Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Barack Obama and Notre Dame: Juris Doctor Honoris Causa?

That's the title of an essay I published this morning as the First Things Daily Article. It is a portion of a lecture I delivered on March 28, 2009 on the campus of the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. The talk, “What the Abortion Debate is Really About,” was given at the 2009 Notre Dame Right to Life Collegiate Conference, “Evangelium Vitae, VI: You Did It For Me: For a New Culture of Human Life.” Here are some excerpts:
According to Catholic moral theology, the unborn human being, from the moment of conception, is a full-fledged member of the human community. That means that the unborn’s personhood is not like a matter of taste, preference, or a “deep concern” of “personal belief.” It is a fact that prolifers are convinced they know is true, just like such other facts as that Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon, that it’s wrong to torture children for fun, that Mother Teresa was morally better than Adolf Hitler, and that the Earth is the third planet from the Sun.

But President Obama vigorously opposes this prolife understanding of human community. For those who may doubt this claim, one need only consult the consistent and unbroken public record the president has established on this matter. It began when he was an Illinois state senator, continued during his brief stint in the U. S. Senate, and has been an integral part of the agenda of the first sixty days of his administration. Admittedly, Obama is an articulate, winsome, intelligent, and gifted leader. But, whether we like it or not, he has employed those gifts as an apologist for excluding prenatal human beings from the protections of our laws. And he has not been shy in making this plain for those who have eyes to see and ears to hear....

I have no doubt that Notre Dame would never bestow an honorary doctorate in science to an astronomer who vigorously advances the agenda of geocentricity or a chemist who refuses to teach his students the periodic table, or award an honorary doctorate in divinity to a theologian who is an unrepentant apologist for racial apartheid and white supremacy, regardless of what these three individuals may have accomplished or how well their celebrity may be received by the wider culture and its influential institutions.

Why then would the University of Notre Dame bestow an honorary doctorate of laws on someone who for his entire public life has enthusiastically fought for a segment of the human population, the unborn, to remain permanently outside the protections of the law? Not only that, he has also demanded that our legal regime require that his fellow citizens, including Catholics, underwrite the destruction of these prenatal human beings. And not only that, he is right now preparing to remove by executive order protections that were put in place so that prolife physicians, nurses, medical students, and others in the health care field may not be forced to participate in abortions or be discriminated against for refusing to do so or even harboring such beliefs.

Unless the university does not believe that the Church’s understanding of the moral law is true and knowable, it can no more in good conscience award an honorary doctorate of laws to a lawyer who rejects the humanity of the proper subjects of law than it could in good conscience award an honorary doctorate in science to a geocentric astronomer who rejects the deliverances of the discipline he claims to practice.

You can read the entire article here.

Baylor Prof. Michael P. Foley clarifies practices of indulgences

My colleague, Michael P. Foley, an associate professor of patristics at Baylor University, clarifies the practice of indulgences in an essay published this morning in The Lariat, Baylor's student newspaper. On February 27 The Lariat published an editorial that claimed, among other things, that the practice of indulgences is outdated.

Jan P. Dennis' review of Return to Rome on Christian Book Reviews website

At Christianbookreviews.net, Jan P. Dennis has just published a positive review of Return to Rome. You can find it here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Touchdown Jesus? How do we really know he's not....

field goal Jesus, or that the play was disallowed because of too many men on the field? (Jesus, remember, had 12 apostles, not 11). Just sayin'.

The Doctrinal Seed of Scripture

That's the title of a thoughtful entry at Called to Communion. Authored by Tom Riello, here's how it begins:

Many Protestants object to the Church’s teaching on a variety of matters, not least of which is her teaching on the Blessed Virgin Mary, by saying, “Where do you find that in the Bible?” As has been noted by many others, Protestants included, doctrine and practice are not usually defined on the basis of a “smoking gun verse.” The practice of infant baptism is one such example. There is no verse that reads, “baptize your infants,” but that does not mean that the practice of infant baptism is unbiblical. Rather, much of doctrine is defined by the texture and trajectory of the Scriptural data; in short, development of doctrine is necessary.

You can read the rest here.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

George Weigel on Notre Dame's "Egregious Error"

In this morning's Chicago Tribune, Catholic theologian George Weigel writes:

[T}he University of Notre Dame, which claims to be America's premier Catholic institution of higher learning, made an egregious error in inviting President Barack Obama to address its May commencement and accept an honorary doctorate of laws degree.

Since Inauguration Day, Obama has made several judgment calls that render Notre Dame's invitation little short of incomprehensible. The president has put the taxpayers of the United States back into the business of paying for abortions abroad. He has expanded federal funding for embryo-destructive stem-cell research and defended that position in a speech that was a parody of intellectually serious moral reasoning. The Obama administration threatens to reverse federal regulations that protect the conscience rights of Catholic and other pro-life health-care professionals. And the administration has not lifted a finger to keep its congressional and teachers' union allies from snatching tuition vouchers out of the hands of poor inner-city children who want to attend Catholic schools in the nation's capital.

How any of this, much less the sum total of it, constitutes a set of decisions Notre Dame believes worth emulating is not, to put it gently, easy to understand.

You can read the essay in its entirety here.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent, Part 3

Bryan Cross, at Called to Communion, has published the third part of his series on Aquinas and Trent. You can find part 2 here. Part 1 may be accessed here.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Deconstructing Notre Dame Spokesman's Comments on the Obama speech and honorary doctorate

These seem strange to me. First, from the South Bend Tribune:
"Bishop D'Arcy is a longtime friend and supporter of Notre Dame. We spoke to him in advance of the announcement on the president coming here. We're sorry that he won't be able to attend," Notre Dame spokesman Dennis Brown said.

Actually, Bishop D'Arcy is the shepherd assigned to the Catholic diocese in which Notre Dame resides. He is not merely a "longtime friend and supporter of Notre Dame." Now that's an appropriate title to bestow on members of the DeBartolo family, who have generously donated millions of dollars to the university. But when Notre Dame employs such language to describe the bishop in whose diocese it resides, it diminishes the bishop's stature in relation to the university and its community. Notice also the careful language on Mr. Brown's part: "we spoke to him in advance of the announcement...." Mr. Brown did not say, "We spoke to him before the invitation was issued in order ask for his blessing." Mr. Brown did not say that because that is not what happened. To put it bluntly, Notre Dame chose not to treat its bishop like a bishop. It chose to treat him like a "longtime friend and supporter of Notre Dame," the sort of character that has no real authority or influence over the direction of the institution including the health and well-being of its theological and philosophical infrastructure. Somebody in PR is apparently confusing Bishop D'Arcy with McDonald's Hamburger heiress Joan Kroc, who Notre Dame also describes as a "longtime friend and supporter of Notre Dame."

Second, another quote from Mr. Brown:
Asked about the volume of complaints to the university, Brown said it was "nothing beyond what we anticipated."

It would have been much better for Mr. Brown to have admitted that the university was surprised at the controversy. For it seems almost cruel for Notre Dame to now admit that it anticipated the outcry. First, by admitting this, it is confessing that it intentionally invited a graduation commencement speaker that the university knew (according to Mr. Brown) would result in disturbing the consciences of many graduates, their families, and alumni who are now unsure about whether they should attend the ceremony. (See, for example, Stephen Barr''s First Things essay) Second, by admitting this, combined with its decision to not consult its bishop prior to inviting President Obama, it means that Notre Dame likely knew that its invitation would require that its bishop not attend the ceremony in his final year in office. Thus, the university intentionally put Bishop D'Arcy in a position where he would have to recuse himself from a ceremony in which he would receive the sort of farewell and congratulations that a man of his accomplishments should receive at the commencement exercises of America's premier Catholic university that resides in his diocese.

Notre Dame Student Groups Denounce Obama Commencement Invitation and Honorary Doctorate

You can read about it here. Here's how it begins:
In defense of the unborn, we wish to express our deepest opposition to Reverend John I. Jenkins, CSC’s invitation of President Barack Obama to be the University of Notre Dame’s principal commencement speaker and the recipient of an honorary degree. Our objection is not a matter of political partisanship, but of President Obama’s hostility to the Catholic Church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life at its earliest stages. His recent dedication of federal funds to overseas abortions and to embryonic stem cell research will directly result in the deaths of thousands of innocent human beings. We cannot sit by idly while the University honors someone who believes that an entire class of human beings is undeserving of the most basic of all legal rights, the right to live.

The University’s decision runs counter to the policy of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops against honoring pro-choice politicians. In their June 2004 statement Catholics in Political Life, the bishops said, “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” Fr. Jenkins defends his invitation by saying that it does not honor or suggest support for the President’s views on abortion, but rather support for his leadership. But our “fundamental moral principles” must be respected at all times. And the principle that requires us to refrain from the direct killing of the innocent has a special status even among the most fundamental principles. President Obama’s actions have consistently shown contempt for this principle, and he has sought political gain by making light of its clear political implications. Leadership that puts the lives of the most innocent at risk is leadership we must disdain. In the face of President Obama’s actions, Father Jenkins’ words ring hollow.

You can read the rest here.

Bono Preaches It at the NAACP Awards

(HT: my brother Jim Beckwith)

Notre Dame Right to Life Collegiate Conference: 27-28 March 2009

You can read all about it here. I will be giving a lecture at the conference on Saturday, March 28, at 2:15 pm. It will be held in the Jordan Hall of Science (room 101). Entitled, "What the Abortion Debate is Really About," I am planning to address in my lecture the controversy surrounding the University of Notre Dame's invitation to President Obama to receive an honorary doctorate of laws as well as deliver the commencement address at the school's May 17 graduation exercises.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Bishop D'Arcy's Statement on Obama and Notre Dame

The University of Notre Dame resides in the Catholic Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend. Its bishop, John M. D'Arcy, has issued a statement concerning the matter of President Obama and Notre Dame. Here is his statement in its entirety:

Concerning President Barack Obama speaking at Notre Dame graduation, receiving honorary law degree

March 24, 2009

On Friday, March 21, Father John Jenkins, CSC, phoned to inform me that President Obama had accepted his invitation to speak to the graduating class at Notre Dame and receive an honorary degree. We spoke shortly before the announcement was made public at the White House press briefing. It was the first time that I had been informed that Notre Dame had issued this invitation.

President Obama has recently reaffirmed, and has now placed in public policy, his long-stated unwillingness to hold human life as sacred. While claiming to separate politics from science, he has in fact separated science from ethics and has brought the American government, for the first time in history, into supporting direct destruction of innocent human life.

This will be the 25th Notre Dame graduation during my time as bishop. After much prayer, I have decided not to attend the graduation. I wish no disrespect to our president, I pray for him and wish him well. I have always revered the Office of the Presidency. But a bishop must teach the Catholic faith “in season and out of season,” and he teaches not only by his words — but by his actions.

My decision is not an attack on anyone, but is in defense of the truth about human life.

I have in mind also the statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops in 2004. “The Catholic community and Catholic institutions should not honor those who act in defiance of our fundamental moral principles. They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions.” Indeed, the measure of any Catholic institution is not only what it stands for, but also what it will not stand for.

I have spoken with Professor Mary Ann Glendon, who is to receive the Laetare Medal. I have known her for many years and hold her in high esteem. We are both teachers, but in different ways. I have encouraged her to accept this award and take the opportunity such an award gives her to teach.

Even as I continue to ponder in prayer these events, which many have found shocking, so must Notre Dame. Indeed, as a Catholic University, Notre Dame must ask itself, if by this decision it has chosen prestige over truth.

Tomorrow, we celebrate as Catholics the moment when our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, became a child in the womb of his most holy mother. Let us ask Our Lady to intercede for the university named in her honor, that it may recommit itself to the primacy of truth over prestige.

Notre Dame's Faustian Bargain

Catholic physicist Stephen Barr opines on the matter of Obama and Notre Dame in the Daily Article published this morning on the First Things website.

Entitled, "Notre Dame's Faustian Bargain," here are some excerpts from Professor Barr's essay:
My younger son will be graduating from the University of Notre Dame in May. Last Friday, he informed me that President Obama will be giving the commencement speech and will be awarded an honorary degree. I was, frankly, stunned. The joyful event of our son’s graduation has now been overshadowed by a dark cloud. I am proud of my son and of all he achieved at Notre Dame, but I am ashamed of Notre Dame itself.

How can an institution that purports to be Catholic honor as a “doctor of law”—literally a “teacher of law”—a President who has made it very clear by word and deed that he intends to remove from the laws of this nation anything that defends unborn human life? Of course, there is more to Obama than his position on abortion and the life issues. There are things about him that anyone, Catholic or non-Catholic, can respect and admire. But can they justify overlooking his appalling stance on abortion?

Abortion is a defining issue of our time, in the way that slavery was in the mid-nineteenth century and segregation and racial discrimination were in the mid-twentieth century. Overlooking the pro-abortion views of a politician now would be analogous to overlooking pro-slavery or segregationist views in those eras. Would Notre Dame have invited a champion of segregation to be a commencement speaker in the 1960s, however brilliant or talented, however well-meaning in other ways and on other issues he or she may have been?

Some will say that there is no comparison between the issues of racial discrimination and abortion. From a Christian point of view, however, they are at root the same issue: the respect due to our fellow human beings simply as human beings. The lives of fifty million innocent human beings have been snuffed out in the United States since 1973, so it would be absurd to suggest that abortion is less serious an issue than racial discrimination.

The difference between the two issues lies not in their intrinsic moral gravity, but in the way that society views them. Virtually everyone agrees that racial discrimination is morally repugnant. There is a strong social consensus on that issue, whereas on abortion at present there is not. The social elites of this country are largely pro-choice, and being pro-choice is regarded by many as a mark of enlightenment. This, I think, has everything to do with why an institution like Notre Dame would never honor a champion of segregation, but would honor a champion of so-called abortion rights. What governs the moral reflexes of institutions like Notre Dame is not how things appear in the light of the gospel, but how they appear in the eyes of the social elites—or to use more biblical language, how they appear to the world. St. Paul told us not be “conformed to this world,” but to put on the “mind of Christ.” It seems that the University of Notre Dame is conforming itself to the world....

There is a Faustian bargain being struck. President Obama has been feeling great heat on the life issues due to the courageous stands by many of the country’s Catholic bishops. Speaking at and being honored by Notre Dame is a way for him to insulate himself from that heat. In return, Notre Dame gets to seem important, by basking in the glory of a presidential visit. The university is willing to sacrifice the integrity of the Church’s moral witness on the central social-justice issue of our time to pursue its institutional ambitions.

Let us pray for the University of Notre Dame.

You can read it in its entirety here.

NRO Symposium - A Moral Exemplar?: Should the University of Notre Dame honor our most anti-life president?

You can find it here. Contributors include George Weigel, Ralph McInerny, Richard W. Garnett, R. R. Reno, James V. Schall, S. J., Patrick Lee, and Fr. George W. Rulter. Two are Notre Dame professors: McInerny in philosophy and Garnett in law.

William McGurn in the Wall Street Journal on Obama and Notre Dame

In an essay published in the March 24 edition of the Wall Street Journal, "Obama Gets Their Irish Up: The president doesn't want a dialogue about abortion," William McGurn offers an analysis of the recent news that President Barack Obama will be receiving an honorary doctorate as well as giving the commencement address at the University of Notre Dame's May 17 graduation exercises. Here are some excerpts from McGurn's piece:

"We hope for this to be the basis of an engagement with him." So explains Notre Dame's president, the Rev. John Jenkins, as he discusses the university's choice of Barack Obama as this year's commencement speaker. In yesterday's student newspaper "The Observer," where the quotation appears, the thought is introduced with another helpful bromide: The honor accorded President Obama, it is reported, will be a "catalyst for dialogue."

Now, if the president were going to Notre Dame to engage in dialogue, that would be one thing. But Mr. Obama will not be going to Notre Dame to "dialogue." He will be going to help advance his agenda.

At the center of that agenda is abortion. Leave aside his enthusiasm for the Freedom of Choice Act, or the way he misrepresented his role in killing an Illinois state ban on partial-birth abortion. Already as president, Mr. Obama has ended restrictions that prevented taxpayer dollars from funding abortions overseas; opened a path for using taxpayer dollars to encourage the destruction of embryos for research; and taken aim at a "conscience clause" designed to protect doctors, nurses and others from being forced to participate in procedures (including abortion) that violate their consciences...

In the end, the result is moral incoherence. It is an incoherence in which abortion-rights advocates have the most to gain, because it demoralizes those who support the cause of life while removing fears of even the slightest social sanction for those who do not. And it is an incoherence we see all across American Catholic life today.

In our intellectual life, this incoherence gives us a college president who tells the campus paper that honoring an abortion-rights president is consistent with the bishops' statement that such leaders "should not be given awards, honors, or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

You can read the whole thing here.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Is Obama Worth a Mass?: Ralph McInerny on President Obama and Notre Dame

Ralph McInerny is Professor of Philosophy and Michael P. Grace Professor of Medieval Studies at the University of Notre Dame. And I am proud to say that Ralph is also on the Board of Advisors of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture, the academic unit at Notre Dame in which I am presently serving as the Mary Ann Remick Senior Visiting Fellow.

Just this morning, on The Catholic Thing, Ralph offered a stinging rebuke to the university he so dearly loves on the matter of its invitation to President Barack Obama to give the commencement address at its 2009 graduation exercises, at which the university will bestow on the president an honorary doctor of laws. Entitled "Is Obama Worth a Mass?," here is Ralph's essay in its entirety:

Now that the abortion president will be honored and feted and listened to at Notre Dame’s commencement, the question becomes, who will say the commencement Mass?

The University of Notre Dame has officially and with much self-satisfaction invited President Barack Obama to address its 2009 graduates and to receive an honorary law degree. Not to put too fine a point on it, this is a deliberate thumbing of the collective nose at the Roman Catholic Church to which Notre Dame purports to be faithful. Faithful? Tell it to Julian the Apostate.

That someone who procures or advocates abortion thereby excludes himself from communion with the Church has been clear doctrine all along, and increasingly bishops have found the courage to tell those Catholic politicians who are the great enablers of abortion legislation that they cannot receive Holy Communion. Is it any worse to celebrate such a politician as Barack Obama? So where does that put ND President Father Jenkins? He can hardly say Mass without receiving the body, blood, soul, and divinity of Our Lord Jesus Christ, so doubtless he will recuse himself and have someone else say the Mass. But to whom will he go? All his cohorts must come under the same cloud as he. Perhaps the pastor of the president’s erstwhile church in Chicago will be invited to harangue the assembled graduates and parents and faculty – those who can bring themselves to attend commencement this year. Why not?

Perhaps because, having been reminded of the sermons he heard over the years, Barack Obama distanced himself, as they say, from the fiery orator at whose feet he sat for decades. In this, whatever his motives, he has perhaps pointed a way for the Notre Dame administrators to redeem themselves. Perhaps they are unaware of Obama’s record on abortion. Perhaps they have not been paying attention to what he has already done as president. On being reminded of all this, and mindful of the parlous position this puts them into vis-a-vis the Church if they thus celebrate the president, perhaps they will as publicly rescind their invitation as they have issued it? Don’t count on it.

For one whose fifty-four year career as a member of the Notre Dame faculty is coming to an end this June, it is a bitter thing to reflect on the 2009 commencement speaker. It is of course convenient to have an excuse to absent oneself from the festivities. Listening to commencement addresses is the penalty that graduates must pay to receive their diplomas. One can count memorable commencement speeches on the cuticle of one finger. They are ceremonial occasions that will be little remembered and less celebrated. One has groaned at previous selections, but the invitation to Barack Obama is far from being the usual effort of the university to get into warm contact with the power figures of the day. It is an unequivocal abandonment of any pretense at being a Catholic university. And it is in sad continuity with decades of waffling that have led with seeming inevitability to it.

No event was more crucial for Catholic universities than the infamous 1967 Land O’Lakes statement in which the assembled presidents of Catholic institutions declared their freedom from the supposedly baleful influence of Catholic orthodoxy. They would continue to call themselves Catholic, but the definition of the term was constantly under construction. And this by institutions whose task is decidedly not to define what Catholicism is. And now we have come to the point where the University of Notre Dame is publicly excluding itself from allegiance to and acceptance of one of the most fundamental of Christian moral truths, mentioned explicitly in the Didache and again and again over the centuries. Abortion is an essentially evil act, both from the viewpoint of natural morality and from the explicit teaching the Church. There is no way in which an individual, a politician or an institution can finesse that fact.

By inviting Barack Obama as commencement speaker, Notre Dame is telling the nation that the teaching of the Catholic church on this fundamental matter can be ignored. Lip service may be paid to the teaching on abortion, but it is no impediment to upward mobility, to the truly vulgar lust to be welcomed into secular society, whether on the part of individuals or institutions.

Some years ago, Archbishop Michael Miller in his Vatican capacity as overseer of Catholic education, said in an address at Notre Dame that the Holy Father was considering prohibiting the use of “Catholic” by institutions whose behavior contradicts that use. By inviting Barack Obama to be the 2009 commencement speaker, Notre Dame has forfeited its right to call itself a Catholic university. It invites an official rebuke. May it come.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

He Threw It All Away: Robert P. George on Richard John Neuhaus

Published on Friday, March 20, as the First Things Daily Article, Robert P. George pays tribute to the late Fr. Richard John Neuhaus. Here is how it begins:
In the early 1970s, Lutheran pastor Richard John Neuhaus was poised to become the nation’s next great liberal public intellectual—the Reinhold Niebuhr of his generation. He had going for him everything he needed to be not merely accepted but lionized by the liberal establishment. First, of course, there were his natural gifts as a thinker, writer, and speaker. Then there was a set of left-liberal credentials that were second to none. He had been an outspoken and prominent civil rights campaigner, indeed, someone who had marched literally arm-in-arm with his friend Martin Luther King. He had founded one of the most visible anti-Vietnam war organizations. He moved easily in elite circles and was regarded by everyone as a “right-thinking” (i.e., left-thinking) intellectual-activist operating within the world of mainline Protestant religion.

Then something happened: Abortion. It became something it had never been before, namely, a contentious issue in American culture and politics. Neuhaus opposed abortion for the same reasons he had fought for civil rights and against the Vietnam War. At the root of his thinking was the conviction that human beings, as creatures fashioned in the image and likeness of God, possess a profound, inherent, and equal dignity. This dignity must be respected by all and protected by law. That, so far as Neuhaus was concerned, was not only a Biblical mandate but also the bedrock principle of the American constitutional order. Respect for the dignity of human beings meant, among other things, not subjecting them to a system of racial oppression; not wasting their lives in futile wars; not slaughtering them in the womb.

You can the rest of it here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Notre Dame Switchboard Overwhelmed

From Catholic Online
Detroit/South Bend (March 21, 2009) - As of late Friday night, hundreds of callers had overwhelmed the switchboard at Notre Dame as news began to circulate that Obama had been invited to give the commencement address at Notre Dame on May 17th. Sources at Notre Dame as well as the White House late Friday afternoon confirmed the invitation had been extended and accepted.

ND operators said the calls simply became too much to handle. Voice mails of the University President, Vice-President, Provost, assistant-provost and PR director were all full by 10pm EST. Operators were suggesting that callers try again on Monday when university officials would be back in their offices.

All the calls were expressing outrage. None supported the decision.

You can read the rest here.

LifeSiteNews.com on Obama's commencement address at, and honorary doctorate from, Notre Dame

You can read the article here. Here are some excerpts:
NOTRE DAME, Indiana, March 20, 2009 (LifeSiteNews.com) - White House Secretary Robert Gibbs stated today that President Obama will give the commencement address at Notre Dame University this year. The school confirmed the announcement, stating on its website that Obama will also receive an honorary doctor of laws degree at the University's 164th University Commencement Ceremony at 2 p.m. May 17 in the Joyce Center on campus.

In 2004, the United States of Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) approved a policy statement called "Catholics in Political Life," which says, with reference to pro-abortion politicians, "They should not be given awards, honors or platforms which would suggest support for their actions."

President Obama has been called the "abortion president" by pro-life activists, and his appearance at the university would appear to violate the USCCB's policy against honoring pro-abortion politicians.

Read the whole thing here.

President Obama to give commencement address at, and receive honorary doctorate from, the University of Notre Dame

Read about it here. Given the president's aggressive opposition to the culture of life, this is a stunning development. Thus, it is not surprising that there is strong opposition to this.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent, Part 2

Bryan Cross, at Called to Communion, has published the second part of his series on Aquinas and Trent. You can find part 2 here. Part 1 may be accessed here.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Feast of St. Joseph

Today, March 19, is the Feast of St. Joseph.

This feast has much meaning for my wife, Frankie, and me. In the weeks following the death of her father (Joseph Alexander Dickerson, Jr.), we discovered, among his personal items, a St. Christopher medal, inscribed “Bishop Choi to JD.” It is our understanding that the bishop gave St. Christopher medals to pilots in the Pacific during World War II. Soon after the war, Joe, a pilot, joined the ROTC faculty at Fordham University. Impressed by the Jesuits there including the seriousness of their faith, Joe wanted to become Catholic, but my mother-in-law discouraged him. For she told Joe that his parents would be devastated if he were to join the Catholic Church. So, Joe acquiesced to his wife and, and as far as we know, never made a Christian commitment of any sort, though, ironically, he lived the Christian virtues better than most Christians. This is why when Frankie was received into the Catholic Church on August 18, 2007, she took the name "Joseph" as her Confirmation name, in honor of her father and his unfulfilled desire to become Catholic. For her confirmation gift I bought Frankie a St. Christopher medal with this inscription on the back, “From JAD to FRD.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Feast Day of St. Cyril of Jerusalem

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia entry on this saint:
Bishop of Jerusalem and Doctor of the Church, born about 315; died probably 18 March, 386. In the East his feast is observed on the 18th of March, in the West on the 18th or 20th. Little is known of his life. We gather information concerning him from his younger contemporaries, Epiphanius, Jerome, and Rufinus, as well as from the fifth-century historians, Socrates, Sozomen and Theodoret. Cyril himself gives us the date of his "Catecheses" as fully seventy years after the Emperor Probus, that is about 347, if he is exact.

St. Cyril is one of the Church Fathers I quote in Return to Rome. Here is St. Cyril, from his Catechetical Lectures ("Catecheses"), on the nature of the Eucharist:
2. He once in Cana of Galilee, turned the water into wine, akin to blood, and is it incredible that He should have turned wine into blood? When called to a bodily marriage, He miraculously wrought that wonderful work; and on the children of the bride-chamber [Matthew 9:15], shall He not much rather be acknowledged to have bestowed the fruition of His Body and Blood?

3. Wherefore with full assurance let us partake as of the Body and Blood of Christ: for in the figure of Bread is given to you His Body, and in the figure of Wine His Blood; that you by partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ, may be made of the same body and the same blood with Him. For thus we come to bear Christ in us, because His Body and Blood are distributed through our members; thus it is that, according to the blessed Peter, we become partakers of the divine nature [2 Peter 1:4].

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Francis P. Canavan, S.J. (1917–2009)

My friend and fellow Fordham alumnus, Kenneth L Grasso, reports that his mentor, Francis P. Canavan, S. J., died on February 26, 2009. Fr. Canavan, a Professor Emeritus of Political Science at Fordham, had a profound influence in shaping my own understanding of political philosophy. If you want to get a feel for Fr. Canavan's work, you can purchase his book, The Pluralist Game, or you can browse it on Google Books here.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and may perpetual light shine upon him.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Soli Deo Gloria: A Catholic Perspective

That's the title of an essay published on Called to Communion. Authored by Tim A. Troutman, can find it here. Here's how it begins:

The “five solas” of the Reformation are often seen as uniquely Protestant, and to be sure, most common applications are. But examining the underlying principles of the solas from a Catholic perspective is an important task for Reformed-Catholic reconciliation. And while worthier attempts would fall short of doing justice to even one of these, in this two-part series, we will examine both Soli Deo Gloria and Sola Gratia. We begin by asking, “To Whom is Glory Due?” This seems to be the underlying question of these two components of Protestant theology. Is any aspect of our salvation, no matter how small, due to something other than grace? And if our salvation is due, in some respect, to something other than grace, does that something then share in the glory due to God alone?

You can read the rest of it here.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thomas Aquinas and the Council of Trent

On the site, Called to Communion, Bryan Cross recently published an essay entitled "Aquinas and Trent: Part 1". For Evangelical Protestants who, like the late John Gerstner and my dear friends Norm Geisler and Ralph McKenzie, think of Aquinas as a kind of paleo-Protestant whose views were contravened by the Council of Trent, Mr. Cross' essay is worth reading. I am looking forward to Part 2.

Update: Part 2 may found here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ryan T. Anderson catechizes Doug Kmiec on the nature of marriage

Notre Dame doctoral student, Ryan T. Anderson, does a nice job critiquing Doug Kmiec's understanding of marriage as well as pointing out Professor Kmiec's failure to fully grasp his Church's Catechism on the matter of marriage and the common good. You can read it here.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What John Paul II Can Teach Evangelicals

That is the title of an essay I published in 2005 in the magazine Touchstone. I wrote the essay two years prior to my return to the Catholic Church. Here's how it begins:

When my father attended St. John’s University in the late 1950s, his apologetics professor (a Catholic priest) told his class that the two greatest evils of the age were Communism and Protestantism. In the early days of Fuller Theological Seminary, Professor Harold Lindsell (later the editor of Christianity Today) offered a course on cults that included a section on Roman Catholicism.

Today, although not agreeing on every policy or program, Evangelicals have become close cultural and political allies to theologically and morally conservative Catholics. Both sides embrace a common philosophy that informs our understanding of the good, the true, and the beautiful. (I write as an Evangelical.)

For this reason, as we both celebrate the life and mourn the death of Pope John Paul II, Evangelicals should explore those writings of his that offer great insight and wisdom in the two areas in which many have found common interest with Catholics: understanding the relationship between faith and reason, and nurturing a culture of life, represented respectively in the two encyclicals Fides et Ratio and Evangelium Vitae.

You can read the whole thing here.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"Top [non-Catholic] Christian leaders" declare Catholic Governor person of "deep faith."

The group, Faith in Public Life, has issued a press release that includes a statement signed by 15 individuals supporting President Barack Obama's nominee for Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius, a strong supporter of abortion rights. The governor is a Catholic whose archbishop, the Rev. Joseph Naumann, has instructed her to not receive holy communion until she has made a "worthy sacramental confession." Although the press release calls the statement's signatories "top Christian leaders," missing from this list is the name of the only "top" Christian leader that has the authority to assess the authenticity of Governor Sebelius's Catholic faith, Archbishop Naumann.

On the morning of March 9, I sent the following email to one of the press release's signatories:

Hope you’re doing well. I noticed that you signed a press release (posted on Faith in Public Life) supporting Kansas Governor Sebelius’ nomination for Secretary of Health and Human Services. Although the press release claims that she is a woman of “deep faith,” there is no mention that the governor is a Catholic whose bishop has instructed her not to receive the Eucharist until she has made a “worthy sacramental confession.” As a Catholic such facts are not merely tangential to assessing another’s “deep faith.” They are essential.

It seems to me that one cannot claim to advance the common good for faith in public life, which your group indeed claims, while purposely excluding from one’s public comments facts that serious Catholics, as well as many Evangelical Protestants, believe would be essential to evaluating the quality of Governor Sebelius’ faith. Declaring her faith deep while not presenting her bishop’s assessment of that faith is misleading as well as disrespectful of the Catholic faith of many Americans. Do you and the other Evangelical Protestants who signed this statement seriously believe you are more qualified to declare that the governor has a “deep faith” than her own bishop?

Because the signatory wrote me back expressing his or her regret for having signed the statement, I will not mention his or her name. But he or she intends to publish a piece properly communicating his or her position on the Sebelius nomination.

To learn more about the Sebelius nomination, please read Michael New's essay and Archbishop Naumann's statement, both published on the website Moral Accountability. Here's an excerpt from Professor New's essay:

[D]uring her tenure as Governor, Kathleen Sebelius has failed to support a number of policies that would have further reduced abortions in Kansas. Sebelius cut state funding for abortion alternatives, vetoed a bill imposing minimal sanitary standards, on abortion clinics, and vetoed a bill that would have strengthened Kansas’s parental notification law. More shocking, is Sebelius’ unyielding support for late-term abortions. She has vetoed a measure that would require explicit medical reasons for late-term abortions and vetoed another measure which would require abortion providers to report the diagnosis which necessitated a post-viability abortion.

Interestingly, in the face of these controversial vetoes, Gov. Sebelius honored late-term abortionist George Tiller, 25 friends and employees of Tiller’s abortion clinic, and Nebraska partial-birth abortionist LeRoy Carhart at the Governor’s mansion in April 2007. Tiller is currently facing criminal prosecution for 19 counts of illegally performing late-term abortions. His trial is set to begin on mid-March. Overall, these actions provide a far better indication of Sebelius’ views on sanctity of life issues than an incidental abortion decline that occurred under her watch. Catholics and others who care about sanctity of life issues would do well to oppose her nomination.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Interview on The Drew Marshall Show Now Available Online

On Saturday, February 28, 2009, I was interviewed about Return to Rome on Canada's The Drew Marshall Show. In the studio with Drew was my good friend Jim Beverley, an Evangelical Protestant theologian who does first rate work. You can listen to the interview here.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Lent: Not Just for Catholics Anymore

Not that's ever been just for Catholics. As many people know, Lutherans, Anglicans, Methodists, Eastern Orthodox, and many of the Reformed communities have celebrated Lent for centuries.

But the Baptists are now getting in on the ancient tradition. Good for them!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Guido the Great: The Monk Who Saved Music

(HT: my Baylor colleague, Ralph Wood)

From an essay by Jeffrey Tucker:

The people who make modern inventions are often celebrated for improving our lives. But what about those one thousand years ago who laid the very technological foundation of civilization as we know it? They too served the world, but with the primary purpose of contributing to the faith. I'm thinking here of those who solved the architectural problem to build the great cathedrals of the middle ages, and the scientists of the period who took the first steps toward modern medical knowledge.

Also we don't often consider the innovations in art that make all music possible. There is one person who stands out here: the late 10th and early 11th century Benedictine monk named Guido d'Arezzo (991/992–after 1033). He is credited with fantastic musical innovations that led to the creation of the modern system of notes and staffs, and also the organization of scales that allowed for teaching and writing music.

You can read the whole thing here.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

American Baptist Press gets indulgences wrong in article on Lariat editorial that got indulgences wrong

In an otherwise well-done article, Bob Allen of the American Baptist Press repeats a mistake made by his editorial colleagues-in-embryo at the student-staffed paper at Baylor University, the Lariat. (See the Lariat's editorial here).

Here is the comment I submitted to the site to be published under the ABP article:

Mr. Allen writes that "Indulgences fell into disuse after the Second Vatican Council of 1962-65, but Pope John Paul II reinstated them in 2000 to celebrate the church's third millennium." This is simply false, as I document in my blog post responding to the Lariat editorial. This is what I write: "The editors seem to not know that the doctrine is taught in the 1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church and that in 1967 Pope Paul VI issued an apostolic constitution on indulgences (Indulgentiarum Doctrina)." In fact, I even include an image of The Handbook of Indulgences, published by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1988 and released in 1992 in a third edition. The NCCB has published a useful web page on "Popular Devotional Practices: Basic Questions and Answers," which one can find here. Popular Catholic writer Jimmy Akin offers an account of indulgences that non-Catholic Christians will find understandable. Akin's appeal to Scripture will seem familiar to many Protestants, even if they inevitably part ways with Akin's reasoning. Apparently, the Lariat's editorial is the second badly reasoned one published by a Big 12 school in the past couple of weeks. The Daily Nebraskan offers this one. Read this student's reply.

Letter published in Lariat

An edited version of the letter I posted here was published on March 3 in the Lariat, the student newspaper of Baylor University. The student editors did a fine job in pruning my submission. Other letters were published in the March 4 issue. You can find those here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Called to Communion: A new website

You can find it here.  Here's the description of it as published on the site:
Welcome to Called to Communion.
They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me; That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one. (St. John 17:16-22)

That they all may be one….

Who are the members of Called to Communion?

We are Christians who love Jesus the Messiah, love the faith, love the Scriptures and love the Catholic Church. We are Catholics, but none of us was born or raised in the Catholic Church. We arrived in the Catholic Church in diverse ways but through a similar path involving spiritual formation within the Reformed tradition of confessional Protestantism. We are grateful for all that we learned about the Christian faith in the Reformed tradition. We are also grateful for the piety that we found within the Reformed congregations to which we belonged, and for the love for truth that is a significant aspect of the Reformed tradition. We do not view ourselves as having left our Reformed faith behind, but rather as having found its fullness in the Catholic Church.

What is the Purpose of Called to Communion?

We believe that Christ is calling His Church to be one, as He and the Father are one. This is the prayer and the desire of our Savior’s heart and therefore it is also our desire. Our aim is to effect reconciliation and reunion between Catholics and Protestants, particularly those of the Reformed tradition. We hope to accomplish this by removing obstacles founded upon misunderstandings as well as by engaging in charitable discussion of genuine disagreements, in a context of continual prayer for each other and for the unity of all God’s people. We believe that genuine unity comes through truth and never by forsaking or compromising the truth.

What to Expect?

The contributors of Called to Communion will be presenting papers on various topics; these will be posted in the “Library.” We also intend to communicate in the podcast format. These podcasts will be saved under the “Multimedia” tab. In addition, we will submit blog posts and participate in discussions about them. We encourage spirited charitable discussion in the blog. Please see below for our rules on commenting. Lastly, from time to time we may offer contributions from non-Catholic authors.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Professor Alexander Pruss responds to Lariat editorial

My Baylor philosophy department colleague, Professor Alexander Pruss, has submitted the following letter to the Lariat, the Baylor University student newspaper. His letter is in response to the February 27 editorial to which I responded on February 28.
Dear Sir/Madam:

While there is much to complain of regarding the accuracy and fairness of your editorial on indulgences (Feb. 27, 2009), I here only wish to address the concern that "the [Catholic] religion is resorting back to the Medieval Catholic church [sic]," which was also home to the "Spanish Inquisition and the Crusdaes [sic]."

The argument, if one may call it that, seems to be this: (a) during the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church had indulgences, the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades; (b) the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades were very bad; therefore (c) indulgences are bad.

Now, to consider the Spanish Inquisition to be quintessentially medieval is historically rather dubious given that it was founded in 1478, close to the end of the Middle Ages. But the logic of the argument is worse than its history--a similarity in value is inferred from sameness of historical period. One might as well conclude that the very idea of university education is flawed, since the university is largely a medieval Catholic institution, with the University of Bologna being founded in the 11th century with Oxford and the University of Paris following in the 12th (dates much more squarely in the Middle Ages than the late 15th century founding of the Spanish Inquisition, by the way).

Are we then to expect future editorials inveighing against universities, cathedrals, the writings of Thomas Aquinas, the poetry of Chaucer, and, while we're at it, transatlantic travel (hint: 1492=1478+14)?

Sincerely yours,
Alexander R. Pruss
Associate Professor
Department of Philosophy
Baylor University

Baylor Lariat 2-27 editorial not an isolated incident

I and several of my Baylor Catholic colleagues received a note this morning from one of our fellow Baylor professors:
Dear Catholic Colleagues,

The Lariat editorial and cartoon on indulgences is the third in a series of Lariat of jabs at Catholics in recent years.... [You can find them here]

The first (March 31, 2006) was a large color front-page photo of a Baylor alum in nun costume. The portrayal—at a Baylor-sponsored event—showed the nun as very pregnant with an elephant nose.

The second (February 1, 2008) was an insulting cartoon depiction of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

And now we have the editorial and cartoon mocking Benedict XVI on February 27.

Any one of these in isolation might not be such a big deal. But the pattern is disturbing and damaging. These portrayals are disrespectful to our Catholic students and diminish the stature of Baylor University.

I pick up the Lariat fairly regularly. I doubt that any religious or ethnic group has been the target of more Lariat insults than Catholics. Surely we are close to the top in this regard.

I hope there will be individual responses in the days ahead. Possibly we should have some collaborative initiative to help create a more positive environment for the Catholic members of the Baylor family.

All three of these Lariat pieces are in an adobe file here.