Robert Spaemann

Another great European about to be launched into the insular English-speaking world is Robert Spaemann, a Catholic moral philosopher who until recently taught at Munich.

Robert Spaemann Persons: The Difference between `Someone’ and `Something’, translated by Oliver O’Donovan, appears in the Oxford Studies in Theological Ethics series.

Spaemann has also authored Happiness And Benevolence

Wikipedia has a little about him in English and German which has a link to his Der Gottesbeweis auf Welt and two other short pieces at Project Syndicate, itself worth bookmarking.

You read it here first

Persons and communion ecclesiology

Ecclesiology is thus related to the issue of the priority of substance, or ousia, in relation to personhood, or hypostasis. If the one God were prior to the Trinity and identical with the one divine substance, then substance and oneness would precede personhood and multiplicity, in the Church as well as in God. The consequences for ecclesiology would be very serious. Not only would the local churches be subordinated to the structure of a universal Church, but equally each human person would be subject to that structure. Universal laws would be imposed upon particular personal beings, and the Church would be a totalitarian authority over the person. But such is not the case. Just as one nature of God exists, not in the abstract, but only in the three persons, so the universal Church exists only as a communion of local churches. In this respect there is a convergence between Orthodox and Anglican understandings of the Church. Orthodox and Anglicans agree in rejecting a single centralized authority in the Church. This is not for local and cultural, but for profoundly theological reasons.

The Church of Triune God – The Cyprus Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican–Orthodox Theological Dialogue (Co-Chair Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon) Section I, 25.

Good news 2

If the first good news for the gay Christian, then, is that the “great question” – the question of the self, with all its pain and its hope, can be opened illuminatingly in the light of the righteousness of Jesus Christ, there is also a second good news. There is a neighbour with whom to explore the meaning of the contemporary homosexual situation, a neighbour who also needs, for the sake of his or her own integrity, to reach answers to questions which the gay Christian is especially placed to help search out. There is a neighbour for whom strict equality of regard and open candour – “irresponsibility”, in the very best sense of that ambiguous word – makes it a primary obligation to put these questions and search for the answers with a persistent patience not to be cut short by the concerns of purely managerial efficiency. The negotiation of soft and evasive compromises will not appeal to that neighbour, because the gay Christian’s true self-understanding and well-founded self-acceptance in the grace of God is a matter to be safeguarded in their relationship as securely as the integrity of the questioning itself. One name for this open and candid neighbourly relation is “friendship”.

But always to rigorous
judgment and censure
freely assenting, man seeks in his manhood
not orders, not laws and peremptory dogmas,
but counsel from one who is earnest in goodness
and faithful in friendship, making man free.vxz

It is this open and candid relation that a liberal Christianity has refused by its managerial juridicalisation of the gay Christian’s claim, by its “laws and peremptory dogmas”, designed to settle questions without exploring them, to adjust relations without justifying them, to reassure the uncomforted without comforting them, in short, to manage the situation. Liberal Christianity has interpreted the missionary challenge of the gay experience as a summons to emancipate it. Whether gays would have presented themselves as a suppressed social class in need of emancipation if the prevailing narrative fashions had not invited them to do so, is not a fruitful question to ask or a possible one to answer. What is remarkable, however, is the persistent lack of fit between what gays tend to find especially important about themselves and the role they are given to play in the liberal emancipation narrative. The peculiar quality of the gay vision is sectional rather than universal; the specialness of the gay experience is important to them. Liberals are unable to take that specialness seriously, since their starting point is that gays are no different from anyone else save as they have been arbitrarily imposed upon. When the gay experience becomes self-reflective about its own specialness, and invites interrogation in its own right, not merely as another instance of a hard-done-by under-class, its usefulness to the liberal project will be at an end, since that will open up questions that were supposed to have been settled before the campaign began. It will force us to pay attention to the fragmentation of the modern moral world, and to its insufficiency as a measure to judge the performance of the church by.

Oliver O’Donovan Good News for Gay Christians – Fulcrum Sermons on the Subjects of the Day (7)

Anxiety and confidence in London

The secular phalanx, rather like religious fundamentalists, is blinded by a certainty which conceals anxiety. The process of modernisation in the rest of the world is not following the pattern established in NW Europe. We are the exception and we are beginning to understand for example how the ecological challenge we face is a function of a way of being in the world which is arrogant and lacks reverence and awareness; and which arises from a false estimate of ourselves as masters and possessors of the earth rather than its stewards.

Yet there is no cause for religious people to be triumphalistic and try to outdo the God-deniers in shrillness. Suddenly it has also become urgent to distinguish in our country between healthful and lethal religion and to find the way to initiate the young into the former rather than the latter.

Lethal religion is one version of the idolatry which the prophets spend so much time denouncing. It is the manufacture of gods out of our own rage and impotence. A bruised ego finds a surreptitious way to re-ascend by making a god in its own image. This is a problem for all religions. When we are so sure that we have the right idea about God and want to clone or condemn all the others, then we are like the god deniers almost certainly on the wrong track. As the poet said of God, “You have such a quiet manner of existence that those who name you with a loud insistence show that they’ve forgotten your proximity.â€?

Richard Charters, Bishop of London Induction of the Revd Nicholas Papadopulos

* * *
Evensong at Westminster Abbey

You are invited to attend Evensong in the presence of His All-Holiness Bartholomew I Archbishop of Constantinople, New Rome and Ecumenical Patriarch and of His Grace Dr Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury, Primate of All England and Metropolitan John (Zizioulas) of Pergamon to celebrate the publication of:

The Church of the Triune God, the Agreed Statement of the International Commission for Anglican–Orthodox Theological Dialogue, 1989—2006.

30 January 2007, Tuesday 5 p.m. at Westminster Abbey, London

All are welcome

Pedagogy and Discipleship – the following of an open path

Much of the current understanding of pedagogy, in Britain especially, is driven by an appeal to method: the pursuit of specified goals in learning a subject will generate specified, quantifiable results and an outcome. Education, inasmuch as it is conceived as a process, will have outcomes which will both act as a measure against which differing students of differing ability can be measured and will thereby sift themselves into social roles and place. At the same time an understanding that what is to be learned is something which must be attended to, rather than grasped, in an attitude of humility and reserve, is being eroded. Modern teaching is too often underpinned by a view that everything is a ‘resource’ which can be endlessly remodelled or manipulated to satisfy immediate needs. Instead of learning as a process of assimilating something greater, and to which the one who learns must be conformed, students are increasingly being taught to see everything as series of ‘problems’ to which mere cleverness and expediency can always find ‘solutions’.

The emphasis on method in learning, and the gradual wearing-away of a model of teaching that has at its heart the apprenticeship of the student to the teacher – discipleship in learning – is yet again evidence of the disappearance of the place of the human in what it is to learn, to study, and to teach. In the face of this Christians have long known that at the heart of discovering who we are to be in God is the practice of discipleship and the witness of the disciples the Lord gathered around him. We encounter the person of Jesus the Christ through the teaching of those disciples who became Apostles, both followers and, as followers, ones who received the commission to go out and proclaim the good news to the whole world. This going out always has at its heart a personal encounter, of those at whose hands we ourselves have received the faith, and through whom we encounter the person of Jesus Christ.

The Church knows therefore, that pedagogy cannot ever be a method, but rather has to have at its heart personal encounter. The one who teaches must himself know what it is to have studied and to have been taught. In pedagogy like this, the specificity of ‘outcomes’ and ‘benchmarks’ might be present, but is only adjunct to the real task: the leading of the student into a path on which the teacher himself has journeyed…In consequence, a genuinely humanising pedagogy can emerge which questions every attempt to instrumentalise learning to outcomes and methods. Such a pedagogy becomes a genuine met’ odos, the following of an open path.

The Society of St. Catherine of Siena The Vocation and Formation of Theologians and the Teaching Office of the Bishop in the British Context

* * *

I have been looking for this sort of document for fully two years. I am simply baffled as to why it and others like it are, for all intents and purposes, hidden. I suggest that it is the job of every congregation to pray and petition their bishop to read them this document from the pulpit once a year and that its pithier phrases be turned into bullet points, learned off by heart, taught to confirmation candidates and chanted through the streets of English cities every Corpus Christi. Every Anglican should find a Roman Catholic and say ‘teach me this discipleship.’

Of course this ‘Vocation and Formation of Theologians…’, along with ‘On the Holy Eucharist’ and the other marvellous documents on display on the Catherine of Siena site, have their weaker moments. But inasmuch as we do not know even of the existence of these church documents, let alone start to wrestle with them, we are all the losers. Aren’t we failing the people of the UK, or wherever, by failing to pass on to them the deposit of faith we have been given on their behalf?
Ditto for the Anglican documents of the Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission published on the Anglican Communion website.

Freedom and Authority in the Christian Life

The Annual Conference of the Center for Catholic and Evangelical Theology June 10-12, 2007 St. Olaf College, Northfield, MN

Freedom and Authority in the Christian Life

The assumption of our culture is that authority and freedom are a zero-sum game: some decry the loss of authority in an age of freedom and others lament the persistent oppression of freedom by various authorities. For the Christian, however, this assumption cannot be so, for it is the truth, the authoritative truth of Christ’s gospel, that sets us free (John 8:32). Unfortunately, how authority and freedom are realized in Christian life has been a point at which Christians and churches have sharply disagreed.

The conference will focus on how authority and freedom come together in the life of the Church and the Christian: our freedom under the authority of Scripture; the authority of holiness in the saints, the liturgy, and sacraments; the authority of the pastoral (including magisterial) office. If true freedom requires true authority (and vice versa!), what is the nature of evangelical authority and evangelical freedom? How are they fostered in our churches?

Speakers will include:

Gilbert Meilaender
Margaret O’Gara
Ephraim Radner
Michael Root

A tradition without conflict is a dying one

One clear realization to emerge from … Christianity and the Soul of the University … is that Protestants may actually have a more difficult time maintaining a meaningfully Christian university than Catholics. As Daniel Williams, a religion professor at Baylor, explains, “antitraditionalist and antidogmatic perspectives are built into the Protestant religious ethos,â€? and an emphasis on private judgment and personal experience “as an arbiter of ultimate meaningâ€? render articulable institutional boundaries elusive. This skepticism of tradition and community can leave Protestants rudderless on issues not addressed explicitly by Scripture, which may help explain why Protestant schools that do achieve a robust religious identity tend to rely on rigid codes of conduct.

Judging by the contributors’ frequent invocations of John Paul II’s Ex Corde Ecclesiae as a helpful statement of the Christian university’s mission, Protestants may have realized that Catholics have some insight on how to weave the Gospel into the fabric of a community. But Catholics also stand to learn from Protestants, who can bring a fresh focus on the simplicity and centrality of the Christian story. In this regard Steven Harmon, a theology professor at Campbell University, urges academics to reclaim the story “as the first-order foundation of Christian intellectual communityâ€? in order to provide “common ground on which faculty from multiple denominational traditions and theological perspectives may stand together while making their own distinctive contributions to the second-order argument that the integration of faith and learning entails.â€?

Perhaps the book’s most helpful contribution is its identification of essential qualities that will mark an intellectual community founded on the truth claims of Jesus Christ. Three in particular stand out.

First, the Christian virtue of hospitality, according to Aurelie Hagstrom, a theology professor at Providence College, “reflects a radically different and compelling alternative to tolerance.â€? While tolerance is a “false sort of engagementâ€? given its tendency “to trivialize what is most important to us,â€? hospitality demands “a personal, authentic encounter that is self-emptying and open even to those with whom we have deep philosophical, theological, and political disagreements.â€? Under this view, the university’s sponsoring religious community acts as host, and community members from other religious traditions are welcomed as guests. In today’s hyper-egalitarian campus environment, attaching the “guestâ€? label to non-Christians will smack of paternalism, but the host-guest paradigm may be inescapable if the Christian story is to have a privileged role as a shaper of the institution and its mission.

Second, if the personal engagement contemplated by hospitality is to be authentic, conflict must be embraced—even facilitated—at a Christian university. Steven Harmon insists that Christian identity is hindered by a fear, “not of communal theological reflection per se, but rather of the intellectual conflict arising from this much-needed conversation.â€? Borrowing from the work of the noted philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre, Harmon reminds us that a vital tradition will embody continuing conflict, and that a tradition without conflict is a dead or dying one. This can help reframe our orientation. Passionate debates over the implications of a university’s Christian heritage are too often taken as signals that the heritage is in jeopardy; instead, they may be signs of life.

Third, if the Christian story is to be at the center of the community’s identity, Christian worship must be at the center of the community’s life. Several contributors point out the feebleness of any Christian community that lacks a shared worship experience. Especially for a faculty that purports to be more than the sum of its parts, a regular opportunity to participate in worship together is an essential ingredient. A Christian intellectual community must build up more than the intellect.

Robert K. Vischer Review of Douglas Henry & Michael Beatty (eds) Christianity and the Soul of the University: Faith as a Foundation for Intellectual Community

And see also John Sommerville The Decline of the Secular University: Why the Academy Needs Religion

A Day for the Lord – conference

I have found another place I want to be next summer.

A Day for the Lord: A Sign of Contradiction?

June 11 – 13, 2007 at the University of Notre Dame

The thirty-fifth annual conference of the Notre Dame Center for Liturgy will address the relationship between cult and culture by considering what it means to keep a “day holy to the Lord.” What does it mean to take seriously the obligation to keep the Lord’s Day?

Toward that end, our plenary addresses will draw on the five dimensions of the Lord’s Day described in John Paul II’s 1998 apostolic letter, Dies Domini. Each of these headings can be treated as a starting point for considering how keeping the Lord’s Day implies a stance vis-a-vis elements of contemporary culture.

Session titles

1. Dies Domini – The Celebration of the Creator’s Work
Hindy Najmann, University of Toronto

2. Dies Christi – The Day of the Risen Lord and the Gift of the Holy Spirit
Rev. Hieromonk Dr. Calinic Berger, Holy Cross Church & St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary

3. Dies Ecclesiae – The Eucharistic Assembly: Heart of Sunday
Owen Cummings, Mt. Angel Seminary

4. Dies Hominis – Sunday: Day of Joy, Rest and Solidarity
Frederick Bauerschmidt, Loyola College in Maryland

5. Dies Dierum – Sunday: The Primordial Feast, Revealing the Meaning of Time
Larry Cunningham, University of Notre Dame

And as if that wasn’t enough, Notre Dame Campus ministry says:

One thing is for sure at Notre Dame: we know how to pray, and we do it well!

Well! I have been looking for someone in London to teach me to pray. No more. I’m off to Indiana.

Secularity and secularities

The concept of secularity, said the Holy Father in his address to the group, originally referred to “the condition of simple faithful Christian, not belonging to the clergy or the religious state. During the Middle Ages it acquired the meaning of opposition between civil authorities and ecclesial hierarchies, and in modern times it has assumed the significance of the exclusion of religion and its symbols from public life by confining them to the private sphere and the individual conscience. In this way, the term secularity has acquired an ideological meaning quite opposite to the one it originally held.”

Secularity today, then, “is understood as a total separation between State and Church, the latter not having any right to intervene in questions concerning the life and behavior of citizens. And such secularity even involves the exclusion of religious symbols from public places.” In accordance with this definition, the Pope continued, “today we hear talk of secular thought, secular morals, secular science, secular politics. In fact, at the root of such a concept, is an a-religious view of life, thought and morals; that is, a view in which there is no place for God, for a Mystery that transcends pure reason, for a moral law of absolute value that is valid in all times and situations.”

The Holy Father underlined the need “to create a concept of secularity that, on the one hand, grants God and His moral law, Christ and His Church, their just place in human life at both an individual and a social level, and on the other hand affirms and respects the ‘legitimate autonomy of earthly affairs’.”

The Church, the Pope reiterated, cannot intervene in politics, because that would “constitute undue interference.” However, “‘healthy secularity’ means that the State does not consider religion merely as an individual sentiment that can be confined to the private sphere.” Rather, it must be “recognized as a … public presence. This means that all religious confessions (so long as they do not contrast the moral order and are not dangerous to public order) are guaranteed free exercise of their acts of worship.”

Hostility against “any form of political or cultural relevance of religion,” and in particular against “any kind of religious symbol in public institutions” is a degenerated form of secularity, said the Holy Father, as is “refusing the Christian community, and those who legitimately represent it, the right to pronounce on the moral problems that today appeal to the conscience of all human beings, particularly of legislators.

“This,” he added, “does not constitute undue interference of the Church in legislative activity, which is the exclusive competence of the State, but the affirmation and the defense of those great values that give meaning to people’s lives and safeguard their dignity. These values, even before being Christian, are human, and therefore cannot leave the Church silent and indifferent, when she has the duty firmly to proclaim the truth about man and his destiny.”

The Pope concluded by highlighting the need “to bring people to understand that the moral law God gave us – and that expresses itself in us through the voice of conscience – has the aim not of oppressing us but of freeing us from evil and of making us happy. We must show that without God man is lost, and that the exclusion of religion from social life, and in particular the marginalization of Christianity, undermines the very foundations of human coexistence. Such foundations, indeed, before being of the social and political order, belong to the moral order.”

Benedict to the Union of Italian Catholic Jurists, which is being held in Rome on the theme: “Secularity and secularities.”

Good news

There is an elementary point about Christian ethics that I have sought to emphasise ever since the opening pages of my Resurrection and Moral Order published twenty years ago: there is no Christian ethics that is not “evangelical”, ie good news. There can be no change of voice, no shift of mood, between God’s word of forgiveness and his word of demand, no obedience-without-gift, no gift-without-obedience. The gift and the obedience are in fact one and the same. They are the righteousness of Jesus Christ, encompassing and transforming our own lives, past, present and future. To preach the good news, then, is precisely what we do in expounding Christian ethics, if we expound Christian ethics faithfully. Preaching the good news is the only form of address of which the Christian church as such is capable, whether speaking to Christians or to non-Christians. When we use any other form of argument – quoting opinion-poll statistics, for example, or reporting the result of scientific experiments, or suggesting some practical compromise – the relevance of what we say depends on how well it is formed to serve the evangelical message. If the church speaks not as witness to God’s saving work but as a pundit or a broker of some deal, it speaks out of character.

Yet to preach the Gospel, whether to Christians or non-Christians, is not a simple matter of offering reassurance and comfort. The Gospel, too, has its “hard words”. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is not comfort without demand, any more than it is demand without comfort. It is never less than that demanding comfort by which God makes more of us than we thought it possible to become. And from this there seems to follow an important implication: the Gospel must be preached to the gay Christian on precisely the same terms that it is preached to any other person.

Oliver O’Donovan Good News for Gay Christians Fulcrum Sermons on the Subjects of the Day