Archive for January, 2012

Only if we back off some distance from the actual content of the Pauline letters can we posit a dichotomy between Paul’s theology and his ethics — or between kerygma [κήρυγμα] (the proclamation of the gospel) and didache [διδαχὴ] (the teaching of standards of conduct), or between indicative (what God has done in Christ) and imperative (what human beings are called upon to do). The more closely we read Paul’s letters, the more fragile there familiar dichotomies appear. In these texts, it is difficult to draw a clear distinction between theology and ethics. They are packing together, under pressure: specific pastoral problems in Paul’s churches elicit his theological reflection. Thus, we see theology in progress, unfolding. Paul is not simply repeating already formulated doctrines; rather he is theologizing as he writes, and the constant aim of his theological reflection is to shape the behavior of his churches. Theology is for Paul never merely a speculative exercise; it is always a tool for constructing community.(18)

Richard B. Hays, Moral Vision of the New Testament (1996)

El Greco, St. Paul (1606)

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Creator ineffabilis, qui de thesauris sapientiae tuae tres Angelorum hierarchias designasti et eas super caelum empyreum miro ordine collocasti atque universi partes elegantissime distribuisti: Tu, inquam, qui verus fons luminis et sapientiae diceris ac supereminens principium, infundere digneris super intellectus mei tenebras tuae radium claritatis, duplices, in quibus natus sum, a me removens tenebras, peccatum scilicet et ignorantiam. Tu, qui linguas infantium facis disertas, linguam meam erudias atque in labiis meis gratiam tuae benedictionis infundas. Da mihi intelligendi acumen, retinendi capacitatem, addiscendi modum et facilitatem, interpretandi subtilitatem, loquendi gratiam copiosam. Ingressum instruas, progressum dirigas, egressum compleas. Tu, qui es verus Deus et homo, qui vivis et regnas in saecula saeculorum. Amen.

O Ineffable Creator, who in the riches of Thy wisdom didst appoint three hierarchies of Angels and didst set them in wondrous order over the highest heavens, and who didst apportion the elements of the world most wisely: do Thou, who art in truth the fountain of light and wisdom, deign to shed upon the darkness of my understanding the rays of Thine infinite brightness, and remove far from me the twofold darkness in which I was born, namely, sin and ignorance. Do Thou, who givest speech to the tongues of little children, instruct my tongue and pour into my lips the grace of Thy benediction. Give me keenness of apprehension, capacity for remembering, method and ease in learning, insight-in interpretation, and copious eloquence in speech. Instruct my beginning, direct my progress, and set Thy seal upon the finished work, Thou, who art true God and true Man, who livest and reignest world without end. Amen.

St Thomas Aquinas, “A Prayer Before Study”

Benozzo Gozzoli, The Glory of St. Thomas Aquinas (15th cent.)

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Much vague and sentimental journalism has been poured out to the effect that Christianity is akin to democracy, and most of it is scarcely strong or clear enough to refute the fact that the two things have often quarreled. The real ground upon which Christianity and democracy are one is very much deeper. The one specially and peculiarly un-Christian idea is the idea of [Thomas] Carlyle – the idea that the man should rule who feels that he can rule. Whatever else is Christian, this is heathen. If our faith comments on governments at all, its comment must be this – that the man should rule who does not thing that he can rule. Carlyle’s hero may say, “I will be king”; but the Christian saint must say “Nolo episcopari.” If the great paradox of Christianity means anything, it mean this – that we must take the crown in our hands, and go hunting in dry places and dark corners of the earth until we find the one man who feels himself unfit to wear it. Carlyle was quite wrong; we have not got to crown the exceptional man who knows he can rule. Rather we must crown the much more exceptional man who knows he can’t. (220-221)

G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Nolo episcopari, Latin, lit., “I do not wish to be bishop”.

So they nominated two men: Joseph called Barsabbas (also known as Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which of these two you have chosen to take over this apostolic ministry, which Judas left to go where he belongs.” Then they cast lots, and the lot fell to Matthias; so he was added to the eleven apostles. (1.23-26)

The Acts of the Apostles

Duccio di Buoninsegna, Pentecost (1308)

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A combination photograph shows the badly damaged Cathedral after an earthquake in Port-au-Prince almost two years later on Dec. 29, 2011 (top), on Sept. 30, 2010 (middle), and on the bottom on March 18, 2010. (The Big Picture)

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Paul was not just an itinerant preacher, but also a pastor. He was, nevertheless, a preacher — a proclaimer of the good news of God’s intervention in human history through Jesus Christ. This good news was not a private message of personal salvation, though it included the salvation of individuals. It was a political announcement, or better a theopolitical announcement (politics involving God), that challenged–and challenges–the very core of how people relate to one another in the real world. (41)

If God’s salvation, including peace and justice, comes through Jesus, then it does not come through Caesar–or any other political or imperial force or figure. This does not mean that Paul’s gospel was political neither than religious; it is just that the two were inseparable. Words like justice (or righteousness), salvation, savior, peace, church (or assembly), gospel and, or course, Christ (Messiah) were–and are–both political and religious because they had to do with how people relate to both God and others in the real world. Paul’s gospel, therefore, is theopolitical. (44)

Because the gospel is about God’s dramatic, cosmic, benevolent intervention, it is not merely a message about personal salvation, as so many perversions of the gospel imply. To be sure, Paul’s gospel calls individuals to a right relationship with God, but it calls them into a community where right relationships with God and with others — both insiders and outsides — are taught, learned, and practiced. Those who believe Paul’s gospel are not fire and foremost invited to eternal life when they die (though that is included: Rom 5:21; 6:22-23), but to a new life in this world under the sway of a new lord and savior in the company of like-minded companions (Phil 1:27-2:16). Hence the adjective “theopolitical” to describe the gospel, meaning a narrative about God that creates a public life together, a corporate narrative, that is an alternative to the status quo in the Roman Empire, the American empire, or any other body politic. (45)

Michael J. Gorman, Reading Paul

adj., or or relating to politics involving God; of a narrative about God creating a public life together

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effetti del Buon Governo in Città or “Effects of Good Government in the City” (c. 1338-40)

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One example of how Christians are meeting this call [to sustain forms of economy, community, and culture that recognize the universality of the individual person] is Church Supported Agriculture (CSA), which creates a direct link between family farmers and local congregations. Rather than limit their economic activism to demanding that the state intervene in the market, local churches are creating alternative kinds of economic spaces in which they resist the abstractions of globalization by face-to-face encounters between producers and consumers. In the CSA model, family farmers — most of whom farm organically and practice environmentally sustainable methods — sell their produce directly through local congregations. Parishioners either buy individual products or buy a share of a farmer’s produce at the beginning of the season, thus helping share in the risks of farming. The church serves as a drop-off point for produce and a place for farmers and parishioners to meet. In this space, they avoid the middleman and they personalize the food. Food no longer comes from some anonymous distant place; rather, it comes from another particular human being, and the consumer enters into a relationship with that producer. In this encounter, the person is seen as another self and another Christ, the universal in the particular. (87)

William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed

Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan has started a community-supported agriculture program. (New York Times, Sep 20, 2009)

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The ownership of property is not about power, and the wide distribution of property is not about a greater equilibrium of power. Rather, property has an end, which is to serve the common good. The universal destination of all material goods is in God. As Aquinas says, we should regard property as a gift from God, as gift that is only valid if we use it for the benifit of others (ST II-II66.1ad2). Thus Aquinas sanctions private ownership only insofar as it is put to its proper end, which is the good of all: “Man ought to possess external things, not as his own, but as common, so that, to wit, he is ready to communicate then to others in their need (ST II-II.62.2). Absent such a view of the true end of property, freedom means being able to do whatever one wants with one’s property, and property can thus become nothing more than a means of power over others. (29)

What is most important is the direct embodiment of free economic practices. From a Christian point of view, the churches should take an active role in fostering economic practices that are consonant with the true ends of creation. This requires promoting economic practices that maintain close connections among capital, labor, and communities, so that real communal discernment of the good can take place. Those are spaces in which true freedom can flourish. (32)

William Cavanaugh, Being Consumed


n., something owned; a possession.

[Middle English, from Old French propriete, from Latin proprietas, ownership]

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, Effetti del Buon Governo in Campagna or “The Effects of Good Government in the Country” (c. 1338-1340)

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In Paul’s day, Jewish zealous nationalism that focused on Israel’s internal purity was not the only temptation to violence. That nationalistic zeal was also directed outwardly toward an oppressive, violent regime–the imperial power of Rome. Paul would become a critic (at least an implicit one) of that form of violence, too–violence in the name of justice, peace, and security. Based on a misinterpretation of Rom 13:1-7, Paul is often portrayed as a political conservative who supported Rome, and perhaps all forms of political authority, even tyranny. However, like Jesus, he was a critic of imperial values such as domination and of imperial claims like divine status for emperors and divine blessing on the empire’s ambition. Paul mocked the Roman claim of providing pax et securitas (I Thes 5:3), offered an alternative form of divine justice, and proclaimed as Lord a criminal crucified by Roman power–rather than Roman power incarnate (the emperor). A politics of subversion, not intentional but as an inevitable consequence of the gospel, is central to Paul and to those who read his letters as Scripture. In that sense, Paul was a good, prophetic Jew. (19)

Michael J. Gorman, Reading Paul

El Greco, St. Paul (1606)

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Thomas, then, did not regard Aristotle primarily as a historical author, any more than he so regarded Augustine or Dionysius Areopagita. He considered them as witnesses for the truth which revealed itself through them, both to himself and, he hoped, to his reader (not only of the Summa theologica but also of the commentaries on Aristotle); truth whose validity is established out of itself and by virtue of its own objective arguments. “If the teacher answers a question with mere citations, nudis auctoritatibus, then the listener will depart empty-handed, auditor…vacuus abscedet.” Insofar as philosophizing is in question, a historical author is not of primary interest, even if his name is Aristotle; of primary interest is the truth of the matters at hand. (54)

Josef Pieper, Guide to Thomas Aquinas

truth [truːθ]
n., the quality of being true, genuine, actual, or factual

[Old English triewth; related to Old High German gitriuwida fidelity, Old Norse tryggr true]

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Catholic theology cannot establish itself as a de facto counter-magisterium, remaining in splendid isolation from the Church. Nor should it seek to win a lasting standing in the secular academy that offers it a career path like that of any other academic profession. Nor, finally, will Catholic theology flourish if it is transmuted into “religious studies” to market its remnant in a post-Christian society. Whatever one thinks about the best way to give coherent and even sophisticated shape to Catholic theology, we must acknowledge that the Church herself gives us our theological task: to assist the bishops in communicating, explaining, defending, and understanding the faith that comes from the apostles.

Reinhard Hütter, “The Ruins of Discontinuity”
First Things, January 2011

Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, St Ambrose Addressing the Young St Augustine (ca.1747-50)

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