Posts Tagged ‘Martin Luther’

Why St. John Fisher Should be Named Doctor of the Church

Sunday, September 8th, 2013

The consummate Renaissance scholar Rev. Edward L. Surtz, SJ (1909-1973), one of the few to actually study the complete works in Latin and in English of St. John Fisher (1469-1535), maintained that St. John Fisher should be named a Doctor of the Church.

Fr. Surtz’s reasons included the key influence on the Catholic Counter-Reformation by Fisher’s Latin theological and controversial writings, which were more widely read on the European continent in their day than the predominantly English religious controversial writings of St. Thomas More. According to Fr. Surtz, St. John Fisher’s writings formed an important bridge between the Church Fathers, the Scholastics, and the Catholic Counter-Reformation. As Chancellor of Cambridge University, Fisher firmly established in English Universities the “new learning” of the classics, the Scriptures, and the Early Christian Writers in their original languages.

To those interested in the Reformation in England, and the Catholic Counter-Reformation, I cannot recommend highly enough Fr. Surtz’s book, The works and days of John Fisher an introduction to the position of St. John Fisher (1469-1535), Bishop of Rochester, in the English Renaissance and the Reformation.

Here is a short selection from Fr. Surtz’s argument for naming St. John Fisher a Doctor of the Church —

The purpose of this book is not to make a biographical study of Fisher but to see him against the intellectual background of the Renaissance and the Reformation. It tries to ascertain his precise position on such key points as the nature and function of a university, humanism and Scholasticism, Greek and Hebrew, corruption and reform, orthodoxy and heresy, faith and justification, grace and the sacraments, the Church and the pope, the bishops and the councils, priesthood and the laity, tradition and Scripture, and so on.

The term position implies personal relationships to his opponents and to his allies — and there were many of both, Catholics as well as Protestants. He had hardly ended his refutation of continental Reformers (especially Luther and Oecolampadius) when he himself became the target for English Reformers (such as Tyndale and Frith). The term position also involves connections with what comes before (the Schoolmen and the Fathers, now seen with new eyes) and with what comes after (the Council of Trent and theologians like Robert Bellarmine). In view of his writings he merits the title which undoubtedly will be awarded him in time: Doctor of the Church.

Surtz, Edward L. 1967. The works and days of John Fisher an introduction to the position of St. John Fisher (1469-1535), Bishop of Rochester, in the English Renaissance and the Reformation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, pp. v-vi. http://books.google.com/books?id=vyktAAAAMAAJ.

As a student at Loyola University, Chicago, in the last four years of Fr. Surtz’s life, I only recall once seeing him walking across campus. I greatly admired his scholarship at the time, and therefore am duty-bound to draw attention again to a conclusion he made after prodigious and lonely labor: that St. John Fisher should and would be named Doctor of the Church.

Much of the work of Catholic writers of the English Reformation remains either unknown or inaccessible in current language. Many of the Latin works of St. John Fisher still await a modern translation, not to mention the need for modern renderings of his English works. Here is a partial list of St. John Fisher’s writings.

Of St. John Fisher’s English writings, the following two books are the most accessible:

Fisher, John. 1998. Exposition of the seven penitential Psalms, in Modern English with an introduction by Anne Barbeau Gardiner, San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Fisher, John, and Cecilia A. Hatt. 2002. English works of John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester (1469-1535): sermons and other writings, 1520-1535. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The following more recent book by Richard Rex is of singular importance for understanding the significance of the thought of St. John Fisher:

Rex, Richard. 1991. The theology of John Fisher. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Sometimes a single scholarly witness such as Fr. Surtz (or Richard Rex) can open the eyes of the world to undiscovered or neglected truths. I do not want Fr. Surtz’s efforts to be forgotten! I therefore recommend that we listen to him, and ask and pray that St. John Fisher be named a Doctor of the Church.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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On Finally Finishing a Book from My Father Twenty-Five Years Later

Sunday, April 28th, 2013

Our family has an established tradition of passing books around as loaners or gifts, and a related running joke about not reading them. Then dangerously, we sometimes do read them!

My late father had a saying that “If you learned one thing” from reading a certain book or attending a course or a certain workshop, it was probably worth it.

I remember, on my father’s side of the family, both my grandfather’s and my father’s enthusiasm about certain classic self-help books in positive mental attitude tradition that I eventually dutifully and substantially read. My grandfather especially liked stories in the Horatio Alger spirit of success after adversity, and also relished various guaranteed cures for arthritis (these I read in my pre-teen years, and have served me in good stead).

Grandpa used the expression, “Go Getter,” to express his approval of a person who took initiative, then with great ceremony, gave his grandchildren a quarter (because we had not as yet learned the proverbial “Value of a Dollar”). If one remained at Grandpa’s side long enough, he would tell his life story, while also explaining the Gold Standard. I recently found what I think was the book by Peter Bernard Kyne from the early 1920s that popularized this expression, Go Getter.

On my mother’s side, my Canadian great-grandmother gave me a book, The Incredible Journey, that she absolutely loved, and I never absolutely finished. Our kids did love the movie, which I watched over and again with them through various Disney movie remakes over several decades. Their great-great grandmother would be very pleased. I suspect our grandchildren will soon watch one of these movies, thereby honoring the memory of their great-great-great grandmother.

In fact, so many were the books passed on to me in my youth that my father presented me the summer gift when I was fourteen of attending an Evelyn Wood Reading Dynamics course. During this course, I completed Albert Camus’ novel The Stranger in five minutes. (It’s about a man who killed an Arab on a beach, and who thought a lot about the meaning of life, right?) At my peak I was blazing along at thousands of words a minute, although this capacity has faded with the years and with the eyes. But I do recall how sad it was to read an entire comic book in a few seconds. . .

I must admit I used this speed-reading technique from time to time on books my Dad gave to me. In doing so, I performed two “Dad” acts at the same time. Our family does try to kill several birds with one stone whenever possible.

(I’m also reminded that my high school students over thirty years ago referred to Albert Camus as Famous Camus, to rhyme with a notable maker of chocolate chip cookies.)

A few weeks ago, while still recuperating from surgery, I more closely studied a book that my Dad gave to me twenty-five years ago, and to which I gave a quick skim then. This book is the Ratzinger Report (1985), based upon a series of interviews of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger with journalist Vittorio Messori, the first in the now genre of Joseph Ratzinger interview books in English, which continued to currently number four, the latter three–Salt of the Earth (1997), God and the World (2000), and Light of the World (2010)–being with journalist Peter Seewald. A similar kind of record, although comprised of addresses and correspondence, can be found in Without Roots: The West, Relativism, Christianity, and Islam (2006), by Joseph Ratzinger and Marcello Pera.

Joseph Ratzinger’s (Benedict XVI’s) interview books, while formal and not aphoristic in structure, provide something of a historic, theological, and cultural counterweight to Martin Luther’s informal and aphoristic Tischreden, or Table Talk, and now outnumber the corpus of Luther’s Tischreden by a page factor of almost four to one.

(Speaking of Luther, I chanced upon a bon mot quoted by the great Luther scholar Jaroslav Pelikan in his book, Whose Bible Is It?: A Short History of the Scriptures, in which he quotes the saying, “The Reformation began, so the saying went, when there was a pope on the seven hills of Rome, but now there were seven popes on every dunghill in Germany.”)

I have spent many hours reading (not speed-reading) the writings of Joseph Ratzinger over the past several decades, and can definitely number many more than “one thing” I learned from him. His gentle demeanor belies the prayerful depth and clarity of his insights and summations.

One key insight contained in the Ratzinger Report is an interpretation of the Vatican II concept of “People of God,” which has been popular since the Pastoral Constitution of the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes, and which seems to have dominated the theology of the Church after the Council.

“That’s true [said then Cardinal Ratzinger]. There was and there still is this emphasis, which in the Council texts, however, is balanced with others that complete it, a balance that has been lost with many theologians. Yet, contrary to what the latter think, in this way there is a risk of moving backward rather than forward. Here indeed is even the danger of abandoning the New Testament in order to return to the Old.

‘People of God’ in Scripture, in fact, is a reference to Israel in its relationship of prayer and fidelity to the Lord. But to limit the definition of the Church to that expression [People of God] means not to give understanding to the New Testament understanding of the Church in its fullness. Here ‘People of God’ actually refers always to the Old Testament element of the Church, to her continuity with Israel.

But the Church receives her New Testament character more distinctively in the concept of the ‘Body of Christ’. One is Church and one is a member thereof, not through sociological adherence, but precisely through incorporation in this Body of the Lord through baptism and the Eucharist.

Behind the concept of the Church as the People of God, which has been so exclusively thrust into the foreground today, hide influences of ecclesiologies which de facto revert to the Old Testament; and perhaps also political, partisan, and collectivist influences. In reality, there is no truly New Testament, Catholic concept of Church without a direct and vital relation not only with sociology but first of all with christology. The Church does not exhaust herself in the ‘collective’ of believers: being the ‘Body of Christ’ she is much more than the simple sum of her members.”

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, 1985, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, pp. 46-47. Paragraphing above mine.

Then Cardinal Ratzinger’s words on the limitations of the expression “People of God,” and his preference for the simultaneous use of the expression “Body of Christ” along with “People of God,” sum up the fundamental difference between those with a mere political interpretation of Vatican II, as opposed to an integration of the social and the sacramental. I agree with Joseph Ratzinger that the Church is definitely more than the sum of her members, and that using the phrase People of God exclusively without also invoking the Body of Christ is to rely substantially upon pre-Gospel traditions. The People of God and the Body of Christ belong together not only when describing the Church, but when witnessing to Christ as part of His Church. This theology of combining the social with the sacramental is very similar to that of Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, of whom I’ve written previously.

On a different note, one of the theological questions that has returned to me throughout my life is the question of the Fall and of the necessity for Redemption, in other words, What happened after Creation that was so bad that it required Christ to have to suffer, die, and rise to save us?

The question of the Fall is one that Joseph Ratzinger has expressed the wish to write about in retirement because of its critical importance. Here is his answer to a question about the Fall from 1985:

“The biblical narrative of the origins does not relate events in the sense of modern historiography, but rather, it speaks through images. It is a narrative that reveals and hides at the same time. But the underpinning elements are reasonable, and the reality of the dogma must at all events be safeguarded. The Christian would be remiss toward his brethren if he did not proclaim the Christ who first and foremost brings redemption from sin; if he did not proclaim the reality of the alienation (the ‘Fall’) and, at the same time, he did not proclaim that, in order to effect a restoration of our original nature, a help from outside is necessary; if he did not proclaim that the insistence upon self-realization, upon self-salvation does not lead to redemption, but to destruction; finally, if he did not proclaim that, in order to be saved, it is necessary to abandon oneself to Love.”

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger with Vittorio Messori, The Ratzinger Report: An Exclusive Interview on the State of the Church, 1985, San Francisco, Ignatius Press, pg 81.

The questions of the Fall (What was it?) and of Redemption (Why was Christ’s Death and Resurrection necessary?) remain challenging indeed. But I very much like Cardinal Ratzinger’s point that we must realize that we cannot save ourselves, and that to be saved we must abandon ourselves to Love.

So, although, it’s twenty-five years too late, I thank my late father again for the book (I did thank him back then as well). Had he not given it to me, I would not have encountered the holy wisdom imparted by Pope Emeritus Joseph Ratzinger.

That’s the nice thing about a book as a gift. It patiently waits for one to tolle, lege, to take and to read.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Why Clergy Matter on Life Issues

Saturday, March 17th, 2012

After my post on Dietrich Bonhoeffer on Abortion as Murder, I searched the web for any evidence of the positive impact of Bonhoeffer’s condemnation of abortion.

I found a range of responses, but two common statements: One was that some persons who encountered Bonhoeffer’s condemnation of abortion (many have independently found this condemnation over the past several months) were in a powerful way convicted by it. Some reported breaking into tears, and experiencing a deep moment of conversion against the sin of abortion. In another response however, after a short pause barely considering Bonhoeffer’s words, one writer concluded that it still OK for Christians to be pro-choice on abortion because Archbishop Desmond Tutu was also pro-choice.

Clergy and their opinions do matter on life issues. If one clergy member of public standing and respect allows for fundamental injustice like abortion, the social acceptability of abortion grows, and it continues to proliferate. The responsibility of the clergy on this question is therefore profound. In this regard the strong unity of the U.S. Catholic Bishops on the HHS mandate on sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception is thus so rare and remarkable.

Images of clergy standing almost completely alone against opposition are iconic in Christian culture, and such a designation is often claimed by a wide variety of clergy standing in contradiction to each other. From St. Cyril of Jerusalem, to Martin Luther, to St. John Fisher, to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, and even to Chicago’s Msgr. Reynold Hillenbrand, clergy sometimes stand alone in moral witness, if only among their own congregations and among their own circle of (sometimes former) friends.

While the lonely clerical witness is an authentic Christian cultural icon, it sometimes degrades to media cliche: every media story of clerical dissent from orthodoxy appears to grant lonely Christian witness status to the clerical media darling or stock background commentator of the moment.

But solitary witness does not in and of itself manifest truth: Judas Iscariot also stood alone, and in the end, completely alone.

Perhaps the most dramatic flip of a moral position on abortion was that of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., who telegrammed to the U.S. Congress in 1977–

AS A MATTER OF CONSCIENCE I MUST OPPOSE THE USE OF FEDERAL FUNDS FOR A POLICY OF KILLING INFANTS.

(Source: Colman McCarthy, “Jackson’s Reversal on Abortion,” Washington Post, 5/21/88, p. A27.)

–and who then announced a pro-choice position on abortion when he chose to run for President in 1984.

Thanks to Edwin Black’s well-documented book, War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, the work of the National Black Catholic Congress, and such popular media as the film Maafa 21, which have helped make African Americans aware of Margaret Sanger’s genocidal “Negro Project,” more clergy, with the notable exceptions of Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and Rev. Michael Pfleger, have spoken out publicly against abortions, especially in the African American community. (BTW, the Wikipedia entry for Negro Project has been moved into the Margaret Sanger wiki article, and scrubbed of the devastating case against Sanger that Edwin Black and others have so well documented.)

As I’ve written previously, abortion viciously and arbitrarily violates a person out of existence at that person’s supreme point of innocence and defenselessness.

In order to justify abortion, one must violate so many truths and moral principles, opening the door for the logic of violence and infanticide, that no effective tenets remain to protect innocent life in society. By accepting abortion, one immediately commits to some form of moral relativism. Widespread acceptance of abortion undermines the shared values of a life-affirming, and in the end, peacefully free society based upon shared values rather than force.

When the Christian history of this period is written, the names Jesse Jackson Sr. and Desmond Tutu for their pro-choice stands for abortion, and Michael Pfleger for his substantial public silence on the issue–unless they change their positions–despite their present public acclaim, stand to be marred for generations. I hope these men–and the many Catholic clergy who, unlike their bishops, remain silent on abortion–do change their minds and publicly stand for life, for the sake of eternity.

The clergy’s responsibility on matters of life is not only profound, but grave:

Nor shall you stand by idly when your neighbor’s life is at stake.
(Leviticus 19: 15)

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Aphorism XXXIX

Sunday, September 11th, 2011

There are just four problems with New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s decision to keep religious leaders and thereby religion out of the 9/11 tenth year memorial on 9/11/11:

America the Beautiful, God Bless America, The Battle Hymn of the Republic, and the Star Spangled Banner, which all invoke God and religion.

The fourth verse of the national anthem:

Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved home and the war’s desolation!
Blest with victory and peace, may the heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: “In God is our trust.”
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!

If Mr. Bloomberg allows any one of these songs to be sung before, during, or after the 9/11 memorial, he will negate his own stance against public religious expression. And if he doesn’t allow any of these songs to be sung, Michael Bloomberg may have only crowned himself as the biggest darned un-American fool in public life.

Mayor Bloomberg has drawn attention to the place of religion in public life far more dramatically than any religious leader could have dreamed of doing.

If you want a religious alternative to Mayor Bloomberg’s “godless” 9/11 memorial, you might join the 9/11 memorial Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral at 4PM Eastern time, 9/11/11, also being broadcast on EWTN worldwide, with a rebroadcast scheduled for 12AM ET, 9/12/11. Here is the unofficial text of Archbishop Timothy Dolan’s 9/11/11 homily.

Postscript:

In the end, the name of God was invoked many times during the New York 9/11 memorial. Filling the role of high priest of the American state religion, President Obama spoke and read Psalm 46, which invokes the God of Jacob, an image of God more proper to Judaism and Christianity than to Islam. Former President George W. Bush quoted Abraham Lincoln:

“I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom.”

Flutist Emi Ferguson played Amazing Grace. James Taylor sang “You can close your eyes.” Paul Simon performed the “Sounds of Silence.”

I’m still looking to see if any Muslim was allowed a prominent opportunity to speak or to make a gesture. If not, this was an historic opportunity for reconciliation and good will deferred.

Psalm 46 is a powerful and stern prayer, invoking the name of the “Lord of Hosts” (a warlike term loved by Martin Luther and for Simone Weil a stumbling block), but I would have loved to have heard the following at the memorial:

But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust.
Matthew 5:44-45

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Simone Weil in the YOUCAT; Did Weil Help Consign Limbo to the Shadows?

Monday, September 5th, 2011

A Simone Weil quote–

“Prayer is nothing other than attention in its purest form.”

Simone Weil (1909-1943, French political activist, philosopher, and mystic).

–has made it onto page 270 the YOUCAT, the Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church.

This inclusion is not a surprise. Popes from John XXIII forward have been known to have read Simone Weil.

Angelo Roncalli, the future Blessed John XXIII, when posted in Paris from 1944, was so moved by Weil’s writing that he wrote a letter to her mother Selma Weil and told Weil’s friend and contemporary Maurice Schumann that “he loved her soul.” Paul VI named Weil, along with Pascal and Bernanos, as a critical intellectual influence. Blessed John Paul II cited Weil as “a daughter of Israel who fell under the spell of Christ” in a statement to the Franciscans, while Benedict XVI quoted her in an address to artists. Weil appears here and several dozen other places on the Vatican website.

In her Letter to a Priest, Weil aired her revulsion with the notion of Limbo, and could not countenance the idea that innocent infants dying without baptism would be consigned to such a state. It is not unlikely that Weil’s strenuous rejection of Limbo, known to several popes, influenced the Vatican’s 2007 International Theological Commission document, The Hope of Salvation for Infants Who Die Without Being Baptized, written at Benedict XVI’s behest, which entrusted unbaptized infants not to Limbo, but to the infinite mercy of God. Limbo had already been omitted from the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

My seminary friend Ken Trainor, in his 8/31/11 US Catholic website blog, stated:

As far as I know, only one Pope in the history of the Catholic Church ever set anything loose: Pope John XXIII when he called for a Second Vatican Council and threw open the windows of a bound up church in order to “let in a little fresh air.”

But Benedict XVI’s action on pulling the rug out from under the concept of Limbo is definitely such a “loosing” as well, as are the actions of several previous popes to reject heresies that called for spiritual practices that were stricter than Catholicism, such as Donatism and Jansenism.

I’d like to think that Simone Weil had a little bit to do with the Vatican’s stance on Limbo in 2007. It is just like “Romanitas” to take a while to react, sixty-five years after Weil’s Letter to a Priest!

One final note: The late British actor Peter Sellers is also quoted (“The closest thing to a father confessor is probably a bartender”) in the YOUCAT, as are Martin Luther and numerous others. The YOUCAT is a very lively entry into Catholicism.

© Copyright 2011, Albert J. Schorsch, III
All Rights Reserved

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