Copyright (c) 2000 First Things 101 (March 2000): 2-9.
In "Proposing Democracy Anew—Part Three" (December 1999), Richard John Neuhaus proclaims his opposition to confessional states. In addition to rather infelicitously characterizing arguments for a confessional state as "dumb ideas," he writes: "I believe such a goal is wrongheaded, and it is clearly contrary to Catholic teaching, as the above citations illustrate." What is wrongheaded, however, is Father Neuhaus’ interpretation of Church teaching about this matter.
The three citations to which Fr. Neuhaus refers only address the issue of religious freedom; they do not speak directly to the subject of confessional states. From the fact that the Church supports immunity from coercion with respect to religious activity "within due limits" in order that each person may fulfill his moral obligation to know the truth and behave accordingly (Dignitatis Humanae, s. 2; cf. Libertas Praestantissimum, s. 30), Fr. Neuhaus presumes that he therefore must oppose confessional states. Besides not demonstrating the logical necessity of how religious freedom rightly understood necessarily precludes the possibility of a publicly established religion, however, Fr. Neuhaus also fails to take into account that the Church time and again has expressed an explicit preference for confessional—namely, Catholic—states.
The following quotations are just a few examples of the Magisterium’s endorsement of confessional states. In Libertas Praestantissimum (s. 21), Pope Leo XIII declares that "the pro fession of one religion is necessary for the State" and "that religion must be professed which alone is true." When writing to the bishops of the United States in Longinqua Oceani (s. 6), Leo cautions them that "it would be very erroneous to draw the conclusion that in America is to be sought the type of the most desirable status of the Church, or that it would be universally lawful or expedient for State and Church to be, as in America, dissevered and divorced." Instead, he explains that the Church in America "would bring forth more abundant fruits if, in addition to liberty, she enjoyed the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority." Following enactment of the French law disestablishing the Catholic Church in 1905–06, Pope Pius X criticized "the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult" for giving rise to the "absolutely false, . . . most pernicious error" of the separation of church and state (Vehementer Nos, s. 3).
Notably, although Dignitatis Humanae does recommend religious freedom even in instances when "special civil recognition is given to one religious community in the constitutional order of society," it does not suggest that the two are incompatible (s. 6). The reason can be found in the document’s preface where it insists that religious freedom "leaves untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ" (s. 1). Since the Church’s teaching that she should enjoy not only the protection but also the privilege of the laws is well established in her tradition, one must conclude that the truly Catholic understanding of religious freedom in no way abrogates it ab sent any statement on her part to the contrary.
Ronny L. Fritz
Silver Spring, Maryland
In the last of his three–part series, "Proposing Democracy Anew," Richard John Neuhaus confusedly presents his position on the separation of church and state, pluralism, religious indifferentism, and the proper content of the public square such that one is unsure whether he is proposing a societal ideal, for which Catholics and all people should perpetually strive, or a merely provisional goal, for which we may now work temporarily, but only in lieu of pursuing directly a greater ideal. Moreover, when comparing Father Neuhaus’ eloquent yet ambiguous words with the stark and unmistakable language of Popes Leo XIII, Pius X, and Pius XI, one wonders whether his position, provisional or ideal, can be reconciled with the Catholic Church.
For example, Fr. Neuhaus claims that "the alternative to the naked public square is not the sacred public square but the civil public square. We should not want a confessional state." What does this mean? Does he mean that in the present state of affairs, where the prospect of a confessional state is next to nil, we should prudently strive incrementally to achieve a lesser good, like a merely civil society, postponing the direct pursuit of a sacred public square and a confessional state until prudence dictates? Or is he saying that we should never desire such things because the ideal is a merely civil public square, with the public confession, profession, and worship of the True Religion relegated to the private sphere for both religion and society’s own good?
If Fr. Neuhaus is saying what I think he is saying, that a confessional state is simply a bad idea per se, then it would seem he has never read Pope Pius IX’s Syllabus of Errors. No. 77 condemns the following: "In the present day it is no longer expedient that the Catholic Religion should be held as the only religion of the State, to the exclusion of all other forms of worship."
But Fr. Neuhaus probably has read this condemnation, and if such can be reconciled with his ostensibly prudential judgment that a confessional state is a bad idea right now, then why does he not make his position clear? As it stands, the two positions seem irreconcilable.
Again, about Fr. Neuhaus’ oft–repeated claim that a separation of church and state is a necessary condition for modern societies: is this an absolute necessity, based upon its intrinsic goodness? Pope Pius X’s words on the matter in Vehementor Nos would seem to suggest otherwise:
"That the State must be separated from the Church is a thesis absolutely false, a most pernicious error. Based, as it is, on the principle that the State must not recognize any religious cult, it is in the first place guilty of a great injustice to God; for the Creator of man is also the founder of human so cieties, and preserves their existence as He preserves our own. We owe Him, therefore, not only a private cult, but a public and social worship to honor Him."
Is not the separation of church and state clearly condemned here? Even Fr. Neuhaus’ nuanced version? Is not a "public and social worship" tantamount to a sacred public square? But even if Fr. Neuhaus’ position can somehow be reconciled with Pius XII’s, why does it feel like one is reading two entirely different positions? Does not Fr. Neuhaus have an obligation to echo both the spirit and the letter of these teachings so as to prevent confusion?
Messrs. Ronny L. Fritz and Thaddeus Kozinski helpfully remind us of historically important statements of aspects of Catholic teaching pertinent to the questions addressed in "Proposing Democracy Anew." In the course of the development of the Church’s teaching, we have at present the most comprehensive understanding of the free, just, and democratic society set forth in encyclicals such as Centesimus Annus and Evangelium Vitae. What I wrote is, I believe, entirely consonant with those documents, as those documents are consonant with earlier statements made in different historical circumstances.
Mr. Kozinski asks about the distinction between the ideal and what is prudentially judged to be possible or desirable. Catholics must want all people to be in full communion with the Catholic Church, since we believe it is the Church of Jesus Christ most fully and rightly ordered through time. In that historically improbable circumstance of universally effective evangelization, the Church would no doubt, in the words of Leo XIII, enjoy "the favor of the laws and the patronage of the public authority."
In fact, in America the Catholic Church, along with other churches and religious communities, does enjoy favor and patronage in many important ways; none of them enjoys such favor and patronage exclusively, nor should that be the case. Church and state in America are not "dissevered and divorced." Such disseveration and divorce is the goal of the ACLU and other strict separationists who favor the naked public square. Their efforts to achieve that goal meet with powerful resistance and are today, I believe, on the defensive. (Incidentally, in the 1899 letter Testem Benevolentiae, Leo expressly says he does not criticize the laws and customs of the American polity.)
Even if a politically effective majority of citizens were Catholic, we should not want a confessional state if that means the Church, in its hierarchical self–definition, would be party to executing the necessarily coercive power of the state. Such an imaginary circumstance might be democratic in the sense that it would reflect the majority will, but it would violate the freedom and justice at the heart of Catholic social doctrine. (See the above–mentioned encyclicals on the limits and distortions of democracy.) Moreover, in a reproach to the clericalism that marks conventional no tions of a confessional state, the Second Vatican Council is emphatic that the governance of worldly affairs is the vocation of the laity; the hierarchy is to support them in that vocation. Further, learning from the bitter experience of grandiose notions of the state, contemporary Catholic teaching sharply delimits its role as spiritual or moral tutor.
I believe, in sum, that my judgment faithfully reflects the mind of the Church as articulated by the Magisterium—some earlier statements in understandable reaction against the French Revolution, the attacks on the papal states, and the dogmas of militantly anti–Catholic secularism notwithstanding. Of course, the Church as the Body of Christ or communio is the historical form of the Risen Lord who already reigns over what St. Paul called the principalities and powers of the present time, including the state. As we are assured in Philippians 2, that will be acknowledged by all in due course. Admittedly, these questions are historically and theologically complicated, which is why they are regularly discussed in these pages. (For further clarification, see my article "The Liberalism of John Paul II," FT, May 1997.)
In her article "Don’t Talk About Race" (December 1999), Sarah E. Hinlicky shows herself to be all too vulnerable to the tiresome phenomenon known as "white guilt."
Ms. Hinlicky has clearly not exorcised all the demons of what I take to be her former liberalism if she still reflexively shudders at the notion of black and white students eating at different tables, i.e., segregation by choice. What so many liberals fail to understand is that there is nothing, nothing whatsoever, wrong with that picture. It merely displays what sensible people can see is a commonsensical outcome: one tends to hang around with those who share one’s own cultural perspective. White culture and black culture are not the same, by and large. A lack of cultural integration does not equate to racism or bigotry on anyone’s part. There is nothing evil in a white person having no close black friends, or vice versa. Ms. Hinlicky acknowledges that culture, not race, is the real issue here, but she still seems uneasy absolving herself of the "sin" of feeling uncomfortable around black people, since they represent what for her is a strange and unfamiliar culture. I would like to invite her to see that such a feeling does not make her a racist or a bigot.
As someone who writes almost exclusively about race, I found much in Sarah E. Hinlicky’s essay with which I agree. Especially insightful is her comment that anything written on the subject will trigger, axiomatically, cries of insensitivity, or worse, pure racism, from the racial advocacy groups. However, her conclusion—black America and white America are different cultures—is mostly wrong.
From the dormitory cafeterias of our nation’s elite universities, it is easy to draw the conclusion that there is a distinct black culture and white culture. The self–segregation that Ms. Hinlicky observed as an undergraduate should come as no surprise to anyone who has witnessed the black–only freshman orientation, black–only graduation ceremonies, and black–only dormitories so prevalent on college campuses today. How our diversity–minded university administrators allow this self–segregation to flourish is a mystery.
I am confident, however, that Ms. Hinlicky will observe that life outside the academy is less racially polarized for the most part. Whether one examines church attendance, election results, rates of intermarriage, or attitudes about dating, one fact stands out: the American melting pot is alive and well for American blacks, just as it was in the past for Italians, Jews, and Asians, to name just a few.
Blacks and whites have the same culture: American. Overwhelmingly, in survey after survey, middle–class blacks and whites share the same values and admire the same virtues and traditions that are at the core of our American culture. This is not to suggest that there are not differences in political outlooks between the races, but that is not the same as culture. Cultural differences do exist between Americans locked in impoverished inner cities and rural outposts, but those mostly transcend race.
Ms. Hinlicky has been a witness to the academic–intoxicated celebration of "cultural diversity" at the expense of our cultural commonality. It is time for these colleges to take away the punchbowl.
Edward Blum, Chairman
Campaign for a Color–Blind America
We can all be grateful for Father Avery Dulles’ very clear exposition of the Catholic position on justification in "The Two Languages of Salvation" (December 1999). He frankly acknowledges it is "difficult to defend" the non–applicability of Tridentine anathemas to certain Lutheran passages in the Joint Declaration, and finds the Annex to be of no help.
But it seems to me that the real difficulty of the Joint Declaration concerns reality as such, the principle of noncontradiction. Either a Lutheran proposition A states a meaning or it doesn’t; either that proposition contradicts Trent’s true proposition A or it doesn’t; either proposition A reveals a reality as it is, or covers it up (falsehood). No amount of padding of A with innocuous or true propositions B, C, D can change that truth value of A. The conjunction of a false proposition with other propositions into a "system," "thought–form," or "language" does not remedy the falsehood of that proposition. Nothing is gained by saying that the Lutheran system which contains A is an acceptable "language"; the metaphor "language" has no meaning here. If a student of mine defended a self–contradictory paper by saying that he was speaking two different languages, I would have to fail him.
Fr. Dulles realizes the difficulty. But he thereupon switches from a realist presentation of contradictory Catholic and Lutheran doctrines to the idealist ecumenical epistemology of different "languages," each of which is able to dissolve contradiction by adding mutually agreeable related doctrine when one of its points contradicts something in the other "language." Had this hermeneutic existed in the fourth century, Nicenes could have passed Joint Declarations with Arians, who after all accepted the New Testament, including the Jo hannine prologue; those bishops who did so in weakness or confusion, including Pope Liberius, have gone down in history under Jerome’s celebrated lament, "the whole world groaned to find itself Arian."
Ansgar Santogrossi, OSB
Associate Professor of Philosophy
Mt. Angel Seminary
St. Benedict, Oregon
Brother Ansgar states very well the difficulty that Catholics committed to the teaching of Trent inevitably find in the Joint Declaration. For example, the Joint Declaration at various points seems to approve the thesis that justification consists in God’s not imputing our sins to us. The Official Catholic Response of June 1999 correctly noted the difficulty of reconciling this thesis with Trent, which insisted that God’s grace removes everything that is truly sin and makes us truly and interiorly righteous.
How, then, could the highest authorities in the Lutheran and Catholic churches agree to sign the Declaration, which affirms that the positions of both churches on justification escape the condemnations of the sixteenth century? Brother Ansgar seems to suggest that they are victims of "weakness and confusion." But I suggest a more positive ap praisal. Theologians, I believe, are being urged to adopt a fresh approach, at once more biblical and more suited to the needs of our day. It is necessary to transcend the sixteenth–century state of the question, in which the complexities of theological discourse were insufficiently noted.
My hypothesis (and it is little more than a hypothesis) is that the authorities are implicitly saying that the Lutheran and Catholic formulations seize authentic aspects of the mystery of justification, but do so from different perspectives. Following the analysis proposed by Otto Hermann Pesch in 1967, one may call these perspectives respectively "existential" and "sapiential." According to the perspectival approach, the reality is deeper and more complex than either set of formulations indicates.
Brother Ansgar’s analogy from Nicaea does not hold because Arius and Nicaea were speaking within the same conceptual framework and manifestly contradicting each other. A better analogy might be the Council of Florence, which approved two alternate formulas regarding the pro cession of the Holy Spirit. The predominantly Western tradition holds that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son as from a single coprinciple, whereas a predominantly Eastern tradition holds that the Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father through the Son. From an Eastern point of view, the "Western" formulation seems to overlook the unique role of the Father as primordial source. From a Western point of view, the "Eastern" formulation is unsatisfactory because it appears to make the Father only a remote source of the Spirit and to instrumentalize the role of the Son in the origin of the Spirit.
In his masterly work on the Trinity, Yves Congar explains that the mystery is too exalted to be encapsulated in any one theological system. Theolo gians, he suggests, may be in a position similar to physicists who sometimes use a particle model and other times a wave model in dealing with the phenomenon of light. Niels Bohr proposed a theory of complementarity according to which "the opposite of a true statement is a false statement, but the opposite of a profound truth can be another profound truth."
My hypothesis about the "two languages" receives some confirmation from the fact that Catholics in prayer use expressions closer to the Lutheran than to the Tridentine. The saints gladly confess that their righteousness is like a "filthy rag." With a deep sense of their abiding sinfulness, they beg God to have mercy on them out of love for Christ.
To my way of thinking, the Joint Declaration (even when read in light of the Official Common Statement, the Annex, and the Note on the Annex) is not a definitive solution but a step along the way. It leaves theolo gians with the task of showing more concretely how the "two languages" are ultimately compatible. Some of this work has already been done by the bilateral dialogues, but much remains to be done.
Fastball pitchers normally tire by the ninth inning, and since my book was the ninth of nine reviewed by Charlotte Allen in "The Holy Feminine" (December 1999), perhaps fastball fatigue explains why she threw those wicked curves at my Roses, Fountains, and Gold: The Virgin Mary in History, Art, and Apparition. In any case, all of them missed the plate.
The first was low, outside, and in the dirt—the accusation that I somehow failed to "[bring] home the fact that the saint the Christian Church chose to glorify above all other was Mary of Nazareth." Let me respond as gently as I can by pointing out, first, that Mary’s pride of place among, and indeed above, the saints hasn’t been in doubt since the Council of Ephesus, and, second, that anyone who writes as rhapsodically as I do about the Mother of God could more justifiably be accused of Mario latry than of Marian understatement.
My critic’s second curve was closer to a beanball. With malice aforepitch, she accuses me of including "many too many apparitions of a dubious, even crackpot nature." What she conveniently ignores is that whereas I devote eight full chapters to such authenticated Marian apparitions as Lourdes and Fatima, I write of the dubious ones—some very dubious, some not so dubious at all—in a single round–up chapter that contains an emphatic caveat.
Finally, she throws me the unkindest curve of all when she accuses me of "breezy diction"—which is like accusing me of bearing a dangerous resemblance to myself. What can I do? Breezy I was born, and breezy I remain. If my little gusts and zephyrs annoy my critic, I can only point out they had the opposite effect on those who wrote rave reviews for the National Catholic Register, the New Oxford Review, and the Remnant, among a half–dozen others.
Since Charlotte Allen had nothing at all good to say about my work, I wish I could return the compliment. But in fact, apart from her curveballs and her tragic lack of breeziness, I find her a talented writer. Indeed, even as I type these words, I’m gritting my dentures and doing my hypocritical best to wish her well. As the Pentecostals say, God love her, and I’m tryin’.
Brooklyn, New York
I return the compliment. Mr. Martin is also a talented writer—as his lively, well organized, and admirably chivalrous letter complaining of my treatment of his book amply demonstrates. But therein lies the problem with the book. "Breezy diction" is highly suitable for letters to the editor, where space is tight and the writer must make his point forcefully and persuasively without coming off like a sputtering crank. It does not work so well in a history such as Mr. Martin’s of two thousand years of Marian art and popular devotion, where the writing should be vivid but not overly informal, lest readers not take it seriously. For example, in his lengthy survey of numerous reported Marian apparitions, Mr. Martin never makes it clear, stylistically or otherwise, which ones might be regarded as genuine and which ones the fabrications of crackpots. However, I agree that my review might have been overly hard on his book, which, in covering a great deal of ground in relatively few pages, has the virtues of brevity and conciseness—virtues I failed to point out the first time around. He also displays an enthusiasm for his subject matter that is not without its charms.
I think that David Novak’s discussion of my book Matters of Life and Death: A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics (November 1999) fails as a review, not because it is negative, but because most of it focuses on a total of what occupies 12 out of 423 pages of text (exclusive of bibliography and index) in my book. The review thus loses sight of the book it is supposed to evaluate and becomes instead an expression of Professor Novak’s disagreement with me on one issue. He certainly has a right to disagree, but his total lack of proportionality makes his piece an essay on his own views of one specific matter rather than a balanced review.
Prof. Novak claims that my treatment of homosexuality indicates that my difference from Reform "is one of degree rather than kind" and that I, unlike him, do not look to the tradition for authority or guidance. Yet he himself mentions that my position on abortion is both traditional and strongly against the stream of what contemporary Jews do. Moreover, Samuel Klagsbrun, in his review of my book in Sh’ma: A Journal of Jewish Responsibility (January 1999), complains that I am much too conservative in arguing that assisted suicide should never be allowed. The question, then, is not norms or no norms; it is rather which norms. Reasonable people committed to the Jewish tradition can, and always have, disagreed in their interpretation and application of it in specific areas.
Prof. Novak claims that in using the word "ideology" I had Leo Strauss’ use of that term in mind and that therefore I have uprooted myself from a grounding in either nature or theology. Nothing could be further from the truth. Strauss’ use of the term is specific to his own theories. I was simply using the term in accord with two of the four meanings listed in Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary. The first definition listed there is "the study of ideas, their nature and source." The fourth definition is "the doctrines, opinions, or way of thinking of an individual, class, etc." I used the term "ideology" in its usual, dictionary sense rather than in Strauss’ idiosyncratic usage.
Prof. Novak claims that I have unfairly characterized the Christian understanding of the nature of the human being and that, in fact, Christianity and Judaism have much in common on that and other issues. The two religions do indeed have many values in common, and I personally have been heavily involved in exploring that not only in my writing, but also in my extensive interfaith activities over the past twenty–five years. I mention this because I certainly do not come from a position of "Christian–bashing." At the same time, while Prof. Novak is correct in saying that Maimonides wanted Jews to suppress the desires of the body, that, I would submit, is the Greek rather that the Jew in him.
In any case, the important thing to note is not what individual theologians have suggested, but rather what the theory and practice of the overwhelming majority of thinkers and practitioners of the two religions have been. On this issue, I would simply point to the long and pervasive history of Christian asceticism, a phenomenon that has scant Jewish parallels. Yes, the two traditions do share some perceptions and some values, but they also differ in a number of ways, and not just on Jesus: they differ also, I would submit, on the predominant understanding of how one is to understand the body and soul and how one is to react to the body’s urges.
I clearly know and stated several times over that the Torah and Rabbis were opposed to homosexuality. I even stated openly that most within my own Conservative movement do not agree with me on this issue. Prof. Novak may surely disagree with my arguments, but that is very different from suggesting that I have deliberately tried to mislead people—a charge that is both untrue and defamatory.
University of Judaism
Los Angeles, California
It is understandable why Elliot Dorff didn’t like my review of his book. No author likes sharp criticism. However, I stand by everything I said. His stand on homosexuality, even if only a small portion of his book, is the exception that proves the rule. By so cavalierly dismissing as unjust the traditional Jewish ban on homosexual acts—a ban undisputed throughout the whole history of Jewish law—he shows that this whole tradition is not normative for him, but only the source of selective guidance or misguidance. This is Reform Judaism, which Reform Jews at least admit is not a continuation of Normative Judaism. If Professor Dorff had only admitted that he is not really a halakhic (that is, traditionally normative) Jewish thinker, I would have reviewed his book very differently, differing with its view of Judaism to be sure, but not on grounds of inner inconsistency.
I was taken aback to read Richard John Neuhaus’ comments (While We’re At It, December 1999) on my April 1999 article in Commentary and my response to Eugene Fisher in the letters section of the same journal (June/July) concerning the distinction between the Church as a human institution and as "the Mystical Body of Christ." First of all, Mr. Neuhaus can rest assured that as far as I am concerned, Catholics who wish to do so have every right to believe that the Church is sinless in a sacramental, transcendent sense. But why should it be "obtuse" on my part to point out that such a belief is scarcely binding on Jews, Protestants, or other non–Catholics? Moreover, in what way is this distinction relevant to the historical questions arising from Pius XII’s conduct during World War II and in relation to the Holocaust? Even Mr. Neuhaus seems to accept that as a human being, a Pope can make errors, pursue mistaken policies, or fail in his duty. Whether this was the case with Pope Pius XII is best left to cool–headed, judicious examination of all the evidence available, by an independent inquiry.
Hopefully, this contentious issue will be clarified by the joint efforts of Catholic and Jewish scholars who already began last December to review published Vatican archival material about World War II—an initiative that was first proposed by Cardinal Cassidy. As one of the six scholars selected for this task, I have agreed to serve on this commission both out of a general desire to help resolve this cloud hanging over Catholic–Jewish relations and, more specifically, because I believe that we should all be committed to finding out the truth irrespective of what we might like to believe.
I find it regrettable, uncharitable, and frankly disrespectful that Mr. Neuhaus should accuse me of "a serious disservice to the truth" because as a Jew I do not share a particular point of Catholic theological doctrine; worse still that he should imply that I was being deliberately "obtuse" in responding to Mr. Fisher—a scholar whom I respect—or in any way denigratory about Catholic beliefs. Theology is important but it should not be confused with historical research.
There is also a wider point that I wish some of my Catholic critics would take to heart before they rush to judgment. Surely, at the end of a bloodstained millennium in which religion has all too often been a divisive force, we need to rise above petty point–scoring and intemperate polemics to rediscover some of the common ground between Christians and Jews.
Robert S. Wistrich
Professor of Modern Jewish History
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
This journal endorses wholeheartedly Robert S. Wistrich’s positive sentiments. No publication of general interest does more in emphasizing "the common ground between Christians and Jews." It is not the case, however, that in his remarks in Commentary Professor Wistrich affirmed his respect for the Catholic belief that the Church is, in a sacramental and transcendent sense, sinless. On the contrary, he charged that the distinction, suggested by Eugene Fisher, between the Church as institution and the Church as the Body of Christ "is exactly as I feared" and means that "the Vatican’s final position on the Church’s ‘errors and failures’ would be to hold ordinary Christians responsible while maintaining that the institution itself was blameless." Whether or not he was being obtuse, this was a serious disservice to the truth. I am pleased that he has clarified his position, and wish him and the other scholars on the commission the very best in their important work.
We are grateful to those alert readers who chided us for factual errors about Alabama (Edward T. Oakes, "Shakespeare’s Millennium," December 1999). Neither the boll weevil statue nor the statehouse is in Birmingham. The boll weevil monument is in Enterprise and the statehouse in Montgomery—which is not only the state capital but also home of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival.