Archive for June, 2008
Interview With John Kenney, an Augustinian Scholar
BURLINGTON, Vermont, JUNE 19, 2007 ( Zenit.org ).- Benedict XVI is moving the Church away from religion, in the modern sense of the term, and toward a deeper understanding of Christianity, says an Augustinian scholar.
In this interview with ZENIT, John Peter Kenney, professor of Religious Studies at St. Michael’s College, in Vermont, discusses the role of St. Augustine in the thought and work of Benedict XVI.
Kenney is the author of “The Mysticism of St. Augustine: Rereading the Confessions,” published by Routledge in 2005.
Q: What Augustinian influences do you see in the Holy Father’s work, especially his first encyclical, “Deus Caritas Est,” and his general-audience catecheses?
Kenney: Both the encyclical’s hidden architecture and many of its themes are Augustinian.
I was initially struck by the Holy Father’s discussion of “sacramental mysticism” — the ecclesial dimension of Christian contemplation. This is an important theme in the “Confessions,” part of the emancipation of Augustine’s thinking from pagan Platonism.
Too often Augustine has been misread as a proponent of an individualistic sort of mysticism, whereas a close reading of the whole of the “Confessions” shows his mature recognition that the human soul can only come to know God when nested in “the living soul of the faithful,” the Church.
In this first encyclical, the Holy Father also offers a nuanced discussion of the role of the Church in reference to politics and the state that is very much in keeping with Augustine’s position in “The City of God.”
What the catechetical talks have exhibited is just how deeply the Holy Father’s thinking is informed by the whole range of patristic theology. He has, as you know, been proceeding chronologically, discussing both major and minor authors in some detail.
I think it is worth keeping in mind that the Pope’s thought is not just Augustinian, but broadly patristic.
Q: Augustine is known for his Order of Love — “Ordo Amoris” — emphasizing love over the intellect. How do you see this fitting into the pontificate of Benedict XVI?
Kenney: Clearly Benedict XVI believes in the objectivity of truth and in the possibility of the right ordering of human affections in relation to that truth. These convictions were central to Augustine’s own conversion and they remained at the core of his thinking.
The “Ordo Amoris” emerged in Augustine’s thought because of his own startled recognition that God is transcendent being itself and we are made in the image of that reality. Our deepest longings, loves and desires can finally be fulfilled only if we order them correctly in relation to their divine source.
For lots of historical reasons, Augustine has sometimes been interpreted as emphasizing love over the intellect.
But the Holy Father understands Augustine in his proper patristic context, as discovering eternal truth within the soul and calibrating human desires in reference to their ultimate divine foundation.
It is the dysfunction of our age that we fail to understand that calibration — something that Benedict XVI’s pontificate seems intended to remind us.
Q: How does Augustinian thought differ from Thomistic thought, and how might that influence Benedict XVI?
Kenney: I’d be very reluctant to see Benedict XVI’s affinity with Augustine in terms of any self-differentiation from the thought of Aquinas. Indeed the Regensburg address emphasizes the common intellectualism of Augustine and Aquinas in contrast to the voluntarism of Duns Scotus and the later medieval nominalists.
Both Augustine and Aquinas hold that our knowledge of goodness and truth mirror, at least to some limited extent, the inner nature of God.
God is not so remote and his will so inscrutable that we have no means of knowing him as infinitely good. So for Benedict XVI, Augustine and Aquinas exemplify the great synthesis of biblical faith and Greek philosophy.
They are its twin pillars in the Latin West, even if their philosophical theologies do differ, given their distinctive appropriations of Platonism and Aristotelianism. But it is their common character that Benedict XVI has been emphasizing.
Q: Do you think Benedict XVI identified with Augustine early on because they were both thinkers who became pastors out of necessity?
Kenney: Yes, perhaps that’s true. His doctoral dissertation, completed a few years after his ordination, was on Augustine’s conception of the Church.
This suggests a connection with Augustine early on in his life as a priest. But I suspect that the root of this identification went even deeper and lay in his recognition of the Church as an anchor of sacred truth in a world riven by dehumanizing secular ideologies.
He had, after all, first-hand experience of such ideology in the Germany of his adolescence. Like Augustine, he identified the Church as a divinely ordained community that prefigures the heavenly Jerusalem.
So the events of both their lives brought them to see the unique role of the Church in a fallen world and also to discern the pastoral aspects of their own vocations.
Q: What might be the historical significance of having an Augustinian-influenced Pope at this time in world history?
Kenney: One of the most powerful themes in Augustine’s thought is the universality of the Gospel. This is what drew him to Catholic Christianity rather than to Donatism, which seems to have been the dominant tradition throughout much of his native North Africa.
For Augustine, Christianity is by its very nature global, and the Gospel is intrinsically universal in its message and scope. And so the Church can never be just a local sect or a national institution.
Augustine was a member of that post-Nicene generation who articulated what we think of as the Catholicism of the Church and who sought to build a communion of faith across the peoples of the ancient world. There is therefore much in Augustine that speaks to our present age of globalization.
Q: Where do you think Benedict XVI is trying to point the Church and the world right now?
Kenney: He’s pointing us away from religion — in the modern sense of the term. Religion is a category of modernity, usually understood to mean either individually authenticated spiritual experiences or else a particular type of collective ideology based on socially defined values.
To think of Christianity in such terms is to drift toward the relativism that Pope Benedict has so famously decried. Hence Benedict XVI has insisted that personal spiritual experiences can only become meaningful within the shared context of a lived theology. And the collective life of the Church is far more than a form of social or political association. Christianity is not an ideology.
These modern representations of religion can constitute a reduction of Christianity to psychological, sociological and political categories and can result in a denial of its claims to transcendent truth.
Benedict XVI has a masterful grasp of all these reductionist tendencies and he has pushed back hard in order to restore recognition of the richness and depth of Christianity.
So one might say that we have a Pope who is opposed to religion — and in favor of Christianity. Thank God for that.
Interview With Director of Linacre Center
LONDON, JUNE 18, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Rational arguments need to take priority in the debate on bioethical issues, says the director of the Linacre Center for Healthcare Ethics.
Helen Watt, of the only Catholic bioethics center in the United Kingdom and Ireland, recently spoke to ZENIT about the opportunity Catholics now have to engage modern Europe in an authentically grounded ethical debate.
The Linacre Center’s International Conference is being held July 5-7 on the topic of “Incapacity and Care: Moral Problems in Healthcare and Research.”
Q: How is the ethical debate on health care issues in Europe today different from 30 years ago?
Watt: Thirty years ago, in vitro fertilization was a new and shocking development — as were the embryo experiments which paved the way for it. Now IVF is standard procedure for anyone who wants to have a child, and does not object to the manufacturing process and attitudes involved. The embryonic child resulting is treated more like a possession than like a new member of the family.
Often the debate is now between extreme libertarians, who defend a frankly consumerist attitude to medicine and parenthood, and those who want to set some limits, but lack the moral framework they need to do so in a credible way. This means that the principled approach offered by the Church often gets pushed to the sidelines — though fortunately not always.
Q: Where are the main battle lines now drawn with regard to bioethical issues in Europe?
Watt: One battle line is euthanasia, by act and by omission. Another is respect for unborn life, in relation to abortion, IVF and embryo experimentation.
Another battle line is, of course, marriage and parenthood. This last area is closely linked to IVF — as in, for example, the bid to expunge the requirement in British law that fertility doctors must take account of the child’s need for a father.
While some in Britain hope to tighten abortion laws, other countries in the European Union are under pressure to “liberalize” restrictive laws on abortion. There is also a strong push for European Union funding of embryonic stem cell research.
The hope is that countries which have recently joined the European Union, such as Poland, will bring fresh insights to the rest of Europe, rather than be themselves caught up in the secular/consumerist drift.
Q: What are the signs of hope that the trend toward the legalization of euthanasia and stem cell research will be halted?
Watt: The Dutch experience has shown how close the link is between voluntary and nonvoluntary euthanasia, once some lives are deemed not worth living.
While Belgium followed its neighbor and legalized euthanasia, similar legislation was recently defeated in Britain by a coalition of pro-life and palliative care groups — although there is certainly a need for vigilance with regard to euthanasia by omission.
On the stem cell front, there are wonderful advances being made with adult and umbilical cord stem cells — ethical alternatives to the use of cells from destroyed human embryos. It’s an exciting time for adult stem cell researchers, who can point to many actual treatments of human patients.
Italy is one country that has made huge strides in enacting laws protecting human embryos, showing that progress in this area can be made even after many years of permissive practice.
Q: The issues of IVF, human cloning and embryo screening all revolve around the status of early human life. Why is it so difficult to convince people of the humanity of the embryo, or even to keep it in the common consciousness as an issue?
Watt: It’s a combination of pragmatism and a failure of imagination. On the one hand, people want to be able to keep doing embryo experiments and using abortifacient contraception. On the other hand, the embryo is challenging in its appearance, despite the powerful case for its continuity with the older human being.
We live in an image-led age. The embryo is small, and looks different from the adult — which does not, of course, prevent it having human rights and interests, just like any other child.
The kind of emotional engagement that ultrasound makes possible for older unborn children is often not possible with the embryo. There is a need to appeal to reason rather than just to the emotions.
Q: How can the Church better educate Catholics about contentious ethical issues?
Watt: The Linacre Center specializes in providing arguments for the Catholic view of bioethics which do not require a prior acceptance of the Catholic faith.
We aim to show that the merits of this view can be recognized by anyone of good will using their reason. This approach encourages a robust realism that reaches out to people of other faiths and of no faith.
Recently, Benedict XVI spoke of the need to rediscover the natural law tradition, especially in an age of skepticism and relativism. He was, I think, encouraging the Church to speak out on issues affecting public policy in a way that uses reason to reveal the objective basis for her teaching.
It would be good to see bioethical issues given a little more priority in teaching from the pulpit. Many people are simply unaware that the Church opposes IVF, for example. Even those who know this may be quite unaware of the riches of Catholic theology on sex and marriage.
It is important to reach young people at school and university before they have committed themselves, in their work or personal lives, to secular ideologies. The Linacre Center hopes to do more in this area, funding permitting — as well as providing information and support to health professionals under pressure to conform to an anti-life culture.
Q: Why do you think the Church’s contribution to ethical debates is ignored so readily in modern Europe?
Watt: Ethical debates in Europe vary from country to country. In Britain the dominant philosophy is one of pragmatism coupled with scientism, and a suspicion that any reference to moral absolutes must be religiously grounded.
A result is that there is very little rational debate in bioethical areas. Debate is seen as merely a way of placating the public, or at best reaching a compromise between differing interests without articulating a coherent moral framework.
This is not the case in some other countries, where there are much stronger religious and cultural supports for moral reasoning of a kind that can enlighten our understanding of human life and its purpose.
All too often, the Church is ignored because she is seen as anti-science — instead of anti-killing — and as anti-freedom — instead of anti-oppression of others and enslavement of oneself.
The media is often irresponsible in its portrayal of Church teaching and generally too shallow in its approach to allow people to see the rationality and beauty of the Church’s message.
Moreover, it must be said that many of us, both clergy and laypeople, are far too timid when it comes to expressing Church teaching in these areas, and why it is true and good and leads to happiness.
It would be a good start if we began holding our governments to account — and judging ourselves by the same yardstick by which we assess them. We have a wonderful message to convey, and should do so with confidence and enthusiasm.
WASHINGTON, D.C., JUNE 15, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Mother Angelica remains relevant to people because they can’t turn away from her directness, her passion and her lovable humor, says friend and biographer Raymond Arroyo.
Arroyo, director of EWTNews and host of “The World Over,” is the author and editor of two books on the woman religious. “Mother Angelica: The Remarkable Story of a Nun, Her Nerve, and a Network of Miracles” was a New York Times best-seller and has recently been translated into Spanish.
He is also the editor of the recently released “Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality.” It is a collection of the nun’s unpublished private lessons and prayers.
In this interview with ZENIT, Arroyo discusses the life of the cloistered nun, and what lead to her success in the global world of television and radio.
Q: Has the popularity of your books on Mother Angelica surprised you?
Arroyo: No, I can’t say that it has. Mother is one of those beloved figures in the Church who resonates with people around the world.
Much like Pope John Paul II or Mother Teresa, Mother Angelica has touched people by her witness. But unlike those iconic figures, Mother comes into people’s homes each day.
For decades she has brought them hope in those moments of despair or confusion — and that leaves an incredible impact. She is truly a spiritual mother to millions.
I think that the biography of Mother Angelica helped the public see the personal side of this woman of faith — and to appreciate her great sacrifices and daring. It’s also a heck of a story.
The recent collection of her unpublished teachings and advice, “Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality,” has given people an opportunity to profit from Mother’s personal philosophy and practical spirituality. The mail I’ve received from readers is truly remarkable.
Q: Mother Angelica is not a stereotypical nun and your biography makes this clear. In what ways do you think her particular feminine genius can inspire others?
Arroyo: Mother is definitely not a stereotypical nun. She appears stereotypical, but beneath the habit is this gutsy, determined woman who wields an incredible faith.
Her feminine genius resides just there I think: in her radical faith, in her abandonment to God’s will in the present moment. Additionally, she had an intuition that allowed her to see events as they were and to follow her heart and God, always.
We need that feminine aspect in the Church today. Mother used to say that the faith had become too “heady,” too theoretical. And I think she is right.
In the new book she says, “Most people today are seeking master’s degrees, then they forget the Master.” She never forgot her Master.
Isn’t it curious that some of the same people who were the most outspoken advocates of “women’s power” in the Church, were the first ones trying to shove Mother Angelica back into the cloister once she appeared on the scene?
The idea of an orthodox, faithful woman leading people to Christ was a threat somehow. It shouldn’t have been. Time has shown that it was actually a blessing.
Q: How would you describe Mother Angelica’s spirituality?
Arroyo: Mother described her approach as “nitty-gritty,” “sock-it-to-’em” spirituality.
Her style was always very practical, and easily applicable to the lives of her listeners. She grew up on the streets of Canton, Ohio, among poor, working class immigrants.
Those are the people she attempted to reach, whether in person or on television. But buried in her funny, earthy approach was always the profound wisdom of the Church.
She used to say, “If you have two legs and you’re breathing –you’re called to holiness, sweetheart.” And people believed her. She didn’t teach theology, she taught people to be more like her Spouse.
She held that living example of Jesus up for the world to see and dared all comers to try to match it. The reason she remains relevant is that people can’t turn away from her directness, her passion and her lovable humor.
I mean, how many nuns do people know who describe the eternal judgment to intimates this way: “Everyone drags his own carcass to market, so be careful.”
Q: What do you think was Mother Angelica’s most significant contribution to Catholic television and to Catholic media, in general?
Arroyo: Global Catholic media is Mother’s great contribution to the Church. Before her there was no readily available Catholic network in the United States or anywhere else — and after her there is much talk and a lot of public relations, but nothing with the reach of her enterprise.
Mother Angelica is the first woman, never mind nun, in the history of broadcasting to found a nonprofit cable network, and the only religious to ever do so.
The Eternal Word Television Network is now seen in more than 140 million households around the world, heard on over 100 AM/FM stations in the United States, on its own shortwave radio network, and on a stand-alone Sirius channel.
Pretty good work for a crippled, cloistered nun with only a high school degree and innumerable physical ailments. Her whole life is a witness to the power of faith and to what she tagged the “theology of risk.”
Q: What has been the most profound lesson you’ve learned from Mother Angelica?
Arroyo: For years, Mother had been urging me, and her legions of viewers, to live in the “present moment.”
The week before the biography was published in 2005, Hurricane Katrina took our home and evicted my family and me from New Orleans.
We didn’t know where we were going to live, where we were going to send the kids to school, where our friends were. And yet there was this sense that this was part of God’s plan for us.
Mother often says that “most people live in the past or in the future.” We fret about the things we can’t control or stew over things long gone. In doing so we are not at “home in the present moment.”
I once asked Mother to describe the present moment for me, and she said: “We have to ask God, ‘What are you calling me to do, right now in this present moment?’ Not yesterday or tomorrow, but right now. God’s will is manifested to us in the duties and the experiences of the present moment. We have only to accept them and try to be like Jesus in them.”
This living in the present moment kept Mother attuned to the desires of God throughout the day and attentive to what he expected of her moment by moment.
The teaching became a great consolation to my family and myself after Katrina, and I continue to practice it even now. Three weeks after we lost the house, I became the only homeless author on the New York Times best-seller list.
The present moment is funny that way.
Q: What do you anticipate happening in the future of Catholic media? Will it continue to grow as it has under Mother’s watch?
Arroyo: All of Mother’s efforts were rooted in her prayer life. She didn’t play a nun on television; she was a nun.
If Catholic media efforts are to thrive in the future, they must find their sustenance in prayer. They must also be attentive to the needs of their audience in this “present moment.”
Mother reached people where they were and translated the timeless teachings of the Church into an idiom and a format that could reach a contemporary audience. If others can follow her example, they will flourish.
There is whole chapter on “Embracing Inspiration and Risk” in the new book. In it Mother says: “Never put a lid on God. … Your plans, your projects, your dreams always have to be bigger than you are so God has room to operate. Nothing is too much for the Lord to do — accent on the ‘the Lord!'”
Given the culture we find ourselves in today, and the anemic Catholic efforts out there, there is little time to waste. Mother would say: “Get cracking.”