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Oh, to be a “Catholic Scholar”

posted by awelborn

This will make you snort, from the Minneapolis Star-Tribune report on encyclical reax (actually a reprint from the Toronto paper – so note that it was probably Canadian "Catholic scholars" who were consulted) :

Few Catholic scholars contacted this week had read the encyclical or planned to do so. Two professed amusement at the notion that the pope had written about love. And what puzzled some scholars is why Benedict had chosen the subject.

God save us from the Catholic scholars. There has been much hand-wringing of late about the "big chill" on Catholic theological work because of CDF, Ratz, etc…oh, I think it’s okay. The less we hear from (some of) them, the better.

The ultimate irony is that as the theologians wimper about not being heard, the Big Guy is, of course…a theologian. And people all over the globe are pouring over his work. Even folks like the fellow who wrote me last week who’d read what I’d said about the encyclical on the blog and was confused about where to read the text itself. I sent him the links, and he responded thanks, and that he wasn’t Catholic but was intrigued by what he’d read about the Pope’s words.

So…is  theology dead and did Ratzinger kill it? I’m thinking…no.

Update: And to address an issue that’s popped up down below. I’m not suggesting that a papal encyclical should immediately be at the center of every Catholic’s – even Catholic scholar’s – consciousness and concern. I actually spent some time musing – although I never blogged on it – about why I was interested and why I should care.

But you know, this is the first papal encyclical since 2003, it’s the first from this new Pope, who also happens to be a renowned theologian, who has been an object of controversy in the past and whose papacy so far has confounded some. So yeah, it’s of interest, it’s not very long at all, and any "Catholic scholar" who’s on the newsroom rolodex (and once you get on, you learn to expect calls for reactions regularly), you’d think might have something to say besides, "Sniff." If that is, indeed, an accurate metaphor for what they said.



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Blind Squirrel

posted January 30, 2006 at 2:31 pm


Hmm–presumably, if you’re a “Catholic scholar,” reading the papal encyclicals isn’t anything you’d want to waste your time doing…



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Chris-2-4

posted January 30, 2006 at 2:37 pm


John Paul’s lucidity missed
But with Deus Caritas Est, said University of Toronto church historian Giulio Silano, “I’ve been looking for where he wants to go and I can’t see an answer.” Reading it, he said, made him miss the lucidity of John Paul, in whose writings there was “a complete coherence that you don’t find here.”

BUZZ! Strike Two. The only lucidity missing is in your article.
Both scholars noted that the encyclical is addressed only to people inside the Catholic Church and not, as John Paul addressed his encyclicals, to the world. They both felt that what Benedict was doing was instructing Catholics to get the essence of their faith right, to renew and deepen it.
BUZZ! Strike three, you’re out. It is addressed “TO THE BISHOPS
PRIESTS AND DEACONS
MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS
AND ALL THE LAY FAITHFUL
” which includes not just people “inside the Catholic Church” and is almost identical to the way Ecclesia de Eucharistia was addressed.



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Trisha

posted January 30, 2006 at 2:39 pm


Theology is asleep. But thanks to you!!!! and a few others, it’s not dead. No one wants to offend anyone. Esp those in the key positions who CAN defend what’s right but don’t. It’s as if those who are in position in the church have all fallen down with fear or complacency. But it’s the little folks, right now, who keep the light burning for Him, His mom, His church. Thanks Amy–for all you do.



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Old Zhou

posted January 30, 2006 at 2:40 pm


Actually, a local pastor who is a theologian with a doctoral degree, even decided to ask the question to his parish this weekend: “We don’t usually pay any attention to these encyclicals. But this one got such good reviews from Hans Kueng, maybe it is worth a look. Does anybody want to study it?”
Indeed, it is the soundbites in the media from Hans Kueng that is raising the interest in my neighborhood.
For example:

The Catholic theologian Hans Kung, one of Pope Benedict’s strongest critics, praised the encyclical’s “solid theological substance on the subjects of eros and agape, love and charity and not drawing false contradictions between the

or

Retired Catholic theology professor Hans Kueng, who met Benedict for a long lunch last year that appeared to resolve some of their old dispute, said the encyclical avoided pessimism about the state of culture, and added: “It’s a good signal.”
He said he wished Ratzinger would write another encyclical that was loving towards couples using contraception, and he still hoped Benedict would usher in profound change in the church.

After all, if Hans Kueng doesn’t hate it, it can’t be all bad, right? Maybe worth a read.



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Sean

posted January 30, 2006 at 2:52 pm


Actually, the fact the Hans Kueng liked it made me wary of it. But I read it and it, of course, is great. Hans just proved the old adage… even a stopped clock is right twice a day.



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Larry

posted January 30, 2006 at 2:54 pm

Todd

posted January 30, 2006 at 2:58 pm


Well, a “few” scholars not reading or caring is better than a “lot.”
Anyone with an oar in any church discussion knows that love is a sorely needed virtue, especially in St Blog’s as well as your average parish.
As always with the secular media, I wonder how competent an article about the Church is, or can be expected to be.



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Tom Haessler

posted January 30, 2006 at 3:51 pm


I’m not quite as pessimistic as some of you, my friends. There were more than a few tantilizing quotes in this article to inspire, perhaps, some to procure the text itself.
I also find it interesting that the journalist didn’t care to share who the “few” Catholic scholars were.
There’s some confusion about the address of the encyclical. It’s a public letter that can be read by all, but it’s addressed to all Catholics. One of John Paul the Great’s most important encyclicals (VERITATIS SPLENDOR) is addressed only to bishops. EVANGELIUM VITAE is addressed to the entire Church and also to “all people of good will”, a more or less large group according to your penchant for finding ignorance invincible! LOL
I thought the (Methodist?) minister’s essay on the encylical found on the Ratzinger Fan Club link was profound and well thought out. More evidence that the Holy Father has found a voice that will be quite accessible to evangelical Protestants.



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Kevin Jones

posted January 30, 2006 at 3:51 pm


Anybody know how the magazine decided which scholars to contact?



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Leah

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:05 pm


I know a professor of “biblical sexuality” at a local Catholic college that has never read any of JPII’s Theology of the Body. (He has read some negative reviews of it, though, which he thought sufficed.)
Now, whether you like TotB or not – I think if you’re calling yourself an expert in “biblical sexuality”, you’d have at least read it! I was very naive when I first met him. I was shocked.



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Richter

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:06 pm


They haven’t read it? And they admitted that?
That’s like a “scholar” of modern American History who neither hears nor reads the State of the Union message. And who admits it!! Even!!
Why in the world would anyone take any person like that seriously?



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Richter

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:08 pm


They haven’t read it? And they admitted that?
That’s like a “scholar” of modern American History who neither hears nor reads the State of the Union message. And who admits it!! Even!!
Why in the world would anyone take any person like that seriously?



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Augustinianus

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:19 pm


Richter is right. I’m a scholar (and a Catholic, but not a “Catholic scholar” in the sense this article seems to mean), and I can’t conceive of anyone planning persistent ignorance of even a potentially important source, whether one expects to like it or not. Being a scholar involves (among other things) taking care to know the things you should be expected to know; if these folks aren’t doing that, I’m not sure how they justify drawing their salaries.



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Grant Gallicho

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:21 pm


There’s isn’t enough in the article to warrant blanket condemnation of “Catholic scholars” (theologians? Catholic chemists?). Hand-wringing or otherwise.



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Anonymous Student Person

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:22 pm


Here at Large Catholic University (that some who comment here seem to really dislike…) people have been all over it – theo faculty and grad students. No strong reactions, but people generally seem to appreciate it. Despair not!



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Chris-2-4

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:25 pm


I know a professor of “biblical sexuality”
No offense Leah, but I found this to be immensely humorous in an unintentional way.
Considering the context of “To Know” in a “Biblical Sense”.
Sorry…



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Old Zhou

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:28 pm


Dear Richter, Augustinianus, etc.
You can be a “Catholic Theologian” and never read anything written by a Pope since 1968 (or earlier, depending on your specialty). Some possibilities:
(1) You made tenure before 1970.
(2) Your specialty is anything other than “contemporary papacy.”
For example, if you are a theologican specializing in Bible, you can do just fine without paying attention to what the Pope said today. Or if your speciality is ethnic liturgical studies. Or moral theology. In a very real sense, what the Pope says today is not going to change the material you teach, or the research you do.
In fairness, the people that probably need to pay the most attention to the Pope’s encyclical are: (1) bishops; (2) laity; (3) other clergy; (4) religious. Theologians are way down there on the list of people who need to pay attention, IMHO.



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Alfredo

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:53 pm


I know at least five people at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul who I am sure have read the encyclical by now. But maybe the Minneapolis Star-Tribune doesn’t cover St. Paul. You know …. one of those territorial things.



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Jason

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:58 pm


Or moral theology. In a very real sense, what the Pope says today is not going to change the material you teach, or the research you do.
How do you know that until you read it? I read things all the time that affect or inspire me in ways I wasn’t expecting.
If you have any scholastic relation to Catholicism, you should read the Encyclical. Besides the professional reasons, you might actually gain a level of holiness or two.



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Tom Haessler

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:59 pm


Old Zhou,
A major theme of contemporary moral theology is the primacy of charity. So moral theologians don’t need to read the enyclical? Explain, please, my friend.



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Richter

posted January 30, 2006 at 4:59 pm


“In fairness, the people that probably need to pay the most attention to the Pope’s encyclical are: (1) bishops; (2) laity; (3) other clergy; (4) religious. Theologians are way down there on the list of people who need to pay attention, IMHO.”
Oh yeh, and people who draw a salary by pretending to be experts on Catholic theology.



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Maureen O'Brien

posted January 30, 2006 at 5:01 pm


Of course they’re not reading it! They’re listening to the mp3! :)
I have to admit, it’s tempting to do a remix of some of the better bits. But I’d have to make sure I had few enough quotes to constitute “fair use”, and then I’d have to find some good dance tunes…. Hmm. No doubt someone will do it, in their copious spare time.



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Old Zhou

posted January 30, 2006 at 5:37 pm


Dear Tom,
The “primacy of charity” is an expression not found in the encyclical.
Assuming the idea is there anyway, it is nothing new.
The encyclical itself starts it’s development from the revelation of God’s love in Scripture, and the commandments to love God and neighbor, conjoined in the Gospels. Then the practice of the early Church in Acts. Then to the patristic literature. You certainly could get everything “essential” in the encyclical from a thorough study of moral theology based on Scripture and Augustine.
In general, textbooks, and those who use them, rarely metion matters less than a decade old even in the most advanced and fast-changing sciences. It is only in later graduate school where one approaches involvement with “current events,” be they scientific or theological.
But for the foundational teaching and learning, what happened last week is not terribly important.



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Pauli

posted January 30, 2006 at 6:20 pm


Encyclical I rocks! Who cares what the few so-called “Catholic scholars” think. These guys are still learning to make the sign of the cross. When they do that they might be able to figure out that “caritas” is the Latin word for one of the 3 theological virtues. That might explain he had “chosen the subject.” (Latin, by the way, is a language which the Catholic Church uses from time to time.)



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Mike Petrik

posted January 30, 2006 at 6:24 pm


“A major theme of contemporary moral theology is the primacy of charity.”
This statement interests me insomuch as my “impression” (the quotes are for emphasis since I’m hardly an expert) is quite to the contrary. Seems like much of what I read and hear from contemporary Catholic theologians focuses on “justice” rather than “charity,” even to the point of effectively defining “justice” in a manner that conceptually extinguishes “charity.” Indeed, in discussions I have had with theologians they admitted to being somewhat uncomfortable with the concept of charity. In one such discussion the scholar in question tried to define charity as a mere subset of justice. Of course, these efforts effectively trivialize a virtue that should be vital for any Christian.
In any case I apologize to Amy for steering off topic.



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Augustinianus

posted January 30, 2006 at 6:36 pm


Old Zhou–
For example, if you are a theologican specializing in Bible, you can do just fine without paying attention to what the Pope said today. Or if your speciality is ethnic liturgical studies. Or moral theology. In a very real sense, what the Pope says today is not going to change the material you teach, or the research you do.
That is of course true, just as I (who work on early literature) would not need to read, say, an important new biography of Mark Twain. But if I were called by a reporter and asked about such a biography (unlikely event!), I would not “profess amusement” that someone had written it, or “express puzzlement” that the author had taken up that subject; I would just note that it is not in my field and that I wouldn’t be qualified to comment in any case. This is why I assumed, and assume, that by “Catholic scholars” that reporter meant not just “scholars who are Catholics and study various theological subjects,” but “scholars of contemporary Catholicism.” Of course the reporter may himself not understand that distinction, or may not have known how to find instances of the latter.



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Ray Marshall

posted January 30, 2006 at 6:53 pm


There are five Catholic colleges/universities in Minnesota. I find it interesting that the reporter quoted two professors from Toronto. An international call no less.
To my knowledge, there are plentiful numbers of free thinking theologians at each of those institutions.
My favorite quote is from a St. John’s University (Benedictine institution) theologian who when asked what he liked best about his job, replied “They don’t tell me what to do.”



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Old Zhou

posted January 30, 2006 at 7:26 pm


For all those Minnesotans,
This article was written by Michael Valpy, senior writer of the Toronto Globe and Mail, and it first appeared in Canada on Thursday January 26.
It has been running around in syndication in the US since then. It did not originate in Minnesota.
(That explains why it references scholars in Toronto, rather than Minneapolis.)
At least two (count ‘em, TWO!) scholars and Notre Dame have read the encyclical.

Two Notre Dame faculty members have read “Deus Caritas Est” and expressed differing reactions.
In an interview in today’s Newsday, Scott Appleby, a religious historian and director of the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies, described it as “a return to a theology of church in which the church is primarily given the responsibility to form consciences and to provide charity – something no Catholic would disagree with – but which is not further responsible for prophecy or for actual social reform towards justice. That’s not how my generation of Catholics understood Vatican II.”
To Lawrence S. Cunningham, John A. O’Brien Professor of Theology, the encyclical seemed “a very sophisticated statement of what the church stands for in terms of love of God and love of neighbor. I take that as a very hopeful thing.” Speaking to a writer for the Baltimore Sun, Cunningham also remarked on what Pope Benedict left out. “Now this would have been a perfect time for him to launch into a huge diatribe against the moral relativism and pornography and so on,” he said. “He doesn’t do that. He sticks pretty much to what he wants to say.”

And scholar Tobias Winright of SLU put out his “theologian is in” sign for journalists who want to interview him, and apparently Carol Eisenberg of Newsday did just that.

Several Catholic thinkers said that position seems to signal a departure. “This seems to be a return to a pre-Vatican II notion that separates the church from the world,” Appleby said.
But Tobias Winright said he saw it as “a corrective to those who emphasize justice that leads to movements like liberation theology in Latin America.”
“The emphasis here is on charity, but he tries to nuance that by saying the faithful, as citizens, need to work for justice,” said Winright, assistant professor of theological studies at Saint Louis University.

Apparently scholars at SLU and ND disagree on what the encyclical means.



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Old Zhou

posted January 30, 2006 at 7:46 pm


More on encyclicals, and why they are not “Must Read” for most Catholic scholars:

The practice of circular letters fell into disuse during the Middle Ages…
Pope Benedict XIV (1740-1758), helped by widespread use of the printing press, revived the ancient tradition of the Pope writing a common letter to all the bishops of the world; modern collections of papal letters usually begin with his papacy. Pope Gregory XVI (1831-1846) called these letters encyclicals, from the Latin encyclicus, circular, because they were intended for wide circulation. However, for papal letters published between 1740 and 1870, there was no agreement among scholars as to which were encyclicals. After Vatican I (1870) encyclical letters were clearly marked as such.
Pope Leo XIII (1878-1903) restored an important characteristic of the early Christian circular letters. Encyclicals since 1740 had been primarily admonitions and exhortations regarding traditional issues; Pope Leo XIII addressed new substantive issues, such as Catholic social teaching. He wrote some seventy-five encyclicals, including such classics as Humanum Genus (1884) on Freemasonry, Rerum Novarum (1891) on Catholic social teaching, and Providentissimus Deus (1893) on Holy Scripture, and Annum Sacrum (1899) on consecration to the Sacred Heart.
Since 1740 the Popes have produced nearly three hundred encyclicals, most of no continuing pastoral or theological interest. Pope Benedict XIV’s Quod Provinciale (1754) to the Bishops of Albania on the use of Islamic names by Christians, and Pope Leo XIII’s In Amplissimo (1902) thanking the American bishops for their good wishes on his anniversary, address no pressing needs for the Church Militant of our day. Indeed, among the encyclicals written before Pope John Paul II, perhaps ten percent are currently studied by faithful theologians…
Encyclicals are not divinely inspired and do not contain new revelation, but they are authoritative teaching instruments from the Vicar of Christ.” (Source)

I would not expect every genuine “Catholic Scholar” to feel a need to read the encyclical within the first week.



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Julia

posted January 30, 2006 at 7:59 pm


“Seems like much of what I read and hear from contemporary Catholic theologians focuses on “justice” rather than “charity,” even to the point of effectively defining “justice” in a manner that conceptually extinguishes “charity.” Indeed, in discussions I have had with theologians they admitted to being somewhat uncomfortable with the concept of charity. In one such discussion the scholar in question tried to define charity as a mere subset of justice”
I wonder if this focus on justice has any connection at all to the Hebrew admonition to repair a broken world? My Jewish convert sister says the establishment of justice is the primary occupation of Jews.



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reluctant penitent

posted January 30, 2006 at 8:12 pm


Zhou,
At best the refusal to read suggests a lack of curiousity and intellectual laziness. At worst, it suggest contempt for an ‘authoritative teaching instrument from the vicar of Christ.’
Teaching theology at a Catholic University usually involves teaching core theology courses the purpose of which is to help students grow in the Catholic faith (insert laugh track here).
Professor Freddoso knows ‘at least five people’ at UST who would have read the encyclical. I have no doubt that he’s right. Even if he meant five theologians, keep in mind that the theology department at UST has about 20 faculty members.



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Alfredo

posted January 30, 2006 at 9:02 pm


Professor Freddoso knows ‘at least five people’ at UST who would have read the encyclical. I have no doubt that he’s right. Even if he meant five theologians, keep in mind that the theology department at UST has about 20 faculty members.
RP,
Fair enough. But I was just doing a random mental survey of faculty members I know in Theology, Philosophy, and Catholic Studies. (A lot of my mental life seems a tad random these days …. :-)) As it turns out, I left a out a few people of whom I could have said the same thing.
The really heartening thing, though, is that each of us has plenty of students who will read the encyclical on their own (or in small groups) and soak it up. They won’t be relying on the media to tell them what to think about it.



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Richard

posted January 30, 2006 at 9:05 pm


Well…at my school of theology, I think the majority of everyone I ran into seemed to have read it or at least skimmed it last week.
But I gather we’re probably the exception.
As to Zhou’s point: I’m not sure that past is or should be prologue here. Encyclicals play a much larger role in the last century than they did in previous eras. And when you have theologian of the depth of Joseph Ratzinger on the papal throne (have we ever had one of his caliber elected before?)…it seems to make particularly good sense to keep up with it if you’re really serious about doing Catholic theology today.
At any rate, I expect more theologians have read Deus Caritas Est than the article seems to suggest.



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Richard

posted January 30, 2006 at 9:08 pm


Actually, a local pastor who is a theologian with a doctoral degree, even decided to ask the question to his parish this weekend: “We don’t usually pay any attention to these encyclicals. But this one got such good reviews from Hans Kueng, maybe it is worth a look. Does anybody want to study it?”
Priceless.



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Old Zhou

posted January 30, 2006 at 9:23 pm


Of course, if the Pope really wanted to get everyone to read it, he should have started off with “Opus Dei est caritas…”
Then the Latin Title would be “Opus Dei est” (Opus Dei is….) and everybody is fascinated by Opus Dei thanks to Dan Brown.
And, since his first references were to Nietzsche, Virgil and Descartes, he could have easily slipped in something from Da Vinci in the references (the love at the Last Supper)?
Then EVERYBODY would be talking about the encyclical (if not reading it), and how this is a conspiracy of the Catholic Church to nullify the coming of the movie…product tie-ins are very important!



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Eileen R

posted January 30, 2006 at 9:32 pm


Zhou, that’s brilliant. Thanks for the chuckle.



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Michael Hugo

posted January 30, 2006 at 9:47 pm


I went to a funeral at an evangelical church this weekend. During the sevice, the ministers, both sons of the deceased, talked about eternal life and the need to ask God for forgiveness and to accept Jesus as savior.
Theologians have, to a great extent, spent 2000 years making the simple and radical message of Jesus meaningless and unintelligible.
I have read JPII’s encyclicals (14) and exerpts from PBXVI’s “Deus Caritas Est”. I have learned nothing new about my faith.
Meanwhile, during the funeral service, one of the main speakers was an ex-Catholic that just wasn’t “getting fed” in the Catholic Church.
Please. Fewer encyclicals and more administration, please! Quit re-packaging the Gospel. It doesn’t need it.
Instead, let’s focus on getting some more priests that actually believe in the Church and its teachings. Let’s get the laity informed about how to live “in the world but not of the world”. Let’s get the folks educated so they can actually “get fed” and defend their faith. Less about Christian Unity with dead, liberal, protestant denominations and more about learning from those faith-filled denominations that are actually growing and thriving, due in large part to a flood of ex-catholics.
Or is this too simple?



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T. Chan

posted January 30, 2006 at 10:11 pm


Or is this too simple?
No it’s not, but a reform away from Roman centrism will probably take a while, if it happens at all…



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John L

posted January 30, 2006 at 10:16 pm


A quick glance at the Vatican website reveals the following encyclicals issued since 1968 that should be read by theologians of one kind or another (not to mention other papal documents);
Fides et Ratio – on the relation of philosophy to theology; all branches of theology.
Ecclesia de eucharistia; sacramental theology
Veritatis splendor, Evangelium vitae; moral theology
Dominum et vivificantem; systematic theology and christology
Dives et misericordia, redemptor hominis; systematic theology
Nothing on biblical theology – perhaps the new Pope will remedy this? In any case there is at least one encyclical that all theologians should have read. The two on moral theology contain pronouncements on disputed questions so are essential to their disciplines.



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Anne-Marie

posted January 30, 2006 at 11:11 pm


From the article:
[Prof. Silano:] “I’ve been looking for where he wants to go and I can’t see an answer.”
and
Prof. Donovan said the encyclical felt more like a continuation of the meditative homilies Benedict delivered around the time of John Paul’s death last April than what Catholic scholars call a “programmatic encyclical.”
and
They both felt that what Benedict was doing was instructing Catholics to get the essence of their faith right, to renew and deepen it.
Maybe *that* is Benedict’s “programme.”



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Michael Hugo

posted January 31, 2006 at 2:13 am


T. Chan,
Roman “centrism” should be a strength. In a hierarchical organization, the person at the top should have the authority to get things done. Likewise, they need to take the responsibility when things go wrong.
I’m all for a strong Papacy (especially given the state of western bishopry), but when the Church goes through forty years of unprecedented decline, we need to really think about it before we start canonizing the guy who let it all fall to pieces.
One man’s opinion.
Obviously theology serves a purpose in the Church, but as one of my old philosophy professors used to say, “No one has said anything new since Plato.” There is a point where the cottage industry of debating the number of angels on pins, no matter how important it may seem, pales in comparison with the sheer power of the radical Gospel message.
Any man, woman, institiution that dilutes that message has to be suspect, really. Who needs them?
Now, the saints magnify the Gospel. True Catholic teaching (admittedly, largely thanks to great theologians of the past) still stands mightily against the secular hegemony. The question is, when do we stop examining our navel and start rockin’?
We have elevated “academic freedom” to a point where “theology” can include questioning the divinity of Christ? Really? Is that a worthwhile pursuit? Has the Great Commission been supplanted by “know a lot about what other people think about God”?
Has this “ejumacation” led to a revitalization in the Church? No. Only one thing will. Teach the Truth. Preach the Gospel. Believe.
All the rest is folly.



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T. Chan

posted January 31, 2006 at 8:37 am


Roman “centrism” should be a strength. In a hierarchical organization, the person at the top should have the authority to get things done. Likewise, they need to take the responsibility when things go wrong.
Mr. Hugo,
Taken to an extreme, Roman centrism is one idea of how papal primacy should be ordinarily exercised, but it is not the definitive or only practicable form, and it’s one that Cardinal Ratzinger has stated that the Church should move away from.



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TSO

posted January 31, 2006 at 9:16 am


While encyclicals obviously aren’t scripture, there still is the sort of thrill in receiving one, as if we were living in Colossae or Galatia in the 1st century and were receiving a letter from Paul.



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Maureen O'Brien

posted January 31, 2006 at 9:28 am


Um… how is “Deus Caritas Est” not preaching the Gospel? What else do you think the man’s trying to do??!!
In one sense, there is never anything new about the Gospel. It hasn’t changed any while we weren’t looking.
In another sense, it is always new. It is continually pulling us on towards God, which means that we see new things in it, or need to.
So yes, in one sense I’d heard that love song before. Love songs always say the same things. But every person who writes a love song writes it differently, and that difference is always interesting and new and revelatory. Especially when the singer is our little German Pope. :)



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austin

posted January 31, 2006 at 10:13 am


I think the encyclical could be extremely practical. Pope Benedict speaks at the end his letter about the unity of faith and charity in doing charity. Missionary work by some prominent religious orders and work by Catholic Charities in many dioceses has grown far away from the notion that faith and charity go together. In my diocese, recepients of Catholic Charities are not told anything about the Catholic faith. (As a volunteer, I was told the ‘faith’ side of the Catholicism was in the parish church; they didn’t deal with that.) Being a convert, I don’t think they are aware what a gift our faith is.
Also many people who are in prominent positions in Catholic Charities don’t agree with the teaching of the church. This is problematic when it comes to counseling under the name of Catholic Charities. Catholic missionaries I know employ Moslems to distribute the donated goods, explaining that education is what is most important in bringing people to the truth.



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Tom Haessler

posted January 31, 2006 at 10:44 am


Since the encyclical is addressed to all the lay faithful (as well clergy and religious), and since the Peter and His successors have been given the mandate by Jesus Himself to teach authoritatively to all, wouldn’t it be even a matter of courtesy to read letters intended for our edification?
The theory that “the Gospel is simple and theological reflection leads to obfuscation” is easily refuted by the experience of evangelical Christianity in the United States – a stream of converts to Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy as they’re exposed to patristics and ever deeper biblical study. As for Catholics who leave because they’re not being fed, there’s an element of truth there, but also many former Catholics are being fed delicious poison like “eternal security”, “once saved, always saved”, “no problem with contraception – that’s Catholic legalism”, “prosperity gospel”, and in the outer reaches of American fundamentalism a Taliban version of Christianity – Christian Dominionism! None of this is meant as criticism of the noble witness and edifying lives of many evangelicals.



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Tom Haessler

posted January 31, 2006 at 10:47 am


Catholics who leave the Church for evangelicalism almost never have benefitted from the level of catechesis necessary for even an average literate adult today. Evangelicals who enter the Church have almost always an in depth understanding (and appreciation) of their own tradition.



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Michael Hugo

posted January 31, 2006 at 12:26 pm


Tom wrote:
“Catholics who leave the Church for evangelicalism almost never have benefitted from the level of catechesis necessary for even an average literate adult today. Evangelicals who enter the Church have almost always an in depth understanding (and appreciation) of their own tradition.”
I agree. My frustration is that the more I learn about my own faith, the more I realize the Church has totally, totally dropped the ball when it comes to catechesis. Let’s not waste time placing blame. That has been going on for forty years.
My problem with the last 30 years of encyclicals is that most of the effort seems to be focused on “preaching to the choir”. Especially the theologically “elite” choir members. Either that, or we get watered down poetical, Oprah Winfrey theology; so unoffensive and so un-instructive that it means nothing to anyone. Humane Vitae! Now there’s an Encyclical!
If the Church wants to become the Episcopal Church, then it should continue on the present course. If it wants to thrive and actually get about the business of saving souls (thought this was “job one”), there had better be a refocus on the basics.
Telling me that God is love is pretty basic, I’ll grant you. It’s just the kind of pablum that has helped make the Episcopal Church the rotting shell it has become.
I’m looking for some indication from Rome that the Church is interested in a renewal. The signals have been mixed, to say the least. This first volley from Rome seems like more of the same mush that has led to our current state of “confusion in the pews”.



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Michael Hugo

posted January 31, 2006 at 12:43 pm


Maureen wrote:
Um… how is “Deus Caritas Est” not preaching the Gospel? What else do you think the man’s trying to do??!!

Maureen,
Just like JPII, I have NO doubt of the sincere holiness of PBXVI. He is living it in a way that puts me to shame.
I am voicing the frustration with the “love song”, as you called it, being played by the band while the Titanic is sinking. Certainly there are more urgent things to address given the current state of things. It seems like it should be on the list of “things to do” just below “rearrange the deck chairs”.
That’s all.



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austin

posted January 31, 2006 at 2:02 pm


But if you look at the practical implications of charity and faith going together, there could be lots of implications at local institutional level of the church concerning how things are done. Maybe this is the foundational document for things to start moving.



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Old Zhou

posted January 31, 2006 at 2:03 pm


Last Saturday night I was watching a DVD of Brother Bear while falling asleep. When the scene came where Kenai received his totem, “The Bear of Love,” I could not help but think of Pope Benedict and his new encyclical. (There is a bear on the Pope’s Coat of Arms.)
I still think that if the Vatican was really intersted in market penetration for encyclicals, then they should be doing a lot more.
- Pope Benedict appearing at basilicas and doing signings
- Pope Benedict on talk shows discussing the encyclical
- Pop-up ads with excerpts from the encyclical required on all offical Catholic websites
- High quality MP3 and audio recordings, read by Morgan Freeman or the like.
- Good Samaritan action figures at all Domino’s Pizza outlets, with mail-in coupon for a free encyclical
Clearly, the Vatican does not care about market penetration. If folks want to read it, fine. If not, fine.



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Ed the Roman

posted January 31, 2006 at 2:08 pm


“Seems like much of what I read and hear from contemporary Catholic theologians focuses on “justice” rather than “charity,” even to the point of effectively defining “justice” in a manner that conceptually extinguishes “charity.” Indeed, in discussions I have had with theologians they admitted to being somewhat uncomfortable with the concept of charity. In one such discussion the scholar in question tried to define charity as a mere subset of justice”
I wonder if this focus on justice has any connection at all to the Hebrew admonition to repair a broken world? My Jewish convert sister says the establishment of justice is the primary occupation of Jews.

I think the reason many theologians would like to make charity a particular variant of justice is that it is much easier to promote socialism starting from justice than from charity. Justice carries an assumption of state involvement, after all.



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Ray Marshall

posted January 31, 2006 at 2:16 pm


There is now a “Toronto Globe and Mail” credit line on the StarTribune article.
The responded very fast when it was pointed out to them.



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John L

posted January 31, 2006 at 2:17 pm


The idea that the Gospel is simple is refuted by St. Peter, who remarks in his letter that many of St. Paul’s writings are hard to understand.



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Ray Marshall

posted January 31, 2006 at 2:17 pm


There is now a “Toronto Globe and Mail” credit line on the StarTribune article.
They responded very fast when it was pointed out to them.



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FrMichael

posted January 31, 2006 at 2:24 pm


My homily this past Sunday was based upon DCE. Lots of warm reactions, with comments such as “I never thought about that,” and “I’ve been struggling between my life as a wife and mother in the family and expressing Christian love outside our home.” Truth be told, I was curious why the Holy Father would start with love as a topic, but in this part of God’s Kingdom he certainly stirred some interest in the faithful.
That’s why he’s Pope, and I’m a lowly priest. :)



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Mike Petrik

posted January 31, 2006 at 2:32 pm


Ed,
Upon reflection I think you are right. Further, it was plain to me during these discussions that the theologians in question (the general topic by the way was Catholic Social Justice Theory) were determined for the audience to understand that the economic difficulties of any individual or group are always the result of the economic successes of others, and therefor such “others” have an obligation rooted in justice to assist their distressed brethren. The audience in each case was a group of Catholic businessmen who were surprisingly compliant in the fact of such a counter-intuitive assertion. Catholic respect for clergy indeed runs deep.



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Old Zhou

posted January 31, 2006 at 3:07 pm


Another idea for market penetration:
February is the “Month of Love.”
Why doesn’t the Pope just instruct all bishops to instruct all their clergy that all homilies in February are to be on the Encyclical?
Problem solved.
Everybody will be studying the encyclical, talking about the encyclical, hearing the encyclical.
It would really be “encyclical”!
(No, that would never work. People would say the Pope is a dictator, that Rome is telling everyone what to do, that it is the ultimate “crackdown.” And think of all the really great, really important homilies that will be missed because of this Papal Imposition.)
I say again, the Vatican doesn’t really care about market penetration. If you want to read, bene. If you don’t, bene.



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Mike Petrik

posted January 31, 2006 at 3:43 pm


Zhou,
Honestly though, shouldn’t the Vatican care about market penetration? Seriously, in this context isn’t that term just a contemporary shorthand for evangelization?
Just asking….



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Old Zhou

posted January 31, 2006 at 4:03 pm


Well, Mike,
John the Evangelist said “God is love.”
He also said, “He who has an ear, let him hear” several times in his Apocalypse.
God reveals himself.
The Pope writes letters.
Neither force themselves on us if we don’t want to hear, listen, read.
If you close your eyes,
the light will not force you to open them,
no matter how much beauty you miss.



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Roseberry

posted January 31, 2006 at 4:38 pm


Interesting that the authors of the article couldn’t find any “Catholic scholars” who had read the encyclical. They might have done a Google search and found the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars (there’s even a Canadian branch), and if they had contacted that body, I’m sure that they could have been put in touch with many of us who have read (and taken delight in) Deus Caritas Est.



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Mike Petrik

posted January 31, 2006 at 4:52 pm


Well I’m no poet, Zhou, but I’m sure glad that my ancestors had their eyes open — though I imagine their evangelization was a bit less passive than that.



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Ray Marshall

posted January 31, 2006 at 5:37 pm


There is now a “Toronto Globe and Mail” credit line on the StarTribune article.
They responded very fast when it was pointed out to them.



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Ray Marshall

posted January 31, 2006 at 5:38 pm


There is now a “Toronto Globe and Mail” credit line on the StarTribune article.
They responded very fast when it was pointed out to them.



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Joe

posted January 31, 2006 at 5:39 pm


“Catholic theologians…” Any sane person cringes when reading those words, since the only theologians ever cited are ones that tow the disasterous Raymond E Brown line of thought.



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Spirit of Vatican II

posted January 31, 2006 at 8:17 pm


“The Church needs more exegetes like Raymond Brown” — Cardinal Ratzinger, circa 1992.



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Michael Hugo

posted January 31, 2006 at 8:33 pm


One rule of thumb I have learned while trying to navigate the weird waters of contemporary Catholicism:
If you don’t hear the word JESUS, run away. Christ and God don’t really tell you anything about a writer, speaker, theologian, or institution. What seems to freak liberal theologians out is the name of Jesus. Not sure why.
There are other tell-tale signs you’re in for trouble. Whenever you read about “social justice” you can be pretty darn sure the people involved are slim and trim, being very picky eaters at the Catholic cafeteria.
When I lived in the SF Bay Area, I went to a Church that had a very active Social Justice group. I went to one meeting. I looked at their mission statement and saw mention of the Death Penalty, immigrant rights, free healthcare access, etc. Pretty much the DNC position points. No mention of abortion. No talk about how the CHURCH should address these situations, but rather how Catholics should be “positioned” in the political arena, and how we should turn to the government to solve all of our problems.
So Social Justice is kinda like the word “Liberal”. Lots of baggage. I think the Libs should try renaming Social Justice something more…Catholic. Like maybe “Caritas”? Or “fetus”. That linguistic slight of hand has kept them going for about thirty years now.
They are usually so good at naming things so people don’t really know what they’re up to. For example, I have never heard ANYONE (Bishops on down)in the American Church EVER point out an example of syncretism. We hear about ecumenism all the time. Is syncretism so rare? Or is it just that there is no difference?



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Tobias Winright

posted February 6, 2006 at 2:00 pm


Old Zhou wrote: “And scholar Tobias Winright of SLU put out his “theologian is in” sign for journalists who want to interview him, and apparently Carol Eisenberg of Newsday did just that.”
My clarification: The PR department here at SLU initiated contact with me first thing in the morning of the release of the encyclical and asked for my permission, as a theologian in our department who had read the document, to let the media know that I’d be available for questions during my office hours that day. I, myself, did not hang out my “theologian is in” sign.
Further, Old Zhou concluded: “Apparently scholars at SLU and ND disagree on what the encyclical means.” Actually, disagreement should not be surprising, given that ND has such a large Theology Dept and other faculty members, such as Appleby, who teach in other various programs and depts. Same can be said for SLU. However, to clarify matters, my comments really weren’t in drastic disagreement with Appleby’s. The reporter did not quote me fully or in full context. I said that Pope Benedict XVI probably sees the encyclical, especially what it says about justice, as a corrective to movements such as liberation theology.



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