June 4, 2015

“Where would we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Peter’s words here are the words of a desperate lover, which is definitely what he was. Peter almost never understood Jesus, at least until Easter, but he knew he loved him, and that was enough for him. That’s what we need to do. Hold on to love. Desperately. Like a life preserver in the storm. Nothing else saves, everything else is straw. My former boss Elizabeth Scalia has asked... Read more

May 28, 2015

The Church has a doctrine. The Church exists (among other things) to proclaim the Gospel, and is being led by the Spirit into all truth, and in a sinful world, that entails not only saying what is the case, but also what is NOT the case. The way this is often done in authoritative Church documents (conciliar or papal) is through anathemas. An anathema is an official declaration that someone who believes something erroneous is placed outside the visible boundaries of... Read more

May 26, 2015

I’m sure I’m not the only person who can be aggravated by what is often described, not wrongly, as the pietism, quietism and even masochism of some versions of pre-Vatican II Catholicism and spirituality. Against a spirituality that looks at suffering as something to be accepted and borne quietly, I find myself kicking and screaming about the Biblical message that God’s purpose is not to allow a select few to escape from this “vale of tears” to a place called Heaven, but... Read more

April 23, 2015

I’ve often resisted writing about this, because what can be written about Karl Barth’s religion-Gospel dichotomy other than the obvious? Namely, that like all dichotomies based on semantics, it is inherently vacuous? Namely, that while it’s already ridiculous to, in any but the most cursory way, lump together arguably the most profound, the most complex, the most variegated, the richest set of human experiences and cultural institutions under the label “religion”, it is ridiculous-squared to then give that label such a procrustean definition... Read more

April 20, 2015

Dogmatic theology is a funny thing. I assume most people who even know what the phrase refers to think of it as, if not just boring, then certainly theoretical, abstract, and removed from the concerns of daily life. Nothing could be further from the truth. Take the venerable Patristic and Scholastic doctrine that God is not ens summum, but ipsum esse subsistens, not the highest kind of being there is, but the sheer act of “to be” itself. The mystery of existence is the... Read more

March 13, 2015

It’s too bad that the great expression associated with the Holy Father, “the Pope of Mercy” (I believe John Allen coined it), has become polluted by the ecclesiastical politics surrounding the Synod of the Family. The Pope is absolutely right: what Christians need right now is an avalanche of mercy (which, as the Pope is well aware, is not the same thing as cheap grace). I’m prompted by his excellent decision to make today a worldwide day of confession to write about an idea that’s... Read more

March 10, 2015

As you may have heard, America’s national Catholic newspapers united in publishing anti-death penalty editorials. They were joined in this by Patheos Catholic. The excellent canon law blogger Edward Peters is not happy, both on form and substance. On substance, he notes correctly that Catholic doctrine always has, and still does, accept the death penalty in certain circumstances. He notes that the Catechism’s stance that in the modern age there are practically almost no circumstances where the death penalty makes... Read more

March 5, 2015

An op-ed in the New York Times fretting that Common Core is teaching kids that there are no moral facts has generated a bit of discussion. A Common Core poster says there are only “facts” (in the sense of “brute facts”) and “opinions.” My friend Noah Millman says that we shouldn’t fret, and uses a second-grade moral example to illustrate his point. But in doing so he merely repeats the confusion that is being fretted about. Here is Noah’s example: Eddie... Read more

March 3, 2015

The (by and large quite good) Aeon magazine has a frustrating story on the question of whether God can lie and how it was supposedly the case that the Scientific revolution solved what had been hitherto a frustrating theological question. I say frustrating because it doesn’t contain outright falsehoods but does contain enough omissions and prevarications that a misleading impression is left. As the piece itself eventually and grudgingly admits, classical Christian doctrine actually never had much of a problem answering the question: God... Read more

March 2, 2015

First Things has a great little post by a dejected Lutheran convert about how Catholic liturgical singing is like “plaintive squeaks from depressed marmosets.” This is a permanent pet peeve of mine. And yes, this is something parish priests should do more about. You know the phenomenon of how a church will be crowded–except the two front pews. I knew a priest who often wouldn’t start Mass until those pews were filled. He would go out in front before Mass and ask people to move... Read more

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