wDe Virtutibus
The goal of a virtuous life is to become like God.
-St. Gregory of Nyssa; CCC 1803

De Virtutibus; or, Kevin's Kasuist Korner; or, Miller's Moral Musings.

"Why 'De Virtutibus'?"

wLinks, resources:
Worth browsing ...

Balthasar: a Sketch
Book TV.org
Center for Life Principles
Christian Classics Ethereal Library
Coalition of Americans for Research Ethics
Franciscan University of Steubenville
IntraText Digital Library
John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family
Christopher Kaczor
Life Issues Institute
Marquette University Institute for Natural Family Planning
National Catholic Bioethics Center
National Right to Life
New Advent
Perseus Digital Library
Priests for Life
Ratzinger Fan Club
The Thomist


< x ? ChristBlogs # x >

<< # St. Blog's Parish ? >>

Select Catholic and other good blogs

After abortion
Being! Or Nothingness
Catholic Analysis
Catholic and Enjoying It!
Catholic Light
Catholic Ragemonkey
Dappled Things
Dawn Patrol
Dyspeptic Mutterings
Envoy Encore
Fructus Ventris
HMS Blog
In Light of the Law
Open Book
Rerum Novarum
SecretAgentMan's Dossier
Sed Contra
Summa Contra Mundum
Thrown Back
... and more ...

News and commentary

Catholic News Service
First Things
National Catholic Register
National Review Online
Town Hall
Weekly Standard
ZENIT News Agency

Some especially good moral theology reads ...

Aquinas, Summa Theologiae; Ashley & O'Rourke, Health Care Ethics; Cessario, Introduction to Moral Theology; Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Christian Freedom and Liberation - Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian - Euthanasia - Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons - Procured Abortion - Profession of Faith - Questions concerning Sexual Ethics - Respect for Human Life in its Origin and Dignity of Procreation - "Theology of Liberation"; DiNoia, Veritatis Splendor and the Renewal of Moral Theology; Gagnon, Bible and Homosexual Practice; Kaczor, Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition; de Lubac, Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace; Matera, New Testament Ethics; Melina, Sharing in Christ's Virtues; Pieper, Faith, Hope, Love - Four Cardinal Virtues; Pinckaers, Sources of Christian Ethics; Schindler, Heart of the World, Center of the Church; Schürmann, Ratzinger, Balthasar, Principles of Christian Morality; Sokolowski, Moral Action; Steck, Ethical Thought of Hans Urs von Balthasar; Vatican II, Apostolate of the Laity - Church in the Modern World - Priestly Formation - Religious Freedom; Wojtyla/John Paul II, Catholic Universities - Church in America - Dignity and Vocation of Women - Faith and Reason - Human Work - Hundredth Anniversary of Rerum Novarum - Gospel of Life - Letter to Families - Lord and Giver of Life - Lord's Day - Love and Responsibility - Mercy of God - Person and Community - Redeemer of Man - Role of the Christian Family in the Modern World - Social Concern - Splendor of Truth - Theology of the Body

Who is this blogging moralist?

Note. This blog adheres to the Welborn Protocol: All correspondence is bloggable unless it requests otherwise - and to the Shea Protocol: At my sole discretion, uncivil commenters will be banned.


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wSaturday, September 28, 2002

Sunday reading reflection

Fr. Jerome Machar, O.C.S.O., of the Abbey of the Genesee in New York State, is a friend of a colleague of mine. Some time ago my colleague asked me to email him some information about one of my courses. After I did so, he put me on the distribution list for his occasional reflections on Mass readings. Here is an excerpt from his comments on this Sunday's:
This story of the two sons, the one who went to work in the vineyard and the other who did not, is familiar to all of us. Most of us probably identify with the first. I am presuming this since we have gathered here, in our Father’s house. This being the case, it would be good to take a second look at the story. We will have to change the question from "Did you go to work in the vineyard?" to "Why did you go to work in the vineyard?" The psalmist tells us, "Serve the Lord with gladness. Come into His [vineyard] singing for joy." (Cf. Ps. 100:2.) When God examines our motives, what will he find (cf. 1 Kings 8:39)? Remember, it is possible to do the right things for the wrong reasons.

In his biography of St. Benedict, Gregory the Great recounted the story of the Goth who cleared a briar patch that was to be used for a vineyard. "While the Goth was hard at work cutting down the thick brush, the iron blade slipped off the handle and flew into a very deep part of the lake, where there was no hope of recovering it.

"At this the poor man ran trembling to Maurus and after describing the accident told him how sorry he was for his carelessness ... [St. Benedict] took the handle from the Goth and thrust it into the water. Immediately the iron blade rose from the bottom of lake and slipped back onto the handle. Then he handed the tool back to the Goth and told him, 'Continue with your work now. There is no need to be upset'" (Chapter 6).

Why did St. Benedict say this to the repentant Goth? Was he addressing his disciple's feelings of guilt and shame or did he detect something more? Did he think the accident could have been avoided? The saying of Jesus to Martha that is recorded in the holy Gospel according to St. Luke might be of some assistance. "Martha, Martha, you worry and fret about so many things, and yet few are needed, indeed only one" (Lk. 10:41). Our primary concern must be that to truly seek God (cf. R.B. 58.7). Could the Goth have been concerned about proving his worth to the Abbot? Or, did he see the mess that the other monks left for him to clean up? With each stroke of the axe, his anger grew in intensity. Bathed in sweat and burning with self-righteous rage, he watched the axe blade sail into the lake and sink beneath the water's surface. In his mindless fury, he broke the tool - so much for showing his lazy confreres how to do the job right! When our work in the vineyard of the Lord is not done in a spirit of joy we tend to worry and fret about many things. At these moments it is safe to say that our hearts are not focused on the glory of God. May the Lord who called us to work in his vineyard remove our stone cold hearts and give us hearts capable of love (cf. Ezek. 11:19-29). May we serve him with gladness and live in His presence singing for joy. One day, may he bring us all together to everlasting life (cf. R.B. 72.12).

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Actress gives good political advice

No, not this actress - this actress.

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Does this really mean we communicate well these days?

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And there's more ...

... more (see also below) good pro-life political news.

As Amy Welborn has also noticed. Notice anything a wee bit slanted (What - the media slanted in covering abortion politics?!?) about the specific news story about it that she links, though (compare the one I link above)? Hint - it includes the following: "'There is no abortion issue here as far as I'm concerned,' Thompson said. 'This allows us to get children prenatal care.' An agency news release, however, used the lexicon of abortion opponents, saying that the change would provide coverage for 'unborn children' and - at one point - 'babies.'"

I think that calling babies, "babies," is reality, not a special rhetorical "lexicon" - and that suggesting that it is the latter is a use of the lexicon of the slanted media.

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A USCCB spokesman and a Cardinal agree with me

As I said, so they have said: the "Abortion Non-Discrimination Act" is a Good Thing.

Now, as I asked, what are we as the pro-life movement going to do about making it possible to get it through the Senate?

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You commented, I responded!

On this post and on this one.

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Now I know why the pro-life battle seems like such an uphill one ...

The fifth column - er, the fourth estate - i.e., the media - are against us. (I'm shocked - shocked!)

(Thanks, Lane Core Jr.)

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Bush and war

A just war has to be a last resort ("all other means of putting an end to [the damage inflicted by the aggressor] must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective"). Is Bush taking this into account? He seems at least to be trying to.

By the way, I don't know whether war against Iraq would be justified at this time. But I want arguments for and against to take account of the facts - both concerning the situation now (with respect to Iraq and to what Bush is really saying), and concerning what principles the Church really teaches that we need to apply to that situation. More concerning the latter later.

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Happy Dominican feast!

No, I'm not a Dominican, but I have at times thought about becoming one, and I have a special devotion to St. Dominic and a special regard for the mission of the Order of Preachers. (As also for St. Ignatius of Loyola's spirituality and vision, and I have had many Jesuit friends and teachers, though I've known for a while that I wouldn't be a fit for the Jesuits.)

The memorial that's on the general calendar today has its own proper in the Dominican Liturgy of the Hours, since "Thirteen of these martyrs [in Japan, though they were not native Japanese] were members of the Dominican family and three were associated with it."

One of the martyrs, St. Dominic Ibanez de Erquicia, wrote to his father:
Last month many were burned alive and about thirty were cut to pieces with a saw made of reeds. They employ many cruel tortures in an attempt to compel these poor people to abandon their faith: some they scald slowly with boiling water which is poured upon their heads along with sulfur, resin, oil and other materials which increase their suffering; others they crucify or submerge in water until they die from the cold; still others they bury up to their waists and with a saw made of reeds gradually cut them to pieces in such a way that their suffering is drawn out for seven or eight days. Up to this point they have treated religious no differently, except that they are burned alive by placing the wood around the victims in such a way that they die gradually, but not from the flames themselves.

... Let us have no concern for this world, for it is our exile and separates us from God who is our total good.
What can we learn from these martyrs? For one thing, see the calmness with which Dominic Ibanez de Erquicia faces such unspeakable suffering. One thinks of one of the Intercessions in Morning Prayer of the Common of Several Martyrs: "Your martyrs freely embraced death in bearing witness to the faith, - give us the true freedom of the Spirit, O Lord." The martyrs, as Pope John Paul reminds us in chap. III of The Splendor of Truth, teach us the true meaning of Christian freedom.

John Paul also speaks in his homily at the beatification of these martyrs: "Faith conquers the world. The preaching of this faith enlightens like the sun all who wish to attain the knowledge of truth. For, although there are different languages in the world, the Christian tradition remains one and the same."

The Spirit at Pentecost replaced with harmony the confusion that had reigned since the Tower of Babel. But as the Church grows in history, it lives this harmony in faith, not in language. For excellent thoughts, see chap. 9, "Catholicism," of Henri de Lubac's first (and programmatic) book, Catholicism.

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wFriday, September 27, 2002

I blog weekends!

... unlike some bloggers who leave town and/or lack sufficient chippower at home (I don't travel much, and I have broadband - a little more money, a lot less frustration).

So drop by this weekend for the occasional new post (maybe the long awaited ones on contraception and just war), or drop by Monday morning and feast on several new ones. And be sure you haven't missed anything important below - and be sure to leave those comments. (I will even reply over the weekend to a couple of those that are there now - I am nothing if not a dialogical kind of guy!)

I leave you for tonight with this thought: have you ever lost data because of a power outage? I haven't - for example, I didn't when my power blinked out briefly this morning - because I have one of these.

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Bush calls a spade a spade

The 9/30/02 Weekly Standard has published excerpts from President Bush's 9/20 "The National Security Strategy of the United States of America" (and reports that the full text is online). The excerpts (I haven't read the whole thing) sound good.

I especially like that Bush refers several times to "rogue states." That's a somewhat traditional term, but as I recall, a few years ago the Clinton State Department decided to retire it in favor of - as Dave Barry would say, I swear I'm not making this up - "states of concern."

I'm all for being charitable, but charity presupposes clarity, I think. Bush's little restoration of sanity is reason #37942 I'm glad that I voted for him, and that he emerged from the late-2000 "state of confusion" as the winner - however much Al Gore's general inability to grasp the facts of history may still leave him a bit fuzzy about the latter outcome.

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Reactions to The Situation

A reader comments on Amy Welborn's post on the controversy about the Baltimore list and another blogger: "You [another commenter] are among the many Catholics who confuse the institution of the Church with God himself. It is that blind loyalty that God intends to burn out by his scourging of this Church."

I have some weeks ago contended with this commenter on yet another blog from which he was eventually banned. He is welcome to join the issue here, though if he does so uncivilly, I will also ban him.

My thoughts: It seems clear that a number of bishops have for some time dealt with cases of clerical abuse by protecting themselves rather than the Church. It also seems to me that, as others have observed, Cardinal Keeler's publication of a list of priests against whom accusations - "a number" of which "cannot be corroborated" - have been made is the other side of the same coin: this action serves Keeler, not the Church. (And it seems to me that some commenters have been uncharitable toward the blogger whose name was on that list - in imputing to him certain motives for various statements of his, and in suggesting that justice demands his humiliation. I say this as my only comment on that particular case, since I don't know enough about it to go any further.)

But I want to turn to this question of "the institution." Blind loyalty to - in the sense of approval of every action of - every prelate: no. But loyalty to the Church - the institutional Church - yes. Nor is such loyalty blind: because faith is not blind. And in the light of faith, we see the Truth (which is a participation in the Truth of the Incarnation, which is the source of all other truths concerning human dignity and the need to be just to victims and to the accused) that the (institutional) Church is no more a mere institution than the Blessed Sacrament is mere bread. Not that the "institution" is the "heart of the Church" - that would be our communio in God the Son. So the "institution" - like the bread - will pass away. But reverence for it as our Mother is not, in this life, a mere option (let alone idolatrous).

My favorite summary of the matter continues to be the words written by de Lubac in The Splendor of the Church:
"For myself," said Origen, "I desire to be truly ecclesiastic." He thought - and rightly - that there was no other way of being a Christian in the full sense. And anyone who is possessed by a similar desire will not find it enough to be loyal and obedient, to perform exactly everything demanded by his profession of the Catholic faith. Such a man will have fallen in love with the beauty of the House of God; the Church will have stolen his heart. She is his spiritual native country, his "mother and his brethren," and nothing which concerns her will leave him indifferent or detached; he will root himself in her soil, form himself in her likeness and make himself one with her experience. He will feel himself rich with her wealth; he will be aware that through her and through her alone he participates in the unshakeableness of God. It will be from her that he learns how to live and die. Far from passing judgment on her, he will allow her to judge him, and he will agree gladly to all the sacrifices demanded by her unity.

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The Next Generation
SAN FRANCISCO, Sep 27, 02 (LSN.ca/CWNews.com) - A new survey of American youth has found surprising support for school prayer, federal aid to faith-based charities, pro-life politicians, and even government restriction of abortion. The findings, from the University of California/Berkeley Survey Research Center and funded by Pew Charitable Trusts, also found that youth are less likely to attend religious services or see religion as a guide to daily life. ... more (subscription required); executive summary

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Things you can do while I'm not blogging

(Or, as they say around here, i.e. in "Pittsburghese," "Things yinz can do ...")
  • Scroll down and browse blog entries you may previously have glossed over
  • Leave comments on said entries (enetation is fine, reliable [unlike YACCS] comment software, despite a few little idiosyncrasies, and I put some time into enhancing my template somewhat for better functionality)
  • Browse any of the great sites or books featured in the column to the right
  • Watch Ted Kennedy's speech at 11 a.m. ET (I won't be doing that - I'll be in a faculty meeting, which will be much more edifying, but just wanted to offer another option in case you're really desperate)
I think that sometime I'll also start featuring good books that I recommend to those who'd like to read something other than (only) moral theology. Not right now, though.

But more later. On NFP/contraception. And perhaps also on "just-war theory."

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Good advice

Passed along by Emily Stimpson.

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Light blogging today

I've got my country's 500th anniversary to plan, my wedding to arrange, my wife to murder, and Guilder to frame for it a meeting to attend, term paper topic proposals to read, and classes to teach. I'm swamped!

I will blog this afternoon and/or evening, though.

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Prayer and the poor

In today's Office, we read, from St. Vincent de Paul:
It is our duty to prefer the service of the poor to everything else and to offer such service as quickly as possible. If a needy person requires medicine or other help during prayer time, do whatever has to be done with peace of mind. Offer the deed to God as your prayer. Do not become upset or feel guilty because you interrupted your prayer to serve the poor. God is not neglected if you leave him for such service. One of God's works is merely interrupted so that another can be carried out. ... With renewed devotion, then, we must serve the poor, especially outcasts and beggars. They have been given to us as our masters and patrons.
Quite a challenge. Especially since when we neglect the poor, it's probably often not because we're doing one of God's other works, but because we're doing something self-centered.

This is not to deny the necessity of a prayer life! (I suspect that if St. Vincent hadn't himself had a rich one, he wouldn't be "St." Vincent. Or one thinks of the time Mother Teresa would spend before the Blessed Sacrament.) But good and acceptable prayer must lead to (and flow from) charity, practiced according to our state in life. Or as Pope John Paul teaches in chap. IV of The Gospel of Life, we must proclaim, celebrate, and serve that Gospel - for our own sake, as well as that of society - since we want to live in union with Christ, who is prophet, priest, and (servant-)king.

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wThursday, September 26, 2002

Promises, promises ...

I said that I'd blog today about NFP/contraception. But I ended up feeling inspired to blog about a number of other things - and never quite felt inspired to blog about contraception - and also got busy with some other things for part of the evening (like when my recently-engaged sister finally was able to reach me, after several weeks of phone tag). I suspect that I will deal with this sometime (probably late afternoon/evening) tomorrow, though.

Meanwhile, I really like Greg Popcak's latest on NFP/contraception. His analysis of "openness to life" took the words right out of my mouth. And I wholly approve of his threat to beat senseless with a stick users of the "art vs. science" argument. Maybe I should try that the next time I find a student clinging to that argument.

Speaking of NFP and science, here's one more promo (the earlier one now being buried way below) for the Marquette Institute for NFP!

Say, come to think of it ... I promised yesterday I'd blog on this "tomorrow." And now I've promised again to blog on this "tomorrow." So I haven't broken my promise, just reiterated it. I hope this doesn't disappoint my readers, since tomorrow never comes.

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What? Ratzinger, a liberal?

Of course not. And Bill Cork rightly suggests that this creates a problem for those who criticize certain USCCB positions as "liberal."

But, as Cork says, some people really do think Ratzinger a "liberal." Maybe that's partly because of the tendentious account they get of his views. For example, a headline reading, "Ratzinger encourages new bishops to give 'dissident' theologians benefit of doubt," might make you wonder what side Ratzinger is on. But your suspicions about the accuracy of this summary - possibly already raised by the counter-intuitive feel of the thing, and/or by the fact that it appears on a certain Lidless Eye (do I owe you royalties for that, Mark?) site - would be amply confirmed by a reading of the actual article, whose original CNS headline is "Cardinal encourages new bishops to give theologians benefit of doubt," and which nowhere mentions "dissidents" or "dissent."

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Abortion politics again; or, the Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud department

I blogged below about an abortion-related bill that ought to become law, but probably won't pass the Democratic-controlled Senate, the Democratic leadership being by and large not even "pro-choice" but pro-abortion. There are some pro-life and less radically pro-abortion Democrats; this bill might even pass the Senate if it were brought up for a vote, but it's doubtful that that will be allowed to happen.

Sadly, despite the GOP's institutional commitment to protecting unborn babies (cf. its platform), there are a lot of pro-abortion Republicans. Even a GOP-controlled Senate would only go so far in saving unborn lives and protecting those who don't want to be party to abortion. But this is an example of a bill that would almost certainly get voted on and pass in a GOP Senate.

The same analysis, by the way, applies to legislation that would ban human cloning (not to be confused with legislation that purports to ban human cloning but actually only mandates that cloned embryos be killed).

So what to do? To the extent that one (reasonably, I would argue) wants to make abortion an overriding issue in voting, despite the existence of pro-life Democrats, and despite the existence of pro-abortion Republicans, one should perhaps try to vote so as to make more likely GOP recapture of the Senate (and holding of the House).

And less controversially - if abortion is an overriding issue - one should, if complications like the above one aren't a factor, vote for the candidate who will do the most to protect the unborn.

And, if those conclusions are sound, pro-lifers should seek to persuade voters to share them. Right?

Now here comes the American Life League's Judie Brown, responding to a question in her forum that's part of EWTN's Catholic Q&A. Brown begins:
In the privacy of the voting booth, you, or anyone else, must exercise prudential judgment and cast a vote for the person who reflects what the voter perceives to be a moral posture on the defense of the human person from conception.
So far, not bad - though "the person who reflects ... a moral posture" might not be the best way to put it (I'd say, "the person who would do most to implement a moral posture"). But then we read:
In public, there is no reason for any pro-life leader or group to endorse or advocate the election of someone who agrees that there are some babies who can be murdered by abortion (rape, incest or life of the mother.) THe [sic] public advocacy of such a position by virtue of a corporate or personal endorsement gives credence to the thought that the act of abortion is acceptable, even to pro-lifers! It is not.
BZZT! I'm sorry. This is rather muddled - I'd say, plain wrong. First, there is indeed a "reason" for such endorsements or advocacy: namely, because sometimes it can be the most effective way to get more nearly pro-life laws.

And second, do many Americans today really think that advocacy of candidate P constitutes a statement that all of candidate P's positions are in principle "acceptable"? I doubt it. Leaders and groups endorse candidates all the time as "lesser evils." Consider the way many on the left held their noses because of Clinton's support for capital punishment, or welfare reform, or NAFTA, or ... - while they were endorsing him.

Brown has sometimes seemed to try to enlist the support of The Gospel of Life for this and some related positions she holds. I would argue that that's as much of a stretch as is the view that those positions are on their face reasonable. More on some of these and other positions of hers (some of which are, frankly, dissenting, I think) some other time. Meanwhile, I think that the National Right to Life Committee is generally a fine source of guidance for Catholics who want to vote their concerns about the lives of the unborn. But ALL and its various state and other affiliates should, I would recommend, be approached with caution.

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Pet Moral Concerns

I see that Robert Gotcher (hope yours doesn't get eaten, Robert) has joined Emily Stimpson's (hope yours is recovering nicely, Emily) Catholic-bloggers-with-cats club.

I wouldn't mind doing the same myself, if I had the time to give a cat good care. In high school, I brought a kitten home to my reluctant parents. They still have her (now old and ailing), as well as a younger cat that they (having, to their surprise, been transformed into cat-lovers) got themselves more recently.

So, nothing wrong with this trend. Unless maybe you're the eminent (Germain) Grisez. In Difficult Moral Questions, vol. 3 of his massive and celebrated moral theology summa The Way of the Lord Jesus, he spends several pages (I forget how many - the tome is in my campus office, not in my study here at home) analyzing the morality, or lack thereof, of pet ownership. As I recall, he concludes that some people have a real need for a pet, and so may morally get one, whereas others don't, and may not, and that pet ownership is rarely a matter of moral indifference. [Erratum: This is in vol. 2, Living a Christian Life. The general principle is however again invoked in vol. 3 in connection with a question about veterinarians' responsibilities.]

I think that this (i.e., spending time, paper, and ink on the analysis to begin with - not just the conclusion) is a little crazy (and is symptomatic of some deeper disagreements I have with his methodology, even though I do most often agree with his conclusions, sometimes against other authors with whose methodology I'm generally more sympathetic). (Ditto regarding his discussion of the morality of re-using uncanceled stamps.)

So, again, I'm happy that some of you are made happy by feline companionship. It's just a nice adumbration of the day when we, lions, etc., will all recline together in peace and harmony. An example of how for Christians, the eschaton is "already" as well as "not yet." A less dramatic example of what St. Francis of Assisi did more dramatically. No moral issues here for me to work through, as long as you're not stealing the family's or roommates' meat for the cat. (My observation has been that cats like vegetables and cheese just as well, anyway.)

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On "Zero Tolerance," and On Naming Names

Pete Vere blogs new Milwaukee Archbishop Dolan's defense of the controversial "zero tolerance" policy to his priests.

The Archdiocese of Baltimore has released a list of priests accused of sexual abuse - including "a number" of priests accusations against whom "cannot be corroborated."

What's a moralist to say?

It seems to me that with regard to zero tolerance, the two sides on the issue have to some degree been talking past each other. Thus, Archbishop Dolan's email addresses well the importance of protecting children and the authentic meaning of forgiveness - but doesn't address at all questions of due process. The latter questions are important especially (though not only) because of the further question: what exactly are the acts for which we will have "zero tolerance"? As others have pointed out, there are different kinds of "abuse" which a priest may have engaged in at different times in his life. (Then there are questions of standards of proof and so on.)

I think that until bishops like Dolan (for whom I have great respect, based on everything I've heard about him since he was named Weakland's successor) engage these latter questions more fully, the debate about the policy will be somewhat sterile - and there is risk that injustices will be done, so that priests (and some laity) have good grounds for concern. With regard to the argument that protection of the faithful should trump all other concerns, I remind all that we may not do evil (like injustice) so that good may come of it.

The Baltimore matter is, I think, fairly easily resolved. I think that the release of the names is a fairly obvious and deep injustice. We do have serious duties in justice to others' reputations. Thus, I agree with Mark Shea's comments that were provoked by the presence on the list of the name of a fellow blogger (and, irony of ironies, as Mark points out, one who has been heroically charitable to our bishops). We may not do evil so that good may come of it.

(See also Amy Welborn's blog for discussion of these issues.)

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Dental Medicine's Crowning Achievement?

Who says that only embryonic (vs. adult) stem cell research has potential? It's increasingly apparent that that's just not the tooth.

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On Following Christ (Also Showing why Balthasar is Good)

Down below, I highlight as a particularly important question in moral theology - and for all Christians: What does it really mean to be a follower of Jesus Christ? Herewith, a few thoughts from Hans Urs von Balthasar's "Characteristics of Christianity" (in Explorations in Theology, I. The Word Made Flesh, pp.161-180):
The divine nature being necessarily transcendent, the creature's participation in it can only be explained by taking as our starting point the hypostatic union in Christ. Christ is unique in that he is not one creature among all the others, on a par with them. ... His creaturely status is an expression and function of his eternal and uncreated Sonship. ... [O]ur present concern ... is ... to bring out that the whole of Christian ethics must be christologically based, and, therefore, does not primarily consist in the Greek idea of man imitating God, but in the gospel idea of the following of Christ. Following Christ, after first leaving all things, means in the New Testament a movement toward the Messiah, at once unconditional and regardless of consequences, an inchoate act of presence where he is, developing, when as as he wills, into an imitation of him. The saying about bearing one's cross is an extreme case of this; but even here the word used to describe it is "following" and not "imitation." Whenever following implies imitation, it is always in respect of the way divine love abased itself. The word occurs once in the synoptics in connection with the strife for the first places, once in John in connection with the washing of the feet; in addition, there is the use of the word "example" in the final discourses, referring to the giving up of life. Yet however urgently the commandment of love is expressed, how undemanding, in fact, what is commanded! It is something far less than heroic, something plain and obvious, though the persons addressed have the status of "followers," which means of participators in the mystery of the hypostatic union. For what has to be done is already performed, as to its inner substance, the Head.

What the Head does is certainly the unimaginably greatest thing that a man has ever done. Yet it is not superhuman, but divine-human, and so all-human - not, however, in the sense that all men do it or can do it, but that it represents, once and for all, what God is as distinct from man, what he created man in order to express. ...

We are not required to repeat, on our part, what Christ, God and man, has done. It is enough for us to know in following him that we participate in his riches through their superabundance.

... The supernatural virtues are infused by grace, which is a participation in the nature of God. They are the form in which our finite spirit becomes capable of living the divine life, which is infinite. What it is endowed with, infused with, is not just a "faculty," but a fullness of life, from which it has only to draw in order to water the entire garden of its finitude and temporalness, and so make eternal growths come forth. Thus the soul in grace does not live in a state of indigence advancing toward fullness, but in a state of fullness radiating out into the poverty and darkness of this world. ... [T]he just man lives by faith, that is, by the gift of eternal life. His acts are performed not as part of his striving toward perfection, but as proceeding from perfection. ...

This is the conception that lies at the basic of the whole ethic of the gospels, of Paul and John. It means that we have not first to strive for the unity of what is and what should be, for it is already realized in God; that we have received a participation in this process, and that it must be unquestioningly realized in us. This obligation, since it is grounded on a divine necessity, requires the most complete commitment of the whole person, the application of all his powers. ... Thus Paul argues in Romans 6: since we are already dead with Christ, we cannot, should not conduct ourselves as if we were still living as before. Thus John in his letters, when he brings out the fundamental obligation of Christians: "In this we have known the charity of God, because he has laid down his life for us, and so we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren"; "If God has so loved us, we also ought to love one another"; "This commandment we have from God, that he who loves God love also his brother." This necessity arises from the gift already implanted in us by God of his own identity, and so is not just an intensification of the claims of natural ethics. The urgency of its demands is not the product of a necessity indwelling in human nature, but of something placed there by God, at a deeper level than any reality of our own. It is something that lays claim to our whole being and, by that very fact, imposes an inescapable obligation.

... The Christian life, the life of grace, of faith and charity, is necessarily one that proceeds from fulness of being, and is, therefore, a life of thanksgiving: eucharistia. ... Consequently, in the Christian life, there are no "stages of development" in the sense of the ascetic and mystical "degrees" in the schemes of other religions. The only stages are those of the development of the life of grace in us, the ever more complete elimination of what blocks the way of grace. The Christian may, and must, constantly connect up with the riches already at hand, laid down in advance, and the more he does so and acts accordingly, the better Christian he will be. To take an already present perfection in the natural sphere for granted, or an end already attained, in this way, would be quite absurd, the kind of thing a beginner might do who wants to play the master. But for the Christian to refuse to set out from this fullness as his starting point would be equivalent to unbelief. The apostles were constantly at pains to rid ordinary Christians of this kind of unbelief, to encourage their faith to a complete reversal of standpoint, to make them conduct their lives from a point which they had only hoped to reach by Christian living. The more thorough the change of perspective, and the more fearless the leap, the easier it becomes. And those who try to follow the two ways at once - that of faith which starts with Christ, and that of man's indigence going to the Absolute - get caught up in an inextricable tangle. There is no common measure between nature and grace, reason and faith; only the order grounded in the person of Christ: nature as the expression and servant of the supernatural. In this service it will not be found wanting.
For more on Balthasar's contribution to theology, especially moral theology, see Schindler or Steck (and/or read some Balthasar yourself). You'll see why Pope John Paul named him a cardinal, and had him buried in red when he died before the consistory at which he was to receive his red hat. His Trilogy is, I would argue, the most important comprehensive work of systematic theology since Aquinas's Summa - not to deny the equal or greater importance in its own way of de Lubac's work (so that I still and will always have a special regard for him) in specific areas like theological anthropology.

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Abortion in the news

Various news outlets report that the U.S. House has passed the "Abortion Non-Discrimination Act," which would allow health-care providers (including insurers) to refuse to provide or pay for abortions.

Hooray. Now if only the "pro-choice" Democrats running the Senate would get on board.

That's not likely, but not because there's anything intellectually consistent about "pro-choice" opposition to this bill. In the well-chosen words of a "debate observer" quoted by Catholic World News (subscription required), "The only freedom of choice they want is the freedom to choose an abortion, not to refuse one."

In The Gospel of Life (no. 69), Pope John Paul has also addressed this problem:
... we have what appear to be two diametrically opposed tendencies. On the one hand, individuals claim for themselves in the moral sphere the most complete freedom of choice and demand that the State should not adopt or impose any ethical position but limit itself to guaranteeing maximum space for the freedom of each individual, with the sole limitation of not infringing on the freedom and rights of any other citizen. On the other hand, it is held that, in the exercise of public and professional duties, respect for other people's freedom of choice requires that each one should set aside his or her own convictions in order to satisfy every demand of the citizens which is recognized and guaranteed by law; in carrying out one's duties the only moral criterion should be what is laid down by the law itself.
Not only are these tendencies at odds with each other - they are both wrong (hence the pope's call for legal protection for conscientious objectors to abortion). And if we can't at this time entirely reverse the first one (or codify a reversal thereof into law), we ought to deal with the second one as best we can. The bill the House has passed demands support, and Senate Democrats should provide such support, if not for the sake of basic justice, then at least for the sake of intellectual consistency. If they won't provide it, they're not worthy of our support.

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wWednesday, September 25, 2002

A couple commercials

Tomorrow, I am going to blog about NFP and contraception.

This topic has generated lots of discussion in recent days at In Between Naps, HMS Blog, Sursum Corda, Kairos, Summa Contra Mundum, and perhaps elsewhere (maybe even outside the blogosphere!), so I'm going to weigh in with some reflections of my own - well, not really of my own - some reflections on the much more original and insightful reflections of authors like Karol Wojtyla. (I will do this because I would like to try to shed some light on the topic - not only as a shameless attempt to lure blog-readers over.)

For the moment though, besides that plug for tomorrow's blogging, I would like to make a (less shameless) plug for the work of an old friend of mine, whom I've also mentioned in others' comments boxes once or twice. Dr. Richard Fehring, Professor of Nursing at Marquette University, is the founder and director of the Marquette University Institute for Natural Family Planning. The Institute teaches the Marquette Model of NFP, which integrates the use of 21st-century technology: the Clearplan Easy Fertility Monitor.

More on the theology of NFP vs. contraception sometime tomorrow!

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All this should go without saying, but ...

It might be noticed that my blog is among the, I am happy to hear, increasing number of sites that do not link to Sungenis's CAI.

When Sungenis's anti-Jewish poison first appeared, I weighed in on the discussion of it - which discussion should also have been superfluous - in the comments box on Mark Shea's blog. Since then, I have appreciated the job he and other bloggers like John Betts and Bill Cork and Gregg the Obscure and Pete Vere have done in tracking the story and trying to motivate others to repudiate CAI (and to motivate Sungenis, if possible, to repent).

I am also saddened to hear that some "Catholic" sites still link to CAI.

Because of that, and because this is such a serious matter, although I have neither the time nor the inclination to devote much blogging time or space to the matter, just in case my lack of links to CAI (and my links to the above-mentioned blogs and to other sites like TCRNews.com that have responded well to Sungenis) don't suffice to make my position clear, I now say, once and for all, for the record:

I renounce CAI, and all its works, and all its pomps.

One ought not bear false witness against one's neighbor - let alone one's elder brothers and sisters - let alone as a means to the end of denying that they are one's elder brothers and sisters.

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Wow, notices! - and a comment on the Tradition

Thanks also to Karl at Summa Contra Mundum for mentioning this humble new blog. Way back when, we cantored together at St. George Melkite Catholic Parish in Milwaukee. (On a good day, I could chant maybe half as well as Karl.) I mention this not only by way of a little trip down memory lane, but also because I think that some of the best of modern moral (and other kinds of) theology draws from resources within the Christian Tradition that have perhaps been best formulated or preserved in the Christian East. I'm thinking especially of the teaching that we're made for theosis - for deification (think of Athanasius's "He was made man that we might be made God"). If that's what God promises to be doing in us, what's our excuse for not striving, in cooperation with him, for perfection? Is it really true that we just can't manage, for example, chastity, or mercy, or the other demands of the Gospel?

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So you ask: "Why 'De Virtutibus'?"


Aw, c'mon, someone ask, "Why 'De Virtutibus'?"

[More silence]

Look, I'm not going to blog about sex or death or money until someone asks, "Why 'De Virtutibus'?"!

[A hand goes up]

Yes! - you in the back?

"Why 'De Virtutibus'?"

I'm glad you asked!

How should one begin to talk about moral issues? As we incorrigibly academic types would say, what is the fundamental "category" for morality? Nature? Action? Virtue? Law? Grace?

All of these, and probably others, are important, I'd say. And a case could probably be made for the priority of any one of them.

For example: Dr. Christopher Kaczor reminds us in his excellent new book (I've been having my grad students read it in recent days), Proportionalism and the Natural Law Tradition, that before St. Thomas Aquinas gets around in his Summa Theologiae to discussing virtue, or law, or grace, he begins - practically at the very start of "the first part of the second part" of the Summa - with an analysis of human action.

And this is altogether logical, since morality presupposes human action. Were there only weather, and geological activity, and plants growing, and animals running around and eating and sleeping, there would be no morality.

At the same time, it seems that something like law or commandments is very important for our ability to know what is moral in each concrete case. Thus, the Catechism of the Catholic Church structures its discussion of specific moral issues around the Ten Commandments, and John Paul II in Veritatis Splendor defends the importance for Christian morality of commandments and law.

And, I think one can make an especially good case for the importance, in its own way, and not to the neglect of action or law or anything else, of virtue. Thus I think there is warrant for the way that "virtue ethics" has become almost trendy, thanks to such helpful/seminal works as Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue and Jean Porter's The Recovery of Virtue.

When Aquinas actually gets around, in the "second part of the second part" of the Summa, to dealing with practical moral questions, he structures his discussion, not around the Ten Commandments, but around the virtues - the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity; the cardinal virtues of prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance; and the other "smaller" virtues and gifts of the Spirit and so on that are parts of or associated with the various theological or cardinal virtues (and the vices that are opposed to these virtues). Thus he discusses war in connection with charity, murder in connection with justice, sexual matters in connection with temperance, and so on. This suggests that for the doing of practical moral theology, in Aquinas's mind, one needs to think especially in terms of the virtues. Kaczor notices this as well, and contents - quite rightly, I think - that a defect of modern moral thinking has been its use primarily of law rather than virtue.

In fact, Aquinas hints at this earlier in the Summa. In talking about what natural law has to do with morality, he seems to indicate that it is important especially because it commands us to act in accordance with reason - which, he says, means in accordance with virtue (since reason is the standard for the human virtues).

And in Veritatis Splendor, the pope, while defending the importance of the commandments and natural law, nonetheless expressly says that virtue is necessary for the living of a moral life, to make the law "connatural" to us rather than a kind of external imposition - so he clearly doesn't mean to downplay its importance. And in its treatment of what is required and prohibited by each commandment, the Catechism frequently speaks of theological, cardinal, and other (e.g., chastity) virtues and vices.

So, since I want to focus especially on practical moral questions in this blog, and since it seems especially important to think in terms of virtue/the virtues in working through practical moral questions, "On the Virtues" (in Latin, to allude to the importance of Aquinas and to sound pretentious as a good academic should) seemed like a good title. (Notwithstanding a friend's concern that "De Virtutibus" has an inelegantly high consonant:vowel ratio. It could be worse - I could be blogging in Hebrew [that is, I could be if I knew more than a few words of Hebrew].)

Also, I think some of the most interesting questions within moral theory (about which I'll also occasionally blog) concern the relationship between law and virtue (for example, between natural law and justice).

That's that. I promise that most future entries will be shorter and less boringly abstruse. (I don't want to make Robert Gotcher or Mark Shea regret their plugs for my blog!) More soon!

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Hello out there ... welcome to De Virtutibus.

I'm creating this blog in the hope that it will be a modestly useful resource for those interested in hot (or even not-so-hot) topics in moral theology - both practical issues, and, sometimes, theoretical ones - and perhaps especially (though not only) ones that have been treated in contemporary Catholic teaching.

So, if you've ever wondered* and pondered ...
... then I hope you'll enjoy my blog!

*Josef Pieper reminds us that philosophy begins (and continues) with wonder; I'd add that theology does too (given its close relationship with philosophy).

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