Posts Tagged ‘St. Thomas Aquinas’

Podcast on St. Thomas Aquinas from 1/28/15, From Herring to Prudence

Monday, September 7th, 2015

I presented free talk entitled “St. Thomas Aquinas: From Herring to Prudence,” at the St. John Paul II Newman Center on Wednesday, January 28, 2015, after evening Mass at the St. John Paul II Newman Center Library, 700 S. Morgan St. Chicago, info@schoolofcatholicthought.org, 312-226-1880.

Here’s the link for the podcast.

© Copyright 2015, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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The views posted at sanityandsocialjustice.net are those of Albert J. Schorsch, III, alone, and not those of any of his employers, past or present.

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Watch the Film Katyn

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

The 2007 Polish film Katyn, directed by Andrzej Wajda, which chronicles the 1940 Soviet massacre of about 22,000 Polish officers and intelligentsia at three different locations, is now available on Youtube with English subtitles. I highly recommend the viewing of this sombre and telling film. The end of the film is one of utmost violence, so I forewarn the sensitive.

In 1990, Mikhail Gorbachev and a number of authorities admitted that Stalin and the Soviet leadership were responsible for ordering the Katyn massacre, after 50 years of Soviet lies, suppression, exile, and execution of the relatives of the victims and of those who brought the truth forward.

During World War II, both Churchill and FDR and their administrations hid the truth about Katyn in order to keep the alliance with Stalin. Generations were compromised by the lies of Katyn.

The story of Katyn reveals the truth about history, politics, and of the amazing Polish people, to whom civilization owes a debt.

How anyone could remain a Marxist-Leninist communist after Katyn proves St. Thomas Aquinas’ theory of invincible ignorance.

More can be learned about the film Katyn here.

Here is an update on Katyn documentation from RT News.

If you are not afraid of the painful truth, watch this film.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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An American Professor Who Sent a Colleague to Death in the Gulag

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

The witticism attributed to Henry Kissinger that academic quarrels are so intense because there is so little at stake does not reveal the sometimes life-and-death nature of such disputes. Universities have been the hotbed of conflict since their founding. King Louis IX sent in the royal archers in 1255 to quell attacks against the Dominican friars prior to the seating of St. Thomas Aquinas at the University of Paris. History provides many other examples of riots and mayhem at universities. Occasionally, one learns of acts of deliberate murder.

I recently found a striking example of an American academic who wrote his friends in the Soviet Union circa 1927 complaining about a visiting professor who was then arrested upon return to Russia, and later sent to the Gulag and ultimately to his death.

The victim was a friend of Pitirim Alexanderovich Sorokin, one of the greatest sociologists of the 20th Century, born of a nomadic tribe called the Komi in the north-east of European Russia, who was by 1927 working at the University of Minnesota. He invited a fellow Komi, a noted economist named Nikolai Dmitriyevich Kondratiev, to visit the University of Minnesota. Here’s the story of Kondratiev’s demise, from Sorokin’s colleague Carle G. Zimmerman:

Kondratieff (sic), an agricultural economist and student of business cycles, visited Minnesota in 1927 and stayed with Sorokin. A number of prominent American scientists were pro-communist at the time. One was a forester at the Ag campus where I had an office. He upbraided me for associating with Sorokin and Kondratieff and told me he was going to send a report about Kondratieff back to Russia. Later I learned that Kondratieff was arrested immediately after returning to Russia from the trip to see American universities. However, he was not given the final “treatment” until the Stalinist purges of 1931.

Sorokin, the World’s Greatest Sociologist: His Life and Ideas on Social Time and Change, University of Saskatchewan Sorokin Lectures No. 1, 1968, p. 19.

Both Profs. Sorokin and Zimmerman moved from Minnesota to Harvard, where they achieved great distinction, and Minnesota lost thereby the corresponding opportunity for such distinction.

I find the story above a rather amazing example of how an unnamed American Stalinist true-believer professor contributed ultimately to the death of a distinguished colleague.

So perhaps academic squabbles are not so inconsequential after all. . .

I’ve added some of the information above to the Wikipedia page for Kondratiev, so history can remember. Here is the permanent Wikipedia link for my changes, just in case this information is vandalized or removed from the Wikipedia article.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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On Reading the “Treatise on Law” of St. Thomas Aquinas

Monday, September 23rd, 2013

It would be difficult to consider the question of social justice without considering the notion of the common good and its relationship to law.

The following terse statement written sometime from the 1260s to the 1270s irrevocably linked the notion of the common good to the definition of law:


Et sic ex quatuor praedictis potest colligi definitio legis, quae nihil est aliud quam quaedam rationis ordinatio ad bonum commune, ab eo qui curam communitatis habet, promulgata.

And so from the four traits that have been mentioned, we can put together a definition of law: Law is (a) an ordinance (ordinatio) of reason, (b) for the common good, (c) made by one who is in charge of the community, and (d) promulgated.

St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, First Part of the Second Part (I-II), Question 90, Article 4, Translated by Alfred J. Freddoso.

http://www.thomasinternational.org/projects/step/treatiseonlaw/delege090_4.htm, accessed 9/22/13.

Drawing in this case from St. Isidore of Seville, as well as from Classical, early Christian, Scriptural, and throughout his writings from a wide variety of his own contemporary sources, including Jewish and Islamic, St. Thomas Aquinas summarized, synthesized, and structured a moral, rational, practical, and communal basis for law that extends beyond what a mere summary of his presentation might reveal.

That is why I highly recommend that those interested in deepening their understanding simply “step into the water” and read into the thomasinternational.org presentation of the “Treatise on Law,” very nicely presented in several languages at that website.

What can be learned from a document on law that is hundreds of years old?

One is a deeper understanding of the relationship between human reason, both practical and what we would today call “theoretical” (and what translators of Aquinas call “speculative”), and the common good as a product of human action.

A second is the series of linkages that Aquinas establishes between human practical reason and the common good. These linkages involve natural law, which informs human-made law.

When the law appeals to “common sense” by any measure, despite popular modern rejection of any natural law, the law is appealing to natural law as Aquinas defined it.

Human-made law devoid of common sense toward the common good, and thus a linkage of practical reason with the common good–Aquinas’ natural law–is practically useless.

A third is the role of the Divine Law, both the Old Law (based, in St. Augustine’s memorable turn of phrase, upon “timor” or fear) and the New Law (based upon “amor” or love) in informing human action toward the common good.

The Divine Law and natural law inform human-made law. Both Divine Law and natural law lead us to direct human-made law toward the common good.

A law that is not made for the common good is unjust.

Few writers clarify and stimulate the mind as does Aquinas. I invite my readers to jump in!

I’ll have more on this topic after several more readings. But I will say this: those who try to merely boil down Aquinas to a catechism or a series of lists without wrestling with his dynamic and insightful mind miss being taught by him to live the Christian and intellectual life more fully and dynamically. Each time I turn to St. Thomas Aquinas, he wakes me up to something I never saw or never understood.

For more resources on reading and studying the works of St. Thomas Aquinas, try this link.

And just how does one measure whether a law or government action benefits the common good? A much longer answer is in the works. . .

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Family Inequality in Search of Better Science

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

One very perceptive critic of those social scientists who still dare to defend what has come to be called “traditional marriage” is Professor Philip N. Cohen, sociologist of the University of Maryland, College Park.

Prof. Cohen’s blog, familyinequality.wordpress.com, is entertaining, current, and thought-provoking. He does a good job of pointing out the scientific lapses of those with whom he disagrees. Having a nemesis like Prof. Cohen challenges the level of performance of those with a differing point of view. Unfortunately, a number of thinkers who disagree with Prof. Cohen do not possess the level of mastery necessary to do so effectively.

Then again, Prof. Cohen appears to be a better critic than he is himself a scientific master–not that that will matter in terms of his academic success or current reputation, since today’s academic success gravitates toward the politically correct.

Prof. Cohen has chosen a very safe niche within academia, serving as a critic of the traditional, and does not yet appear ready to challenge the fundamental assumptions of both the traditional and the progressive. Were he to do so, he might become a great scientist whose works would be read for centuries. He certainly appears to have the fundamental talent.

But Prof. Cohen also appears to currently have a number of deficiencies as a rigorous thinker. I’ve chanced upon what appear to be recurrent fallacies in this analysis, including the genetic, misplaced concreteness, petitio principii, just to name a few. These subtle parlor tricks are academic stock in trade, and may dazzle the students, and unfortunately, some peers, but they don’t get us closer to truth. Prof. Cohen’s knowledge of the philosophic pitfalls of the social sciences does not appear magisterial by any means. His arguments are sometimes one-sided, not taking both sides of the ledger of costs and benefits into account, but flipping from one to another depending on the argument. He also does not appear to have mastered systemic, supply chain, or input-output analysis. Prof. Cohen informs, but does not yet enlighten.

I’ve just read about a recently-deceased judge who made it a practice to have her clerks draft findings both for and against plaintiffs. It was only after reflection upon such a rigorous inquiry that the judge rendered the final decision (easier for the judge to delegate than the judge to do!). This approach is similar, of course, to that of St. Thomas Aquinas, who regularly made better arguments for the opposition than the opposition did in his own pursuit of the truth.

Were a scientist like Prof. Cohen to equally divide his or her time for say, a year, between rigorously (and publicly) criticizing scientific papers on the family that were funded by both traditional and progressive foundations, not only would I admire him for his bravery and integrity, but he might help raise the bar across the social sciences, which, no matter who is funding, is still set pretty low.

It is one thing to publicly criticize research funded by family-focused foundations, it is another to publicly–not simply in anonymous peer review–criticize research funded by the very foundations that might fund you yourself. A great scientist eventually achieves the independence to do both.

For a clever critic like Prof. Cohen, finding social scientific lapses is like shooting fish in a barrel, since scientific lapses abound. But he still appears to lack the philosophic mastery to advance the science of the family as science. And I’m not sure which social scientist would dare bite the hand that feeds him or her just for the sake of mere science or mere truth.

Our civilization, such as it is, does desperately need to have an independent scientific community disengaged from political factions. But it is easier these days to be an advocate. These academic cheering sections get funded all the time by different camps of the culture wars. I hope Prof. Cohen, and those of equal or greater talent, become great scientists instead.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Did God Finally Get a Thumbs Up from Roger Ebert? Or Is It the Other Way Around?

Friday, April 5th, 2013

Of the many fine essays that the late Roger Ebert wrote, three have interested me in particular.

The first was his 2013 post How I am a Roman Catholic, written only about a month prior to his death. The second was his 2009 post How I Believe in God. The third was his 2009 extended essay My Name is Roger and I’m an Alcoholic.

In all of these essays, Mr. Ebert refused to commit to belief in God, but he also refused to finalize his view. He as well rejected the label of atheist or agnostic. Despite Mr. Ebert’s lack of belief in God, he stated firmly instead that he was Catholic.

On several occasions, Mr. Ebert would mention how much he learned from his grade school nuns about trying to believe, and about asking God for help to do so. His recollections reminded me of the particularly striking statement by my seventh grade teacher, Sister M. Danile, OSF, then a Rochester Franciscan, who quoted Revelation 3:16 (not John 3:16) to us:

Because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.

Revelation 3:16, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

Sr. Danile, who had tough love totally down, was also perhaps, retrospectively, among the most contemplative and deeply loving of my grade school teachers at St. Priscilla School in Chicago. [I have earlier written about my music teacher, Sr. Catherine Cecile Dwerlkotte].

By these words I mean, having been a teacher myself, that I have reflected on Sr. Danile’s pedagogy many a time over the past decades, and have concluded that Sr. Danile could only have said the tough and yet humorous things she said to us–and she said them by design–because she loved us students very deeply and completely and had obviously thought and prayed about what she taught us. I am sure that she spiritually struggled for us. I remember her as a living Beatitude: as pure of heart. Often I pray for her, in thankfulness for her witness.

So one day Sr. Danile made a special point of letting us know that we were put on earth to decide about God, and to commit one way or another. We could not be lukewarm, because Jesus Himself, as meek and gentle as He could be, would spit us out.

What a hard saying! But Sr. Danile specialized in delivering the hard sayings.

Perhaps Roger Ebert did not have the benefit of a Sr. Danile. While on a day to day basis Mr. Ebert did not fail to quickly give movies either a thumbs up or down, until quite near his own end he appeared to keep giving God a thumbs sideways.

Mr. Ebert surprised many by his March, 2013 blog which upheld the rights of a child conceived in rape. This conclusion followed his deep sense of fairness.

His reviews (e.g., Of Gods and Men, For Greater Glory) indicated that he saw Christian martyrdom as a waste. There was something about the sacrificial in Catholicism that challenged him deeply.

Roger Ebert shared very honestly (and simply) that he didn’t believe in God. He tried. He looked up at the stars, and wondered. But he couldn’t commit, at least as of March, 2013.

Mr. Ebert tried to come to terms with God. We should pray for him, and none but God can judge him. All of us depend on God’s mercy.

Like some contemporary Christians, Mr. Ebert apparently had little use for Blessed John Paul II and Benedict XVI, or, more correctly, he only felt an affinity for Blessed John XXIII. In those places where Mr. Ebert very publicly rejected Catholic teaching, and there were several, I do differ with him.

But I have a theory that Roger Ebert didn’t want to give God a thumbs up until he had lived through the whole movie. Like St. Thomas the Apostle, another very visual man, Mr. Ebert may have had to see it all for himself first. This is in keeping with the famous line of St. Paul in I Corinthians 13:12

At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known.

I Corinthians 13:12, New American Bible, USCCB website, accessed 4/5/13

St. Thomas Aquinas posited that we have a natural desire for the Beatific Vision, a desire to see God, called by Aquinas the desire for aliqua contemplatio divinorum. [Please see a related in-depth reflection on this natural desire by the Epistole blog here.] Roger Ebert seemed to have this desire. He stated that often he loved the questions.

But Roger Ebert’s statements also came dangerously close to the parodies of diffident believers in C.S. Lewis’s masterful short fantasy, The Great Divorce, each of whom condemned themselves for eternity. Several of Lewis’s parodied spirits thought the decision about God was all about them, and not about them asking God instead to reach out to help them.

Another way of putting C.S. Lewis’s point in The Great Divorce is that we are called to accept that God is our judge, and that we are not God’s judge: more directly, to accept that God is God, and that we are not.

None of us, except his dear family and loved ones, are privy to the final weeks and days of Roger Ebert. None of us will know, unless revealed to us by God, what goes on in another’s soul in the final hour of death. One very nice thing about gradual death is that as our strength goes, so often we come closer to the point of surrender to the Divine. I’ve read that Mr. Ebert’s last gesture was a smile. This seems to be a very consoling sign.

But it also would be just like Roger Ebert to have the surprise, thriller ending. I hope he didn’t cut it too close. I hope that the Devil was not in the side view mirror, for as we all know, objects there are actually closer than they appear.

Sr. Danile taught me years ago that it is God, and not us, who gives the final thumbs up. The very next year, Sr. M. Martin, OSF, exhorted us not to be a “doubting Thomas.” Easier said than done! Lord, help my unbelief. . .

Jesus said to him, “Have you come to believe because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.”

John 20:29, New American Bible, USCCB website, access 4/5/13

Some think there is no place in the Roman Catholic Church for those who, like Mr. Ebert, accept the Church in general, but openly do not accept God, or do not accept his or that Church teaching. But we might reflect that the Church is called Holy Mother Church for a reason: this Mother, wed to Christ, holds her arms ever open offering life, love, and salvation.

We, however, must ultimately–and thus for eternity–decide whether to accept the love of the Church and the love of God.

May Roger Ebert’s soul, and the souls of all the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

© Copyright 2013, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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79 Years Later, Big Media Discovers, Dr. Donohue Hammers, the Catholic Worker

Monday, May 28th, 2012

For the better part of fourscore years, major media did not generally refer to the Catholic Worker movement (1933- ) by its proper name when it caused a ruckus, but as the generic “radical group.” This changed on 5/14/12, when Catholic Worker activists staged a nonviolent protest at Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago just prior to the 5/20 – 5/21/12 NATO Summit, and thereby garnered some of the first international media attention prior to the Summit.

Man in Catholic Worker T-Shirt with Chicago Police, Source: www.theblaze.com

This action also drew the interest of media commentator Glenn Beck, who like many others over the past eighty years (and many Catholic Workers themselves) wondered what the heck the Catholic Worker movement was. He therefore turned to Dr. Bill Donohue, the president of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, for background on the Catholic Worker movement.

As one who supports both the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights and also contributes to the Catholic Worker, I was disappointed in Dr. Donahue’s rant on the 5/15/12 Glenn Beck show against some Catholic Worker activists (see about halfway down the linked page) for their demonstration against war at Barack Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago on 5/14/12. Here are some excerpts from the exchange between Mr. Beck and Dr. Donohue:

G. Beck: Tell me about this group.

B. Donohue: Yes, the Catholic Worker Movement began in 1933. A woman by the name of Dorothy Day–she was fairly radical at the time, and she traveled in some kind of left-wing circles. However, in fairness to her, she made some mistakes, I mean, at one point she had an abortion which she later regretted very deeply. She did reach out to the poor and she did include drug addicts and prostitutes and others, she took in people others would not.

GB: [uncertain reading] And so did Jesus. . .

BD: She was a strong opponent of the New Deal. She believed that Catholics had to go out and help each person personally, and not depend on the government, which would in fact would create a state of dependency. So to that extent by today’s markings she would be regarded as being somewhat conservative, quite unlike the ragtag band today that has slapped the name Catholic on their anarchism.

GB: OK, Dorothy Day is kind of a tough one because, I mean, I read the book [holds up Dr. Donohue’s book], and you know, you find out that she is against New Deal and you find out that she has a problem with it because it is government dependency, but she also married an anarchist and she is–I believe–I didn’t have a chance to check today–but I think that Obama and everybody else has done a big deal on Dorothy Day, and she’s a hero of the Uber Left. Is she just a, has she just been co-opted? — kind of like Dietrich Bonhoeffer has been co-opted by the Left–and he’s not a Lefty.

BD: No, she’s definitely been co-opted. Listen, the late John Cardinal O’Connor was a great man–and he was hardly some kind of screaming socialist–and he put her on the cause to sainthood. She was a good woman. She admitted she had made mistakes in the past. She wouldn’t be too happy, in fact, she’s got to be turning over in her grave to see that these people who are out there with the Occupy Wall Street people: they have no organization; they stand for nothing.

As a matter of fact–Glenn, just pick it up from here–They want a week without capitalism. The old Marxists would have said we want an eternity with socialism. They can’t sell socialism because it’s failed all over the globe. So all they want to do now is, like nihilists, they want to annihilate. They want to rip down capitalism. They don’t have a single blueprint to put in its place.

She actually did pay her dues. She went out there one-on-one to help the poor. These people all they do is they throw up their tents, they sing, they dance, they take over buildings and the like. They have nothing in common with Dorothy Day. They are a disgrace. And on top of that they’re in the wrong religion. We are not a pacifistic religion. They’re against NATO. I’m a veteran and the president of the Catholic League. I’m glad we have NATO, and I want a stronger NATO.

GB: OK, so, here’s the problem, Bill, and I’m so glad to have you on because you’ve got to go to the source, instead of, you know, you don’t, you don’t talk to the Chevy dealer about a Ford. Let’s talk to the Catholics about the Catholics. I see this, and I think the average non-Catholic sees this and says, What are the Catholics doing?

It’s just like, you know, you have the nun, I don’t remember her name, but she came out–was it Sr. Jean, or something–and she came out and she said, Hey, Obamacare is great, and you’re like: What are the Catholics doing now? But there is a real split in the Church. Do you know anything specifically about this group because, these guys, they’re communists.

BD: Yeah, they’re, I would call them more like anarchists, communists, whatever. A communist at least had a blueprint–they were totally flawed–but at least they had some idea where they thought [we] could take it. These people just want to tear down. They’re more like brats who see the Erector Set and they just want to destroy it, they don’t want to put up anything in its place. There’s nothing Catholic about them. They’re a ragtag group. They don’t have any board of directors. They have no headquarters. They could just slap the name Catholic on there and the media will give them that attention.

And you know what? They have a bipolar age distribution. In other words, there’s the very young, the ones in their twenties, who are very angry, they don’t want to get a job, and then the others who are about maybe six to twelve months away from assisted living.

GB: OK, so (laughter) you don’t mince any words. What you’re saying is that they’re the 60s hippies. . .

BD: That’s right.

GB: The radicals, and the twenty-somethings that they have co-opted. . .

BD: That’s right.

GB: Which is what, which is exactly what what we’re seeing in the universities.

BD: That’s exactly right. Everyone else has a job, they’re normal, they go to work. You have a generation of young people obviously in their twenties who don’t seem to want to, you know, get in step with the rest of us and get a job, or maybe they can’t get a job. And then you’ve got the old hippies who are out there, some of them are Catholic, some of them are Protestant, or Jewish, whatever they might be. They have more in common with each other certainly than the rank and file Catholics who go to church on Sunday and pay the bills for the Catholic Church. I guarantee its been a long time since these people ever went to church–and gave any money.

Which, take a look at the work of Arthur Brooks and others, the people on the Left are the ones who give the least amount of money to the poor. And there’s a reason for that. They think they have a right to pick the pocket of the rich and that’s the way to help the poor.

Dorothy Day knew better. You have the help them out one-on-one, and not just rip off the poor and say, My job is done. These people are a disgrace.

Source: Glenn Beck Program, 5/15/12, posted at www.theblaze.com, viewed 5/16/12

Now Dr. Donohue has a tough job fending off misleading SNAP attacks on the Catholic Church, defending good popes past and present against vicious slander, standing up for religious freedom especially on the HHS Mandate, and responding to a general cultural war against Catholic teaching and values–all this from the epicenter of New York, New York–and I support him and the Catholic League in his defense of the faith–but this time on the Catholic Worker he got it wrong.

Almost everything that Dr. Donahue said of the present-day Catholic Workers could also be–and was–said of Dorothy Day in her own time. She embraced both a form of Acts 2: 42-47 communism, an anarchism inspired by Peter Kropotkin, and a form of personalist pacifism. Each May for the past several decades, the Catholic Worker newspaper has republished its “aims and means” describing these positions.

As for whether Catholicism is a pacifistic religion, consider the famous words spoken by Servant of God Pope Paul VI on the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4, 1965 at the United Nations. The original French conveys some of the emotional power of Paul VI’s statement:

Il suffit de rappeler que le sang de millions d’hommes, que des souffrances inouïes et innombrables, que d’inutiles massacres et d’épouvantables ruines sanctionnent le pacte qui vous unit, en un serment qui doit changer l’histoire future du monde: jamais plus la guerre, jamais plus la guerre! C’est la paix, la paix, qui doit guider le destin des peuples et de toute l’humanité!

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651004_united-nations_fr.html

It is enough to recall that the blood of millions, countless unheard-of sufferings, useless massacres and frightening ruins have sanctioned the agreement that unites you with an oath that ought to change the future history of the world: never again war, never again war! It is peace, peace, that has to guide the destiny of the nations of all mankind!

http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/paul_vi/speeches/1965/documents/hf_p-vi_spe_19651004_united-nations_en.html

Paul VI’s very historic speech, one of the first by a pope outside the Vatican in the modern era, is especially notable for the pro-life language in the final paragraphs. Some day Paul VI will be recognized as the visionary he was. Although the Catholic Church teaches a just war theory in the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2307-2317, the Church on a daily basis preaches, like Paul VI, to end almost every war.

It is therefore not surprising that some Catholics, especially young adults, take this message of peace literally.

Although doing so for often different reasons from those of the socialists or communists, Dorothy Day as a Catholic Worker attended many demonstrations that outraged the Catholics of her day as much as Dr. Donahue is outraged by the Catholic Workers joining with the Occupy movement in demonstrating in Chicago during the May 20-21, 2012 NATO Summit.

And as for being ragtag, believe me, the 5/14/12 demonstration Catholic Workers were no more nor less ragtag than Stanley Vishnewski, Dorothy Day’s first fabled ragtag disciple of thousands to follow.

For more background on the particular Catholic Worker group involved in the 5/14/12 demonstration, here’s an earlier article from Loyola Magazine on the White Rose Catholic Worker community in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago. Here’s also information from the Nuclear Resister pacifist blog on the 5/14/12 demonstration.

I have my own criticism of the Catholic Worker philosophy, and it is one shared with the late Msgr. Paul Hanly Furfey (1896-1992) of Catholic University of America in Washington, DC, the pioneering dean of Catholic priest sociologists (Full disclosure: Fr. Furfey and I corresponded for many years beginning in the late 1970s). While he is often considered a “Catholic Worker theologian,” in his Love and the Urban Ghetto, Fr. Furfey offered a sympathetic, balanced, but also unstinting critique of the Catholic Worker movement based upon his then 44 years of interactions with and support for the people in the movement. His critique is so important, with his book out of print, that I offer the bulk of it here:

Limits of the Catholic Worker Movement

by Fr. Paul Hanly Furfey, from Love and the Urban Ghetto, 1978, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, pp. 119-130.

In 1934 and subsequently, many of us in the Department of Sociology at the Catholic University, both faculty and students, came to know the Catholic Worker rather well. We were all deeply impressed. The movement seemed to represent a giant step beyond Catholic liberalism. However, as time went on, we began to evaluate it as social scientists.

In one important respect the Catholic Worker went far beyond the liberals, who were swept off their feet by the government’s officially generated enthusiasm during World War II. Even though the Selective Service Act provided for conscientious objectors, the Catholic hierarchy made no move to cooperate. It was the Catholic Worker group that took the initiative and provided Catholic COs with opportunities for alternative service in forestry camps and elsewhere. All during the war the paper provided a forum for anti-war criticism. The entire present Catholic pacifist movement has its roots in the Catholic Worker. This has probably been the group’s proudest achievement. However, this is beyond the scope of the present book, which focuses on a different problem: the misery of the urban ghetto.

In some ways, however, the Catholic Worker group merely reinforced the work of the liberals. Thus their paper spoke strongly and to a wide audience in favor of racial desegregation and the rights of labor, often by means of excellent, on-the-spot reporting.

The chief day-by-day activity at Catholic Worker houses has always been feeding the derelicts, the outcasts, the homeless men and women who wander about the city streets without hope, often without any regular income or at best with a very inadequate income. That the free meals thus provided constitute a great act of Christian charity is beyond argument. It is a very necessary good work and one that tends to be neglected by the standard social agencies. However, by concentrating on a tiny fraction of the poor, one may distract attention from the vastly greater number of the other poor.

The social outcasts who are fed in bread lines or in other similar ways do indeed constitute only a tiny fraction of the poor. It is difficult to estimate, for any large city, the actual number of those to be classified as social outcasts. It is hard to define this category precisely and still harder to count the actual number who should be thus classified. For Washington, perhaps Maurine Beasley’s guess is as good as any. She gave an estimate of one thousand. This is well under 1 percent of the city’s poor as reported by the census. [Recent scientific surveys have increased estimates of the size of the homeless population in major cities, but they still represent a relatively small percentage of the poor in general–A. Schorsch, III]

By concentrating on a minuscule fraction of the poor, Catholic Worker groups tend to overlook the major problems of the slums as described in earlier chapters. Of course the aged poor, the sick poor, are also problems. Yet the chief problem of these areas is the problem of average residents, the normal boys and girls who find that local schools do not meet their needs, who drop out at the minimum legal age, functionally illiterate and untrained for any job. They may marry, but they usually find that normal family life is beyond their means. They are usually undernourished. They fall an easy prey to sickness. A few do, indeed, become the sort of outcasts that attract the love of Catholic Worker groups, but by that time their lives are wrecked. The great majority continue to suffer until they meet an early death, having been aided perhaps by our tragically inadequate welfare system, but probably not otherwise. By focusing on a tiny fraction of the poor, the Catholic Worker may even be doing the average slum dweller a disservice, as they distract attention from the less dramatic, but very tragic plight of the latter.

The social philosophy of the Catholic Worker looks toward an ideal society. As stated in the May 1977 issue of their paper, this will involve “a complete rejection of the present social order and a nonviolent revolution to establish an order more in accord with Christian values.” It is disappointing to find that the ideal proposed is Distributism: “We favor the establishment of a Distributist economy wherein those who have a vocation to the land will work on the farms surrounding the village and those who have other vocations will work in the village itself. In this way we will have a decentralized economy which will dispense with the State was we know it and will be federationist in character as was society during certain periods that preceded the rise of national states.”

A clear and quite obvious objection against this proposal is that it has been tried out rather often and has never worked. As stated in the preceding chapter, there was a wave of enthusiasm early in the last century for experiments of this sort, both in France and here in the United States. The Brook Farm experiment is perhaps the best known example. In spite of the commitment and enthusiasm of the participants, such ventures never succeeded.

It is surprising that Catholic Worker followers should still advocate Distributist communities after their own experience. Various groups among them have bought land in rural areas with these ideals in mind. Houses located on these farms have been pleasant places for rest, quiet work, and spiritual exercises. Yet they never developed in the direction indicated in the position paper quoted above.

One might even ask whether a society of the type described would be desirable, even it if were feasible. Is it really a good idea to turn back the clock? Do we really want to discard modern technology and restore life as it was before the machine age? Granted that many of the fruits of so-called “progress” are illusory, yet some of these fruits are good. Consider modern medicine, for example. It depends on an enormously intricate technology, the manufacture of drugs, the use of complicated equipment. It depends further on medical schools, on continuing research, on large medical libraries. Do we want to give up this complex technology for the sake of the simple life? In the United States the expectation of life at birth rose from 47.3 years in 1910 to 72.5 in 1975. Is Distributism worth the sacrifice of a quarter of a century of life?

[ASIII: In the next section, Fr. Furfey described the “Washington Experiment” in which ultimately two houses were set up in Washington DC–Martin de Porres House “to serve the derelicts,” and Fides House, “a large and formal settlement house. . . . to concentrate on the remaining 99 percent.” Fr. Furfey recounted many “individual successes”:]

All such successes were heart-warming. Yet gradually the staff began to realize that they were doing nothing, and could do nothing, to solve the essential problem of the ghetto. That problem was inherent in the very organization of the U.S. socio-economic system. Ghetto dwellers were excluded from any real participation in that system. Their voices were not heard. Few jobs were open to them, and those few jobs were menial, poorly paid, uninteresting, dead-end jobs. And without stable employment, stable family life is not possible. Ghetto people simply do not belong. Their needs are not taken seriously.

In the Fides House neighborhood a family usually undertook to support a child to the age of sixteen. It was difficult to do that much, and it was usually impossible to do more. At sixteen a boy or girl would drop out of school, this being the minimum age for doing so legally. At that time the child would probably be functionally illiterate and untrained for any job. It is extremely difficult for a poorly prepared boy or girl of this age to get any job in Washington. If one is lucky enough to get some sort of a job, it will surely be poorly paid.

There were many heart-rending cases. the bright, playful youngsters had made Fides House a joyful place. Then, after a few short years, they had become hopeless cases. One boy turned to robbery and spent ten years in prison. Another was murdered in a gambling dispute. Still another, after prison and a marriage break-up, killed his wife, her uncle, and himself on the street. Such cases dramatized for the staff the bitterness of ghetto life. And there was little Fides House could do. One might indeed, hope to get a decent job for this or that boy or girl. This would be an individual triumph, But it would not alter the economic system with its built-in sector of unemployment. The ghetto would remain as it was.

Conclusion

Only one conclusion seems possible. Radicalism on the Catholic Worker model could indeed ease the pain of an individual needy neighbor. Personalism provided a most beautiful Christian lifestyle. But this, unfortunately, was not enough. It is not genuine Christan love if one helps some individual and suffers an unjust social system to exist. For it is the system itself that make our neighbors suffer. To tolerate the system is to tolerate their agony. Christian love is inconsistent with such toleration. To help one’s neighbor in need requires a frontal attack on the evil system itself. There is no alternative.

Paul Hanly Furfey, Love and the Urban Ghetto, 1978, Maryknoll, NY, Orbis Books, pp. 119-130.

Fr. Furfey, the sociologist, did not see the Catholic Worker program of societal change through agrarian distributism likely ever to succeed. But Fr. Furfey, the peacemaker, with John C. Ford, SJ (1902-1989) one of the very few priests in America to contemporaneously decry the mass bombing of cities during WWII–finally condemned two decades later as “a crime against God and man himself” by the Second Vatican Council’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World Gaudium et Spes–continued to support the Catholic Worker movement because of his objection to war and his belief in the “Worker’s” individual efforts at charity following Matthew 25:31-46.

With these critiques I agree, but with a further concern about the Catholic Worker: I learned in hundreds of different ways through twenty years working with the homeless at Friendship House in Chicago that alcoholism is a disease, and those who work with alcoholics must study this disease and work with medical facilities and professionals in order to get the best possible care for the homeless alcoholic and addicted, who will surely die without adequate treatment. If one is not assiduously working to get treatment for the ill, there is always a danger of keeping ill homeless people as “pets” in some strange moral fantasy-land.

Like the monastic movements, the Catholic Worker is an attempt at Christian perfectionism. Since the world continues to remain imperfect, such lifestyles pose particular challenges, yet continue to attract the young and the old. And since the Catholic Worker is a movement, it has indeed evolved since the Fr. Furfey’s 1978 critique (which echoed his similar 1930’s critique of the agrarian utopianism of the Catholic Worker within its own newspaper).

“The Worker” has also evolved by not only multiplying greatly in many cities and rural areas, but it has schooled itself in the techniques of nonviolent action, influenced by more senior activists like Kathy Kelly (full disclosure, my teaching colleague friend at St. Ignatius College Prep in Chicago, 1980-82), who appear now and again within Catholic Worker ranks and publications despite their own personal wrestling with the beliefs of Catholicism.

As a movement with a strong anarchist influence, the Catholic Worker varies from place to place in its Catholic orthodoxy and religious practice. Dr. Donohue is right: The “Worker” has no board of directors, no headquarters, but this allows for dozens of different initiatives to spring up in Kropotkin-style “organic” fashion based upon Catholic Worker tradition built over the past 79 years. Some Catholic Worker houses continue Dorothy Day’s own Eucharistic piety, and attend daily Mass, pray the Liturgy of the Hours, pay great attention to Catholic teaching, philosophy, and literature, and hold to Catholic consistent ethic of life principles. Others are in danger of pursuing their own perfectionist cult of personality, and, as Paul said to the Corinthians (1 Cor 13), they might hand their bodies over to be burnt (with zeal), but they do not have love, the love of God.

In addition, the Catholic Worker has also taken up the challenge posed by Fr. Furfey, who saw “no alternative” but to “help one’s neighbor in need” by “a frontal attack on the evil system itself” by nonviolent direct action in addition to personal acts of charity.

And in an odd sort of way, outside of some sci-fi post-apocalyptic scenario, it is ironically a technological advance–in wind turbine energy production that one sees spreading throughout the American farmland–that actually makes a distributist agrarian solution seem more feasible.

American Catholic intellectuals take the Catholic Worker _very_ seriously, because the “The Worker” is much more radically countercultural than mainstream American Catholicism, and from time to time threatens to tip American Catholic culture away from the strategy of being both loyally American and loyally Catholic that has been the “Americanist” heart of established (read, academically tenured) American Catholic thought, and one of the principal cultural stances of the U.S. Catholic Bishops. Witness the 1997 tenure denial at Notre Dame University of then Congregation of the Holy Cross priest and peace activist Michael J. Baxter, often also called a “Catholic Worker theologian.”

(History does have its ironies, in this case a double or perhaps even triple irony. Quoted in the 1997 National Catholic Reporter article just cited on the Baxter tenure controversy taking the establishment “Americanist” view was the theologian earlier barred from Catholic University of America teaching, Charles Curran, who said “The Catholic church in the United States has the biggest hospital system, social service system and educational system under private auspices, which serve not only Catholic but all kinds of folk. How can you be countercultural and still do that?” Who would have guessed, other than the likes of Fr. Furfey and Prof. Baxter (and Francis Cardinal George) perhaps, that fifteen years later Catholic institutions are being forced, because of the HHS Mandate on abortifacients, artificial constraception, and sterilization, to act in the very opposite direction of Prof. Curran’s supposition, and _take_ a countercultural stance?)

====

I’m sure that Dr. Donohue knows much more about the Catholic Worker than the hyped-up cultural cartoon balloon format of the Glenn Beck show allowed him to say.

But I also have my own opinions on Dr. Donahue and the Catholic League. When the situation–as it often does–calls for loud, in-your-face confrontation filled with spike and vinegar, he gets the job done, e.g., Dr. Donohue’s response to Jon Stewart’s 4/16/12 “vagina manger” outrage. But the Kaplan-Maslow Law of the Instrument applies here: when all you have is a hammer, you treat everything else like a nail. The Catholic League needs other media voices, and a much more comprehensive, interactive web page that captures hundreds of anti-Catholic statements and leads readers to some kind of responses to them on a dynamic basis.

And with so much apparently riding on Dr. Donohue’s heroic, individual efforts, what will remain of the Catholic League when he retires? Will there be chapters in other cities to carry on, as Catholic League founder Fr. Virgil Blum, SJ once envisioned? Or will it continue as a mostly one-person show? There is also danger of mission-creep in such a position, wherein the spokesperson begins commenting on all manner of things Catholic, in self-appointed Catholic hall-monitor fashion–to borrow and credit my seminary friend Ken Trainor’s memorable phrase–similar to the Nobel scientist in physics who begins commenting on politics, diet, and art no sooner than the award is in hand and the awardee is securely in media space.

Also–and I’m glad it appeared to be a one-time thing–but the apparent display announcement of Patrick J. Buchanan’s book Suicide of a Superpower probably didn’t belong on page 2 of the December, 2011 issue of Catalyst, the Journal of the Catholic League, unless it were to be cited as a paid advertisement. One does not have to subscribe to Mr. Buchanan’s views in order to support the Catholic League, or at least I hope not.

===

As for Glenn Beck, DJ turned historian and social philosopher: he has taken Friedrich A. Hayek’s useful and insightful critique of social justice as an economically undefinable phrase in The Mirage of Social Justice to the limit of making the words “social justice” absolutely suspect in some circles.

Never mind that if we, say, follow the Fifth Commandment not to kill and the Seventh Commandment not to steal, and thereby act in a personally just manner, that we might be able to measure in a rudimentary way the “social justice” of a society based upon the degree to which there is neither murder nor theft.

In this way it is possible to operationalize somewhat the social justice question, and to a degree answer Hayek’s critique. But this is no easy matter once economic measures are considered, and Hayek’s insights and criticisms must not be dismissed out of hand, because Hayek stands with those who realize, contra absolutist thinkers like Plato and his heirs, that human freedom should not be sacrificed for anyone’s utopia. Therefore, anyone who cares about the social justice question should read Hayek–especially Catholic Workers!

But I don’t agree that the words “social justice” should be banned or mark those who use the words as suspect. Is not a society without murder and theft desirable? If so, we should have a phrase to describe it. “Social justice” is one such phrase.

Now if Glenn Beck and his audience would just read the entire text of St. Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica!

Peter Kreeft’s A Summa of the Summa, or as I like to call it, Some of the Summa, is a good place to start. . .

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Raymond Aron on Liberation and Enslavement

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Raymond Aron (1905-1983), the French political thinker, wrote:

“Every advance in liberation carries within itself the seed of a new form of enslavement.”

(Raymond Aron, The Opium of the Intellectuals, p. 21)

It is hard to overstate the long shadow cast by the Marxist French thinkers of Paris, 1968 (among whom number Jean-Paul Sartre, Henri Lefebvre, Michel Foucault, and Jacques Lacan [the latter more adopted by Marxists than a Marxist himself]) over what passes for “critical thinking” in American arts and letters.

A substantial segment of American intelligentsia have in the years since read the French radicals of 1968, but without substantially reading their critics. American “critical theory” is therefore oddly uncritical of itself, and infused within a cycle of self-reinforcing, naive solipsism.

Many American college graduates therefore find American “critical theory” perfectly useless outside of the confines of the classroom.

Raymond Aron and Jacques Maritain were among several of the critics of the tradition of Paris, 1968. Aron’s principal criticism was twofold, that the French Marxists actually failed to “think politically,” and that their political statements were based upon “bad faith” or a double standard.

By failing to “think politically” Aron meant of the French Marxists–

“Two things: First, they prefer ideology, that is, a rather literary image of a desirable society, rather than to study the functioning of a given economy, of a liberal economy, of a parliamentary system, and so forth. . . And then there is a second element, perhaps more basic: they refused to answer the question someone once asked me: ‘If you were in the minister’s position, what would you do?'”

(Raymond Aron, 1997, Thinking Politically: A Liberal in the Age of Ideology, New Brunswick, NJ, Transaction Publishers, pp. 154-55.)

By “bad faith,” Aron meant–

“Western societies were excoriated for their every injustice (and what society, Aron would ask, has not been unjust?) while the socialist world was judged on the basis of its ostensibly good intentions.”

Brian C. Anderson, 1997, Raymond Aron: The Recovery of the Political, NY, Rowmand & Littlefield, pp. 4-5, citing Aron’s Opium of the Intellectuals.

A number of the students of the Marxists of Paris, 1968 have since taken some of the criticisms to heart, and have tried to embed their critiques in spatial and empirical narratives. A few, like David Harvey and Manuel Castells, have essentially been re-writing Marx’s Das Kapital in spatial, systematic–and sometimes impenetrable–terms throughout their life-long research programs.

But Aron still stands as a powerful critic of the traditions that arose in those heady days in Paris.

I should mention that Aron was a contemporary of Simone Weil, and attended the École Normale Supérieure with her in Paris. Aron’s book title, The Opium of the Intellectuals, is obviously a echo of Weil’s earlier dictum from her book Oppression and Liberty, “Revolution is the opium of the people.”

When one is sick and tired of the “literary politics” of the professors, one can turn to Aron.

Aron’s writing approaches the commonsense politics one derives from Aristotle, St. Thomas Aquinas, Frank J. Sheed’s Communism and Man (wherein Sheed makes a similar point to Aron that political systems have inherent self-destructive capabilities), and the best of the political and governmental (as opposed to academic) American pragmatic tradition as practiced by Alexander Hamilton and by Abraham Lincoln.

Brian C. Anderson summarized Aron’s approach as–

“A conservative defense of liberalism rooted in historical reality, an awareness of tragedy, and a keen sensitivity to both the contingencies of politics and the self-undermining tendencies of the liberal democratic regime.”

(Brian C. Anderson, 1997, Raymond Aron: The Recovery of the Political, NY, Rowmand & Littlefield, p. 167)

Students of social justice should by all means read Sartre, Lefebvre, Foucault, Lacan, Harvey, and Castells. But to not also read Aron, Maritain, Yves Simon, Weil, Hamilton, and Lincoln for a different perspective may mean condemning oneself to years of pursuing intellectual and political dead ends.

In addition, to pursue Marxist analysis and politics without reading every page of Leszek Kolakowski’s Main Currents of Marxism is be both intellectually lazy and politically irresponsible.

Unlike the overly-lionized Marxists of Paris, 1968, Aron’s ideas can actually be applied. One of his principal ideas relates to the tragic imperfection of our political efforts, and the constant need for correction.

Constant awareness of the possibility that I may be wrong about my political choices and about my own assumptions leads to a very different kind of politics, a politics that is open to correction.

The first step toward liberation therefore sometimes can be taken by casting off our own slavery to our own pet ideas, and by constantly seeking new ways to correct them.

As Abraham Lincoln said, “We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country.”

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Time for a New Translation of “Reponsible Parenthood” in Humanae Vitae?

Monday, February 20th, 2012

The HHS mandate on sterilization, abortifacients, and birth control, and the strong reaction of the U.S. Catholic bishops, has challenged many Catholics to examine whether they agree with the bishops. This controversy has become for many a moment of grace, and many Catholics have been reexamining whether they can commit to accepting and defending Church teaching on life, birth control, and abortion.

Catholic progressives who support access to abortion and artificial contraception are caught in a hard place, because of the growing unanimity among not only the bishops themselves, but pastors and other persons heading Church institutions that such pro-abortion or pro-choice positions are difficult to recognize as authentically Catholic.

Some prominent Catholics who would have previously given “cover” to pro-choice politicians have ceased doing so. Some progressive pastors, who could always be relied upon to wink and nod to pro-choice and artificially contracepting Catholics, have stopped doing so, and some such pastors have even openly spoken out against abortion for the first time in their priesthood. These pastors themselves have had to wrestle with reading aloud their bishop’s letter on the HHS mandate. Very few have refused to do so. How can I read this letter, they may ask themselves, and continue to remain on the fence? Those pastors who have refused to read or publish their bishop’s letter or the U.S. Catholic Bishops’ bulletin insert have now been forced to reveal their position publicly.

It is therefore becoming much harder with any credibility to claim that one can support Planned Parenthood or the anti-life positions taken by Planned Parenthood and remain authentically Catholic in any sense of the word.

Not only is this a moment of grace for some, but it is also a moment of decision. This moment of decision has led some Catholics to revisit official Church teaching, with the question, Can I accept what the Church teaches?

When some Catholics begin to reexamine the pro-life and anti-abortion, anti-artificial birth control teaching in the 1968 papal encyclical, Humanae Vitae, they immediately face a problem: the translation is dated, in that the meaning of certain English words in the encyclical have already shifted in meaning since 1968, principally the word “responsible,” as in the encyclical’s phrase, “responsible parenthood.”

“Responsible parenthood” unfortunately today almost evokes “Planned Parenthood,” and also now may carry with it environmental overtones following the mistaken but popular fears against overpopulating the planet.

Like any translation, dimensions of the language of the official Latin text of Humanae Vitae are not completely conveyed by the 1968 English translation.

The noted Australian philosopher, legal scholar, Oxford and Notre Dame Professor John M. Finnis in recent years has thus worked on a new translation of Humanae Vitae, as mentioned in this scholarly article and in this talk.

Here is a link for videos of Prof. Finnis’s talk at Notre Dame University’s Center for Ethics and Culture in 2008, along with a related talk by moral philosopher Prof. Janet E. Smith on “conscious parenthood.

The earliest English translations of Humanae Vitae translate “paternitas conscia” in its section ten as “responsible parenthood,” despite the fact that such a translation is not listed in many Latin dictionaries. Roy J. Defarrari’s Latin-English Dictionary of St. Thomas Aquinas translates “conscius” as “knowing or conscious of something with another” taking the genitive, with a second meaning of “knowing something in oneself,” taking the word sibi. Neither usage quite matches the Latin of Humanae Vitae.

The Latin word “conscius” is rich in meaning. It could mean knowing together as if in a conspiracy. It could also mean shared knowing as in shared intimacy, or in shared consciousness. The meaning may be closer to “intimate knowledge.” While a fuller translation of “paternitas conscia” might be cast as “conscious parenthood” or “intentional parenthood” rather than “responsible parenthood,” much work remains to be done to effectively translate and convey the full richness of the meaning. What is missing in the “responsible parenthood” translation is the mutual and intimate knowledge shared by the married couple, evocative of the Old Testament meaning of knowledge, meaning an act of knowing including sexual intimacy.

The Rev. Know-It-All and I discussed this point on a Go Ask Your Father radio segment on 2/15/12. He reflected upon a possible vocational meaning in the “conscia” of number 10 in Humanae Vitae.

Why is all this attention to the translation of a single word so important? Because meanings unfold from the translation of a single word.

The Church appears to lack good, commonsense arguments in favor of its teaching against artificial contraception. But by focusing on “paternitas conscia” as shared, intimate self knowledge flowing from the sacramental meaning of marriage itself, a powerful revelation of both the meaning and responsibility of marriage can unfold.

By the way, Prof. Finnis made a very important point in his Notre Dame talk of 2008 that the noted legal scholar John Noonan completely misunderstood St. Thomas Aquinas on the meaning of faith in his 1965 book, Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists, which was very influential in how Humanae Vitae was originally received in 1968.

Perhaps the title of Blessed John Paul II’s book Love and Responsibility, comes as close as any to more fully translating “paternitas conscia,” implying a knowing and intimate sharing of the responsibilities of the vocation chosen through the Sacrament of Marriage.

© Copyright 2012, Albert J. Schorsch, III
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Dorothy Day’s Therese

Monday, October 17th, 2011

In recent years many faiths have educated their clergy and religious to be brilliant, well-educated, entertaining speakers and socially committed individuals. But these qualities do not in and of themselves earn trust.

Nothing inspires, and is so quickly recognized by believers, as is authentic holiness or godliness. Few have won as much trust in the years since her death as has the holy saint, the Little Flower, discussed in the following lines.

During the height of her active maturity in the Catholic Worker movement, Dorothy Day made time over several years to research and to write a biography of the “Little Flower,” St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, or St. Thérèse of Lisieux. Happily, this book, originally published in 1960, reissued 1979, reprinted 1985, is still in print through Templegate Publishers. This book represents Dorothy Day’s decades-long education in the school of the Little Flower.

Therese is a book about a saint by a likely saint. Despite Dorothy Day’s occasional repetition of phrases due to Day’s busy life, Therese is one of the most thoughtful and inspiring books generated within American Catholic literature. Because its subject is the Little Flower, who has been declared one of the soon-to-be thirty-four Doctors of the Church, it is likely to remain known centuries longer than some of Day’s currently more popular books.

Almost half of Day’s Therese is about family love, whether that of the author, or that of the subject, christened Marie-Françoise-Thérèse Martin in 1873. But the whole book is about love, divine and human, for love was the means, the end, and the transcendent purpose of Thérèse’s life. Thérèse discovered in her final years that her vocation was to be love.

The arresting first two paragraphs of Therese display Dorothy Day at her spiritual journalist best:

“The first time I heard the name of St. Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face (to give her whole title), also known as Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower, was when I lay in the maternity ward of Bellevue Hospital in New York. Bellevue is the largest hospital in the world, and doctors from all over the world come there. If you are poor you can have free hospital care. At that time, if you could pay anything, there was a flat rate for having a baby–thirty dollars for a ten day’s stay, in a long ward with about sixty beds. I was so fortunate as to have a bed next to the window looking out over the East River so that I could see the sun rise in the morning and light up the turgid water and make gay the little tugs and the long tankers that went by the window. When there was fog it seemed as though the world ended outside my window, and the sound of fog horns haunted the day and the night.

As a matter of fact, my world did end at the window those ten days that I was in the hospital, because I was supremely happy. If I had written the greatest book, composed the greatest symphony, painted the most beautiful painting or carved the most exquisite figure, I could not have felt more the exalted creator than I did when they placed my child in my arms. To think that this thing of beauty, sighing gently in my arms, reaching her little mouth for my breast, clutching at me with her tiny beautiful hands, had come from my flesh, was my own child! Such a great feeling of happiness and joy filled me that I was hungry for Someone to thank, to love, even to worship, for so great a good that had been bestowed upon me. That tiny child was not enough to contain my love, nor could the father, though my heart was warm with love for both.”

(Day, Dorothy. 1985. Therese. Springfield, Ill: Templegate, p. v.)

Thanks to the World Wide Web and the University of Toronto it is now possible to read the same English translation of Thérèse’s autobiographic A Little White Flower that Dorothy Day read in 1928, to retrace Dorothy Day’s steps in her discovery of Thérèse, and also to find the book that eluded Day’s grasp at the time of her writing Therese, The End of the Present World and the Mysteries of the Future Life, by Fr. Charles Arminjon, which was an influence on the young Thérèse prior to entering the Carmel at Lisieux.

Dorothy Day’s initial rebuff and later embrace of Thérèse’s spirituality is a familiar story among Catholic intellectuals and men and women “of the world.” Thérèse inspired several twentieth-century generations to enter religious life, and whether in religious life or not, to adopt her “Little Way.” But as Day matured in her day-in day-out tasks of Christian love and charity seeking justice, she returned to Thérèse definitively. Day concluded:

“It was the ‘worker,’ the common man, who first spread her fame by word of mouth. It was the masses who proclaimed her a saint. It was the ‘people.'”

(Day, Dorothy. 1985. Therese. Springfield, Ill: Templegate, p. 173.)

On first glance, Thérèse appears too pious, too simple. To this I respond, “Simple, all right. Simple like Mozart is simple.” A genius of the first rank makes the difficult appear straightforward and sublimely clear. Thérèse’s spiritual genius was recognized almost immediately after her death in 1897 with an intensity that spread as quickly as did the translations of her autobiography across dozens of languages and countries.

On the last page of her book, Day quotes Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli, later Pope Pius XII, speaking on the occasion of the blessing of the Basilica of Lisieux in 1937:

“The dazzling genius of Augustine, the luminous wisdom of Thomas Aquinas, have shed forth upon souls the rays of an imperishable splendour: through them, Christ and His doctrine have become better known. The divine poem lived out by Francis of Assisi has given the world an imitation, as yet unequaled, of the life of God made man. Through him legions of men and women learned to love God more perfectly. But a little Carmelite who had hardly reached adult age has conquered in less than half a century innumerable hosts of disciples. Doctors of the law have become children at her school; the Supreme Shepherd has exalted her and prays to her with humble and assiduous supplications; and even at this moment from one end of the earth to the other, there are millions of souls whose interior life has received the beneficent influence of the little book, The Autobiography.”

(Ibid., p. 176.)

Thérèse promised “I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses.”

Day lists but a bit of the shower of love from Thérèse:

“So shortly after her death the rain of roses began: cures of cancer, tuberculosis, nephritis, and all manner of painful and mortal diseases. Nuns in need of money to pay off the mortgages on their schools, hospitals and orphanages found it appearing, sometimes in the form of gifts, sometimes carefully placed in a desk drawer. When Therese healed a little Irish child, she appeared to her as a little child in her First Communion frock, and shook hands with her as she left, and radiant little patient who had been unconscious and at the brink of death, sat up and told her mother to bring her her clothes, and food because she was starving. Soldiers saw Therese at the battlefield; she walked in Paris; she appeared to the sick. ‘After my death I will let fall a shower of roses,’ she had said, and sometimes the roses appeared literally, and sometimes just the fragrance of them.”

(Ibid., pp. 172-3)

The persistence of Thérèse’s appeal is surprising. In 2009, Thérèse’s relics were brought on a tour throughout Wales and England in the UK. To the surprise of a highly secularized society (and some of the secularized clergy), hundreds of thousands of people visited the relics, with many confessing their sins and returning to faith after decades.

Here are some of the pilgrims’ stories:

Over 100,000 faithful visited Thérèse’s relics in Westminster Cathedral, with ceremonies ending 10/15/09:

The Carmelite Sr. Patricia Mary of Jesus speaks about St. Thérèse of Lisieux:

Finally, a thoughtful homily by Westminster Archbishop Vincent Nichols:

In 1997, in a document called Divini Amoris Scientia, the Science of Divine Love, John Paul II proclaimed Thérèse a Doctor of the Church. I highly recommend close reading of this important document for those seeking for truth in the Spirit.

Although Thérèse, like John Paul II, had read and mastered the foundational Carmelite literature, the complete works of St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, Thérèse read primarily the Gospels during her final illness, to listen directly the Word of the Lord Jesus whom she loved so dearly in a very direct, straightforward, and completely committed way. As a Carmelite, Thérèse wore a wedding gown at her “clothing” as a nun, focusing all her possible love on Jesus.

To the post-Christian imagination, this kind of spiritual commitment has a scary, terrifying aspect. But for Thérèse and her Carmelite sisters (among whom were three of her own sisters, and a cousin), nothing could have been more joyful.

Dorothy Day may be best known for her phrase, a “harsh and dreadful love,” but no one searches the life of Thérèse without searching for the source of joy, our Blessed Lord, to whom Thérèse is one of the supreme guides.

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As a boy, I was taught at St. Priscilla School in Chicago by several Franciscan Sisters (from Rochester, MN) who were inspired by Thérèse among others to enter religious life. Years later, I visited my music teacher, Sr. Catherine Cecile Dwerlkotte, OSF, who past the age of 100 told me of the joy that was shared among contemporaries as they agreed together in college to enter the Franciscans as a group. Many of these Franciscan Sisters shared with us the tales of the Little Flower, and Sr. Catherine, to the end of her days, cultivated roses in Thérèse’s memory. She was a woman of high intelligence and wit, but joy and simplicity, and I might add, holiness. May she rest in peace!

Here is a 2010 post by blogger Kathy Riordan in thanks of the still-remembered witness of Sr. Catherine Cecile and her Franciscan sisters.

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A few very useful resources on St. Thérèse:

As usual, the Houston Catholic Worker can be relied upon for a thoughtful review, this one by James Allaire.

Here’s some information on the National Shrine of St. Therese, in Darien, Illinois.

EWTN put together a number of web pages during St. Thérèse centenary, here, and here.

Also, please see Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway, which mentions the recent visit of the relics of Thérèse to Peru.

Presently, I’m reading St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations. More on this when time permits!

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

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