quod pro nobis traditum est

Saturday, October 30, 2010

justifiably paradoxical

This excerpt from a previous book review post of a few days ago is re-quoted below. It is interesting that while, on the whole, there is probably no practical convergence between Catholics and Lutherans on justification, due to many factors not addressed here, that a Catholic theologian, who is also a Roman pontiff, might "get away" with advancing the scriptural understanding of the relationship between faith and works and allowing Scripture to interpret Scripture (ie, both Paul and John, not just Paul).

". . .

"Rowland points out that Ratzinger is ever ready to come to agreement with various controversial positions once it is clear that what is at stake is compatible with the faith. Take the classic issue with Lutherans about faith and works. "Ratzinger agreed that while Christians are obliged to do good works, justification and final judgment remain God's gracious acts. The actual wording of the key sentence of the declaration is as follows: 'By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to do good works' (139). [emphasis mine]

"This happy formula at the same time avoids the issue of Pelagianism, that is, the claim that we save ourselves by our own powers. Ratzinger retains the Pauline and Johnanine teachings about the first necessity of grace in our salvation. One might say this happy result is due both to good will and to careful thinking that clearly understands the whole issue in its principles and in its development.

. . ."

[Ironically, to most Catholics this is probably a non-issue anymore while to many Lutherans, even if they may concede that the above formula is scriptural would pass over this commonality and quickly point to any number of other areas of disagreement, raising the question if justification really is "the" issue after all.]

Friday, October 29, 2010

Mary and Lutherans

I found this article on Lutheran Marian Theology online and find it to be fairly accurate in dealing with a controversial topic. The article treats different well-known teachings on Mary and how they are viewed by Lutheran groups and their theologians.

For example, Lutherans will not be surprised to see that their church bodies do not teach such things as the perpetual virginity of Mary nor prayer to Mary and the saints. They may be surprised to learn that Martin Luther held to the perpetual virginity and Immaculate Conception of Mary and that he called her the "Mother of God." He did not have much to say about the Assumption of Mary except that it was not in the Bible. Luther had a high view of the Magnificat and this canticle has been retained in Lutheran liturgical practice to this day. As with Luther the perpetual virginity of Mary was confessed in the Lutheran confessional writings and held by such prominent Lutheran theologians as Franz Pieper.

They may also be surprised to learn that the perpetual virginity of Mary is still held by some Lutherans today. Adherence to this teaching is not mere exaltation of Mary although it may appear as such at first glance. She is clearly "blessed among women" and above the saints. Her unique role in God's salvation, her relationship with her son (the Son of God) and her humble example do indeed set her apart from others. Rather this teaching is related to and centered on a high view of the person and work of Jesus Christ and the Incarnation. With this in mind the teaching of the perpetual virginity of Mary is easier to fathom as one of God's mysteries of salvation.

Friday, October 22, 2010

As it Is - blog quote of the day

"I’m talking about the common, casual way The New York Times offends Catholic sensitivity, something they would never think of doing — rightly so — to the Jewish, Black, Islamic, or gay communities." More on this here.

Monday, October 18, 2010

St. Luke, Evangelist

Today's Gospel is Luke 10:1-9, Jesus' sending of the seventy-two. The lesson focuses on the ministry. Readings that speak about the ministry seem out of place in today's milieu where being all things to all people has taken on a life of its own. We come to expect the Scripture to speak directly to us in every instance. All Scripture does indeed relate to us. This text relates to the people but first it is Jesus speaking to the ministry. This ministry as defined by Jesus is sent out.

There is a definite ordering in how Jesus sets up the ministry. First He sent the Twelve. Now He sends the seventy-two. These men are not just called, they are sent. They are not just sent out by any organization, but by the Lord Himself. As the Father sent Him and the Son sends the Spirit so He sends the Twelve and then the seventy-two to go before Him speaking of peace and the nearness of the kingdom of God. We may understand the sending of the seventy-two as a sending of the Spirit, such that there is no separation between them. Neither is this sending separate from the Church, of which Christ is the Head.

Jesus warns the seventy-two of opposition, they are as lambs among wolves. They are to earn their livelihood from this work of preaching the Gospel. Still, this is neither their focus nor concern. Neither opposition they will face nor their livelihood is their concern. Their focus is preparing the way of the Lord. They go ahead announcing peace to every household, no matter the reaction. The peace may or may not rest on those who hear but they bring His peace to people, telling them that the kingdom of God has come near unto them.

Knowing what we do of the history of the Church most of the Apostles were martyrs. The church calendar is full of martyrs from the early centuries. Jesus' death exemplified what was to follow. Scripture describes Jesus' death on the cross as bringing peace between God and men. Today's liturgical color is red. 2,000 years later the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church remains. Contrast this bloody history with Jesus sending His Spirit to the people using pastors and priests to announce God's peace upon them, preaching the Gospel, absolving them of their sins, administering the Lord's peace in the blessed Sacrament. "Peace be to this house."

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

"Faith Abides" - a book review

[Below is a book review by Fr. James V. Schall, S. J. of a new book by Tracey Rowland called: "Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed." This book discusses the theological thought of Benedict XVI. Note his understanding of the relationship between history and revelation, the relationship between faith and culture, the relationship between faith and works and the relationship between ontology and revelation. Note too his approach to the liturgy.]

Faith Abides: The Intelligence of Benedict XVI | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | September 27, 2010

"Following the lead of Newman, Ratzinger has opened Catholic theology to a consideration of the problem of history, but he does not allow the Tradition to be constructed from historical elements external to revelation itself. Consistent with de Lubac and Mohler, he believes that the faith of a twenty-first century Catholic in any diocese of the world is not essentially different from that of a first-century Christian."
-- Tracey Rowland, Benedict XVI: A Guide for the Perplexed (London: T & T Clark, 2010), p. 157.


The British publishing house, T & T Clark, has recently produced a series of theological reflections under the series title of "A Guide for the Perplexed." This title comes from a book of the famous medieval Jewish philosopher, Moses Maimonides. The perplexed were those Christians, Jews, and Arab thinkers who first re-encountered, in the 12th and 13th centuries, Aristotle and his enormous wisdom. What perplexed them, as believers, was whether the revelation that they lived was not natural. Aristotle seemed to figure out much of it without its benefits. The task, among Christians pioneered by Aquinas, was to distinguish what kind of knowledge that was revealed to us from what kind could we figure out ourselves.

The T&T Clark series previously dealt with given writers like Tillich, von Balthasar, Calvin, and de Lubac as well as with Christian topics like the Trinity, Christology, and bioethics. Tracey Rowland's new book on Benedict is part of this series. Rowland, an Australian theologian who studied in Cambridge, has previously written an excellent book on Benedict (Ratzinger's Faith: The Theology of Benedict XVI, Oxford, 2008). This second Rowland book is relatively short (160 text pages). It is designed primarily to situate Benedict as that theologian who best understands modernity and the place of Catholicism in relation to it.

Essentially, the pope does not judge the faith by the culture, but examines the intellectual and moral meaning of the faith to ask what, if any thing, does modernity have to do with it. As the pope pointed out in Spe Salvi, many of modernity's most forceful ideas are, when separated out, misplaced versions of basic Christian positions now thought to be achieved by means other than Christian. Without careful analysis, Benedict neither accepts nor rejects the operative ideas of modern times.

This caution is in large part because the pope has such a thorough grasp of other times and cultures with which to compare anything in modernity that is said to be contrary to Christianity. Of course, much of it is thus contrary, the pointing out of which is the purpose of this insightful book. The pope examines the elements of culture in the light of both reason and revelation. He does this analysis over against a culture that in many ways denies validity to both revelation and reason. In this sense, the Church and the pope become paradoxically the principal voices of reason in the modern world.

Benedict is not easily deceived by dubious theories that seek to reduce faith to culture. But he understands that faith naturally seeks to find expression in local language, ideas, and images, even when its origin is not simply a manifestation of this origin. This endeavor is a service of enormous importance both to the world and to the Church. Rowland displays an enormous amount of reading and reflection on the vast literary work of Ratzinger and of those who have written about him. She spells out the arguments that are said to indicate either a narrowness or elitism in Benedict and puts them in a broader context where they always make sense.

"For the second half of the twentieth century (especially since 1968) and the beginning of the twenty-first he has represented Catholic theology in the face of a militant secularism and various crises internally created within the Catholic Church" (152). Thus, the principal question for Benedict is not: "How in the light of modern truths can the stated positions of revelation be explained?" Rather it is: "What in the light of faith is the intelligible meaning of modern ideas and movements?" If it is "modern," it is not, as such, either true or false. That is what must be ascertained. In all of his writings, Benedict has shown the happy facility of carefully getting to the heart of an issue. He wants to know what exactly the Muslim, the relativist, the scientist, the Calvinist, the Hindu, or the Marxist holds. He then seeks to discern how such views came about and to relate them to the truth, including the truth of revelation.

The pope is never merely polemical. He lays out an argument with which he disagrees in careful and accurate detail. He gives its history and premises. Nothing is to be gained by not knowing and considering the arguments against your position. But Benedict then responds to what is presented. This book is full of such careful responses. The popular opinion is that Catholicism has no adequate responses to the views leveled against either its truth or historicity. After reading Rowland's book, it quickly becomes clear that the opposite is the case. This opinion includes those within the Church's broader fold whose ideas are skewered from the truth at some point or other. Benedict knows about the small error in the beginning that leads to the large error in the end.


What disconcerts many about Benedict is precisely the fact that he does make sense of revelation as a primary source of understanding of man and the world. When included, revelation and reasoning about it explain our lot much more adequately than any of the popular or dogmatic alternatives, with which Benedict is familiar. In each of Rowland's seven chapters, she addresses a particular issue in which Benedict has taken up critical issues said to present some presumably insurmountable barrier between Christianity and truth. She shows how Ratzinger has dealt with these issues—the Romantic reaction to the Enlightenment, the relation between humanism and the Incarnation, tradition, the theological virtues, the relation of history and metaphysics, the place of social thought, and the question of Christian unity.

In each of these areas, Ratzinger has made a unique contribution that consists essentially in showing that the basic Catholic solution is the most coherent one in careful comparison to the alternatives presented against it. We are not surprised that this calm approach is not well received in quarters convinced that the views of Catholicism cannot be valid or even seriously considered on either scientific or historical grounds. In each case, as Rowland spells it out, Ratzinger makes the counter case that history, or metaphysics, or Scripture, or science does in fact support what is the basic Catholic position.

But, as Rowland describes it, Ratzinger is not writing polemically. Rather he carefully presents the evidence and the basis on which it rests. Whether anyone will accept such arguments is itself something of a personal and spiritual problem. Truth also has to be chosen. What cannot any longer be maintained is that there is no case to be made. Everyone needs to look at the evidence and analysis that clearly show the force of the arguments making sense of it all.

Rowland points out that Ratzinger is ever ready to come to agreement with various controversial positions once it is clear that what is at stake is compatible with the faith. Take the classic issue with Lutherans about faith and works. "Ratzinger agreed that while Christians are obliged to do good works, justification and final judgment remain God's gracious acts. The actual wording of the key sentence of the declaration is as follows: 'By grace alone, in faith in Christ's saving work and not because of any merit on our part, we are accepted by God and receive the Holy Spirit, who renews our hearts while equipping us and calling us to do good works'" (139).

This happy formula at the same time avoids the issue of Pelagianism, that is, the claim that we save ourselves by our own powers. Ratzinger retains the Pauline and Johnanine teachings about the first necessity of grace in our salvation. One might say this happy result is due both to good will and to careful thinking that clearly understands the whole issue in its principles and in its development.

The number of basic issues that Rowland touches on is quite impressive. Behind it all, Ratzinger stands for the fact of God's creation and redemption are realities, the basic ones that, above all others, concern us. The Christian narrative in its outlines is not a myth, nor is it a kind of mechanism that unfolds automatically. The Father is always present in creation and history, acting through the Son and the Holy Spirit for our eternal salvation, the achieving of which is the real drama of human and cosmic history. "The Christian sees in man, not an individual, but a person. According to Ratzinger, 'this passage from individual to person contains the whole span of the transition from antiquity to Christianity, from Platonism to faith.' It completely transcends the logos of the Stoics, since a 'world created and willed on the risk of freedom and love is no longer mathematical'" (126).

Rowland sees one of Ratzinger's major accomplishments as that of reconciling ontology and revelation in such a fashion as the integrity of both is retained. A proper metaphysics serves the possibility of revelation. Revelation does not replace the natural order, but it does not divinize it either. Once this background is clear, Ratzinger is concerned with our relation to God, how we serve and worship Him. Rowland is quite blunt in her description of the loss of dignity in liturgy and the effect this has on ordinary believers. Ratzinger is a man who knows and appreciates the importance of beauty in our lives, especially as related to liturgy. Ratzinger stands for dignity, solemnity, beauty, and reverence because he first knows that men are called to worship God.

This relatively short book is wide-ranging. Rowland has managed to show the enormous learning of the pope within the context of his now operative papacy in which he is concerned with the Church itself and what it stands for. It does stand for the fact that the Son of Man did take flesh and did dwell among us. There is nothing mythical about this. Moreover, human destiny is not to continue within this world. Each person is constantly being called to eternal life, to nothing less, though what he is offered in our world is mostly "something less." This is his chief temptation that deflects modern man from any real understanding of himself.

Much of modernity wants this something less. Rowland is very good in showing how Ratzinger is a thinker who does know what the modern man proposes and the inadequacy of such proposals. Modern man has a difficult time (largely a culpable difficulty, I think) imagining that the Christian position is grounded in both thought and history, and that it does make sense and explain things that are most important to human life. Reading Rowland's account of Benedict is an exercise in the recovery both of our tradition and of our mind. It is not to be missed.

Fr. James V. Schall, S.J., is Professor of Political Philosophy at Georgetown University.

He is the author of numerous books on social issues, spirituality, culture, and literature including Another Sort of Learning, Idylls and Rambles, A Student's Guide to Liberal Learning, The Life of the Mind (ISI, 2006), The Sum Total of Human Happiness (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), The Regensburg Lecture (St. Augustine's Press, 2007), and The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays (CUA, 2008). His most recent book from Ignatius Press is The Order of Things (Ignatius Press, 2007). His new book, The Modern Age, is available from St. Augustine's Press. Read more of his essays on his website.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

St. Mary, Mother of God

[A homily on St. Mary, Mother of God (Oct 11), Gospel: St. Luke 2:43-51]

In the Name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

In this brief account of Jesus and his parents at the temple we are given an account of the mystery of the Incarnation. Jesus is a regular boy going to the annual religious festival with His parents. Here the family carries out together the religious customs of sacrifice to God at the Temple in the holy city. There is no record of either parent not wanting to go or of Jesus wanting to play outside instead. The family goes dutifully together seeking that which is beyond the Temple but which is also there in the Temple for them. Going to the Temple as commanded by God is not a burden for them. At the Temple Jesus shows His parents that He is not just there because they brought Him there or forced Him to go. Rather He amazes both His parents and the doctors of the Temple by His learning and example. Nowadays, it is easy to pit the learning of theology against prayer and vice versa. One might be concerned about the dangers of learning theology as an intellectualization of the faith and forget about the discipline of faith and prayer. While another might focus on the discipline of prayer and avoid learning too much about theology. This is a false anti-thesis since both have to do with the things of God. Jesus is not against following the customs associated with attending the religious feast and the life of prayer nor is he against learning and teaching the things of God. Rather, He involves Himself, as a child, in both divine worship and in the learning and teaching of the things of God. So much so that He places the things of God above His own family. Here we see the boy Jesus worship God and then teach the wise doctors about His Father. Meanwhile his parents, having faithfully completed their religious obligations, have returned home. When they realize that He is not with them it is three days until they find Him in the Temple.

Hear how we might understand Jesus’ parents finding Him in the temple in these words of a church father: “Learn where those who seek Him find Him, not every where, but in the temple. And do thou then seek Jesus in the temple of God. Seek Him in the Church, and seek Him among the masters who are in the temple. For if thou wilt so seek Him, thou shalt find Him. They found Him not among His kinsfolk, for human relations could not comprehend the Son of God; not among His acquaintance, for He passes far beyond all human knowledge and understanding. Where then do they find Him? In the temple! If at any time thou seek the Son of God, seek him first in the temple, thither go up, and verily shalt thou find Christ, the Word, and the Wisdom.” (CA, III, 98)

Mary is rightly concerned and worried. “Son, why hast Thou done so to us? behold thy father and I have sought Thee sorrowing.” Mary knows Whose Son Jesus is when she speaks of Joseph as Jesus’ father, yet Joseph is given her and Jesus by God that through His earthly parents He may be given God’s care and protection. Mary reminds Jesus that He is but a child. Jesus turns around and startles both His parents by telling them He must be about His Father’s business. Earlier they had as a family worshipped the heavenly Father. Now they do not understand what Jesus says. We see that Jesus has a human nature. Here He is saying that there is more to Him than His human nature. This revelation of Jesus to His parents shows the falseness of the teaching that says that Jesus only became divine at around age 30 when the Spirit descended upon Him at His baptism. Rather, this moment at the Temple leads us back to Jesus’ birth, His Incarnation of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is made man, yet He is called “Emmanuel,” “God with us.” Mary, is undoubtedly reminded of this, as Jesus teaches them of things beyond their understanding. Is it not Mary who ponders these things in her heart?

Mary sorrows again. This boy, her Son, conceived by the Holy Ghost, “being of one substance with the Father,” grows up and is crucified to death with her there. The death of His Son on the cross is God’s sacrifice for sin, the fulfillment of all the earthly sacrifices in the Temple. By His blood we are made clean. For three days His family sorrows. On the third day they find Him, risen in the flesh, and they rejoice. He is going to the Father but not until He can breathe upon the Apostles His Spirit and leave His Church with the comfort and salvation in the forgiveness of sins. In the work of the Holy Ghost people are drawn to the cross of Christ and the true worship of God the Father in the Church. Here the sacrifice of Christ is distributed through the preaching, hearing and learning of His Word and the Holy Supper. At Church, the faithful are strengthened in the faith, in body, mind and spirit, because here, God who is everywhere, chooses to give us Christ Himself, crucified and risen. Jesus teaches us here and He leads us to glorify the Father in the Holy Ghost.

Today is the Feast of Blessed Mary, Mother of God. God gave the world His Son through Mary. This is a mystery, that through Mary’s womb, God caused “righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations.” Where did Mary find Jesus? In the temple. What was He doing? He was about His Father’s business. God created the heavens and the earth and everything that is in them. He is everywhere at all times and in every place. This is beyond our understanding. Yet His being everywhere and our inability to understand everything about Him does not mean that we are to look for Him where we think He should be found. Jesus is found in the womb of the blessed Virgin. He is found in the holy Church. He is found risen from the dead and ascended into heaven. He is at the altar and on your tongue. We can easily be misled by sin and temptation to disregard the holy things of God or take them for granted. Jesus showed His parents and us what truly are the more important things. After pointing His parents to His Father’s business “He went down with them . . . and was subject to them.” Jesus brings together the worship, the teaching and the life of the family so that they are not one against the other. From teaching the Word He takes us to the altar. There He leads us to His Father’s business. He submitted to His Father’s will on the cross. Now He leads us to His Father’s House. Amen.

In the Name of the Father and of the †Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Question of the Day

Why should Western traditions be blamed for the ecological crisis when those traditions were cast aside by modern science three centuries ago?

HT: New Oxford Review, 10/11/10

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Holy Rosary

Today the Western Church commemorates the Feast of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary. The use of the Rosary in the Catholic Church is attributed to St. Dominic, founder of the Order of Friars Preachers.

From the Collect: "O God whose only-begotten Son by His life, death and resurrection, purchased for us the rewards of eternal life . . ." ("Deus, cujus Unigénitus per vitam, mortem et resurrectiónem suam nobis salútis aetérnae praemia comparávit . . .")

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels

Deus, qui ineffábili providéntia sanctos Angelos tuos ad nostram custódiam míttere dignáris . . .

O God, who in Thine ineffable Providence hast deigned to send Thy holy Angels to watch over us . . .


Image Credit: Te Deum laudamus!

Friday, October 01, 2010

Latin vivit

Latin vivit.

Religious Literacy

Here is an important article on religious literacy that came out a few days ago. The article is based on a poll demonstrating that Americans are not very knowledgeable about religion, even their own. Most of the results are not surprising. The average American is likely comfortable with these findings. The article identifies regular worship attendance and level of education as factors in knowing more about religion and religions.