G.K. Chesterton once described America as a “nation with the soul of a church.” Many have wrongly interpreted this statement as Chesterton’s way of saying that America was a Christian nation, or that Americans were especially pious and devout people. Chesterton meant something rather different, and not especially complementary. America is like a church in the sense that it has often understood citizenship in terms of assent to a creed. One becomes an Englishman or Frenchman through history, through coming from a family that has lived in a particular place for generations. In contrast, one can theoretically become an American simply by assent to certain abstract principles, the American creed. Chesterton’s characterization of America as a creedal nation came to mind as I passed an election sign for the Romney-Ryan ticket that read, “Believe in America.” What could this possibly mean? Is America a god? What precisely are we supposed to believe in? In a word, liberty. And make no mistake about it, liberty is a god.
That, at least, is the argument that Christopher A. Ferrara makes in his important and timely new book, Liberty, the God That Failed: Policing the Sacred and Constructing the Myths of the Secular State, from Locke to Obama.The title references the 1949 work The God that Failed, a famous collection of essays by ex-communists describing their disillusion with the utopian ideology of communism. Liberal and conservative American political thinkers share a common characterization of communism and fascism as irrational, secular religions against which the American political tradition stands as a model of reason and moderation. It is just such a conceit that Ferrara sets out to expose as a delusion. At a time when the American bishops are calling on Catholics to defend the American tradition of religious liberty against state coercion, Ferrara argues that religious liberty itself has been the main ideology through which the modern state has sought to redefine and control religion. This is a difficult and challenging argument, one that goes against the common sense of American political thinking. It is an argument based on a very different kind of common sense that comes from traditional Catholic understandings of the public nature of Church authority.
Friday, November 16, 2012
Christopher Shannon, "A Declaration of Catholic Independence" (Crisis Magazine, October 30, 2012):
Thursday, August 9, 2012
|A comprehensive analysis of the|
theological anthropology of one of
the early church's finest theologians
Become Like the Angels
Origin's Doctrine of the Soul
Benjamin P. Blosser
Origen of Alexandria (c. 185-245), a catechist, presbyter, and confessor of the ancient Church was a foundational figure in the establishment of early Christian theology. Today he is commonly referred to as "the first Christian theologian" and is widely known as a master of biblical exegesis, rational inquiry, and spiritual formation. Yet his legacy remains somewhat ambiguous in part because of the posthumous condemnation of certain propositions from his works. Become Like the Angels explores Origen's legacy and, in particular, his teachings about the origin, nature, and destiny of the human person. By way of a historical critical approach, Benjamin P. Blosser discusses the influence of Middle Platonic philosophy on the human soul and then compares it with Origen's teaching.
This study finds that, while Origen was highly aware of Middle Platonic speculations on the soul and does borrow extensively from their vocabulary, he never accepts their underlying, philosophical assumptions and is in fact subtly critical of Middle Platonic theories of the soul. His anthropology remains from first to last a biblical, Christian, and even mystical one, the fruit of a remarkable effort to synthesize faith and reason in the ancient Church.
“An ambitious and very well researched book on the way in which Origen deals with a fundamental issue in ancient philosophy—the position, state, and function of the soul in a living being. It is a topic at the core of all anthropological and cosmological thinking in Late Antiquity. In elegant, lucid prose, Blosser takes the reader gently through the minefield of previous scholarship and presents a very clear and skillful exposition of Origen as religious philosopher.”
—John A. McGuckin, professor of Byzantine church history, Columbia University, and editor of The Westminster Handbook to Origen of Alexandria
Benjamin P. Blosser is associate professor of theology at Benedictine College where he teaches courses in church history, ecclesiology, and New Testament studies. He received his Ph.D. in historical theology from the Catholic University of America.