Homosexuals in the Military: O Brave New World!

Sunday, December 19, AD 2010


“You all remember,” said the Controller, in his strong deep voice, “you all remember, I suppose, that beautiful and inspired saying of Our Ford’s: History is bunk. History,” he repeated slowly, “is bunk.”

 He waved his hand; and it was as though, with an invisible feather wisk, he had brushed away a little dust, and the dust was Harappa, was Ur of the Chaldees; some spider-webs, and they were Thebes and Babylon and Cnossos and Mycenae. Whisk. Whisk–and where was Odysseus, where was Job, where were Jupiter and Gotama and Jesus? Whisk–and those specks of antique dirt called Athens and Rome, Jerusalem and the Middle Kingdom–all were gone. Whisk–the place where Italy had been was empty. Whisk, the cathedrals; whisk, whisk, King Lear and the Thoughts of Pascal. Whisk, Passion; whisk, Requiem; whisk, Symphony; whisk …

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


As a parting “gift” to the nation, the lame duck Democrat controlled 111th Congress passed legislation yesterday repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, and now homosexuals may serve openly in the military.  The interesting secret about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” is that it tended to be an escape mechanism out of the military for homosexuals, and those claiming to be homosexuals.  In recent years about 500 individuals have on average been discharged annually with about 80% announcing their homosexuality in order to be released from service.  I quote Melissa, a lesbian and a former medic, on how “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” has worked in practice:

Many people used the “Im gay” tactic to get out of BCT (Basic Combat Training), or AIT (Advanced Individual Training) when I first enlisted. If the dont ask dont tell policy is repealed, this will help to stop “cowards” from enlisting. DADT was a cop out beyond recognition that people used to escape the military life, pre-deployment/assignment, and post-deployment.

 I assume that the number of homosexuals in the military is relatively small, probably as a fraction of the military less than the percentage of the adult population that is homosexual.  The impact of the change in policy is difficult to say since no militaries that actually fight wars, as opposed to the militaries of most European powers that are now largely ceremonial in nature, have long track records of homosexuals openly serving. 

I fear that the military will now come under pressure to make  the military a “welcoming environment” for homosexuals, and that troops who hold to a moral code that regards homosexual conduct as morally abhorent, the overwhelming consensus in Western culture from the triumph of Christianity until around 1970, will find themselves under increasing pressure to conform to the belief that, in Jerry Seinfeld’s phrase, “there is nothing wrong with that” in regard to homosexuality. 

 Of course that is the whole purpose for this farce, just as with “gay marriage”:  to put the imprimatur of the State on the idea that homosexuality and heterosexuality are morally equivalent and that only benighted bigots think otherwise.  This of course is directly contrary to the teaching of the Church as clearly pointed out by then Cardinal Ratzinger in 1986:


7. The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behaviour therefore acts immorally.

To chose someone of the same sex for one’s sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator’s sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent.

As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.

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28 Responses to Homosexuals in the Military: O Brave New World!

  • I am glad to see DADT go. It was a typically cynical Clintonian compromise that never made a whole lot of sense. I don’t know of many other workplaces in the United States where a person can be fired for self-identifying as a homosexual, and I see very little upside in making life more difficult for people with petty restrictions on speech. More broadly, I am against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. If, in fact, it was primarily used as an easy out from the military, it makes the policy all that much more preposterous.

  • Just a thank you note to obama catholics:

    Thanks for ruining my country!

  • Just another win-win: it either weakens the military really obviously, or gives them another “victory” like the integration of women. (Which, I’m sorry to tell any folks who hold fond beliefs about it– didn’t work so very well.)

  • Even though I’m relatively ambivalent about the change, I find the comparison to the workplace to be inappropriate. In what other workplace are the “workers” expected to spends months and months in close quarters under extraordinarily stressful circumstances? Serving in the military ain’t exactly sitting in a cubicle everyday.

    I also agree with Donald that it’s slimy to do this in a lameduck session. Congress had two years to do this, and now they’re doing at the 11th hour when many members have been booted out of office.

  • Thank you for beating me to it Paul. Men in combat units are together in frequently appalling conditions for 24-7 in wartime for very lenthy periods. There are also precious few jobs in the civilian world where unit integrity and morale often means the difference between coming home alive and coming home in a body bag. The ironic thing is that most of the proponents of this change would never dream of spending a day in the military. The harm that this exercise in “let’s pretend” causes may be cushioned by that fact.

  • Any diversity hurts unit cohesion. But it seems to me that all the reasons opponents give for why the military is unlike other work environments (e.g., close quarters) are exactly the reasons why the negative effects will be less, not more.

  • Only if you assume that bunking men and women in the same room will decrease issues with unit cohesion and completion of duties.

  • This is a non-event. What exactly does being “openly gay” in the military mean, anyway? Looking fabulous while dying in immoral, costly and impossible-to-win wars? Putting a few more parades on the calendar?

    Fact is our armed service men (and, unfortunately, women) should be judged by their actions, not their inclinations. Frankly, I’m surprised this hasn’t come sooner in order to meet recruitment goals. Heck, aren’t felons even at times granted waivers to enter the armed services?

    This issue is the least of the problems surrounding how America sees and utilizes her military forces.

  • Thank you for beating me to it Paul. Men in combat units are together in frequently appalling conditions for 24-7 in wartime for very lenthy periods. There are also precious few jobs in the civilian world where unit integrity and morale often means the difference between coming home alive and coming home in a body bag. The ironic thing is that most of the proponents of this change would never dream of spending a day in the military.

    Even granting that 1) military employment is different than other employment; 2) that integrity and morale are important; and 3) that most proponents would never dream of spending a day in the military, does it follow that banning homosexuals from self-identifying is a good policy? Does that help morale or promote integrity (it seems to me it promotes the opposite)?

  • Frankly, I’m surprised this hasn’t come sooner in order to meet recruitment goals.

    Because anyone with nodding familiarity with the military knows it’ll work the opposite way?

    Military: overwhelmingly conservative, socially.
    Homosexuals who are not willing to serve without being “open”: tiny fraction.
    Yeah, let’s spit in the face of the overwhelming number of folks who are willing to fight and die for chicken feed so we can help recruitment….

    Face facts, we all know what’s going to happen. They’ll talk and talk about how any harassment by homosexuals will be stepped on hard, but those who are harassed and speak out about it will be the ones stepped on. I already lived that with lesbians in the service.

    Worked with some homosexual guys. The willingness to put in the tiny fraction of effort required not to “tell” made a big difference in everyone’s behavior.

    And yes, DADT was also a safety valve to get folks who are really desperate to get out a way to do so without throwing themselves down a stairwell. Better french-kissing a civilian in front of the entire chain of command at the squadron picnic, or getting “caught” making out halfway through bootcamp by the chief on his rounds than killing yourself or getting someone else hurt trying to save your tail. (Both examples that I know of first hand– female and male, respectively.)

  • I haven’t been in the military myself, but an acquaintance of mine is a Navy veteran from the late 1980s, before DADT. He did have some difficulties with a fellow sailor/officer who was later discharged for being gay and he has been firmly opposed to the notion of gays in the military ever since. At that time, I believe, sodomy was still a crime in the Uniform Code of Military Justice (and it may still be for all I know, although that is going to have to change under the new policy, of course).

    As for DADT being used as a cop out by cowards wanting out of their enlistment, well, what were these people doing enlisting in the first place? Trying to get educational and other veteran’s benefits, most likely, but it seems to me that anyone with an IQ above a houseplant realizes that it’s not exactly peacetime anymore, and enlisting in either active duty or Guard/Reserve service means you are more likely than not to end up in a combat zone sometime in the next 4 years. The days when enlisting in the National Guard was a virtual guarantee you would NEVER see combat ended with Desert Storm 20 years ago.

    I could perhaps see repeal of DADT being justified if there were a draft in effect and vast numbers of prospective draftees were claiming to be gay so they would be rejected. However, that is not the current situation.

    If the idea is to encourage more people to enlist, I fear it will end up having the opposite effect — especially among the more socially conservative and religiously observant young men (and women) who tend to see military service in a positive light and as an honorable calling. It will almost certainly make the already acute shortage of Catholic chaplains in the military even worse.

  • The folks whose motives for getting out I’m familiar with weren’t worried about combat. It was simply that the military was nothing like what they’d expected, and they couldn’t manage it. When you think of how few folks have been in (less than one in ten for the total US population) and consider that the movies are usually way off, the TV shows are bass-ackwards, their teachers, role models, public figures and relatives who served more recently than WWII are likely to be either quiet or anti-military activists, and each of the services has become a punchline for most folks, there’s going to be folks who join and have no idea what they’re getting into.

    Oh, and the Sodomy one is Article 125; defined as “unnatural carnal copulation.” The ‘solution’ is obvious, as it will be when some loon who married his dog is an officer.

  • More broadly, I am against workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

    Just out of curiosity, why is that?

  • St. Augustine wrote that we should love sinnners with Christian charity for as long as they live, they may come to virtue, i.e., repent, confess, do penance, amend our lives, and through good works glorify Almighty God.

    How will sinners come to virtue if the Church fails to try to save them, and is that charitable?

    With this enactment, if a Chaplain that tries to save a gay’s soul, will he be court-martialed?

    What has the Church done to answer the secular sanctification of sodomy?

    One will not get into Heaven if ones commits sodomy or votes democrat.

  • “It was simply that the military was nothing like what they’d expected, and they couldn’t manage it.”

    Foxfier, back in the Seventies this “motivational speech” (extreme content advisory!) from Full Metal Jacket was fairly accurate as to the first difficult days of military service.

  • Remember the major plot point in that movie that comes of not handling it?

    Either way, in the kinder, gentler, integrated forces I’ve seen– nope. (Marine training is still different I hear, in part because they don’t integrate at that point.)

  • “Remember the major plot point in that movie that comes of not handling it?”

    Vividly, although the actor R. Lee Ermey was an actual Marine Drill Instructor who made it through his career without being shot by either enemies or “friendlies”.

  • Best commercial ever by a former Marine DI

  • He also, last time I checked, always ran his roles through the Marines before he’d accept them. (Which also let him wear a real uniform.)

  • As a Navy veteran, raised to believe that homosexuality is a sin and the type of behavior that is detrimental to unit cohesion and espirit de corps, I remain convinced that repeal of DADT is a major blunder.

    Homosexuality is not compatible with military discipline and order. This is not about civil rights but about not meeting reasonable well-established criteria in place for decades.

    Robert Reilly, in an article titled the “Culture of Vice,” stated it well:

    “Since only the act of sodomy differentiates an active homosexual from a heterosexual, homosexuals want “government and society” to affirm that sodomy is morally equivalent to the marital act. “Coming out of the closet” can only mean an assent on the level of moral principle to what would otherwise be considered morally disordered.

    “And so it must be. If you are going to center your public life on the private act of sodomy, you had better transform sodomy into a highly moral act. If sodomy is a moral disorder, it cannot be legitimately advanced on the legal or civil level. On the other hand, if it is a highly moral act, it should serve as the basis for marriage, family (adoption), and community. As a moral act, sodomy should be normative. If it is normative, it should be taught in our schools as a standard. In fact, homosexuality should be hieratic: active homosexuals should be ordained as priests. All of this is happening. It was predictable. The homosexual cause moved naturally from a plea for tolerance to cultural conquest. How successful that conquest has been can be seen in the poverty of the rhetoric of its opponents. In supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, the best one congressman could do was to say, “America is not yet ready for homosexual marriage,” as if we simply need a decent interval to adjust ourselves to its inevitable arrival.

    “The homosexual rationalization is so successful that even the campaign against AIDS is part of it, with its message that “everyone is at risk.” If everyone is at risk, the disease cannot be related to specific behavior. Yet homosexual acts are the single greatest risk factor in catching AIDS. This unpleasant fact invites unwelcome attention to the nature of homosexual acts, so it must be ignored.”

  • Does that help morale or promote integrity (it seems to me it promotes the opposite)?

    Since when does integrity require self-disclosure?

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  • I have no objection to a member of the armed services having either homosexual inclinations or desires, provided that person has the self-control to deal with that. If that was all stopping DADT would do, I doubt many people would object.

    However, what is objectionable is the forcing of the change in culture, values, standards, practices, and beliefs that will necessarily follow. Terrible social engineering will be the inevitable consequence in our present climate.

    For example, the unit’s dining out or dining in events (of whatever name) will now present the quandry of allowing everyone’s “date” or excluding everyone’s. So here you will have to acknowledge the validity of the relationship in a rather public way.

    Further, once open homosexuals are OK, this makes it rather difficult to hold a position against “spousel” benefits for these individuals.

    Then there is the housing/living issue. Do we force the homosexuals and heterosexuals to share quarters? Do you allow homosexuals to bunk together? How can you justify seperate gender facilities after this? It will be nearly impossible for rules regarding fraternization to be enforced when dealing with same-sex relations, so therefore all the rules on that will have to go eventually.

    This complete revolution in values will not happen instantly, it will take time. However, it will happen.

    The worst is, I am willing to predict it will end with needless death. Be it a lover spurned, or a homosexual that can’t abide the beliefs of his fellows, or a fundamentalist that condemns homosexuals, someone is going to wind up either fragging or simply allowing the death of someone over this. Needless to say if there is even slight suspicion involving a homosexual being unfarely put in danger by a heterosexual it will be investigate, but any other such scenario will just be ignored.

  • Anthony wrote: “What exactly does being “openly gay” in the military mean, anyway?”

    That’s the problem…defining terms. What does “openly” mean?

    In a sense it can even be related to the workplace. Men and women can’t walk around the workplace being “openly heterosexual” either in the sense that they are there to do a job, not discuss the details of or seek new relationships in their private lives.

    To the extent that they do the latter more than the former, they compromise their ability to do their job well…not something you need on a battlefield where lives are at stake.

  • Stacy…like a judge once said about pornography, can’t define it but I know it when I see it…same with gay behavior and demeanor…To the observant eye it’s detectable. There are obvious overt examples, which lend themselves to parodies in movies and TV (limp wrist, speech), as well as body language that are clear giveaways. Male homosexuality is easier to spot than lesbian behavior which is much more subtle. For the most telling examples, see gay parades vs. St. Patrick’s parade for stark contrasts in behavior. Sexuality is the major component of the former (depraved dress, kissing, hand-holding, etc.), while in the latter, the celebration has nothing to do with sexuality.

    Of course, now someone will play the homophobe card and accused me of stereotyping, which comes about because stereotypes and cliches survive because they are closer to the truth than fabrications and euphemisms.

  • I agree that we must love our neighbors but in loving our neighbors we need not embrase their sin. We must look at the effects of homosexuality and why Christianity condemns the practice. I think it is important to look as to why homosexuality is not just a “life style choice”. Below are some facts about homosexuality:
    – Domestic violence is 2x more likely in homosexual couples than hetrosexual couples;
    – Homosexuals are 100x more likely to be murders;
    – Homosexuals are 25x more likely to commit suicide;
    – Homosexuals have an “unhealthy” lifestyle: 78% have STD, etc.:
    – Male homosexuals live to an average age of 42 and female homosexuals 45; and
    – 25-33% of homosexuals are alcoholics.


    These effects translate into policy and taxation issues: need to overstaff to meet increase in sick days, increase in military and VA funding for increase in medical costs, etc.

  • The repeal of DADT means that homosexuals have been given the “civil right” of bunking with and showering with those they are sexually attracted to. I’m surprised they haven’t made it a “civil right” for heterosexual males to bunk with and shower with females.

  • “They must be accepted with respect, compassion, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives and, if they are Christians, to unite to the sacrifice of the Lord’s Cross the difficulties they may encounter from their condition” (#2358)

    #2359, for example, the Catechism says that gays and lesbians who live chastely “can and should gradually and resolutely approach Christian perfection.”

    “The dignity of the human person is rooted in his creation in the image and likeness of God” (#1700)

Wikileaks: US Never Expected Ratzinger Elected as Pope

Tuesday, November 30, AD 2010

[Updated Below]

Wikileaks information has been disclosed by Rome Reports that the U.S. intelligence services were completely caught off guard and surprised at the election of then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI.

[Found another YouTube video that works]

Updated as of 10:40am Central time, 11-30-2010 AD:

U.S. intelligence was expecting a Latin American as the next pope, and predicted that then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger would have lost in the first round voting.

The rest from Father Zuhlsdorf:

Before the election the staff of the US embassy to the Holy See sent speculations to Washington about the one to be elected.

“The first factor will be age, the cardinals will seek someone who is neither too young nor too old, because they don’t want to have another funeral and conclave quickly” but “they also want to avoid having a long pontificate like that of John Paul II.”  Furthermore, “it will be a person in reasonably good health”.  Another element will be “linguistic ability” and he will have to know Italian.

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16 Responses to Wikileaks: US Never Expected Ratzinger Elected as Pope

  • I wonder who they did expect.

  • One good thing about Wikileaks: It will demonstrate the incoherency (faintly perceptible in Fr. Z’s remarks) of those who are rightfully critical of domestic bureaucracies but who still seem to believe that the State Department and/or the Pentagon could be any less bureucratic or incompetent. Fr. Z seems almost *surprised* at the incompetency of the intelligence. But the State Department and Military *are* largely incompetent. They are no different from the post office or the DMV, just more dangerous.

  • But the State Department and Military *are* largely incompetent. They are no different from the post office or the DMV, just more dangerous.

    Largely ‘incompetant’ by whose standards at what? Dangerous to whom? You can compare the Postal Service to UPS and FedEx as a standard of performance. To what are you comparing the United States Military?

  • “Incompetent”: OED 2.a: “Of inadequate ability or fitness; not having the requisite capacity or qualification; incapable. Const. to, to do something.”

    The concept does not require a comparison with another entity to be made intellegible. What are the final ends or goals of the State Department and of the Pentagon? Do the actions of these entities achieve these ends or fail to?

  • Well, Cardinal Alfonso López Trujillo (Pontifical Council for the Family) had been on my short list. I suppose it was good that he was not elected because he died three years later (at the young age of 72).

  • What are the final ends or goals of the State Department and of the Pentagon? Do the actions of these entities achieve these ends or fail to?

    You never defined any goals, nor offered a concept of what counts as an achievable goal. (And no, the question of who can do the U.S. Military’s job better than the U.S. Military is not irrelevant to your remarks).

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  • EXCEPT it was not that much of a SHOCK. See my post “Contrary To Wikileaks Reports U.S Government Had Strong Indications Ratzinger Would Be Pope ”


  • Looks like the Internet police have struck.

  • Art Deco,

    What are the end goals of *any* State Department and Military?

  • It is curious that our government would find the election of the Pope curious. Do they also do intelligence on the elections of the Archbisop of Cantebury?

  • Popes matter globally, unlike the Archbishops of Canterbury who do not even matter in the UK.

    I would take these wikileaks with a large boulder of salt. One of the curses of government is the huge amount of useless paper generated. Intelligence agencies are especially prone to this type of bloat, and often the opinions aren’t any better than you could find on blogs, except that the taxpayers pay us zip for doing this. However, if the CIA is ever eager to have a Catholic blog all its own… 🙂

  • What are the end goals of *any* State Department and Military?

    Costa Rica’s or ours?

  • “On the day of the election itself, there was a cable to Washington which pooh-poohed the possible election of Ratzinger. Apparently the election shocked them.”

    I wonder what President Bush’s reaction was? As I’ve noted before, on the very day, and at the very hour, Pope Benedict’s election was announced, Bush was in Springfield for the dedication of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum. I remember hearing both events reported live on my car radio while driving between newspaper assignments….

    Also, isn’t there a rumor, persistent allegation, or whatever to the effect that when Pope Paul VI was elected in 1963, Cardinal Spellman secretly transmitted the result to a CIA operative in Rome with some kind of hidden two-way radio? Not saying it’s true but I just wonder if anyone else has heard this. If true (and that’s a HUGE “if”) then it would seem to indicate that the CIA cultivated some, shall we say, much more reliable contacts within the Vatican in those days.

  • Meanwhile, via Catholic Vote/American Papist, we learn that more than 800 of the Wikileaks documents still slated for publication involve communications with the Vatican:


Burleigh Defends the Pope

Friday, September 17, AD 2010

My second favorite living historian, Michael Burleigh, who has written stunningly original works on subjects as diverse as Nazi Germany, religion and politics in the last two centuries,  terrorism, and morality and World War II,  has taken up the cudgels against the despicable attitude of many Brits of the chattering classes regarding the visit of the Pope to the Island next to Ireland.

Under normal circumstances, one might say “welcome” rather than “receive”. But the multiple sexual scandals that have afflicted parts of the Catholic Church have created a window of opportunity for sundry chasers of limelight – including human rights militants, crusading gays, Islamist fanatics, and celebrity God-botherers – to band together to “arrest” the Pope under laws so obscure that few knew they existed. Because child abuse is involved, rather than the more widespread phenomenon of homosexual predation on young men, these manifestations will receive much media attention, especially from the BBC, to the guaranteed perplexity of a less involved general public in a nominally Protestant country. It will require some effort of mind to tune out this noise to hear what the Pope will be saying.

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The Liberal Dystopia of Political Correctness

Thursday, April 29, AD 2010

In our world today we are living in what I would refer to as the Liberal Dystopia of Political Correctness.  This thing that our current Holy Father warned us about.

As secular humanism continues its march towards a Dictatorship of Relativism we innocent bystanders suffer the consequences of its fruits when prejudice is rewarded and common sense rejected.

Five years ago this month, in the Mass prior to the Conclave of 2005 A.D., then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger warned us in his homily that:

“We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires.”

An excellent example of this dictatorship of relativism or as I would name it, liberal dystopia, is the United Kingdom’s Foreign Office anti-Catholic memo on the preparation of Pope Benedict’s visit to Britain.

In this event Anjoum Noorani, another Oxford educated civil servant* of the U.K. Foreign Office, who headed the Papal Visit Team that was planning the Pope’s visit to Britain was only verbally reprimanded for his part in approving and distributing the anti-Catholic memo.

What makes this worse is that the Foreign Office advertised the requirements for the position to lead the Papal Visit Team as “Prior knowledge of the Catholic church is not necessary“.

To add some irony the advertisement also stated, “High levels of tact and diplomacy will be required.

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2 Responses to The Liberal Dystopia of Political Correctness

  • Britain has become, as one Russian news commentator put it a while back, “an Orwellian prison camp.”

    I used to dream about visiting the British Isles as a kid because I loved the Middle Ages and my heritage is there.

    Now I wouldn’t be caught dead in that trash heap, a nation of degenerates. Maybe I’ll visit Ireland before the putrid soul-rot of England and Scotland completely consumes it as well.

  • [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_IIzNmLDvb8&hl=en_US&fs=1&]

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Is John Paul II still great?

Monday, April 12, AD 2010

I’ve been asking myself that question as I’ve read the discussions about the sex abuse scandal and asked it again while I read Ross Douthat’s editorial at the NYT this morning. The most pertinent part is this:

But there’s another story to be told about John Paul II and his besieged successor. The last pope was a great man, but he was also a weak administrator, a poor delegator, and sometimes a dreadful judge of character.

The church’s dilatory response to the sex abuse scandals was a testament to these weaknesses. So was John Paul’s friendship with the Rev. Marcial Maciel Degollado, the founder of the Legionaries of Christ. The last pope loved him and defended him. But we know now that Father Maciel was a sexually voracious sociopath. And thanks to a recent exposé by The National Catholic Reporter’s Jason Berry, we know the secret of Maciel’s Vatican success: He was an extraordinary fund-raiser, and those funds often flowed to members of John Paul’s inner circle.

Only one churchman comes out of Berry’s story looking good: Joseph Ratzinger. Berry recounts how Ratzinger lectured to a group of Legionary priests, and was subsequently handed an envelope of money “for his charitable use.” The cardinal “was tough as nails in a very cordial way,” a witness said, and turned the money down.

This isn’t an isolated case. In the 1990s, it was Ratzinger who pushed for a full investigation of Hans Hermann Groer, the Vienna cardinal accused of pedophilia, only to have his efforts blocked in the Vatican. It was Ratzinger who persuaded John Paul, in 2001, to centralize the church’s haphazard system for handling sex abuse allegations in his office. It was Ratzinger who re-opened the long-dormant investigation into Maciel’s conduct in 2004, just days after John Paul II had honored the Legionaries in a Vatican ceremony. It was Ratzinger, as Pope Benedict, who banished Maciel to a monastery and ordered a comprehensive inquiry into his order.

So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up. This pattern extends to other fraught issues that the last pope tended to avoid — the debasement of the Catholic liturgy, or the rise of Islam in once-Christian Europe. And it extends to the caliber of the church’s bishops, where Benedict’s appointments are widely viewed as an improvement over the choices John Paul made. It isn’t a coincidence that some of the most forthright ecclesiastical responses to the abuse scandal have come from friends and protégés of the current pope.

Douthat is not alone here; most have pointed out (including Rod Dreher, who left the Church b/c of his disappointment w/ the abuse scandals) that Benedict has gone to great lengths to clean up the mess that his predecessor made. But does a “great” make that kind of mess?

Now I certainly think that JPII is a saint. I don’t think that’s in question. Interestingly enough, I have not gathered from the media’s coverage that they would disagree with that. In fact, I would say that he probably merits very serious consideration as a doctor of the Church for Fides et Ratio and “man and Woman He Created Them: a theology of the body” Heck, I even have a poster of him in my living room (which is useful for showing to Mormon missionaries when they ask if I’m religious).

But having the title of “the great” means something extra than sainthood, doesn’t it?

Of course, this is difficult b/c “the great” title has no requirements, no set guidelines. This can be a big deal, as often the rules determine the result (for example: the importance you attach to Superbowl wins affects whether you think Manning or Brady is superior. of course this question is irrelevant b/c Brees is better than both of them but I digress).

Adding further difficulty is determining how significant this scandal is. While I’m sure this has profoundly affected those who have suffered from child abuse, I’m not sure if this will be a big deal thirty, fifty, a hundred years down the road. Right now of course it seems huge but how many people will be aware of it in the coming generations?

For JPII to not be determined great, it would have to be that the sex abuse scandal made enough of a dent in his legacy. This is not a minor feat, as JPII deserves significant credit for stabilizing the Church following Vatican II (setting the stage for the current traditonalist revival), excellent contributions to theology (including Fides et Ratio and Theology of the Body), an excellent charismatic approach that changed the nature of the papacy, and-oh yeah-helping to peacefully bring down the Soviet Union.

I tend to think that in the end, he will be deemed great though for the moment I hesitate to use the term. In the end, I think this storm will pass and we’ll be left with the memories of a great man with great accomplishments. But I think it’s possible that in reflecting on the failures of JPII’s papacy that perhaps we’ll choose not to use the term, and that’s not a possibility many were entertaining 5 years ago when JPII came into eternal life.

I would really like to know how other people are approaching this problem. Please leave comments.

Of course, one has to think that if Benedict is doing better than JPII, and JPII is “the great”, ought perhaps Benedict be up for the term? Food for thought.

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27 Responses to Is John Paul II still great?

  • On one point I agree with Douthat is that JP2 overlooked liturgical abuse. Even to the point of participating in it himself “hoping” that his example would lead others to change, but alas we’ve seen how this has failed miserably.

    Thank goodness for Pope Benedict!

  • The failure to adequately address the sex abuse scandal was the great failing of the JPII papacy.

    Yet I came into the Church in 2004 – just after the height of the scandal in the U.S. in 2002. Not only was the Church’s poor handling of the crisis NOT an impediment to me, but I have my doubts that I would be here but for JPII. I had loved John Paul and considered him “the Great” for well over 20 years before I ever entered the Church.

    I think there can be no doubt to anyone who saw the entirety of JPII’s papacy and witnessed his compelling presence on the world stage – his contribution to the fall of Eastern European communism, alone, in my view, merits the sobriquet “the Great” – that such a title is apt.

  • Jay:

    You actually touch on a problem I have in evaluating this: when I really came into the faith (although I was a cradle Catholic) Benedict was pope, not JPII. So it’s hard for me to really evaluate his papacy like most others can.

  • I have to say that my love for JPII was the sort of love that one might feel for the “great man” like George Washington or Abe Lincoln. It’s not so much a personal attachment as it is an admiration for someone who is much larger than just himself. I think many people of different faiths and no faiths recognized that in JPII, and this is part of why I believe “the Great” is applicable.

    That said, the love I feel for Benedict is a much more personalized love, like one might have for a kindly old grandfather or a favorite uncle. He might not be a “great” man, but, more importantly, he is a “good” man. And that is why I am so angered by these unfair attacks upon his character.

  • “So the high-flying John Paul let scandals spread beneath his feet, and the uncharismatic Ratzinger was left to clean them up.”


    “[Pope Benedict] might not be a “great” man, but, more importantly, he is a “good” man. And that is why I am so angered by these unfair attacks upon his character.”



  • This is why it should take decades, if not centuries to determine canonization… you need the hindsight of history, the unfolding of events and calm nerves to soberly assess these matters…

  • Anthiny:

    true. Now, I’m ok w/ Mother Teresa & JPII getting accelerated b/c I think that it’s pretty obvious that their spirituality & their following are more than enough. But for most saints, waiting a while is a good thing and it’s done for the reasons you point out.

    That said, I still want to see Sheen canonized soon, preferably yesterday.

  • I think the problem is it is John Paul the II versus Benedict. It was not till Benedict read all those scope of the problem. At this stage John Paul the II was entering the last stages of his life. Thought the Pope had some judgment lapses after (again lets face it he was again in bad shape) it does appear he backed Ratzinger on taking control. So it is perhaps a tad unfair of making it just Ratzinger versu John Paul the II

    However what about PAUL THE VI. The exahustive John Jay report shows these incidents of abuse peaked in 79 and we start seeing a dramtic fall after 84

    In fact new cases that are not decades old have been old are rare. I think there just 6 reported credible(it could have happened) allegations last year.

    John Paul the II and his reforms and the Bishops he put in(they were not all bad) I think hasto be looked at here. It is apparent that a good bit of this occured even before JOhn Paul the II got on though by reading media reports one would miss that fact.

    So I would say the failure of this mostly applies to Bishops and others that were supervising the Seminaries and their Priest from a much earlier period.

    Not to absolve John Paul the II from bad adminstrative skills in this regard. Yet to be honest it appears this was born under a lot leadership before he came on board in Rome

  • I made a passing comment about a week ago on this site about how I didn’t like the designation “the Great” used for JP2. I’m grateful that someone took up the subject in an article.

    There is a tendency to overdramatize the times that a person lives in. (I suspect we do that more today, but saying that may be an example of overdramatizing things.) The Church has to be careful not to do that, because Her majesty and holiness are more apparent when viewed across history. I think the Church has to be sparing with its praise of our contemporaries.

    There have been seven people, if I remember correctly, that the Church has regularly labelled “the Great”. Among popes, Leo, Gregory, and Nicholas; the remainder are Doctors and/or Fathers of the Church. You could pack a church with stained glass and statues of great but not Great saints: Augustine, Benedict, Joan of Arc, and Ignatius of Loyola are among the Church’s “also-rans”.

    What did John Paul do that made him a “Great”? Was his theology head-and-shoulders better than Theresa of Avila and Francis of Asissi? Did he really influence history more than Athanasius? Pius V, now there was a man who influenced history, defended the liturgy, fought heresy, and honored the rosary. John Paul II may have defeated communism without firing a shot, but he also did it without saving a soul – where is the blossoming of Catholicism in eastern Europe, outside of Poland?

    That’s my argument without mentioning Father Maciel. The fact is that John Paul hasn’t even been canonized yet. It’s impious to list him as great among the saints, and imprudent to do so with any saint without decades of reflection.

  • To the thought of the title “The Great” – in which direction would the Church have gone without him? I believe God knows what he is doing. he put the right person in as Pope at the right time. I am glad he has his short-comings – he is human after all. I don’t then Cardinal Ratzinger minded his role in that all too much.

    So yes I believe “The Great” fits in relation to JPII.

  • That said, I still want to see Sheen canonized soon, preferably yesterday.

    I have a friend who studied Sheen extensively for his license thesis; fwiw, as he progressed in his studies, he became less convinced that Sheen should be canonized. It’s not that Sheen wasn’t an excellent catechist or person; just that he had some well known faults and lifestyle choices (vanity and a taste for the finer things in life) that aren’t typically associated with sainthood. I’m not trying to trash Bishop Sheen. I have great affection for G.K. Chesterton, but I’m not sure he is an ideal candidate for canonization either.

    As for Benedict and John Paul II, John Paul II was a great man and a saint from everything I’ve read. I think the same of Benedict. It must be said, however, that John Paul II had many failings as an administrator, most notably a tendency to trust that his suboordinates and people like Fr. Maciel were as virtuous as he was. In some cases that faith was rewarded (the elevation of Joseph Ratzinger comes to mind), but in other cases the results were disastrous. Pathological liars, it seems, can deceive even (and, one fears, especially) the saints.

  • Both popes are great and good men, and we are extraordinarly fortunate to have had them (and may Benedict have many more years).

    Yet they are men, and Ross Douthat is right that John Paul was, by some measures, a poor administrator. Even so….to be a Polish Catholic leader in the 20th Century was to be overwhelmed by evil, and to have been overwhelmed by the courage of hero-priests. I expect this was his bias in the relationship, for example, to the disgraced Father Marcel.

  • Marriage suffered under JPII as he supervised the new Canon Law which was changed to ignore the crime that adultery is. Under his watch annulments have been excouraged to the point of making marriage vows impossible to make that are binding under the scrutity of “inventive” canonists. Crimes against marriage by clergy and laity involved in the “annulment process” are rampant yet go unpunished, even when the documentation sits in the hands of the Catholic Church. He was well aware of abuses but did nothing to address them or to empower those whose marriage were laid to waste to seek justice.

    JPII is not and was not great. His case for canonization should be ended, permanently, and such a declaration should be made public. I was thrilled, as a man of Polish ancestry, when he was elected. But, as time progressed and Catholicism disintigrated I became more and more disenchanted with him.

    If Benedict does not address the abuses of marriage with accountability, he should be forgotten, as I hope JPII will be. It is that important.

    I await his growing into his job. He seems to be an improvement but only marginally so. He still talks a much better case than he acts, at least regarding marriage.

    I do not mean to say that either of these men are not
    “good” men. They just did/do not do enough to hold those men, especially among the clergy, who are not “good” men to account or to allow laity to defend themselves against these abusers. This should be especially true in nullity proceedings.

    What I experienced should cost many priests and some bishops laicization and perhaps worse. It remains disgusting that the current bishops accept and encourage adultery through their priests, even in the face of accusations from a person who defended their marriage and who is watching it. Benedict knows what is going on and leaves these men in their sees. By doing so, he IS part of the corruption regarding the destruction of marriage. He may not know the details of a specific case or accusation, but he knows such are made and he has made NO EFFORT to reach out to those of us who can name names. This is more than porr management. This is a choice he is making and one he is making very, very wrong.

  • Father Z weighs in !!!

    Is Benedict XVI a “better Pope” than John Paul II? A couple views and then Fr. Z really rants.


  • Jh:

    Thanks for the Fr. Z link. Fr. Z knows more about Vatican workings than Douthat does. I also agree with his diagnosis of that “update” on Dreher’s column ( I think there’s something personal; the guy’s columns are soaked with a desire to return to the Church).

  • I’ve corresponded with Dreher before via e-mail about some of this before. My take is that he is a good man who investigated the 2002 abuse cases to the point that he couldn’t look at the Church anymore without seeing the scandals; at that point he had to leave in orer to save his spiritual life. There are many victims of the abuse scandals – those abused and those scandalized – they all deserve our prayers.

  • Well, anyone who played as large a role in the fall of the Soviet Empire as John Paul II did is I think fully deserving of the title of Great.

    His constant stress of the Culture of Life as opposed to the Culuture of Death is a message truly made for our time.

    He helped restore the morale of Catholics worldwide that was badly shaken after the chaos that ensued after Vatican II.

    His globe trotting was completely necessary as he used the force of his own outsized personality to help rally the faithful.

    He put an end to much of the chaos in the Church.

    He used the papacy, which he found in a very weakened state, as a huge megaphone to preach Christ to the world.

    His papacy I think was easily the most consequential one of the last century, and to fully judge him and the impact of his papacy we will need two or three centuries distance. His mistakes, and he made them, I think will be dwarfed by the long term impact of his successes.

  • What Donald said….

  • At this point in history, people who admire him as a hero, even for religious reasons, are free to label him “the Great.” Me, I like Wayne Gretzky.

    I’m not sure what to make of turning the 21st century Chair of Peter into a popularity contest. The real issues at hand are the credibility of the pope and bishops, and what will be done to clarify the appearance that our two contestants cared more for their clergy than for victims of predators.

    And for those who pursue this comparison, what do you suppose our heroes would say to being compared man to man in this way?

  • I’d put him in the top three of the last century. Pius X did more to fight heresy, and has been canonized. Pius XII faced a more difficult situation. I can respect John Paul II’s writings, but he was practically the only non-heretic writing at the time, and that doesn’t speak well of the Church he oversaw.

    Things like the Soviet Union rise and fall all the time, if you look at history over the long haul. But the former Soviet Union hasn’t seen a rush back to the Faith. The Church has made gains in Africa, and suffered sizable losses in South America. I just don’t see this last pontificate as having been a period of gaining souls for God. That’s a fair thing to consider in rating a pope.

  • If Benedict does not address the abuses of marriage with accountability, he should be forgotten, as I hope JPII will be. It is that important.Karl Says:
    Monday, April 12, 2010 A.D. at 3:02 pm
    True Christian speaking. Ready to throw the first stone?

  • Pinky:

    I just don’t see this last pontificate as having been a period of gaining souls for God. That’s a fair thing to consider in rating a pope.

    I don’t know about that. To quote LOTR:

    “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
    “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

    To me, that last sentence is the best way to evaluate popes. JPII wasn’t the cause of the turmoil following Vatican II. He didn’t cause communism. He didn’t cause widespread materialism and secularism. But he did an amazing job fighting for souls against those forces, and preserving the church to fight in the future.

    As far as your specific claims, I disagree. Ratzinger was writing at the same time, as well as others. Just b/c many were heretics is not his fault. Again, did he do a good job combating them? W/ his writings and with the appointment of Ratzinger he did a pretty job.

    As for the Soviet Union 1) Most of the area was Orthodox, not Catholic. This makes it hard for the pope & Catholics to come into. 2) Religion was entirely wiped out. We shouldn’t underestimate the damage done by the communists. There’s a lot to rebuild (and as I said above, what was to be rebuilt was largely Orthodox).

    Perhaps the pope could have done better in hindsight, but considering the vast scope of the papacy and the tremendous gains he made in some areas I think he did very well. I don’t think many could have been handed the cup given to JPII and done better.

  • However what about PAUL THE VI. The exahustive John Jay report shows these incidents of abuse peaked in 79 and we start seeing a dramtic fall after 84

    There is a distinction between when an event occurred and when an event was reported to Church authorities. Here in New York, the statute of limitations which applies to the sexual molestation of youth was two decades ago extended to the 33d birthday of the accuser – i.e. a median of 19 years after the fact. That is exceptional in the penal law and there is a reason for that.

    One might point out that employees of the Holy See number in the low thousands. There are some 3,000 dioceses worldwide. It is not likely the manpower is there to attend to the personnel issues of each and every diocese, but don’t tell that to Rod Dreher or Ross Douthat.

    My take is that he is a good man who investigated the 2002 abuse cases to the point that he couldn’t look at the Church anymore without seeing the scandals;

    My take on it is that he is a highly emotional man who is quite incapable of suspending judgment about much of anything, has throughout the last 29 years undergone a series of affiliations and disaffiliations, and whose default mode is one of accusation. ‘Good man’, perhaps; ‘obnoxious clown’, very often. One can only hope his wife and children do not get banged up in the next of his serial midlife crises.

  • Please be accurate Piotr,

    The First and ever thrown was/is by the countless priests and bishops who continue to support the violations of tens of thousands of marriages every year by false nullities with the concurrent support for adultery and all the crimes that go along with it.

    If this truth being pointed out makes me “unchristian”, I am PROUD to wear that mantle. It is “unchristian” to hold your disgusting position.

    How dare you accuse me of throwing the first stone. You are a liar and much much worse. Where is your apology, sir?

  • Michael – Hey, you and I just disagreed, aired our sides, and ended it charitably! It really *can* happen on the internet!

  • Karl/Piotr

    No one throws stones in my threads.

    I agree with Piotr that karl is being very harsh on JPII, but I think it’s obvious that Karl has some personal experience with this that has hurt him. While I don’t want this threat to digress into a discussion on Church policy on annulments, I think we can all agree that there have been many abuses of it. As Karl points to Canon law as a source of the problem, I would ask Karl what changes in canon law he thinks would help curtail abuses in order to better guide the faithful.


    Is that allowed? I may lose blogging privleges if I keep this up 😉

  • If people remember his as The Great, he ought to be called The Great. And Ratzinger was his teacher. JPII let himself be taught (however selectively :-). That does show greatness.

    He was however not as likable as The Cardinal and his cats and his writings on sacred art.

Why They Attack Pope Benedict XVI

Monday, April 5, AD 2010

In some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised at all concerning the attacks on Pope Benedict XVI. The Holy Father was never one of the “chosen religious people” loved by the dying group called progressive Christians, or by the mainstream media; that distinctions falls to the National Catholic Reporter, Maureen Dowd, Episcopal Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, or the openly gay Episcopal Bishop of New Hampshire, Gene Robinson.

(Point of personal privilege. In my mind, there are two schools of liberals, one is the utopian view, and while I disagree with their unrealistic views of the world, they are in their heart of hearts not nefarious. This group truly believes the world would be a better place if their views were followed. A couple examples of their spiritual gurus would be Jerry Brown and Jerry Garcia.  However the other form of liberalism, which is much more prevalent, is a virulent strain that masquerades as a protector of the less fortunate and a conduit of all things intellectual. Their goal is nothing less than absolute societal control; their godfathers are Voltaire, Nietztche, Karl Marx, Saul Alinksy etc.)

When the Abuse Crisis came to Europe, the mainstream media, and the many within religious reporting circles who despise the conservative social teachings of the Catholic Church, were licking their chops to take a shot at Pope Benedict. Never mind, the huge number of abuse cases coming out of big government circles, or the fact that an overwhelming majority of abusers who were priests were those with views of changing the Church and not respecting her teachings, the mainstream media smelled blood in the water and feeding frenzy was on.

The New York Times article, basically saying then Cardinal Ratzinger looked the other way during the abuse scandal, was so shoddy that even writers from the liberal Jesuit America magazine took note of it. It might behoove those who have fallen for the Old Gray Lady’s hysterical rantings to read the quotes of some in the mainstream media praising then Cardinal Ratzinger’s handling of the crisis during the later stages of the pontificate of Pope John Paul II.

Why the attack on the Catholic Church one might ask? The Catholic Church is the only Church who is universal, can speak with one voice and has conservative based social views. This coupled with the fact, that she unlike far too many Christian churches, has never lost her belief in the mystical i.e. the Eucharist, miracles, apparitions etc. However, the biggest reason some in the mainstream media attack the Holy Father is that despite all of these “non modern” views, the Catholic Church continues to grow. Adding insult to injury for these modern day Pontius Pilates (what is truth?) the Church continues to grow, young people in particular are draw to devotions like the Rosary and Eucharistic Adoration.

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7 Responses to Why They Attack Pope Benedict XVI

  • Great column as usual, Dave. It brings to mind the crowd that mobbed Jesus and threatened to throw him over the cliff. But like Jesus, the church will just walk right through them.

  • “As one can clearly see from this example, the right wing Catholic hierarchy may not have existed as vividly as it did in some liberal’s imagination.”

    The Kennedys had the Church in Boston in their hip pocket since the Thirties, largely due to the amount of money that Joe Kennedy, a man who gave slime a bad name, dumped on the Church in Boston. To be fair, his wife Rose was a model Catholic and mother. Too bad her sons took after their villainous father.

    Most Catholic clergy tended to be Democrats, like most of their parishioners, prior to the Sixties. This rarely mattered then, since the Democrat party at that time rarely embraced causes which went against Church teaching. An exception was the Spanish Civil War of the Thirties where Catholic Democrats were often at odds with their more liberal brethren.

  • AMEN. As usual a well presented and logically laid out response.At least one of the those Magisterium will be gone next February and hopefully two. ( Los Angeles and Rochester )

  • I was thinking about this the other day. You hit on it here pretty well. The timing (not just the attacks right at Easter)is intriguing. In about November, it was announced that the Traditional Anglican Communion was going to be allowed to come into the Catholic Church. This means upwards of half a million people in a very short time will enter the Church. I feell strongly that the liberals must hate this. I think part of this onslaught from the press against Pope Benedict is due to this amazing event.

  • AFL, one of your wishes is coming true, with the pope picking a conservative archbishop from San Antonio to replace Cardinal Mahony as the shepherd of the Los Angeles archdiocese. Hallelujah!

  • Just a theory… President Obama visited Pope Benedict XVI about 2 weeks before the healthcare bill vote, I personally believe it was to garner support for it. Obviously the Pope wouldn’t support the bill, abortion and euthanasia are in direct opposition to the basic tenets of our Catholic Faith. It is my personal opinion that dragging the Holy Father through the mud is just Obama trying to get back at Benedict XVI for his resounding ‘NO’ when it came to supporting that heinous healthcare bill. I caught the pics of Obama and Michele (actually wearing a chapel veil) on the Vatican’s Youtube site.

  • Pingback: British Government Shows Prejudice Towards Papal Visit « The American Catholic

Towards a Proper Appreciation of Liberation Theology, Some Resources from Pope John Paul II

Tuesday, December 22, AD 2009

In a recent post to Vox Nova, Michael Iafrate (aka. “The Catholic Anarchist”) offers a welcome reminder concerning Pope Benedict’s admonishment to the Brazilian bishops of “more or less visible consequences, of rebellion, division, dissent, offense, anarchy are still being felt, creating amidst your diocesan communities great pain and a grave loss of living strength”, stemming from “he non-critical import, made by some theologians, of theses and methodologies originating from Marxism.” To which Michael replies:

No where in this document, nor in either of the Vatican’s other two documents on liberation theology, does the Church condemn liberation theology as a whole. Nor does the Church even condemn all of the ideas of Marxism. John Paul II in fact used Marx very clearly in his encyclical Laborem Exercens. Anyone with even the most basic knowledge of Marxian themes can see Marx’s influence on John Paul II. Paul VI affirmed the compatibility of some forms of socialism with Catholicism and used Marxian terminology in his encyclical Populorum Progressio. In fact, by warning against “a-critical” uses of Marxism, the Church implies that critical use of Marxism is in fact acceptable, and this is what most liberation theologians in fact do. Indeed this is what official Catholic social teaching has done since the Second Vatican Council.

Once again, this is not a condemnation of liberation theology. It is merely a warning against certain tendencies. The only way one would know this, though, is to know the history of the disputes and to know the Vatican’s two previous texts on liberation theology neither of which condemn liberation theology in toto.

Finally, it is important to consider not only this message to the Brazilian bishops, but a message to the same bishops delivered by the Venerable John Paul II who insisted that liberation theology is “both useful and necessary.”

Michael is certainly right that the Church has never condemned liberation theology in toto. (Nor has it condemned capitalism or capital punishment or sexual relations in toto, howbeit that is the impression one often receives reading the rantings of the fringe left and/or right, or even many presentations within the mainstream press which abandon, for the sake of a catchy headline or a cheap soundbyte, the carefully-nuanced position of the Catholic Church.

At any rate, as Michael wisely suggests, on the matter of “liberation theology” the remedy here would be a close study of the texts. For our readers’ benefit, a compilation of texts by Pope John Paul II himself.

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18 Responses to Towards a Proper Appreciation of Liberation Theology, Some Resources from Pope John Paul II

  • In regard to the picture of the Pope and Cardenal, here is the story behind the picture:


  • I have been meaning to compile a list of “must reads” for a while now, and at your invitation I will do so sometime over the holidays.

    A good starting point for sure would be Gustavo Gutierrez’ We Drink From Our Own Wells.

  • Michael is certainly right that the Church has never condemned liberation theology in toto.

    The relevant point, however, is that it most certainly (and rightly) has condemned liberation theology as to the ideological ends that michael and his ilk prefer — all of the reinterpreting Christ as a political figure, the constant and small-minded reduction of Christianity so that nothing is left but the hackish promotion of leftist politics, etc.

  • I know such distinctions are difficult for you, S.B., but I’d like to reiterate that Jesus was not merely a political figure but he was indeed a political figure. No time to explain “political figure” at the moment as I’m about to hit the (ice covered) road, but you might assume I mean he was a figure who has political significance. In Jesus’ time, the idea that “spirituality” could be separated from “politics” was unthinkable. And they, unlike us, were correct. This is hardly controversial.

  • Well, that’s just the usual intellectual ju-jitsu in which “political” is used equivocally — Christ is described as “political” in the sense that he sometimes told human beings how to treat each other in a community (polis), but then his teachings are (mis)interpreted as if they gave definite answers to modern “political” issues (meaning governmental and economic policies).

    All of this sort of analysis ignores the crucial fact that Christ never concerned himself with Roman policies at all — with one exception, that being to recommend radical submission to the worst policies! (“If a Roman demands that you carry his stuff one mile, carry it two.”) One could hardly imagine anything more contrary to the spirit of Christ than the sort of “politics” that michael recommends.

  • In a sense the question of whether liberation theology has or has not been condemned is a moot question. Liberation theology is, if not already a spent force, well on its way to becoming so.

  • I like this site. I don’t understand why it sometimes tries to act as a secondary Vox Nova message board.

  • I like this site. I don’t understand why it sometimes tries to act as a secondary Vox Nova message board.

    Well, speaking for myself, on occasion there’s something written on Vox Nova which I want to respond to — but since most of us are banned on that site most of the time, it works better if we issue any critiques on our own turf. 😉

  • It takes a creative mind to ignore this phrase: “certain deceptive principles of Liberation Theology.”

  • By and large Liberation theology is a Christian adaptation and incorporation of Marxism. Insofar as Marx got a few things right, liberation theology gets a few things right. But I think some of the premises from which liberation theology works are flawed. And yes I’m aware that there is not one “liberation theology” – there’s one for every class of people.

    Christ was only a political figure if you mean by “political” that his teaching had social implications. If you mean by political that he was some sort of ruler, or that he described the means by which we ought to order our lives together, then you are wrong.

    The reason there is confusion is because Michael means by political the former, and everyone else means the latter. The latter definition ( that politics is about how we ought to order our lives together) is the common definition, employed by nearly all political philosophers, scientists and also the common man.

    FWIW, Most of my comments at Vox Nova get rejected, too.

    Part of the reason for this website responding to Vox Nova is that disagreement about political means and ends between putatively faithful Catholics, who share common principles, is very interesting.

    I, for one, tend to think that disagreement about means is often rooted in disagreement about principles. The conversation between Vox Nova is an attempt to root out these differences in the way we understand Catholic morality.

  • Saying that Jesus “wasn’t a political figure” seems to be an easy way to justify certain policies without having to worry about their morality.

    I don’t understand this, Zach:

    “Christ was only a political figure if you mean by “political” that his teaching had social implications. If you mean by political that he was some sort of ruler, or that he described the means by which we ought to order our lives together, then you are wrong.”

    Christ is a ruler – he is our spiritual king. That’s why we have the feast of Christ the King; it was specifically instituted to remind men that their allegiance is to an authority higher than man (at the time, Pope Pius XI was targeting Mussolini).

    And he did describe “the means by which we ought to order our lives together” – albeit in a broad sense. Christ and His Church have established the moral parameters for politics. They have outlined what is not acceptable and given us room to experiment with what is.

    In the narrowest sense of politics the Church has no preference – democracy, republic, monarchy, presumably even a dictatorship are all theoretically acceptable (the Church supported Franco and Salazar, after all, against the communists). If this is what you mean by “order” then you are right.

    But “order” implies a lot more, especially when you say “order our lives together” – how we are to distribute resources, what our moral priorities are to be with respect to the law and its enforcement, how we are to engage with other nations, and so much more.

    It isn’t that there is only ONE way to order these things, but it IS to say that there are certain ways in which they must NOT be ordered.

    The Old Testament contains a very specific order for God’s chosen people. The New Testament might free us from the particulars of the old law, but it is rather clear to me based on my admittedly limited studies of Scripture that there is a moral core passed on from the old law to the new, and that much of it is social (compare Ezechiel 18 with Matthew 25).

    It is impossible to speak of what is social without speaking of politics – politics is an expression of social currents, moral ideas, cultural values, it does not stand alone and apart from everything else.

  • In a sense the question of whether liberation theology has or has not been condemned is a moot question. Liberation theology is, if not already a spent force, well on its way to becoming so.

    On what basis do you say this?

  • Joe – Good response to Zach. Zach, your narrow understanding of politics simply does not match up with reality I’m afraid.

  • Joe, you’re probably right. I just meant to say that Jesus didn’t take Caesar’s place. Christ’s Kingdom is, as He said, not of this world.

  • Zach –

    Jesus didn’t take Caesar’s place in the sense of taking over his position, job, seat, etc. Jesus simply wasn’t interested in Caesar’s gig. But the early Christians DID think Jesus took Casear’s place for them in terms of Lordship, authority, allegiance, etc. And they understood it not only “spiritually” but politically.

    What do you think Christ meant when he said his kingdom is “not of this world”? That it is somewhere else? Would that then mean that this world is not part of Christ’s kingdom?

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Eschaton Si, Immanent No!

Sunday, August 30, AD 2009

Over at Vox Nova, Henry Karlson offers some thoughtul reflections on eschatology (Part I | Part II | Part III), or rather — those who employ the catch phrase “Don’t immanentize the eschaton!” as a cudgel against those “doing the work of Christ”:

How many times do we find these words repeated, time and again, since Voegelin has suggested to do so is Gnostic? How ironic is this claim, when authentic Christian theology believes that the eschaton has been immanetized in Christ. Voegelin, and many of his followers like Buckley, became critical of anyone who would try to connect the supernatural with the natural in a way which understood the eschatological ramifications of Christ have any this-worldly implications. But this is exactly what Christian theology proposes. God became man; the eschaton has been revealed; the world and all that is in it has been affected by the immanentizing of the eschaton that history can never be the same. Christians are called to live out their lives in and through Christ, bringing the eschatological implications of Pascha to the world itself. The world is meant to be transformed and brought to its perfection, and we are to be Christ’s workers in helping to bring this about; of course, our work is not on the same level of Christ’s, but, if we truly become one with Christ in his body, we must understand this is exactly what we are called to do. Anything else is a rejection of the incarnation, anything else which tries to establish an absolute duality between the immanent and transcendent is what really qualifies as gnostic!

In response, I’d like to say a little bit about why I find myself sympathetic to Buckley and company.

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62 Responses to Eschaton Si, Immanent No!

  • Three questions, if I may:

    1) There is, however, the thorny matter of what it actually means to “transfigure the world and bring it to its perfection” (to quote Henry Karlson), or “prefigure the Kingdom in history” (to quote Michael Iafrate).

    That does indeed sound like something I would say, but from where exactly are you “quoting” me?

    2) Where/when did Ratzinger “encounter” “revolutionary Marxism”?

    3) What’s with the picture of the bullet-wearing Jesus? Where did you get it? And what does it have to do with liberation theology? Don’t you think that that picture has much more in common with ya’ll’s affection for the pro-gun, “open carry” movement than it does with “liberation theology” the latter of which advocated violence no more than standard “just war” Catholicism, and in fact leaned more toward a nonviolent ethic than mainstream Catholicism did/does?

  • Nevermind, I see now the quote you mean. Disregard #1. I would appreciate answers to 2 and 3.

  • Where/when did Ratzinger “encounter” “revolutionary Marxism”?

    Well, I was thinking primarily of Ernesto Cardenal (who he discusses in Church, Ecumenism, and Politics; not a face to face encounter per se. Likewise, Ratzinger’s encounter with Marxist political theory/theology while teaching at Tubingen.

    What’s with the picture of the bullet-wearing Jesus? Where did you get it? And what does it have to do with liberation theology?

    I thought it was illustrative of Marxist liberation theology per se, at least the type that advocates violent revolution (see Cardenal). (Of course, I understand at the same time that not all liberation theologians advocate such). Likewise, I suppose the image of the ‘revolutionary Christ’ is also illustrative of Ratzinger’s concern over theologies in which everything is subsumed into the political and class struggle, as expressed in detail here.

    Don’t you think that that picture has much more in common with ya’ll’s affection for the pro-gun, “open carry” movement than it does with “liberation theology” the latter of which advocated violence no more than standard “just war” Catholicism, and in fact leaned more toward a nonviolent ethic than mainstream Catholicism did/does?

    I’m not particularly a fan of the “open carry” movement, but gun-control isn’t exactly the focus of this post.

    Anyway, thank you for expressing your thoughts on the image. I’m curious what you think about the remainder (and actual content) of the post itself?

  • An excellent critique, Chris. The time and effort you put into this is greatly appreciated.

    There is an excellent Ratzinger homily called “My Joy is to Be In Thy Presence”, which appears in “God Is Near Us”, a collection of Ratzinger homilies.

    He most certainly “confronts” revolutionary Marxism in that work, rejecting the pursuit of utopia and insisting that our task is to do what we can to resist evil and promote good.

    It was one of the essays that helped me let go of, for good, any dwindling notions of “liberation theology” I might have held at one point.

    Ratzinger presents what I consider a mature Christianity that rejects the vainglorious aspirations of radical leftism without rejecting the kernel of moral truth in its message – a moral truth that the radicals themselves would have never possessed if it weren’t for Christianity in the first place.

  • Christopher – My point, as you can probably guess, is that Ratzinger did not “encounter” “revolutionary Marxism” at all, save in some books. Nor did he ever really encounter liberation theology, which is clear when one reads most anything he has written on the subject, whether as a private theologian or in his role in the CDF.

    I thought it was illustrative of Marxist liberation theology per se, at least the type that advocates violent revolution (see Cardenal). (Of course, I understand at the same time that not all liberation theologians advocate such).

    It’s not “illustrative” of liberation theology in the least. You are more interested in resurrecting the specter of the “violent” liberation theologian than you are in any serious engagement with liberation theologians and their actual views — which is clear from your post, as it simply relies on Ratzinger’s misreadings of liberation theology. Perpetuating the myth of “violent” liberation theology allows folks like yourself to distract attention from the violence involved in your own political views.

    I noticed that you did not answer my question about where you got the image of the “revolutionary Jesus.” That is telling.

  • Hi there!

    Just noticed an error: Joachim de Fiore wasn’t Franciscan, he lived before St. Francis. He was a Cistercia Abbot.

  • So after reading this more attentively, and riffling through your countless Ratzinger citations, it’s clear that you and Henry (and me, by extension) do not disagree. As I read you, this is the main concern you have with Henry’s (and my) position(s):

    At the same time, our work on this earth is provisional — we should enter into the social, political and economic realms, cognisant of the necessary imperfections of human affairs, accomodating the demands and reality of human freedom, and particularly vigilant concerning pseudo-messianic attempts to realize “the absolute in history.”

    I agree 100%. The problem I have is with the way you are following Ratzinger in the way that he implies liberation theologies to be an example of a “pseudo-messianic attempt to realize the ‘absolute in history.'” You, like Ratzinger, cite no liberation theologians as examples of such distortions, nor have you how even the few liberationists who participated directly in revolutionary movements have identified such activities and projects with the Kingdom in its fullness. When liberationists participated in these concrete political activities, they no more thought that they were bringing the Kingdom, in its fullness, to earth than you do when you advocate particular political programs such as the need to make abortion illegal.

    In other words, to become passionately involved in a concrete political project which seeks to make a social situation more in keeping with the Kingdom is not the same thing as believing one is helping to bring the Kingdom, in its fullness, to earth. Neither you nor Ratzinger has demonstrated that liberation theologians or the various European “political theologies” (Metz, Solle, et al.) ever made such ridiculous claims. In fact, what you find OVER AND OVER again is that they repeatedly show that they are “cognisant of the necessary imperfections of human affairs,” as you say.

  • Sorry, left out a word in paragraph 3. The sentence should read:

    “You, like Ratzinger, cite no liberation theologians as examples of such distortions, nor have you shown how even the few liberationists who participated directly in revolutionary movements have identified such activities and projects with the Kingdom in its fullness.”

  • Ralf: Thank you for the correction — and to Joe Hargrave, for the recommendation for further reading.

  • How is this an excellent critique when it fails to address the points I’ve raised properly? It fails to relate to the place Christians are in Christ, as Balthasar himself makes clear? It fails to deal with the fact that we are co-workers with Christ in the world. It fails to deal with the role of being stewards of creation.

    What does it mean to transfigure the world? I have already pointed to the work of St Maximus the Confessor– the divisions of the fall are to be worked out, in Christ, through humanity.

    If Christopher had done as I told Lizzy and read the post I did on the history of Gnosticism, he would also have read that I agree with Voegelin against making utopias — the problem is that his methodology is GNOSTIC -which is the irony of it all. Just because you agree with a conclusion does not mean the method to the conclusion is valid or just. Gnostics themselves laugh at Voegelin’s assertions — as I pointed out, basically anything and everything was called “Gnostic” by him as a catchphrase, though later in life he sort of realized the fault of it, but not others who had read his work. Ratzinger didn’t go the route of Voegelin in reference to Gnosticism. Again, the whole entire Gnostic enterprise is about the DENIAL of the immanence of the eschaton — that is the whole point of escape from this world! Just because others might therefore go the other direction in utopian fantasies does not mean they are Gnostic. If you want to know how Voegelin made the mistake, it is from the influence of Theosophia on early 20th century occultism; while there was elements of Gnosticism there, when put into this worldly roles, it was no longer Gnosticism but theurgia, which is NOT Gnosticism — Platonism is not Gnosticism, indeed, the Platonists refuted Gnosticism. But Platonic theurgia could lead to Promethean designs, as Balthasar much often suggested — that is the issue, Prometheus, NOT Gnosticism.

    Next, the idea that we must keep to the cross as central is right — but that does not mean we have no roles or missions in this world, as Balthasar also makes clear. Indeed, as my posts make it clear, THE CROSS IS THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD, and it is in and through the CROSS that IT IS FULFILLED.

    So, Christopher is trying to suggest something with my posts and refutes a strawman! WELL DONE indeed!

    Beyond that, it is always amazing to see people quote Ratzinger against “political theology” on the one side (ignoring all the contexts of the Pope’s thought, and indications where he does encourage Christian work in politics!) while engaging a political theology themselves! See my critique on utopia once again!

  • “His Kingdom is not an imaginary hereafter, situated in a future that will never arrive; his Kingdom is present wherever he is loved and wherever his love reaches us. His love alone gives us the possibility of soberly persevering day by day, without ceasing to be spurred on by hope, in a world which by its very nature is imperfect. His love is at the same time our guarantee of the existence of what we only vaguely sense and which nevertheless, in our deepest self, we await: a life that is “truly” life.”

    Is exactly the point; his kingdom IS PRESENT wherever he is loved! And when I have pointed out that time is flowing into the eschaton, that is exactly the point of the now-not yet, which I also specifically pointed out in post 2. As examples of Christopher’s strawman.

  • You know, Henry — I think I tried to be charitable, and at a number of points I even indicated where I completely agree with you. I was hoping to engage in something resembling a dialogue — recognizing the points of agreement, but I’ll address your sarcasm in the morning. Cheers.

  • Christopher

    Charitable to write a post which infers upon me positions I did not take? That’s dialogue? If you had said “he is right about Voegelin’s error, but Voegelin is right about these concerns…” that would have been different; but instead, to refute positions I didn’t take as if I did, that is not charity.If you wanted dialogue, you would have asked questions first before the hatchet job!

  • Thus, Christopher, I would once again recommend the post I suggested to Lizzy — where Voegelin is brought up and seriously engaged, where I pointed out I agreed with him on some things, but his claims about gnosticism was where the error lies — Gnosticism and utopianism are antitheses of each other, for Gnosticism is about escape from this world, while utopian thought is about trying to be saved in this world by this world in a completely secular order. The Catholic answer has always been the interdependent relationship between the natural and supernatural — there is, as Lubac would put it, no pure natural without the supernatural; this is also Balthasar’s point to Barth, when Barth seeks to undermine all that is human.

    So if you want dialogue, we can discuss what it means to transfigure the world in Christ. But since you like to post books, here are some references I would suggest: Mystery of the Supernatural by Lubac; Christian State of Life by Balthasar; The Eucharist by Schmemann; Maximus the Confessor by Louth (though hopefully the volume released in September will be more inclusive and reveal more of the cosmic work of humanity); Russia and the Universal Church by Solovyov.

  • In sum:

    1) I think Voegelin is right in his concerns about various attempts by man through history to ‘immanentize the eschaton’ or realize the absolute in history. (Whether Voeglin had an adequate grasp of gnosticism I’ll leave to Henry; apparently Ratzinger found his analysis of benefit).

    Ditto for Buckley’s concern about “rational limits to politics’.

    Ditto for Ratzinger’s assertion that “The demand for the absolute in history is the enemy of the good in it.”

    2) As for indications of those areas where I find myself in agreement with Henry, I invite a re-reading of the entire latter part of my post.

    [Henry]: Beyond that, it is always amazing to see people quote Ratzinger against “political theology” on the one side

    I don’t really think I was disputing that Christians ought to be involved in politics. (I seem to recall only recently where I was defending the need for Christians to take an active, legislative role in the legal defense of the unborn). I do, however, think there are obvious dangers in anticipating what politics can possibly accomplish.

    [Henry]: if you wanted dialogue, you would have asked questions

    Q: What do you actually mean when you assert “The world is meant to be transformed and brought to its perfection, and we are to be Christ’s workers in helping to bring this about”?

    It does seem that we might actually be in agreement — as far as the inherent limitations of political engagement and the imperfection of this present world is concerned. Do I understand correctly that you are in agreement with the excerpts I cited from Ratzinger and the Catechism?

    (I admit I am very much relieved).

  • Christopher

    1) As I pointed out in my series on Gnosticism, which has a lengthy discussion on Voegelin, my concern is his claims of what is or is not Gnostic, and this in part is because I’ve seen people quote “Do not immannentize the eschaton” as a way to criticize liturgy! I think one can agree that Promethean/Utopian attempts are erroneous and leave it at that; to try to claim it’s all because of Gnosticism, that’s problematic. To be concerned about Joachim is right as well (and I’ve read Ratzinger’s work on Bonaventure — it lead me to read Bonaventure’s work on the Six Days).

    2) The issue for me is not where we have agreement, but where you seem to discuss, debate and imply positions which I have not raised. The concern for me is Gnosticism, and the proper understanding of it (Gnosticism is other worldly, period, anything this worldly is anti-Gnostic). But, I agree with the problem of seeing the state as some sort of savior figure, not because it is about Gnosticism, but because it is about idolatry. That’s a different issue.

    Thus, the whole question of prudence and debate as to what politics can accomplish is an important point, but it has nothing to do with immanentizing the eschaton. Indeed, one of the criticism which is often given is that the abortion dialogue is often “idealism,” ignoring what is possible (for now) in politics. I am myself one who is very anti-political, which is why I agree with Tolkien on politics, a position I’ve said a few times on VN.

    3) Thus, when I am talking about transfiguring the world and making it better, working to heal the sick, alleviate the poor, etc, I am thinking on many levels. Of course Christians should work for respectful politics on these issues, but not rely upon them — they are to be the ones doing these outside of the political sphere and transcending the political sphere, because we are the ones with the mission in Christ.

    And so of course I agree with the catechism — indeed, with Balthasar who points out that with the work of Christ done, the evil will be made more apparent as well, and will fight and gain power in history even though the eschaton has already been revealed — it is because of the eschaton this confrontation in history is possible, for history is made in the light of the establishment of the kingdom in the cross, which ends with an “apparent victory” of evil only to find the true victory of love. But in the light of this, we are to live out the work of Christ in history, which, despite the increasing “no” of humanity (and the dangers of the industrial-scientific utopianism, which I’ve also written of many times), Christ’s work does also heal within history and work to keep the presence in history as well.

  • So to continue for 3, of course I agree with the Catechism and the Pope. That, to me, is the problem. Where assumptions of my position which was not my position came into play.

  • If it would help, here is some of what I said in the post I have suggested people look into:

    With all of this talk about Gnosticism, we must be careful and not propose more about it than can be demonstrated by the facts. Not everything which is uniquely American is Gnostic. Nor must we believe that everything which we find to be wrong in the world is Gnostic. Nor is everything which is Gnostic false in all its particulars. Strange as it might seem to some, there are many elements of Gnostic thought which orthodox Christianity readily affirms with its Gnostic rivals and this does not mean it is Gnostic or influenced by Gnosticism. For example, which Christian could say Gnostics are wrong when they say that some sort of God exists? Even if they are wrong in how they understand God, clearly Christians must agree with them here. These points need to be made so we do not follow Eric Voegelin who, at one time at least, saw Gnosticism as the root error behind all that is wrong in the modern world. “For Voegelin, Gnosticism becomes a catchall term that embraces everything in Western civilization that he hates and fears,” Richard Smoley, Forbidden Faith: The Secret History of Gnosticism (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 177. For it could lead us, like it did him, to call things as Gnostic which actually are not. In The New Science of Politics, a rather influential work of political philosophy, Voegelin, properly understood that Gnosticism had not died out and that it has had a tremendous amount of influence in the development of Western thought. Nonetheless, he confused Gnosticism with any system of thought where he could find traces of Gnostic influences (a distinction which must always be kept in mind, otherwise one could incorrectly suggest that St Augustine, even at the end of his life, was a Gnostic). Despite Voegelin’s desire to classify utopian thought as Gnostic, this must not be done: utopianism is vehemently anti-Gnostic. Utopian visionaries look for perfection here on the earth. They want to bring paradise to us in the here and now. Gnosticism denies such perfection is possible in the world, because as we have seen, the world to them is fundamentally evil and ruled by an evil principle and that evil cannot be turned into something good. Voegelin is correct in assuming that alienation is a problem, and like the Gnostics, utopian thought addresses that problem and tries to find a solution to it. But so does Christians theology. The theology of the fall is a theory of alienation; but instead of Gnosticism, Christian theology believes in the original purity of creation and the final salvation of creation by the work of God’s grace. Thus, we all know that something is wrong in the world; just believing this does not make us a Gnostic. Christians do not put the blame on the creator God; Gnostics do. Marxists, if they are orthodox, clearly cannot claim the problem lies with God, because they do not believe in the existence of God. Since the problem is percieved to be different, the solution is different for each as well. Christians look for salvation which manifests itself not only in the spirit, but in a materialistic, bodily fashion; Marxists, like Christians, hope for salvation here on earth, but do not see any spiritual dimension to it; the Gnostic, on the other hand, desires liberation from the material world and entrance into the realm of pure spirit. And this is where Voegelin really went astray. Christianity, not Gnosticism, is about the immantization of the eschaton, where the two join together as one in the person of Jesus Christ. Marxism is interested in the immanent world; Gnosticism in the transcendent world; Christianity is interested in joining the two together into one non-dualistic integration. The two are one (but not confused). In his extreme denial of Marxism, Voegelin is the one who became the Gnostic. Despite this flaw, Voegelin presented a telling and important critique of secular utopianism, one which demolishes not only the utopian vision of Marxism, but of American neo-conservativsm as well.

  • Even though I have always been actively interested in Catholic social and theological issues, worked in the Catholic press for nearly 15 years, and visit this and other Catholic blogs regularly, this is the first time I ever encountered the phrase “immanentize the eschaton” and the first thought I had upon seeing it was “What the heck does that mean?”

  • I think Voegelin and all would have done something better if they said, “Don’t identify the absolute with the non-absolute.” It’s when you do such identification (instead of communio-participation) which gets problematic — and where Balthasar’s point against Prometheus could be raised, and is where Ratzinger/Benedict is coming from. And it would be something I would agree with as well. The problem to me is that catchwords/slogans often bring more with them than people realize, and this was one such case, and I think revealed the dualistic/idealistic background Voegelin himself was infected with, and that infection continued in Buckley. The ideal would be to look at the situation through the anaologia entis, which then shows why human action is important and should continue, even if in history, there is also the apocalyptic side to be revealed.

  • Henry,
    If we assume Voegelin was a smart fellow, why was he so wrong about the relationship between gnosticism and utopianism? What you say about Gnosticism and it’s other-worldliness coincides with what I remember of my studies in the history of early Christianity. Why did he attribute the desire to transform the world through politics to gnosticism? My only guess might be that gnosticism denies connection of divine things to worldly politics, which secular utopianism (with its Kingdom lacking God) also does, although that hardly happens in liberation theology.

  • Henry,
    I fear you’ve gone too far over my head this time. I don’t know what “anaologia entis” means, but I assume it has something to do with comparing politics to the order found among the tree-herds of Fangorn.

  • Zak,

    As I sort of hinted at the situation, it goes back to the 19th century and Theosophia (Blavatasky, Steiner, and others), whose occultism had an influence in Germany (and other places, even Russia, even in Communist Russia — there is a good book I have which points out some of the occult influences involved with communist science). Anyway, so we have Blavatsky and other theosophists who merged many traditions (Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Gnostic — especially Gnostic, Platonism, Theurgia, etc). This was a major foundation for the modern occult movement (although it was founded upon the Renaissance movement which has Ficino, Pico, Bruno, Reuchlin, et. al. involved). The interest in Gnosticism in this group was quite apparent, so that it was seen by some as “this is what Gnosticism is about.” The problem is, it wasn’t pure Gnosticism, and more importantly, while it influenced 20th century occultism, and with it, various ideologies, how it influenced went outside of its Gnostic side and into classical occultism and theurgia — and of course, the Promethean times of the Enlightenment (idealist+ absolutist+ monism; think Goethe) but not Gnostic. But since “occultism” was seen as “secret knowledge” some still called it “Gnostic,” and misconnected it with Gnosticism. Voegelin’s connection of course is with the occultism in Germany which was influenced by the revolution of Blavatsky et al but again, became materialistic absolutist, contrary to Gnosticism proper.

    As for “analogia entis,” that is the principle of the “analogy of being.” It’s the point that the human person is both like and radically different from God — but because there is this analogy, the positive is not to be distrusted just because it is human, though it is understood, because of the difference, that it is limited and not unlimited in power. Hence why it is the mediating balance — it points to our condition as good, but limited; the problem with Prometheus is to identify the absolute with the non-absolute, which moves for a monistic-totalitarian society, philosophy, etc.

  • Zak; you are welcome — I hope the further explanation made sense to you?

  • The “analogia entis” is also what underlies the general Catholic approach/view of “both/and” rather than “either/or.”

    Wow, I thought I was up late.

  • I’m coming on this late, as I haven’t read Henry’s series of posts, but by reading this thread I have some comments.

    I do think Henry has a point in which Voegelin goes overboard with Gnosticism, but I don’t think that has to do with Voegelin’s mis-understanding of Gnosticism but of his very strong animosity towards dogmas. Essentially, Voegelin is very wary of declarations of unchanging truth (at least in the moral/metaphysical sense, not the hard sciences), as this makes finite the infinite (or immanentizing the eschaton-the role of the philosopher is simply to contemplate the divine in a very mystical way). This really renders the philosopher helpless to say much of anything without being Gnostic. Indeed, Voegelin seems to have not liked the Church, and bashes it unfairly in his book “Hitler and the Germans.”

    Of course, since such declarations were dogmatic and not in the infinite, they had to be based on secret knowledge. Voegelin does like to find secret knowledge where there is none, but I don’t think that means that it’s unfair to note that the ideologies of fascism and communism where based on a secret knowledge. Indeed, the strength of Voegelin’s analysis comes from looking at the connections between the ages of history conceived by Joachim, Nazi fascism, and communism and that this conception of history came from a belief that we have discovered the key to unlocking history and that we can predict history using this ideology (another favorite word of Voegelin).

    So I think Voegelin and Ratzinger were fair to diagnose one of the ills of fascism and communism as Gnosticism. Ultimately, they both asserted eschatons that could be immanetized through this secret knowledge.

    Ultimately, I think the dispute here gets back to the question of “Was Voegelin a Christian and if so why?” If Voegelin was a Christian (as a lot of his followers assert) then you have to ask on what grounds people could make declarations like “Christ is God” without having secret knowledge that renders it dogmatic/ideological? If Voegelin is not a Christian, then you can see why he embraces this heavily Platonic (which PS-Voegelin loved Plato and hated Aquinas/Aristotle. someone said something that sounded like Voegelin hated Plato on this thread) conception and attacks way too much stuff as being dogmatic and “immanentizing the eschaton”

    I’ve kinda rambled, but I hope this helps.

  • It’s been ten years at this point since I was reading and writing about Voeglin, so I’m working from memory and impression here, but my reading of him was not that he was (as Henry seems to think) convinced that political utopianism (with its accompanying dualism) was in fact Gnostic in the sense of considering the world evil and the non-material good, but rather that he diagnosed the idea of the world consisting of a titanic stuggle between dualistic forces as being a fundamentally Gnostic concept.

    So no, he wasn’t asserting that Gnosticism was politically utopian, but rather that politically utopian movements fall prey to a false view of the world and our place in it which he described as originating in (or being identified with) Gnosticism.

  • Michael

    I think we are on the same track, though I would add a few things. The occult is about “that which is hidden.” The occult transcends Gnosticism, but Gnosticism can be a part of the occult. Which is where I was pointing out that I would agree that the Nazis, the Russian Communists, et. al., embraced ideologies which had elements of the occult shaping their viewpoint. It’s when it is said to be Gnosticism which the problem comes about, because it then begins to misrepresent what Gnosticism is and encourage, from it, a misreading of Christianity and its fight against Gnosticism, allowing real Gnosticism to come into play (which is in part my point of my posts). And I’ve seen this before; indeed, when I first did a discussion on this issue, it came out of one such person claiming incarnational thought was Gnosticism because it immanentized the eschaton.

  • Darwin

    As I have said many times- utopian visions are the complete opposite side of the Gnostic coin: Gnostics look for salvation outside of this world, in the spirit, while the utopian tradition is for salvation in this world, in the purely material world while denying the spirit. In this way one can discuss a common aspect of the two, but it is a common aspect of Christianity as well: looking for salvation. But Christianity looks for the unity of the spirit and the material for its salvation — the Gnostics deny the material, the utopians the spiritual. That they deny the spiritual of course means they deny the transcendent, which is again why this phrase is troublesome. If he just kept with a criticism of Promethean tendencies of utopia, he would have helped everyone more — and if he wanted to discuss some of the occult qualities of modern ideologies, that too would have been fine. But it is the confusing of genus and species which is problematic and causes, in the end, a Gnosticism within some Christians who work within his tradition. And again, the idea that “we can’t have utopia” also leads to a kind of quietism is a trouble, but that is a different issue for a different day.

  • Michael

    One more thing, I didn’t say Voegelin hated Platonism. I brought up Balthasar, who, despite have much appreciation for Platonism (especially Plotinus) saw within it, and with philosophy in general, a Promethean attempt of synthesis of all things into a monism. Having a criticism of this tendency was not to show dislike, but rather, caution. Indeed, Balthasar, who would also put Goethe with Prometheus, was highly influenced by Goethe as well.

  • However, it is when the idea of “the Kingdom” becomes politicized and ultimately perverted, taking the form of a political manifesto or concrete program for revolution — when we perceive politics itself as a suitable vehicle for “the transfiguration of the world”, that I find myself sympathetic to the wariness expressed by conservatives.

    This is the key point.

    I am in the middle on Kenneth Keulman’s The Balance of Consciousness and hope to be able to contribute more as the week draws to a close on some of these points. V has a lot of very important things to say about symbolisms in the history and development of communal order.

  • I think as to Darwin’s point, I think I can formulate Voegelin a little clearer:

    Gnosticism is not necessarily utopian, as Henry has pointed out. However, Voegelin would argue that utopianism, I think in general but at least in the modern forms, is necessarily gnostic.

    Henry, I gather you are challenging Voegelin’s point by saying that to be utopian is to necessarily reject Gnosticism. I’d like to challenge you on that, b/c I tend to think Voegelin is right on that point, but I’d like to read your post on Gnosticism before I stick my foot in my mouth. Could you provide a link to that post? (Assuming it’s not one of the ones Chris links to). Ultimately this seems to be a fight over the definition of Gnosticism.

    As to Plato, I just wanted to be sure. I got the impression but I couldn’t find the quote when I scanned the thread again, so thanks for the clarification.

  • Henry Karlson:

    Why do you keep referring to things relating to the utopian enterprise as being “Promethean”?

    If anything, wouldn’t things pertaining to the utopian notion actually be Platonic rather than Promethean, especially since Plato happens to have been the very person (a la Res Publica) who conceived the earliest notion of a utopia in the first place?

  • Michael

    As I have pointed out, Gnosticism is inherently anti-material. Utopian thought is materialistic. They are opposites of each other.

    I’ve written many things on Gnosticism on VN. I did a series on Gnosticism:

    http://vox-nova.com/2007/12/27/gnosticism-some-of-its-beliefs-practices-and-its-continued-influence-in-the-world-part-i/ is the start

    http://vox-nova.com/2008/01/29/gnosticism-some-of-its-beliefs-practices-and-continued-influences-in-the-world-part-viii-2-the-christian-response/ has links to all but the final part


    Is the final part. As you can see it goes through the history of Gnosticism, the kinds, and also its influences.

    Now that was a point I also raised: being influenced by Gnosticism is not the same thing as Gnosticism. St Augustine, even as a Catholic, had tendencies from his past creep into his writings; despite those problems, I wouldn’t call him Gnostic.

  • e.

    Prometheus is the attempt of super-man to unite everything in one great system, and to do so by usurping the place of the divine in the process. This is a self-assertion which places man on top over everything, including God, and assuming the place of the absolute — which is exactly the problem of utopian ideals. And where do I get this from? Among other places, the many works of Balthasar, esp his Apocalypse of the German Soul. But you will find his discussion of Platonism within this context in his Theological Aesthetics Volume 4.

  • e.

    Ok, I put up a post which will explain this better:


    It comes from an rough draft of my dissertation work, in a section which had to be later excised as the dissertation moved from a historical analysis to a systematic one.

  • Henry,


    All things considered, there is erudition in you that I have yet to survey and plum the very depths (in spite of your apparently leftist tendencies, ofcourse)! Much appreciated! ;^)

  • You are welcome (it could interest many people, not just you); however, the claim that I have “leftist tendencies,” certainly shows you are right and you have indeed failed to survey and plump the depths of my thought. The idea that I am “leftist,” is laughable to say the least; I’m a Tolkienesque man.

  • Henry,

    I’m not sure how one could actually “plump” the depths of your thought (or lack thereof); however, adducing as evidence the historicity of your very conduct at VN wherein you preeningly played advocate for Obama would make you such.

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  • e.

    I did not support Obama. I criticized him and continue to criticize him.

  • Oh, and that typo is a laugh. But that’s what happens when I had 5 hours sleep last night!

  • michael — if you’re really curious about where the picture came from (and if you really believe what you just posted on VN), you might want to take the trouble of clicking on the picture itself. Lo and behold, it is linked to (and came from) a pro-liberation theology article. http://religion.info/english/articles/article_176.shtml

  • It’s interesting that in his lengthy response to this post on Vox Nova, Michael Iafrate spends a full three paragraphs discussing the painting of the revolutionary Christ above. Michael speculates:

    (Of course, he didn’t tell where he got the picture. It’s more likely that he got it from a right-wing site than from a site about liberation theology.)

    Unfortunately, the depths of research that have allowed Michael to classify both Benedict XVI and Chris Blosser (I hope someday I write something that gets me refuted in the same mouthful as the pope!) as ignorant of liberation theology does not extent to things like clicking on the image, which is itself a link to it source, a fairly pro-liberation theology assessment of the status of Latin American liberation theology today on Religion.info :


    The source for the image is listed as artist David Silva and this website:


    Looking through the paintings on the site, I don’t see the revolutionary Christ painting there, but from the general tenor of the paintings I think I can assure Michael that the source is not conservative.

  • Michael

    It comes as little surprise that you would focus on two single excerpted paragraphs of Ratzinger’s commentary on liberation theology out of the entire post. I personally happened to find Ratzinger’s analysis helpful. However, given that you pride yourself in your familiarity with the topic, I look forward to your post explaining why our former Prefect / current Pope simply didn’t know what he was talking about.

    (P.S. Michael, as to the source of the image, simply put your mouse over it).


    Initial late-night/early-morning tensions aside, I’d like to honestly thank you for your continued comments and more than helpful explanations of your research into Voegelin and gnositicism. The discussion here has been good and clarifying and offers much food for thought.

    The chief purpose of the post was really to note some common and hard-not-to-notice themes I had picked up reading various books by Ratzinger across the spectrum of his life on politics / political theology; Dr. Twomey’s observation of Voegelin’s influence on Ratzinger was helpful.

    Suffice to say I look forward to reading your additional posts on the subject of gnosticism and further evaluation of Voegelin.

    Jonathan Jones

    Looking forward to your input on Voeglin as well when you’ve finished reading.

    All others to date

    Thanks for commenting!

  • Granted, the source of the image is not “conservative,” one of the main points of the article is to criticize the portrayal of liberation theology as violent. Thus, the use of the image is precisely to critique that kind of imagery, that kind of false perception, of liberation theology. Blosser’s use of the image and the liberation theology article’s use of the image could not be more different!

  • I personally happened to find Ratzinger’s analysis helpful.

    It’s helpful, but only as an abstract warning about potential theological dangers, but that’s all. It’s not helpful in the least in terms of offering any understanding of what liberation theologians actually say.

    However, given that you pride yourself in your familiarity with the topic, I look forward to your post explaining why our former Prefect / current Pope simply didn’t know what he was talking about.

    Ratzinger’s descriptions of liberation theology are merely descriptions of a very very marginal portion of those who identify as liberation theologians. He notes this in his article on liberation theology, as well as in the first CDF document on liberation theology. (Of course, as I said, he NEVER CITES any particular theologians.) But then he proceeds to continue the discussion of “liberation theology” as if these marginal voices represent the views of “liberation theology” as a whole… right after he acknowledged that he was only describing the views of a few.

    Of course this has led to the impression that “the Vatican” “rejects” liberation theology as a whole, a view parroted even today by Vatican officials. It’s a myth. JPII said liberation theology was “useful and necessary.”

  • Christopher

    I’m not sure if/when I will do a part 4 yet. I have something else I want to write upon next, and this week, I’m having to revise a huge portion of my dissertation work, while also working on applications for teaching positions for next fall, both of which will keep me from doing the writing I would otherwise desire. But I expect I will write more on Gnosticism later — it’s an issue which has many connections to me, in part because I like many authors who have been influenced by it (Solovyov, PKD) it’s made me be more aware of it so to be careful (also when I first started reading patristics, after the Apostolic Fathers and Athanasius, I took on the anti-gnostic works of Irenaeus and Clement of Alexandria, and that continues to influence my theological studies). I’ve also had, and continue to have, a serious interest in the development of science, and that connects to the history of the occult (obviously) — a history which also is used in fiction I write from time to time.

    On the other hand, you might find the piece on Balthasar interesting (as I said, it’s from a rough draft of my Balthasar section of my dissertation, and this is what is being rewritten; this part of it is not going to have much of a place in the rewrite). It goes into some of the same issues and concerns we are discussing here.

    As for tensions, well, when I wrote in the morning, I had woken up around 2 am and couldn’t get back to sleep. So today I’ve been on the edge in general.

  • Christ as a revolutionary is not an unsual motiff at Leftist websites.

    Well of course. Christ was a revolutionary. But the important question is what kind of revolutionary?

  • Then for that Leftist revolutionary on your Christmas List:


  • Donald – Surely you’re not suggesting that depicting Jesus with a gun is inherently wrong? I thought guns were just neutral objects? Maybe Jesus was part of an early version of the “open carry” movement? How dare you condemn gun owners by suggesting that Jesus would not own and carry a gun!

  • A lot to digest. I hope to comment in some substantive way soon.

  • Careful, Donald, michael is likely to start saying litanies to those shirts.

  • Rather, my intent was to identify what I think were the perfectly valid and shared concerns, of Voegelin, Ratzinger (and perhaps even Buckley): that time and again, humanity’s desire to “immanentize the eschaton”, to bring the world to its perfection through political means, has resulted in a complete (and oftentimes bloody) disaster.

    I appreciate this clarification. I never thought that you thought that I hold such positions.

    What I take issue with is the way you and Ratzinger continually point to “liberation theology” as the preeminent example of the “bloody” dangers of “immanentizing the eschaton.”

  • Well of course. Christ was a revolutionary.

    I’m sure that sounds wonderfully edgy, but if you’re going to go around saying that you’re going to have to accept that you’re intentionally associating Christ with people who are almost invariably violent in their ideologies. One can’t have the Che chic without celebrating a man who like to dialogue with opponents by putting a revolver bullet in the back of their heads.

    Especially in a political context, revolutionary strongly implies violent. When you’re talking Marxist revolutionaries in Latin America, there can be no doubt one is talking about violent people. (Not to say they were the only violent people in play, but they were unquestionably violent.)

  • I’m sure that sounds wonderfully edgy, but if you’re going to go around saying that you’re going to have to accept that you’re intentionally associating Christ with people who are almost invariably violent in their ideologies… Especially in a political context, revolutionary strongly implies violent.

    Baloney. There are countless nonviolent revolutions and revolutionaries throughout history.

    When you’re talking Marxist revolutionaries in Latin America, there can be no doubt one is talking about violent people.

    Many of them were violent, but many of them were not. You are making blanket statements that are inaccurate and unhelpful.

    One can’t have the Che chic without celebrating a man who like to dialogue with opponents by putting a revolver bullet in the back of their heads.

    It’s astonishing that you can make such a critique considering your own politics which has no trouble justifying violence, so long as it’s the “right kind” of violence.

  • What I take issue with is the way you and Ratzinger continually point to “liberation theology” as the preeminent example of the “bloody” dangers of “immanentizing the eschaton.”

    Like I said, out of a 4140 word post on a lot of other topics besides ‘liberation theology’, you focus on two single paragraphs. As with Ratzinger and Voegelin, I’d just as likely point to National Socialism and Communism as examples of ‘immanentizing the eschaton.”

    And actually, the two paragraphs I cited were not so much a criticism of liberation theology per se as Marxist hermeneutics, which I specifically noted — and Ratzinger’s observation of how, within such, fundamental Christian theological concepts like “Hope”, “People of God,” “The Kingdom of God”, etc. are perverted.

    JPII said liberation theology was “useful and necessary.”

    John Paul II’s letter to the Brazilian Bishops, 1986. I know. He charactized it as one being “in complete fidelity to the Church.”

    Do you have an actual copy of the full text in English? (Italian translation via Google is a bit choppy).

  • Yes I have a copy but it’s in a book.

  • You can claim all you want that liberation theology is only present in “two” paragraphs, but it is clearly one of the gigantic boogey men haunting nearly the entirety of your post.