Monday, April 23, 2012


Two items came to my attention shortly after writing John Duns Scotus and the Crisis of the West, Part 2, and they fall right in line with several of the themes I've been stressing lately. The first is an article by David Gibson that appeared on April 23, 2012. The Real Clear Religion link was titled rather more provocatively than the original: Benedict XVI, Papal Enforcer versus Is Pope Ratzinger Suffering From the Seven-Year Itch?

The article begins by addressing the recent announcement that “Benedict had signed off on a crackdown on the organization representing most of the 57,000 nuns in the United States, saying that the group was not speaking out strongly enough against gay marriage, abortion and women’s ordination.” Of more interest to us, however, is that the article went on to mention recent sanctions against an American and a Spanish theologian. In each case the actions were taken by the respective Bishops conferences:

Friday, April 20, 2012

John Duns Scotus and the Crisis of the West, Part 2

MacIntyre's Critique of Scotus

As we have seen, numerous thinkers, included Benedict XVI, have seen in John Duns Scotus' thought a turning point for Western Christianity. While we lament the failure of most modern thinkers (Josef Pieper is a remarkable exception) to connect all the dots that lead from archaic ontology through Plato to the present, the recognition of Scotus' significance for Western thought is a welcome development. We, of course, believe it is essential to see Scotus and other similar figures as parts of a continuum—in line with Whitehead's insight that Western thought is largely a series of footnotes to Plato. In this second look at Scotus' thought and its influence on subsequent Western thought we will begin by considering Alasdair MacIntyre's fine critique of Scotus in his important work, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopaedia, Genealogy, and Tradition. MacIntyre's discussion of Scotus can be found on pages 152-156. Importantly for our purposes, MacIntyre (like Pieper before him) discusses the importance of Scotus' influence with regard to the relationship of “philosophy” and “theology” or “religion.”

Monday, April 16, 2012

John Duns Scotus and the Western Crisis, Part 1

To many it might seem hard to believe that a reflection on the thought of John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) could possibly be timely. And yet Benedict XVI, for one, seems to think it is—and with good reason. Benedict mentioned Scotus prominently in one of the earliest public statements of his papacy, an address that sought to set a theme (the recovery of reason) for his entire papacy. And Benedict has returned to the subject more recently. In fact, as Benedict realizes, a consideration of Scotus' thought is important for any understanding of the rejection of reason and of anti-intellectual currents of thought (especially in the field of morality) both in the modern world as well as in the modern Church, since Scotus was a significant figure in the trend toward rationalistic skepticism that has characterized Western thought since the High Middle Ages. As Alasdair MacIntyre has expressed it:
Scotus thus not only made possible but provoked a good deal of later moral philosophy, directly and indirectly, from Occam all the way to Kant. (Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry, 155)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Levada's defense of the Catechism

After the initial publication of the Catechism of the Catholic Church then Archbishop William J. Levada published a defense of the new catechism: The New Catechism: An Overview . I say “defense,” because while Levada's presentation of the CCC is an overview, it is also and importantly a response to criticisms that had been leveled at it. That Levada should have presented this defense or overview is hardly surprising, since Levada had been a principal editor of the CCC. Indeed, It was commonly speculated that the reason Pope Benedict XVI appointed Levada as his own successor in the post of Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith may have included Levada's work on the CCC as well as the fact that the two of them had worked together at the CDF in the past (2000-2003). What I wish to draw attention to in Levada's defense of or presentation of the CCC is the strain of what can only be described as fideism which he displays, in common with his mentor, Joseph Ratzinger/B16. (We previously drew attention to that in our discussion of Ratzinger's lecture on Biblical interpretation: Biblical Interpretation in Crisis: The 1988 Erasmus Lecture). In addition to this fideistic strain, the two men also share another tendency of the Nouvelle Théologie—a conviction that a return to a greater emphasis on the Patristic authors, the “Fathers” of the Church, is a key to renewal in the modern Church. Included in that is a devotion to Patristic modes of scriptural interpretation and a skeptical (if not downright hostile) attitude toward modern historical-critical interpretation—this despite Benedict's repeated but grudging acknowledgments that the historical-critical approach must, in fact, take precedence.