The Difference God Makes, Cardinal Frances George.
Having recently read “The Baltimore Catechism, Four” and passages from “The Summa,” I can’t resist asking questions and answering them. This, then, is the mode for unpacking the late Cardinal Francis George’s intellectually and spiritually challenging book. Given the depth of his writing, and my respect for its profundity, each paragraph begins by quoting him. In directly questioning and challenging certain of his points, my intention mainly is for clarifying and unpacking them, though I’m sometimes critical. The questions I ask, after each quotation of Cdl. George’s, focuses our attention on aspects of his intricate insights–a moment carefully to consider his meaning. A counter-point follows these questions, where we assume an antithesis. Finally, I offer my own reflections on the passage we’re considering. Such a method demands slow reading and re-reading; his writing is worth the careful attention. A basic understanding of Metaphysics and Ethics is sometimes assumed.
I. Individualism vs Participation:
Quotation from Cdl. George:
x “In the United States, individualism is so closely associated with creativity and personal freedom that the Gospel’s injunction to surrender oneself to Christ and to others in order to be free has become largely incomprehensible.”
– What is meant by “individualism?”
Counter-Point (CP): I’m spiritual, not religious. I define myself, by myself, without restrictions. The Gospel brings personal freedom, not constraint, contrary to legalistic rule following.
Out of fear of the potential selfishness and isolation inherent in radical individualism (of viewing the self as an island, being fully autonomous, in need of no one), we don’t want to land in the communal altruism of Marxist Utilitarianism (where only the common good for the collective matters). Erring on either side, individualism or collectivism, egoism or altruism, renders the Gospel unintelligible. Am I, an individual, loved equally by God as any other individual is loved? or does God simply love humanity, seeking its greater good, even if to my demise? Each one of us is in his image and likeness, of inestimable worth. God is no altruist Utilitarian, seeking the greatest good for the greatest number, even at the expense of being unjust to an individual. But what of Christ’s crucifixion? Christ willingly laid down his life for our salvation; he wasn’t forced, as though his life had no worth except for benefiting the collective of mankind. Anti-individualism and altruism sound holy, initially, since they counter egoism; but without balance, they are key ingredients of Communism.
(22) The culture of death comes from our separation between freedom and truth.
– How have we separated freedom from truth?
CP: We each have our own truth. Don’t impose your truth on me.
Americans redefine marriage. Males claim they are women and females claim they are men. No doubt, we freely define ourselves, truth be damned. Women claim their body is their own, they are free to choose (death), regardless of the truth of the nature of who is growing inside of her. Our radical notion of freedom, unrestrained by nature and truth, leads to our destruction, to death. It’s an odd freedom one practices that, rather than fulfilling his potential, thwarts it and snuffs out his life, as excessive drinking shows.
The book, Revolution and Counter-Revolution, discusses this false freedom as key to Satan’s revolution against God and human society:
“As we have seen, the Revolution was born from an explosion of disorderly passions that is leading to the total destruction of temporal society, the complete subversion of the moral order, and the denial of God. The great target of the Revolution is, then, the Church, the Mystical Body of Christ, the infallible teacher of the Truth, the guardian of Natural Law, and, therefore, the ultimate foundation of temporal order itself” (Oliviera, 114).
22 “The community of Jesus Christ does not seek to take over the reins of political power; rather it seeks to create a culture.”
– Isn’t politics part of culture?
CP: We now have freedom of worship, not freedom of religion. Political involvement entails pursuit of theocracy. Keep religion within the house of worship.
Only Christ will reign as King over the world. Never has a Pope ruled as a king, or sought to. The Church always acknowledges the rightful domain of civic government. This doesn’t imply, though, that Christians are to keep their faith out of politics, as though we’re free to write songs but not free to write political tracts, or to advocate for laws, or to run for office. Politicians and lawyers influences culture; the community of Jesus Christ must be salt and light in these domains, as well. We insist on freedom of religion, not simply the limiting freedom of worship.
24b “The deepest truth that Catholics proclaim is that of communiio: all things and all people are ordered to God and hence ordered in love to one another. This truth informs everything we say about the political, social, economic, and cultural realms. If we surrender this truth–either through ideological compromise or even out of concern for civility–we sucomb to the culture of death.”
– Cannot atheists, then, provide a suitable framework for society and moral motivation?
– Deism, too, inevitably leads to a culture of death?
– Do we, from wishing to be civil, surrender the truth of our being ordered toward loving God and toward loving one another?
CP: Hume refuted Aristotle’s and Aquinas’s teleology centuries ago, with his is/ought gap. Imposing one ultimate end on all cultures is uncivil and bigoted, itself leading to intolerance and death.
God is not only a unifying principle; he is personal. He grounds ethics, not only as its source and end, but as the Father of his children and as one providing necessary grace for moral motivation. Without him, we’re among billions of people on a planet, which is among billions of planets and stars, which are among billions of galaxies that are spreading apart ever faster into infinite space–where’s the communion and love in such chance and insignificance?
Kant’s Categorical Imperative, Mill’s Principle of Utility, Hobbes’s Social Contract or Rawls’s Veil of Ignorance, or even Aristotle’s Virtue Ethics, do not have the explanatory power for establishing ethics nor the needed motivation for moral action. Ignoring this simpler unifying theory, theism, is anti-intellectual; making moral demands without giving the ability to carry them out is unjust. In being ordered to the God of love, his love, as grace, inspires moral action, and draws people closer to one another. Without this single end, and the his unifying love, chaos and death are inevitable.
47 It is God “in which and through which all created things exist.” Because we see God in creation, we “appreciate the essential connectedness of all things to God and, through God, to one another.” Seeing God, instead, as the supreme instance of being, and radically separating God from creatures (Nominalism), rather than the act of to-be itself, breaks down this understanding of participation.
48 “A social ontology of peace gives way to one of violence. ‘Ought’ can find no foundation in ‘is’; and metaphysics no longer functions as meta-ethics.”
49 “One of the most remarkable and disturbing expressions of this Hobbesian freedom is the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992, dealing with abortion rights. The majority of the Justices determined that ‘at the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.’ What we see here, with breathtaking clarity, is the complete eclipse of truth by freedom and hence the subjectivizing of any and all moral, metaphysical, or religious claims.”
– Are we not able to separate theology from philosophy, Jerusalem from Athens?
– On what authority do we reject Nominalism for Thomistic Ontology?
– Do we need Ethics grounded in Metaphysics?
– For evangelizing, do we need to convince pagans of absolute truth and of freedom as limited by an ultimate end?
CP: Just present the pure Gospel, apart from any philosophical baggage. Ethics is rooted in God’s Divine Commands, not in human thought systems.
Pious sounding claims that obliterate the rational aspect of God’s nature, and of ours, is impious and irrational. Neither nature nor Scripture interpret themselves. This is why Christ established his Church, rather than simply handing out a book. Without reason, philosophy, hermeneutics, Scripture can be taken in any number of ways. Nominalism or Subjectivism have their consequences, and they’re quite different from those of Thomistic ontology. Scripture, though, does clearly teach of God’s presently sustaining everything, and of his completing everything in Christ; as our ground and goal, his love establishes and motivates morality. This is antithetical to a Hobbesian state of nature and its atomistic individualism, requiring purely self-interested reason to form and hold together society.
55 “This is why, for von Balthasar, the true theologians are the saints: one cannot speak correctly of divine things until one has participated in them intimately. Does this imply that academic theologians become irrelevant? Of course not, but it does imply that in their work they must consider as a privileged locus theologicus the examples of the Christian way that occur in the lives of those who are intimate with God. If von Balthasar is right, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, picking the dying off the streets and treating them with dignity and love, is an icon, not only of enormous evangelical power, but also of great theological depth. Certainly, Pope John Paul II believed that of her.”
– One’s ground for doing theology, then, includes studying the lives of the saints?
– What does it mean to say the loving action of Mother Teresa is an icon of theological depth?
CP: Truth is truth, no matter who is speaking it. Jesus told his followers to do as the Pharisees said, but not to live as the Pharisees did. How one lives or loves has little to do with reason and facts, with doing theology.
Knowing how is different from knowing that. There are different ways of knowing. Both are essential to their own purposes, places, and tasks. The purpose of theology is knowing and loving God and neighbor, not simply knowing facts and theories about them. Propositional knowledge is not a sufficient condition for loving Christ intimately; mystical theologians argue that it’s not even a necessary condition for it. Theologians teach, communicate–much is communicated non-verbally; the depth of one’s soul affects this communication. The academic theologians who are not intimate with God necessarily, then, teach false theology. Only the academic theologian who participates in divine things can talk of them meaningfully, more fully.
II. Evangelizing and Solidarity:
88 “[T]o be a partner in interreligious dialogue, one must be a believer. The methodology of comparative religions or of any discipline that would bracket one’s personal convictions serves only to distort interreligious dialogue.”
– In what way is interreligious dialogue distorted by one who brackets his personal convictions?
CP: This approach defeats the peaceful goal of such dialogue out of the gate. Keep personal beliefs to yourself, if you can’t reasonably expect any fair-minded person to accept them, if you truly believe in human solidarity and global peace.
Requiring only public reasons for that which gives one existential meaning confuses differing categories of understanding. Conversing with another about each of your most meaningful and personal love and faith relationships is to hold a conversation far different than that between sport enthusiasts regarding their favorite teams. The latter conversation functions fine with nothing but stats and figures, not the former. Religious dialogue, to be religious, involves the ground of one’s being, the center of one’s life and of life itself. Understanding another’s religion requires honest dialogue involving not just their practices and propositional beliefs, but their intuitions, feelings, emotions, and spiritual experiences. Religious dialogue shouldn’t be had as pedantic arguing, unless you’d like to make an intellectual game of it.
170 “Within the Church, the bishops are the reality check for the apostolic faith. They are not free to change established dogma or create new doctrines, unless they want to become heretics.”
– In redefining doctrine by its given paradigm, isn’t each generation keeping the Gospel alive and relevant?
CP: We don’t need to be so crude and divisive as to change dogma or create new doctrines; but we must redefine them in a way that’s harmonious with one’s society and with the global community, with its mores and aspirations.
Only this foundation offers a religion one can believe in. When doctrines periodically change around popular opinion or from a charismatic or powerful figure, the religion simply becomes another philosophy serving a special interest. Laity see through religious institutions that change doctrines as wardrobes, to fit in with secular power brokers. Why not skip the middleman and follow the real leader? Drop the phony religion and go to the intellectual source, Humanist and Modernist philosophers.
Most unfortunately, many bishops are heterodox; they can’t be relied on for a reality check. As Fulton Sheen said, this role will be up to the laity; it’s been abdicated by too many bishops. Organizations like Church Militant ( http://www.churchmilitant.com ) accept this challenge, as Mother Angelica did with EWTN in her struggle against California bishops. Publications like “The Wanderer” also weaponize vulnerable laity.
128 “Globalized economies, societies, and cultures will respond only to a genuinely unified Church. As the faith communities become again the primary shapers and leavens of culture in the next millennium, interfaith dioalogue becomes ever more imperative.”
– By a “unified Church,” do we mean institutionally or just informally?
– Islam clearly is a primary shaper of culture, but is Christianity?
– What will religions dialogue with one another about? to what end? to everyone becoming Catholic or joining a NWO religion?
CP: Interfaith dialogue assumes a rational and propositional framework for believers of institutional religions. Many of today’s religious participants, though, practice a non-propositional and informal spirituality; they won’t respond to a unified, hierarchical institution.
Will the Eastern Churches or Protestants, who do not accept the Pope as sitting in the Seat of Peter, agree to unify the Church? or will Catholics drop offending beliefs, for the sake of this unity? Perhaps Cdl. George is not referring to institutional unity, but what then could he mean by “a genuinely unified Church?”
Practically speaking, how can Christianity hold its own in the face of ever expanding Islam and Modernism? How can it dialogue with them, in the interest of peace and understanding, without its being institutionally and theologically united?
Logistically speaking, who could bring about such unity from within Christiandom but the Catholic Church? Whichever branch believes it can serve as such a global Christian unifier, then, is obliged to win the other Christian branches over to its own institution.
It seems that the Catholic Church, if it’s true to Scripture, to its tradition (including Papal encyclicals, Church Doctors, Councils, Catechism) is more likely to fulfill Jesus’ statement about his coming to divide, not to establish world peace. Protestants don’t want to hear about the Real Presence of the Eucharist or about Mary’s Immaculate Conception; Muslims and Jews won’t hear of God’s having a Son and Holy Spirit; Buddhists and Atheists won’t accept Theism, a personal God with no Pure Consciousness ontologically prior to Him. “Globalized economies, societies, and cultures will respond only to a genuinely unified Church” all right–they’ll likely respond as they often do, with persecution. The Catholic Church is despised and ridiculed around the world, and it’s getting only worse. As the world false deeper into perversion, it’s only less tolerant of the light that exposes it. Perhaps Christians should turn down that light and speak more in a public language accepted by all parties–less offensive, more amicable.
115 Given the effects on people of globalization and a new world order, the Church must “affirm what is good and noble about it, and to confront its shortcomings and evils with the light and power of the Gospel.”
– Should we, rather, simply oppose it altogether?
– Do we reasonably call citizens of a brutal totalitarian regime to affirm the good and confront the shortcomings?
International trade is a fact, is desirable, and is here to stay. Naturally, we want it practiced fairly. What is meant, though, by a New World Order? If this is becoming a one world government, greatly encroaching on national sovereignty, does the Church want to bother affirming what’s good about it? If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, doesn’t a NWO inevitably become the enemy of the Church? Typically, we don’t waist time desifering what’s good and what’s not, regarding an evil regime; rather, we identify it as evil and seek to undermine it. Evil is to be conquered, not conversed with on open and friendly terms–lest one becomes infected by it.
126 As a transnational institution, the Catholic Church can build solidarity among nations.
127 “The message of faith that the Church preaches provides a moral and spiritual vision for a just and equitable society in an age of globalization. The truths she has received from Christ embolden the Church to proclaim: the dignity and centrality of the human person for any social project; solidarity among all members of the human family; the presence of both good and evil in every culture, and the reconciling mission of Jesus Christ to bring all things on earth together in an offering to God (see Eph. 1:10; Col. 1:20).”
129b-130 The world is on a journey to reconciliation of all things in Christ. We must present this message, “whether or not it is understood or accepted.” Vatican II was “a call for the Church to change the world.”
– In building solidarity among nations, are we participating in a universal brotherhood of man toward utopia?
– Is our supporting globalization and the NWO identified with Jesus offering everything to God?
– Given the nature of some enemies, might cooperation with them always be wrong? losing our resolve in capitulating with evil?
– Doesn’t the world resist any such journey and normally reject Christ’s message?
– What does our call to change the world look like? repent, lest ye fall into the hands of an angry God?
Although the Church is transnational, she will not build solidarity among nations; to be a friend with the world is to be the enemy of God. The world is the City of Man, under the Prince of the Power of the Air, not the City of God. The Kingdom of God will be established on earth only under Christ’s direct rule, after he comes in wrath to destroy his enemies. The message of faith that the Church teaches is offensive to the world, mostly; it is not understood or accepted. The journey the world is on leads to Hell, the road more traveled.
Liberation Theology gave Marxist meaning to Christian theology. Only the naive always accept words at face value. We are to be wise, not to be mesmerized by shiny objects and happy talk.
135 Evangelism is not only proclaiming the Gospel, but also includes “the transformation of humanity from within.” It speaks to “both the personal and collective consciences of people.” “It aims to plant the Church in order to inaugurate the kingdom of God….” Christ’s salvation includes “liberation from everything that oppresses….” Evangelization and human liberation are linked. “The salvation the Church announces certainly cannot be reduced to material well-being, but concern for human promotion is not ‘foreign’ to evangelization.”
– What does it mean to transform the collective conscience?
CP: Talk of evangelization, the Gospel, the kingdom of God, and salvation, pacifies evangelical Catholics, while these terms receive new Modernist definitions with talk of the collective, liberation, and human promotion. Reading Church officials accurately requires one to read like a lawyer; casual reading by the devout floats the hidden agenda over their heads and into the heads of fellow NWO conspirators.
Humanity will not ultimately be transformed from within, it will be imposed from without upon Christ’s return in judgement. Any collective conscience of people is, and will continue to be, ruled by the lust of the flesh and the pride of life. God’s Kingdom advances, gaining beachheads, establishing justice and material well-being at the social and personal level; but let’s not delude ourselves into thinking the world just keeps getting better all the time, right up to the point that we hand off a remade world to Jesus for him to rule.
136 While it is wrong to impose the Gospel on others, it is wrong not to propose it. We must teach God’s way of salvation in Jesus Christ. “We have been commanded to bear witness to this revelation and must consider whether we place our own salvation in jeopardy by failing to preach it to others (137).”
140 “The Church’s mission, in fact, promotes human freedom. The Church rejects the view that the call to conversion addressed to non-Christians is ‘proselytism,’ for every single person has the right to hear the truth of the Gospel. It is not enough, as some would suggest, to limit one’s missionary service to promoting human development to limit one’s missionary service to promoting human development and helping people preserve their own religious traditions.”
146 “We reject the view that Christ is Mediator of salvation only for some, or that he reveals only some aspects of the truth about God and the truth about the human person. It is not possible to remove the ‘scandal’ of the Christian claim that we are saved in ‘no other name’ and remain a believer.”
– Key phrases for the message: The Gospel, God’s way of salvation, this revelation. Key phrases for delivering the message: Propose, teach, bear witness to, preach it.
– As an Evangelical, I understood this to mean: share the “Roman Road” or the “Four Spiritual Laws” or “Chic Tracts” or the “Gospel of John” with street evangelism or one-on-one with friends. Preaching it meant–preaching it; I’d stand in a pulpit at a homeless shelter or on a table in my school cafeteria or in the back of a pickup in a grocery store parking lot and–preach it. The Charismatic Bible college I attended, Christ for the Nations Institute, required students to do a ministry each semester; I did “Homosexual and Prostitute Ministry,” “Jail Ministry,” “Church Bus Ministry” and others, all direct evangelism. As Catholics, what do we, in practice, actually mean by these nice phrases? Direct evangelism is quite rare among Catholics.
CP: Apart from talk of sin, repentance, Heaven, and Hell (which one doesn’t hear much of), the Gospel is a remedy to a problem that doesn’t exist. If we have the reasonable expectation that everyone will be saved, why bother them with our blather?
Fr. Dwight Longenecker article (National Catholic Register; Feb. 5, 2018) addresses this issue well:
“Christians of different traditions were asked percentage wise how important evangelization was to their understanding of the Christian faith. Mainline Protestants answered 60 percent. Evangelical Christians answered 85 percent. Catholics said 3 percent….
4. Church or Jesus? Too many Catholics confuse evangelization with getting people to join the Catholic Church. The primary task of evangelization is meeting people where they are introducing them to Jesus Christ. It is possible to do this without bringing in the Catholic Church with its whole devotional and sacramental system. It is possible to talk to someone in need and say, “You need to get right with God. You need to say, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner!’ That’s the first step.” After they make that decision they can start to attend church and learn about the sacramental system and how to continue their relationship with Christ as a Catholic. The reason so many Catholics have a problem with this is because they are unsure whether they themselves have ever had that fundamental, rock bottom, first step conversion transaction….
10. Universalism. The ugly twin sister of Indifferentism is Universalism — the teaching that God loves everyone so much that he would never send anyone to hell. In other words, in the end, everybody will be saved. Why bother if we’re all going to get into heaven simply because God is such a nice Santa Claus-type figure in the sky who will make sure everyone succeeds? Like indifferentism, the Catholic Church is riddled with universalism and its cowardly half breed sister semi-universalism. This is the belief that there is a hell and there might just be a few people there, but there won’t be many and maybe even the ones who are there will serve their prison sentence and be allowed into heaven after all. Universalism is cowardly, un-Scriptural and un-Christian. It doesn’t take a St. Thomas Aquinas to figure out that this teaching means not only the death of evangelization, but eventually the death of the Church.”
( EWTN NewsLink: http://www.ncregister.com/blog/longenecker/10-reasons-why-catholics-dont-evangelize )
167 “The call to personal conversion, which is at the heart of the Gospel, has been smothered by a pillow of accommodation.” Cdl. George lists several issues promoted by liberal Catholics: homosexuality, abortion, contraception, second marriages.
168 Especially the young, who have felt “trapped in our secularized culture,” notice an apostolic faith taught with integrity.
Saint Birgitta of Sweden wisely instructs us in our evangelizing, concerning speech and prayer, zeal and patience:
“Accordingly, you must run toward the sinner with all your desire, with divine zeal and complete patience, both in season and out of season, so that the sinner may be converted. Where the righteous man makes no progress through speech or admonishments, there he must exercise zeal and persevere in earnest prayer” (St. Birgitta of Sweden, Bk IV, Ch.129, v 31).
156 “The answer, however, is not to be found in a type of conservative Catholicism obsessed with particular practices and so sectarian in its outlook that it cannot serve as a sign of unity of all peoples in Christ.”
169 This is not to condone a type of conservative Catholicism that “absolutizes [earlier cultural forms] for all times and all places.”
– In being vigilant over particular universal practices, doesn’t conservative Catholicism serve to counter sectarianism and disunity?
– One is either an obsessive sectarian or a unify-er? Is this a straw-man characterization?
CP: Some traditional Catholics are offensive, schismatic, not in the service of the Gospel but more to non-consequential aesthetic preferences.
The conservative Catholic, concerned for traditional practices, not the all-to-common Modernist Catholic, is the one likely concerned with evangelizing and holy living. If the goal is unifying all peoples in Christ, by any means necessary, then drop respect for the traditional Mass and devotions in favor of emotionalism and universalism. A New Age Jesus, one who doesn’t demand holiness and single devotion, makes a much better sign of unity.
169 Catholic teaching is neither all “conservative” or all “liberal,” as these terms are often popularly understood, but “simply Catholic.” “Just as liberal Catholicism is frequently uneasy with the Church’s understanding of the gift of human sexuality when her teaching runs up against the popular Freudianism of the sexual revolution, conservative Catholicism is often uneasy with the Church’s understanding of a just society when her social teaching draws conclusions about social services and the distribution of wealth from the premise of universal human solidarity.”
– Are the “conclusions about social services and the distribution of wealth,” making conservative Catholics uneasy, dogma or simply prudential decisions drawn from principles of justice?
– Why divide the Church where it’s not necessary, between fiscal conservatives and progressive activists?
Perhaps this division might be overcome in differentiating between matters of prudence and matters of dogma. Basic sexual ethics are not open for debate; the best means for achieving the common good are. That we must seek the common good is not an open question. Whether redistribution of wealth by the government or by the Church, for the poor, or, rather, incentivising businesses to expand and higher, is an argument for business professionals and politicians. By “simply Catholic,” I fear, believing Catholics try to make friends on both sides of the isle: “yes, I’m pro-life; and yes, I’m a social justice warrior.” We cannot hedge on life issues; we can question economic theories. We can question how many immigrants, from what nations, with what skills, our nation should allow, to be compassionate both to immigrants and to existing citizens. We cannot question whether or not to be compassionate.
In his celebrated Novel, Windswept House, Father Martin Malachi has his character trying to make sense of his Pope. We too must consider the options in attempting, charitably and wisely, to understand the actions and writings of our Church leaders.
“…[O]nly three ideas were open to serious consideration as possible explanations for this Pope’s action. First, and no matter what his qualities as priest, prelate and scholar, there was the possibility that His Holiness was simply an incompetent governor of his Church. The second possibility was that the Holy Father had decided to go along with the so-called progressivists in his Church, and with the power centers outside his Church, in the hope of turning the situation around somewhere down the road. Go along to get along, in other words. The only remaining possibility was that the Slavic Pope had come to papal power with his own ideas already formed about the coming world of the third millennium. That he considered the whole present structure of his Church to be expendable, and expected it to be replaced by an as yet unknown structure” (Martin, 437-438).
2 thoughts on “Book Review of:”
It’s good to see that there are still some good Catholic Sentinels standing bold and vigilant atop the watchtower of the flock. Thanks for sharing your genuine insights into this book, I enjoyed the read.
It’s good to see that there are still some good Catholic Sentinels standing bold and vigilant atop the watchtower of the flock. Thanks for the insightful review, I enjoyed the read. Keep up the good work:)
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