writes that I have made false assertions regarding his criticisms of my column. Yet I simply paraphrased him — indeed, in his first letter, he wrote, “The well-concealed, effective meaning of that quote [my quotation and then analysis of Barth] translates as: There can be no ecumenical dialogue unless you first doubt the gift of faith you have from God.” Granted, it’s unclear whether Mr. Harris is accusing me or Barth of “concealing” something. Regardless, since I’m quoting and approvingly analyzing Barth, a fair reading of my column would be that I agree with Barth. Pace Harris’s interpretation, that also means one should doubt the gift of faith during ecumenical debate. As I wrote in my previous response, I do not believe Catholics should doubt their faith during ecumenical dialogue. Readers can make up their own minds whether simply considering the possibility that one is wrong constitutes actual doubt of Catholic doctrine.

I’ve looked in vain for the definition of shame provided by Messrs. Harris and Bankard — namely, that it is exclusively a personal quality related only to the offenses of the one committing error. Indeed, the definition offered by the Cambridge Dictionary reads, “an uncomfortable feeling of guilt or of being ashamed because of your own or someone else’s bad behavior” (italics added).

Perhaps there is a semantic problem regarding shame. I am not arguing, nor would I argue, that Catholics should feel personally responsible for other Catholics’ sins, as if they themselves had committed them. As I understand shame (per, for example, the above widely accepted definition), we can feel shame regarding the actions of others if we are bound to those persons in some way. For example, as an American, I feel a sense of shame for the sin of chattel slavery and Jim Crow segregation, even though I personally played no part in either. As a Virginian, I feel shame for the Old Dominion, the current governor of which endorses anti-Catholic policies with respect to abortion and LGBTQ ideology, even though I didn’t vote for him. And as a Catholic, I feel shame for my Church’s many sins, even those for which I bear no personal responsibility. My shame emanates not from guilt of my own wrongdoing but because of my deep attachments to these political and religious bodies. My story is indelibly wrapped up in theirs.

Harris also claims that I insisted that “Catholics personally study Luther and Calvin before offering any corrections to the errors of their followers.” I did not say that either. Of course one can engage in religious debate without personally studying an opponent’s religious writings. I said familiarity with Protestant writings will facilitate more charitable, mature dialogue with Protestant interlocutors, precisely because a Catholic well versed in Protestant teaching is more capable of understanding and refuting Protestant errors.

Relatedly, Mr. Cornett appears to conflate studying and understanding an alternative religious tradition like Protestantism with embracing that tradition. Cornett should be grateful that I did not apply this criterion when I was a devout Protestant, or I never would have bothered to read Catholic writings, lest I be exposed to what I, at the time, perceived as the Church’s “erroneous beliefs and false doctrines.” I encourage Cornett to consider Benedict XVI and John Paul II, both well studied in religious and philosophical opinions other than their own Catholic tradition. Their exposure to Protestantism, Marxism, nihilism, and many other erroneous “isms” did not corrupt them but made them far more effective Catholic thinkers and theologians.

Nor, pace Cornett, did I suggest that he or anyone else should “regard Protestantism as ‘true’” or allow room for “an ambiguous interpretation of ‘Christian faith.’” Quite the contrary. Catholics should do their best to charitably consider arguments made by those in other traditions while standing firmly in their own tradition. Perhaps an example would be helpful.

In my many debates with Protestants, I often take the following approach (which, admittedly, I learned from the same Catholics who persuaded me to leave Calvinism and become Catholic). When I consider some Protestant doctrine — say, sola scriptura or sola fide — I do my best to understand it, in Protestants’ own words and via the writings they view as normative. Then I ask them if I’ve properly understood that teaching. If they agree that I have, then I start asking questions about that doctrine: “How do you resolve this dilemma? What about these other, seemingly contradictory, data?” Because I’ve taken the time to try to understand the Protestant, he’s more open to criticism. And if I’m willing to charitably address his criticisms of Catholicism — especially if I do so in a way that acknowledges perceived dilemmas or contradictions in Catholicism — I gain even more currency with my interlocutor. “Yes,” I can tell him, “I have thought about that perceived inconsistency in Catholicism, and this is how our great teachers have sought to resolve it. I find those explanations persuasive, and here’s why.”

That kind of dialogue is charitable, open, and honest, while still resolute. There’s no intellectual flimsiness or muddying the waters. Quite the opposite. All the cards are on the table, for both sides, and there’s rigorous intellectual discussion. This back-and-forth is how I was persuaded to return to Catholicism, and that’s how many other Catholic converts from Calvinism — including Dr. Bryan Cross, whose writing has appeared in the NOR; Dr. David Anders of EWTN renown; and Jeremy Tate, president and cofounder of the Classical Learning Test — were persuaded too.

Rev. Peter M.J. Stravinskas’s anecdote proves that even a well-respected Pope like Pius XII saw some good in Barth. The levity of that anecdote, I hope, will also remind us of another trait of charitable dialogue: to presume that our interlocutor has the best intentions.

Mexico’s Malfeasance

David Mills’s inaccurate claims regarding the 1846-1848 war with Mexico (Last Things, April) promote a fictitious history of the war and rewrite U.S. history as well. Contrary to Mills’s claims, no policy of the U.S. government, the army, or its commanding officers was anti-Catholic. Nor is it true that one of the reasons the war was fought was “raw anti-Catholicism.” Religion was not the reason the United States responded after Mexican soldiers, without a declaration of war, killed and imprisoned U.S. soldiers.

It is true that throughout U.S. history, anti-Catholic sentiment has existed, and a few American soldiers committed depredations against Catholic churches early in the Mexican War. Thirty-seven Irishmen were executed, not because they were Catholic, but because they were U.S. army deserters who killed American soldiers. The U.S. commander, Gen. Winfield Scott, court-marshaled American soldiers if they did not respect the Mexican people and Catholic churches. U.S. soldiers were required to salute priests they met on the streets. Scott and other senior officers attended Mass.

The War with Mexico by Justin H. Smith (1919) is considered the definitive history of the war. He writes, “The hostilities were deliberately precipitated by the will and act of Mexico.” Problems with Mexico did not begin with the annexation of Texas into the U.S., as is often claimed. President James Polk did not send Gen. Zachary Taylor to Texas to provoke a war with Mexico but to defend the people there from Indian depredations and incursions by the Mexican army. Claims that the U.S. wanted a war ignore the small size of the U.S. army — some 7,000 men versus more than 30,000 in the Mexican army. Considering that Polk negotiated that year with Great Britain, at the time the most powerful nation in the world, to resolve the border dispute with Canada peacefully and sent a diplomat to Mexico to settle outstanding issues, there can be no doubt that he believed all problems could be settled without war.

The claim that the U.S. wanted war ignores Mexican politics, belligerence, and murders, as well as decades of unresolved problems among the U.S., Texas, and Mexico. Those problems included continuing incursions into Texas by Mexican soldiers; attacks on American citizens in Mexico, and Mexico’s refusal to pay adjudicated claims of $3.25 million to American citizens; repudiation of the “treaty” of Velasco that Mexican Gen. Santa Anna made with Texas in 1836; Mexican activity contrary to international law and custom; Mexico’s plan to give California to Great Britain to pay a debt; and Mexico’s rejection of a diplomatic solution to all issues, including the U.S. offer of $40 million for territory Mexico claimed.

It is rarely noted that Mexico was not a united country in 1846. Texas was not the only Mexican province to declare and fight for independence. Yucatán revolted as well, as did Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, Coahuila, New Mexico, and California.

Historians often portray Mexico as a poor country abused by the U.S. That was not the opinion of Mexican politicians who believed Mexico would prevail against the U.S. in any conflict. The rewriting and distortion of the Mexican War are a serious concern.

Monta Pooley

Port Orchard, Washington

The Awesomeness of the Moment

I was pleased to see David Mills include the Prayer before Communion from the Byzantine rite in his Last Things column (April). Many of my Roman Catholic friends, both priests and laymen, find it so substantial. Most have indicated that they would love to have it as part of the Roman liturgy. To be reminded every time we receive the Eucharist of the awesomeness of the moment is indeed something to behold — and something to consider for inclusion in the Roman liturgy.

Fr. Bruce Riebe

Brecksville, Ohio

Catholic Evolutionists’ Big Lie

Because Almighty God has permitted the past three popes to foolishly believe the lies of the “scientific establishment,” serious discussion of the truth of creation has all but disappeared from Catholic circles. When a creationist does speak out, the truths he presents are buried under a series of lies and falsehoods. That is precisely what happened when the NOR editor responded to a creationist’s letter (“The Traditional Catholic Teaching on Creation,” Jan.-Feb.) with the Big Lie of Catholic evolutionists that “the Church doesn’t have a problem per se with the theory of evolution.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

The one official, binding magisterial document on evolution is Pope Pius XII’s encyclical Humani Generis (1950), the full title of which is “Concerning Some False Opinions Which Threaten to Undermine the Foundations of Christian Doctrine.” In it, evolution is mentioned specifically (nos. 12, 13, 35, 36) and implicitly (nos. 10, 23, 28, 37, 38, 43) as one of the threats to Catholic doctrine.

The editor quotes one sentence from Humani Generis, showing that he is familiar with it. So his claim that the Church has never had a problem with evolution must be a deliberate lie!

In Humani Generis, Pius laid down several specific rules and limitations, almost all of which the editor ignores. Pius warned that “caution must be used when…the doctrine contained in Sacred Scripture or in Tradition is involved. If such conjectural opinions [e.g., evolution] are directly or indirectly opposed to the doctrine revealed by God, then the demand that they be recognized can in no way be admitted.” This contradicts what the editor said.

The Pope then restricted “research and discussions” to “men experienced in both…human science and sacred theology,” but he added the requirement that “this must be done in such a way that the reasons for both opinions, that is, those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution, be weighed and judged with the necessary seriousness, moderation and measure, and provided that all are prepared to submit to the judgment of the Church.” The editor disregards these magisterial rulings.

Humani Generis condemns Catholics who hold or defend the theory of evolution in these words: “Some however rashly transgress this liberty of discussion, when they act as if the origin of the human body from pre-existing and living matter was already completely proven by the facts which have been discovered…as if there were nothing in the sources of divine revelation which demands the greatest moderation and caution in this question.”

Does the editor accept these warnings and convey them to his readers as an honest Catholic should? No! He does just the opposite: He quotes H.L. Mencken, who stated (falsely!) that evolution “may be discussed realistically and without prejudice” by Catholics. Since when did the opinions of H.L. Mencken supersede the rulings of Pius XII?

Catholics are obliged to pre-judge Scripture and Tradition as true! And they must pre-judge the claims of godless evolutionists to be false. And if a Catholic applies Catholic standards to the claims of Mr. Editor, he will find them to be a Big Lie.

Joseph Gehringer

Iowa City, Iowa


No, the Church does not have a problem per se with the theory of evolution — and Mr. Gehringer’s citations of Humani Generis prove this to be true.

Why would Pope Pius XII see the need to lay down specific rules and limitations to govern “research and discussions” of scientific evolution if he intended merely to condemn evolution? Such research and discussions would be off-limits.

Why would “opinions…those favorable and those unfavorable to evolution” need to be “weighed and judged” according to specific criteria if Catholics are required simply to throw out all favorable opinions of evolution? There would be nothing to weigh or judge, the judgments already having been made.

In order for someone to “transgress” a “liberty of discussion” regarding evolution, there must be liberty to engage in a discussion in the first place. That hardly amounts to the condemnation of evolution that Mr. Gehringer wishes it were.

Indeed, Pius wrote in Humani Generis: “The Church does not forbid that…research and discussions…take place with regard to the doctrine of evolution, in as far as it inquires into the origin of the human body as coming from pre-existent and living matter — for the Catholic faith obliges us to hold that souls are immediately created by God” (italics added). That last part was never in doubt or debated. Even the supposedly “foolish” current Pope agrees with this. Francis recently said, “The evolution of nature is not opposed to the notion of Creation, because evolution presupposes the creation of beings that evolve.” Both Benedict XVI and John Paul II also said as much on numerous occasions.

Humani Generis is almost universally understood as not requiring Catholics to believe in the theory of “creationism.” I say almost universally because there are still a few recalcitrant naysayers who prefer reading between the lines in an attempt to prove that Pius said something he didn’t, instead of accepting the clear meaning of his words at face value. They are the ones who refuse to “submit to the judgment of the Church.”

To these types, the warning of St. Augustine applies: “It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian [creationist] speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are” (The Literal Meaning of Genesis).

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