Friday, August 13, 2010

30 Giorni interview with Fr. Charles Morerod, O.P.

30 Giorni: Il non protagonismo aiuta l’ecumenismo

Intervista con il domenicano Charles Morerod, segretario generale della Commissione teologica internazionale e rettore della Pontificia Università San Tommaso

Thursday, August 12, 2010

"Some conversations have only beginnings and middles"

That was the catch-phrase for a Blackberry ad I saw today. But if there is no end, can there really be a middle?

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Christopher Tollefsen on the New Natural Law Theory

In a previous post I mentioned that Christopher Tollefsen can be considered to be a disciple of Germain Grisez. From this I concluded that he is probably an advocate of the New Natural Law Theory. It turns out that I surmised correctly. I also noted in another post that the Philosophy Department at St. Anselm College has a blog. Today I discovered that there is a journal of philosophy associated with the college as well--Lyceum. There is also a blog dedicated to the discussion of articles from the journal. Browsing through the archive, I find that Dr. Tollefsen has written an article discussing the New Natural Law Theory (pdf). This article is recent, so it should provide a good overview of the state of the controversies raging between adherents of the NNLT and traditional Thomists (or neo-Thomists, as some NNLT proponents label some of them--let's set aside the question of whether neo-Thomism is rightly used as a pejorative or not). It also seems to me that the introduction by Tollefsen could serve as a basis for an "informal" (i.e. not published in an academic journal) response (or a formal, published response) by traditional Thomists to the assertions of New Natural Law theorists.

I wish to concentrate solely on what Dr. Tollefsen says about the common good and to make some notes.

4. Political Authority and the Political Common Good
In 1979, Grisez and Boyle published Life and Death with Liberty and Justice; in 1980, Finnis published Natural Law and Natural Rights. Together the two books marked the beginnings of a “discussion of political theory” carried on between the three thinkers.[30] Grisez and Boyle describe their early part in this discussion as conceding “somewhat too much to political theories that are prevalent in the United States.”[31] By this, they refer to an indebtedness to John Rawls’s antiperfectionism. In Life and Liberty Boyle and Grisez allowed that it would be wrong for the state to incorporate substantive moral values, such as the good of life, into its governing principles, and hence into its conception of the common good of the state. In part this was motivated by a need to find a principled limit on the state’s sovereignty over the lives, including the moral and religious lives, of its subjects.

Finnis’ work in Natural Law and Natural Rights, by contrast, argued for a perfectionist account of the state: the basic goods of human persons were not to be ruled out of the practical considerations at the heart of political rule, as in Rawls’s work. Yet Finnis too, like Grisez and Boyle, has been sensitive to the need for liberty in the state, and the limits of state sovereignty over individuals; all three oppose the view, encouraged by what Finnis calls a “quick” reading of Aquinas, according to which “government should command whatever leads people towards their ultimate (heavenly) end, forbid whatever deflects them from it, and coercively deter people from evil-doing and induce them to morally decent conduct.”[32]

Accordingly, Grisez, Finnis and Boyle have converged on an account of political authority and the common good that, while rooted in the basic goods, nevertheless sees the state as a “community co-operating in the service of a common good which is instrumental, not itself basic.”[33] Political authority is necessary because individuals, families, and groups, while sufficient in one sense for the pursuit of all the basic goods, including the goods of marriage and religion, are nevertheless thwarted in their pursuit of these goods by (a) lack of social coordination; (b) the hostility of outsiders; (c) the predatory behavior of some insiders; and (d) circumstances beyond the control of individuals that leave them in conditions of more than usual dependence but without the usual personal and social aids, as, for example, widows, orphans, the sick, and the disabled.

Political authority, and optimally, a political authority itself subject to law, is necessary to efficiently and fairly pursue these goals; but together, these goals comprise a set of conditions instrumentally necessary for individuals and groups to directly pursue the basic goods, individually and cooperatively. The political common good is thus described by Finnis as “the whole ensemble of material and other conditions, including forms of collaboration, that tend to favor, facilitate, and foster the realization by each individual [in that community] of his or her personal development.”[34]

In putting forth this account of political authority and the common good, Finnis has criticized the idea, mentioned above, that the common good includes the complete well-being, including the moral well-being, of the state’s citizens. In contrasting this Aristotelian idea with what he takes to be the true Thomistic view, Finnis has drawn criticism from some Thomists, who read St. Thomas as more similar to Aristotle than does Finnis. He has also generated some debate internal to the New Natural Law theory concerning the proper limits of political authority.[35]

Finnis holds that recognition of the instrumental nature of the state means that, as George summarizes his position, “law and the state exceed their just authority – thus violating a principle of justice – when they go beyond the protection of the public moral environment and criminalize 'even secret and truly consensual adult acts of vice.’”[36] But, says George in response, “it does not follow, or so it seems to me, from the instrumental nature of the political common good that moral paternalism, where it can be effective, is beyond the scope of that good.”[37] And so George, unlike Finnis, holds that the legitimate limits on legislation where morality is concerned are prudential, not principled.

Please refer to the on-line article for the footnote references.

1. Why is political authority necessary? It is not made necessary by the good involved (being common as opposed to private or singular), but for the reasons listed above, which cover interpersonal conflict. The presence of social coordination would facilitate individuals and families attaining the basic goods. But otherwise, individuals and families are sufficient to attain the basic goods. In contrast, Aquinas maintains that political authority is necessary because the good to which it is ordered is not the same as the private good of the individual. This is the holistic good, the good of the community as a whole.

(Something must adjudicate between competing desires and plans?)

2. "Yet Finnis too, like Grisez and Boyle, has been sensitive to the need for liberty in the state, and the limits of state sovereignty over individuals; all three oppose the view, encouraged by what Finnis calls a “quick” reading of Aquinas, according to which “government should command whatever leads people towards their ultimate (heavenly) end, forbid whatever deflects them from it, and coercively deter people from evil-doing and induce them to morally decent conduct.”[32] "

Aquinas recognizes that there are limits to human law. And yet if we take him seriously as an intellectual, we would gather that he thinks this is compatible with the common good being the good of the community as a whole.

"Finnis has criticized the idea, mentioned above, that the common good includes the complete well-being, including the moral well-being, of the state’s citizens. In contrasting this Aristotelian idea with what he takes to be the true Thomistic view, Finnis has drawn criticism from some Thomists, who read St. Thomas as more similar to Aristotle than does Finnis. He has also generated some debate internal to the New Natural Law theory concerning the proper limits of political authority.[35]"

What is the "complete" well-being? Can government bring about complete virtue? Probably not. But can it prohibit those actions which harm others or lead to bad moral states? Aquinas would agree that enforcement of the "no-harm principle" is important for the well-being of any community. But should law should be limited to this or not?

While Aquinas argues that law should not prohibit all vices, he does not give as a reason the question of enforceability. He focuses more on the question of observance. Would the lack of enforceability be a reason acceptable to Aquinas? Or would he reject this reason on other grounds?

Even if it is the case that law should be mostly limited to enforcing the no-harm principle, that does not mean that there is not a communal good distinct from the basic goods listed under the New Natural Law Theory. Is the complete well-being of the state's citizens the same as citizens living well with one another? I do not think so. And this is the problem, if Tollefsen is correct in his summary. (I'll have to double-check Finnis's Aquinas eventually.) The common good of the political community is not the complete well-being of its citizens. Rather, it is their life in common. It is not surprising that we who live as atomists or liberals fail to recognize this good, since for the most part we do not aim to achieve it in our own lives.

The dissertation by M. Therrien on the pedagogical nature of law should help one understand how law trains people in virtue.

*No-harm principle: No one can harm or injure (commit an act of injustice, not just physically hurt) another.

Elizabeth Anscome on Just War theory and the atomic bombings

Elizabeth Anscombe, "War and Murder" (pdf) and "Mr. Truman's Degree"

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Fribourg Dissertations

Not sure if I've posted this link before -- here are some dissertations done at Fribourg. This looks interesting: Law, Liberty and Virtue: A Thomistic Defense for the Pedagogical Character of Law, by Michel Therrien. (Written under the direction of Fr. Sherwin, O.P.)

Theology must be Christocentric

From Sandro Magister's latest:


by Inos Biffi

If the Christian mystery stands at the origin of theology, and this can be defined as "understanding of the faith," it is unthinkable that at any point in time remaking it from scratch can be contemplated. In the diversity of the times, it is nourished by an uninterrupted tradition of content and also of language, which does not admit drastic and revolutionary discontinuities, on pain of losing its identity. It is permissible at least to harbor some perplexity before a theology convinced that it is presenting unusual and singular theological doctrines, never before taught.

Nevertheless, this does not doom theology to pure repetition. The history of theology itself shows how much, without breaking continuity, it has been variously and profoundly renewed: but not by somehow obscuring or ignoring the mystery; on the contrary, by allowing it to emerge with greater power and consistency.

Theology does not let itself be unsettled and influenced by the myth of becoming and progress, aware that it was born and is continually reborn from the inexhaustible and unchangeable resources of divine revelation, which is complete and does not wear out, from communion with the Word of God, ancient and always new.

It is also true that the renewal of theology can be accompanied by a new philosophy, but on the condition that it offer, so to speak, a space more open to the predominance and understanding of the mystery, and that it be exercised within the "understanding of the faith."

It is significant that the brilliant historian of medieval theology Marie-Dominique Chenu should affirm that "it is not the introduction of Aristotle that determines the thought of Saint Thomas, just as it is not the rebirth of Antiquity that constitutes the theology of the thirteenth century." The rebirth represents only one component of renewal: its impulse and its advance are attributed to "evangelism," as he calls it.

It goes without saying that it can never be philosophy that judges the validity of a theology: this judgment belongs only to the Word of God, while the same theology can judge the pertinence or lack thereof of a philosophy in contributing to the understanding of the faith.


Here, however, we are not interested in illustrating the relationship between philosophy and Christian theology, but in indicating the decision through which theology could and should receive a profound renewal or new arrangement: a decision that is unavoidable, because it is founded on the event from which emerges the faith, and therefore the "understanding of the faith."

This way is Christocentrism.

Truly, this is by no means a novelty. Christian theology has always had Jesus Christ at its center; it was born and developed from the event that is him.

But perhaps this original centrality requires a more rigorous, more consistent, and more complete translation. Above all beginning with the very definition of Christocentrism.

This does not signify only the excellence of Christ with respect to all the rest, but his predestination to be the unconditional reason for all that which God has called and calls into existence.

But other indispensable and essential clarifications are required. When one speaks of Christocentrism, one intends to affirm not only the primacy of the Word, but also the primacy or "precedence" in God's plan of the incarnate Word, who died and was raised, through whom, in whom, and in view of whom "were created all things in heaven and on earth, the visible and the invisible" (Colossians 1:15-17). Obviously, as a complement rather than an alternative to the Johannine perspective, according to which there is nothing that has not been made through the Word (John 1:3).

The "Preeminent over all things" (Colossians 1:18) is, precisely, the glorified Crucified One, who comes before everything and from whom everything departs. It is as if to say that Jesus the redeemer, with the grace of his forgiveness, is the ontological foundation and the historical motive of all things (cf. Colossians 1:17), the Object of God's eternal "purpose."

The first letter of Peter speaks of the "the precious blood of Christ as of a spotless unblemished lamb," "known before the foundation of the world," revealed in the final time" (1:19-20). And as for the prophets, it says that they were "investigating the time and circumstances that the Spirit of Christ within them indicated when it testified in advance to the sufferings destined for Christ and the glories to follow them" (1:11).

But if Jesus risen from the dead is the Predestined One, this means the figure of humanity originally conceived and "preferred" by God is the glorified humanity of the Son, the achievement to which all of history is oriented.

In it, all humanity finds its rationale and model: all men are predestined, created "in grace," or "predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he might be the firstborn among many brothers" (Romans 8:29).

We can define everything that we have described in the words of Paul: "the mystery of God that is Christ" (Colossians 2:2), or more precisely: "the wise mystery of God" that is "Christ crucified" (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:21,23).


So then, the task of theology is the exploration of this mystery. Those who dedicate themselves to it have the mission of "speaking God's wisdom, mysterious, hidden, which God predetermined before the ages" (1 Corinthians 2:7).

It is on this realism that Christian theology is built, with no interest in watering itself down in the world of hypothetical divine plans or designs. Only God knows what he could have done. Everything has been created in the grace of Jesus crucified and risen.

In particular, the nature of man was grounded on that grace. A "pure nature," for a "pure" and "natural" end, has never existed, and we can know nothing about it.

In fact, the "Original" that sacred doctrine intends to know above all, and therefore, the first object of theological interest, is the glorious Crucified One predestined from all time, and therefore, his life with its events, among which takes place the particularized manifestation of the eternal plan generated and motivated by the divine mercy.

In this sense, Christian theology is originally Christic: Christ risen from the dead describes and exhaustively offers all of his object. He is the Object that is to be understood, as the concrete and historical "narration" of the plan (cf. John 1:18). He is the dimension that Christology must take on.

But Christ does not stop at himself: he is the Son, and thus he refers to the Father, whom no one has seen and of whom he is the epiphany, and he is the attestation of the Spirit. In him is found the Trinity, which reveals itself as the creating and merciful Trinity, which stands at the origin of an order intended as an initiative of mercy.

This is the order that the theologian is called to study, which in particular concerns man, although he appears to be preceded, before his creation, by an angelic world already marked by Christ and by the decisions related to him: of acceptance, but also of rejection, or sin.

In particular, Christ unveils for us a God who, in his merciful love, gives the Son, predetermined as forgiveness for the sin of man, who in this way finds his advantage not in coming into the world, but in being redeemed. As Saint Ambrose writes, "Non prodesset nasci, nisi redimi profuisset" (Expositio evangelii secundum Lucam, II, 41-42).

Sacred doctrine, then, deals with anthropology, meaning man as existing solely as disposed in the grace and glory of the Cross: a grace and a glory at work in the sacraments, which Thomas Aquinas sees entirely suspended in the "energy of the passion of Christ" (Summa Theologiae, III, 62, 5, c).

So it is easy to see what ecclesiology deals with: precisely with the humanity that emerges from the Passover of Christ and finds itself configured and intimately associated with the Lord risen from the dead.

As for eschatology, this is the exploration of the glory and therefore of the achievement of the Crucified One: a glory that transcends and attracts history and is the end for which man and together with him all things were created and desired from eternity.

If it is true that Christian theology has always done this, I would in any case maintain that is is possible, even necessary, to refocus this in an even more consistent and profound way on Christocentrism. It is only from here that a strong, admirable impulse of renewal could come, which would be sought in vain elsewhere.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Ite ad Thomam: Hermeneutics of Discontinuity? JP2 vs. Florence on the Revocation of the Mosaic Covenant

Catholic Dualists

Original posted at The New Beginning. I'm reposting it here, with some small changes.

To deny that there are differences between men and women in how they think, materialists and feminsits must be "subtle" in attacking the data. (One strategem is to argue that since not all of one sex exhibit a trait to the nth degree that therefore this trait is not more exemplary of one sex than another. That is to say, a distribution curve is insufficient--one is needed is two distinct and sharp peaks.) In contrast, it is likely that Catholic egalitariansno matter how much they may criticize Descartes for being a father of modernity, must partially embrace a form of dualism that is similar to his if they are to dismiss the generalizations that have been made about the cognitive differences between men and women. They may claim to accept the hylomorphic account of the relation of soul to body, but on this point they become a dualists. They have to argue that because the soul is equal in all that all reason equally or in the same way.

They may acknowledge that there are differences in the exercise of the intellect or intellectual performance, as some are clearly more intelligent than others, but the power is the same in all. Now I think some distinctions need to be made. While the intellectual power may be the same in all, it is not exercised, in this life, by itself, but in conjunction with the sense powers. It is also influenced by other factors, such as one's emotions. The conjunction of body and soul is not something that is accidental to our way of reasoning in this life. That the body may have a regular (and not necessarily determintal) influence on how we reason may be part of God's design--sex differences in reasoning are "natural."

John Finnis is a Catholic egalitarian, and as far as I know, he has not written specifically about the soul or Descartes. But perhaps his egalitarianism is tied to his understanding of human dignity, and human dignity upon the spiritual nature of man.

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Dropping “Patriarch of the West” and changing titles of Roman Basilicas to “Papal”

See the comments for what some think the implications of these acts for Catholic ecclesiology are.