Category Archives: Faith

The Brilliant and Profoundly Catholic Daredevil | The American Conservative

True to superhero convention, Murdock did not merely lose his sight. He unwittingly traded his normal eyesight for finely honed perceptions in his four remaining senses as well as superior resistance to pain and heightened acrobatic agility. When asked if he “sees,” he replies, and I’m paraphrasing, “somewhat but as though the world is on fire.” When the viewer gets a brief glimpse of what Murdock “sees,” we immediately recognize a medieval vision of the angelic, the sainted, and the holy. Halos appear everywhere.
— Read on

Dedra and I just watched all three seasons plus the eight-episodes of The Defenders. As I’ve mentioned before, Daredevil is the single best thing on screen, big or small, and I just can’t–for the life of me–understand why Netflix cancelled it. It seems–and I don’t mean to be conspiratorial–that it must have been too Catholic for the moneymakers at Netflix. Maybe? Regardless, watch it. So stunning. Jeph Loeb has been a favorite writer of mine for a long, long time, and Charlie Cox is just stunning.

Save Daredevil!

Catholic Social Thought: Economics and Politics

I am currently doing background research for some essays on distributism.   I have written on distributism in the past; I am excited to delve into it further.  Because distributism was developed explicitly against the backdrop of late 19th century and early 20th century Catholic social thought, I first needed to see what this tradition has to say about economics and politics.  Below is an initial essay I wrote to organize my thoughts, which I also hope I can use as introductory material in future writing projects.


Disclaimer: While I have a very high regard for the intellectual and moral contributions of the Roman Catholic Church, I am not Catholic.  I hope the readers of this blog, many of whom know much more about these topics than I do, will help me by correcting any errors of commission or omission!


Church, Property, Liberty


  1. Introduction

In some ways, the label “Catholic Social Teaching” is misleading.  The Roman Church has always applied its moral teachings to social issues.  But with the economic and political upheavals in the West caused by the Industrial Revolution, the Church recognized the need to provide more specific guidance.  The resulting papal encyclicals whose principles are now expressed in the Church’s Compendium of Social Doctrine[1] addressed important social questions of the day, including the relationship between labor and capital and the proper scale and scope of political institutions.  While each encyclical contributes something new and invaluable to this collection of teachings, the first two—Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum novarum[2] and Pope Piux XI’s Quadragesimo anno[3]—are the foundational documents upon which the Church’s teachings rest regarding the moral dimension of economic and political modernity.

These encyclicals were motivated by the revolution in the production and distribution of goods and services stimulated by industrialization.[4]  The transformation of agricultural economies into industrial economies throughout the West entailed rapid economic growth.  Large industrial concerns, which were able more efficiently to organize lines of production and capture economies of scale, began to replace smaller agricultural and craft enterprises.  Contrary to popular perception, this was not an era of “robber barons” cartelizing industry and causing mass impoverishment.  New employment opportunities in urban centers absorbed much of the labor force that was released from traditional modes of production.  Many voluntarily left the countryside in pursuit of wage employment in cities, which was becoming increasingly more remunerative compared to work in rural areas, even for property owners.  However, while economic growth through industrialization greatly increased living standards, it also entailed new and troubling social consequences.  The conspicuousness of new capitalist fortunes caused many to overlook the accompanying enrichment of workers, focusing instead on inequality.  For workers, mass wage employment was occasionally accompanied by mass unemployment, as the developing capitalist economic systems were subject to periodic but unpredictable recessions.  Factory employment often entailed long hours, uncomfortable conditions, and physical danger.  These unpleasantries were undoubtedly accounted for in workers’ wages.  But the moral and aesthetic concerns with society-wide ‘creative destruction,’ which changed the representative citizen from a poor yet propertied yeoman to a wealthier but less secure laborer, still attracted widespread attention.  Modern political movements, such as the Progressive movement, arose to combat these perceived ills.  That the cures these movements offered were often worse than the disease does not invalidate ethical reservations about industrial society.

Rerum novarum was the first papal encyclical to address these economic and political circumstances.  Addressing capital-labor relations specifically, Pope Leo councils that employees and employers each have rights and duties in service of social justice and the common good.  Workers must faithfully execute the tasks to which they have contractually agreed and refrain from individual and collective acts of violence against their employers.  Employers must pay workers a wage consistent with human dignity.   More generally, the encyclical strongly affirmed the Church’s commitment to recognizing the right of private property, but also cautioned that this right was not absolute.  The state has both the right and duty to regulate ownership and its attendant privileges in the interests of the common good.  At the level of economic and political systems, the Church does not mandate any specific sociopolitical regime, but strongly condemns both the coerced collectivism of socialism and the unbridled individualism of industrial capitalism.

Quadragesimo anno, issued forty years after Rerum novarum, elaborates on many of the former’s themes while also covering new ground.  Whereas Leo’s encyclical dealt primarily with capital-labor relations, with broader social conditions receiving relatively less emphasis, Pius brought moral evaluation of the political-economic order itself to the forefront.  Perhaps the most important contribution of this document is the principle of subsidiarity: the duty of higher-order communities, such as national governments, not to interfere with the operation of lower-order communities, such as families and local governments, without just cause.  In addition, Pius reaffirmed the importance of private property and condemned the totalitarian regimes that were developing in Europe at the time, and called for cooperation between social classes as a way to ameliorate conflict without infringing on man’s associational freedom.

The principles elucidated in these encyclicals continue to find expression in the Church’s teaching on the moral aspects of economics and politics.  Many have been explicitly incorporated into the Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church doctrine and lays out the beliefs of the faithful.  The following exposition of Church teaching on political economy draws upon the relevant tenets specifically from the Catechism.  I intend the survey to be representative, but not exhaustive.  From this survey we will acquire a clear picture of the Church’s universal principles, which must be applied anew to the specific challenges confronting each society.


  1. Authority, Order, and the Common Good

Man is social by nature.  He becomes most fully himself when living in community.  “The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation.”[5]  Importantly, society is not just an aggregate of individuals.  Forms of society at various levels of social distance, from the family to the state, are real, and are not reducible to the sum of their members.  “A society is a group of persons bound together organically by a principle of unity that goes beyond each one of them. As an assembly that is at once visible and spiritual, a society endures through time: it gathers up the past and prepares for the future.”[6]

A healthy civilization will be characterized by multiple societies, frequently overlapping.  In terms of helping persons to develop their potential and orienting them to their true good, these societies are complements, not substitutes.  “Certain societies, such as the family and the state, correspond more directly to the nature of man; they are necessary to him. To promote the participation of the greatest number in the life of a society, the creation of voluntary associations and institutions must be encouraged…This ‘socialization’ also expresses the natural tendency for human beings to associate with one another for the sake of attaining objectives that exceed individual capacities. It develops the qualities of the person, especially the sense of initiative and responsibility, and helps guarantee his rights.”[7]

Human communities bestow gifts on their members, but while these gifts are apparently gratuitous from the perspective of any one person, the communities that provide them require cultivation.  Thus the rights and duties attendant upon persons in society exist at a deeper level than those requiring explicit consent.  “By means of society, each man is established as an ‘heir’ and receives certain ‘talents’ that enrich his identity and whose fruits he must develop. He rightly owes loyalty to the communities of which he is part and respect to those in authority who have charge of the common good.”[8]  Loyalty to communities also requires loyalty to the authorities—those who give orders and expect obedience[9]—duly constituted to sustain those communities and advance their interests.  “Human society can be neither well-ordered nor prosperous unless it has some people invested with legitimate authority to preserve its institutions and to devote themselves as far as is necessary to work and care for the good of all.”[10]  Obviously, the Church herself is such an authority.  As the continuing presence of Christ in the Holy Spirit, the Church has a unique mission to uphold the natural and Divinely Revealed moral law.  Other sources of authority, with their own proper spheres, are the family and the state.

No authority is self-justifying.  Its rights depend on it upholding some good that the authority cannot define nor alter.  “Authority does not derive its moral legitimacy from itself. It must not behave in a despotic manner, but must act for the common good as a ‘moral force based on freedom and a sense of responsibility.’”[11]  Thus authority is only justified if it promotes the common good.  “By common good is to be understood ‘the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or as individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily.’ The common good concerns the life of all. It calls for prudence from each, and even more from those who exercise the office of authority.”[12]  Every human community possesses a common good.  A community’s common good is the essential factor that constitutes the community qua community.[13]

There are three chief elements of the common good.  First, the common good requires authorities to respect the fundamental rights all persons possess in virtue of their bearing the imago Dei: the image of God, and the source of intrinsic dignity.[14]  Second, the common good requires authorities to steward the community, preserving its interests by arbitrating disputes among members, giving each member of the group that which is their due, and reconciling each to the good of all.[15]  Third, the common good requires authorities to maintain peace and order in society, both within and between communities.[16]

Closely linked with authority and the common good is the concept of social justice.  This idea often draws opprobrium from those who otherwise honor the Church’s principles of communitarian personalism.  But this is due to the perversion of the concept resulting from decades of misuse, stemming ultimately from divorcing social justice from its theistic and ecclesiastic roots.  “Society ensures social justice when it provides the conditions that allow associations or individuals to obtain what is their due, according to their nature and their vocation.”[17]  An important tenet of social justice is the promotion of solidarity, which can also be thought of as “social charity.”[18]  Solidarity is an implication of respecting persons’ rights qua persons.  It also, in part, derives its importance from its necessary role in ameliorating social conflict. “Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples.”[19]  Respecting rights and pacifying social tension require, first and foremost, giving to each their due.  Social justice is thus not a repudiation, but an extension, of the fundamental tenet of justice dating back to classical antiquity.  This is why social justice inherently concerns “the distribution of goods and remuneration for work.”[20]  Social justice is the link between the Church’s teaching on authority, order, and the common good and her teaching on the proper organization of economic and political life.


  1. The Bounty of Creation: Order in Economy

The cornerstone of the Church’s teaching on economic matters is the universal destination of human goods.  The earth and its bounty were created by God for the whole of humanity.  Enjoyment of the fruits of creation is man’s right.  However, the universal destination of human goods does not preclude private property.[21]  In fact, the Church has always affirmed that “the appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.”[22]  Ownership is both permitted and encouraged.  But the rights of ownership are circumscribed by the natural and Revealed moral law.  “Goods of production – material or immaterial – such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.”[23]  Economic rights are properly under the purview of political authorities, whose duty it is to regulate the legitimate use of these rights in the interests of social justice and the common good.[24]

The Church is insistent that economic issues cannot be isolated from moral issues.  The production and distribution of goods is ultimately a moral enterprise whose goal is human flourishing.  Economic rights, including rights of property, are properly subordinated to this end.  For example, the Church forbids theft, meaning the use of property against the reasonable will of the owner.  However, “[t]here is no theft if…refusal [of the use of property] is contrary to reason and the universal destination of goods. This is the case in obvious and urgent necessity when the only way to provide for immediate, essential needs (food, shelter, clothing…) is to put at one’s disposal and use the property of others.”[25]  Property rights are similarly restricted in the interests of the common good by declaring the following illicit: paying unjust wages, taking advantage of another’s hardship or ignorance, attempting to manipulate the market, corrupting the judgment of those who make legal decisions, evading taxes, and spending wastefully.[26]

As part of its teachings on private property, the Church recognizes the importance of respecting contracts.  “Promises must be kept and contracts strictly observed to the extent that the commitments made in them are morally just. A significant part of economic and social life depends on the honoring of contracts between physical or moral persons – commercial contracts of purchase or sale, rental or labor contracts. All contracts must be agreed to and executed in good faith.”[27]  As with other property rights, contractual rights are viewed primarily through the lens of justice.  “Contracts are subject to commutative justice which regulates exchanges between persons in accordance with a strict respect for their rights. Commutative justice obliges strictly; it requires safeguarding property rights, paying debts, and fulfilling obligations freely contracted. Without commutative justice, no other form of justice is possible…”[28]

Respect for property and contracts thus derives from the rights due to all persons in virtue of their dignity.  Because of this property rights or contractual arrangements that infringe on human dignity are not permissible.  Forbidden are “acts or enterprises that for any reason – selfish or ideological, commercial, or totalitarian – lead to the enslavement of human beings, to their being bought, sold and exchanged like merchandise, in disregard for their personal dignity. It is a sin against the dignity of persons and their fundamental rights to reduce them by violence to their productive value or to a source of profit.”[29]  Likewise, economic rights must be constituted to recognize the integrity of creation itself.  Man is a steward of the earth, not its master.  “Animals, like plants and inanimate beings, are by nature destined for the common good of past, present, and future humanity. Use of the mineral, vegetable, and animal resources of the universe cannot be divorced from respect for moral imperatives. Man’s dominion over inanimate and other living beings granted by the Creator is not absolute; it is limited by concern for the quality of life of his neighbor, including generations to come; it requires a religious respect for the integrity of creation.”[30]

The Church’s circumscription of economic rights has several implications for the purpose and limit of economic activity more generally.  “The development of economic activity and growth in production are meant to provide for the needs of human beings. Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community. Economic activity, conducted according to its own proper methods, is to be exercised within the limits of the moral order, in keeping with social justice so as to correspond to God’s plan for man.”[31]  This contributes to a unique perspective on the rights and duties of labor.  Man has a duty to work—as St. Paul wrote, “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,”[32]—but labor is neither curse nor drudgery.  Through labor man cooperates with God in the continual unfolding of creation.[33]  It must be remembered that work is not just a duty, but a right.  “Everyone has the right of economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all and to harvest the just fruits of his labor.”[34]  The spiritual dimension of work is at least as important as the economic.  Ora et labora—prayer and work—have always been linked in the Church’s tradition.

Owning and operating a business is also a legitimate form of work.  Just as employees have rights and duties, so do employers.  While employers “have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits,” the Church recognizes that profits are both essential and proper in economic life.  “Profits are necessary…They make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment.”[35]  The rights of profit are tempered by the duty to pay just wages.  “A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. ‘Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.’ Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.”[36]

Another important principle of the Church is special concern for the poor.  Efforts to ameliorate poverty are an ancient tradition of God’s people dating back to the Old Testament welfare laws: the jubilee for the forgiveness of debts, the ban on usury, the wages of day laborers, and the right to glean fields and vines.[37]  But the Church is concerned for more than material poverty.  The preferential option for the poor “extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty.”[38]  These other forms of oppression that afflict the poor are just as concerning as material poverty.  “‘In its various forms – material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death – human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least of his brethren.”[39]  Providing for the poor is not only an act of mercy.  It is an act of justice.  As St. John Chrysostom argued, “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. [sic] the goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”[40]  Love for the poor also requires an appropriate attitude towards created goods on the part of those who would give.  However much one donates, one cannot love the poor while also immoderately partaking of wealth in one’s personal life.[41]


  1. The Responsibilities of Authority: Order in Polity

How goods and services are produced and distributed depends on the institutions that govern economic life.  Thus production and distribution are not autonomous, but under the direction of various authorities, including political authority.  “‘Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly…. Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector.”[42]  Achieving moral order in the economy requires achieving moral order in the polity.

But this is easier said than done.  The Church recognizes that those in authority often fall prey to the trappings of power.  This has been particularly dangerous since early modernity and the rise of the centralized state.  With the relative weakening of other sources of authority, additional duties to maintain the common good have fallen to the state.  But excessive state intervention, a perpetual temptation by those who wield government power, can trespass on human dignity  In response, “the teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which ‘a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.’”[43]  When families and civic organizations can solve social problems, government ought not to interfere.  If a public sector response is necessary, it ought to occur at the most feasible local level.  National government should only intervene if lower-order communities are inadequate to the task, and if it can implement a solution that respects human dignity and upholds the common good.

Subsidiarity also places bounds on the range of permissible political orders.  “The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention.”[44]  Totalitarian states, with their forced socialization and regimentation, are irreconcilable with the Church’s teachings on authority and the common good.  “‘The Church has rejected the totalitarian and atheistic ideologies associated in modem times with “communism” or “socialism.’”[45]  In addition, the Church does not approve regimes that implicitly substitute the moral order for whatever order happens to be generated by the market.  “She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of ‘capitalism,’ individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor.”[46]  The Church can tolerate from political authorities neither tyranny nor passivity.  “Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice…Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.”[47]  But beyond this the Church pronounces no dogma; she does not make specific positive sociopolitical mandates.  “‘If authority belongs to the order established by God, ‘the choice of the political regime and the appointment of rulers are left to the free decision of the citizens.’ The diversity of political regimes is morally acceptable, provided they serve the legitimate good of the communities that adopt them. Regimes whose nature is contrary to the natural law, to the public order, and to the fundamental rights of persons cannot achieve the common good of the nations on which they have been imposed.’”[48]


  1. Conclusion

“The Church receives from the Gospel the full revelation of the truth about man. When she fulfills her mission of proclaiming the Gospel, she bears witness to man, in the name of Christ, to his dignity and his vocation to the communion of persons. She teaches him the demands of justice and peace in conformity with divine wisdom.”[49]  The Church’s possession of the truth entitles her to make moral judgments about economic and political life.  Whatever the physical and social sciences discover about human behavior as it pertains to these spheres, the Church retains its right to teach and guide.  This does not obviate the need for political authority, however.  “In the moral order she bears a mission distinct from that of political authorities: the Church is concerned with the temporal aspects of the common good because they are ordered to the sovereign Good, our ultimate end. She strives to inspire right attitudes with respect to earthly goods and in socio-economic relationships.”[50]  The Church’s social teaching “proposes principles for reflection; it provides criteria for judgment; it gives guidelines for action…”[51]  These doctrines are not ideologies.  The Church commands neither a specific economic system for the production and distribution of goods, nor a political system for governing nations.  In her capacity as teacher and guide, the Church actively promotes solidarity between society’s classes and interests, for the betterment of each and all.[52]  In these roles, the Church serves as the guardian of human dignity, on guard against economic or political forces that, if left unchecked, result in persons reducing others to means, instead of honoring them as ends in themselves.

[1] Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, “Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church,” 2004.  Available online:

[2] Pope Leo XIII, “Rerum Novarum: Encyclical of Pope Leo XIII on Capital and Labor,” 1891.  Available online:

[3] Pope Pius XI, “Quadragesimo Anno: Encyclical of Pope Pius XI on Reconstruction of Social Order,” 1931.  Available online:

[4] “The social doctrine of the Church developed in the nineteenth century when the Gospel encountered modern industrial society with its new structures for the production of consumer goods, its new concept of society, the state and authority, and its new forms of labor and ownership. the [sic] development of the doctrine of the Church on economic and social matters attests the permanent value of the Church’s teaching at the same time as it attests the true meaning of her Tradition, always living and active.”  Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2421.

[5] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1879.

[6] Ibid, 1880.

[7] Ibid, 1882.

[8] Supra note 5.

[9] Ibid, 1897.

[10] Supra note 8.

[11] Ibid, 1902.

[12] Ibid, 1906.

[13] Ibid, 1910.

[14] Ibid, 1907.

[15] Ibid, 1908.

[16] Ibid, 1909.

[17] Ibid, 1928.

[18] Ibid, 1939.

[19] Ibid, 1941.

[20] Ibid, 1940.

[21] Ibid, 2401.

[22] Ibid, 2402.

[23] Ibid, 2405.

[24] Ibid, 2406.

[25] Ibid, 2408.

[26] Ibid, 2409.

[27] Ibid, 2410.

[28] Ibid, 2411.  On the several classifications of justice, the Church adds the following: “One distinguishes commutative justice from legal justice which concerns what the citizen owes in fairness to the community, and from distributive justice which regulates what the community owes its citizens in proportion to their contributions and needs.”

[29] Ibid, 2414.

[30] Ibid, 2415.

[31] Ibid, 2426.

[32] 2 Thessalonians 3:10.

[33] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2427.

[34] Ibid, 2429.

[35] Ibid, 2432.

[36] Ibid, 2434.

[37] Ibid, 2449.

[38] Ibid, 2444.

[39] Ibid, 2448.

[40] Ibid, 2446.

[41] Cf. James 5:1-6; Matthew 6:24; Catechism of the Catholic Church 2445.

[42] Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2431.

[43] Ibid, 1883.

[44] Ibid, 1885.

[45] Ibid, 2425.

[46] Ibid.

[47] Ibid.

[48] Ibid, 1901.

[49] Ibid, 2419.

[50] Ibid, 2420.

[51] Ibid, 2423.

[52] Supra note 19.

Mark Hollis, Rest Your Head ~ The Imaginative Conservative

Despite the gravitas of the music and the lyrics, The Colour of Spring sold well enough that EMI gave Hollis and Friese-Greene free reign on the fourth album, Spirit of Eden. Along with famed audio engineer, Phill Brown, the two men went fully mystical. Renting an abandoned church for fourteen months, Talk Talk did everything possible to create timelessness in the sacred space. Relying on the lighting of the stained glass and lava lamps, the band spent over a year trying to capture specific sounds, piecing them together as a whole. Side one of the album became one eighteen minute track, begging the Lord to rage against injustice. Over its nearly twenty-minute length, the song moves from the sound of sea scapes to an utterly cacophonous passion, finally resolving with a recognition that a man is inherently flawed and, thus, unable to perfect all things. The album concludes with “Wealth,” a lyrical rewrite of the famous prayer of St. Ignatius of Loyola.
— Read on

Pope Benedict XVI on C.S. Lewis, 1988

C.S. Lewis (image from FEE)

“Long before the outbreak of terrorism and the invasion of drugs, the English author and philosopher, C.S. Lewis, called attention to the grievous danger of the abolition of man which lies in the collapse of the foundations of morality.  He thus gave stress to humankind’s justification upon which the continuance of man as man depends.  Lewis shows the continuance of the this justification with a glance at all the great civilisations.  He refers not only to the moral heritage of the Greeks and its particular articulation by Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoa.  These intended to lead man to an awareness of reason in his being and from that to insist upon the cultivation of ‘his kinship of being with reason.’  Lewis also recalls the ideas of the Rta [sic] in early Hinduism which asserts the harmony of the cosmic order, the moral virtues and the temple rituals.  He underscores in a special way the Chinese doctrine of the Tao: ‘It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road.  It is the Way in which the universe goes on. .  . It is also the Way in which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.  Modern mankind has been persuaded that human moral values are radically opposed one to another in the same way that religions are.  In both cases the simple conclusion is drawn that all of these are human inventions whose absurdity we can finally detect and replace with reasonable knowledge.  This diagnosis, though, is extremely superficial.  It hooks on to a series of details which are set up in random fashion, one next to the other, and so it arrives at the banality of its superior insight.  The reality is that the fundamental institution concerning the moral character of being itself and the necessity for harmony between human existence and the message of nature is common to all the great civilisations; and thus the great moral imperatives are also a possession held in common.  C S Lewis expressed this emphatically when he said: ‘This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law, or Traditional Morality or the First principle of Practical Reason, or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value.  It is the sole source of all value judgements.  If it is rejected, all value is rejected.  If any value is retained, it is retained.  The effort to refute it and to raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory.’  Morality has been eroded and man as human being has worn away with it.  It is no longer prudent to ask why one should hold fast to this kind of survival.  Once more I would like to have C S Lewis put in a word.  He saw this process already in 1943 and described it with keen accuracy.  He discerns in it the old compact with the Magician: ‘ . . . give up our soul, get power in return.  But once our souls, that is, our selves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us . . . It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere “natural object” . . . The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his dehumanized Conditioners.’  Lewis raised this warning during the second World War because he saw how, with the destruction of morality, the very capacity to defend his nation against onslaught of barbarism was imperiled.  He was objective enough, though, to add the following: “I am not here thinking solely, perhaps not even chiefly, or those who are our public enemies at the moment.  The process which, if not checked, will abolish man, goes on apace among Communists and Democrats, no less than among Fascists.”  This seems to me to be a common of great import.  Lewis refers as well to the law of Israel, which unites cosmos and history and intends above all to be the expression of the truth about man as much as the truth about the world.  An appreciation of the great civilisations discloses differences in detail; but starker by far than these differences is the great common strain which reveals itself as early evidence of the human business of living: the teaching of objective values which are manifest in the being of the world; the belief that there are attitudes which are true in accord with the message of the All and therefore good and that there are other attitudes as well which are contrary to being and thus are wrong for good and for all.”

–Edited down version of a speech by then Cardinal Ratzinger.

Taken from Cardinal Ratzinger’s “Fisher Lecture” at Cambridge University, January 25, 1988. See “Cardinal Ratzinger in Cambridge,” BRIEFING 88, vol. 18, no. 3 (5 February 1988); reprinted in the CANADIAN CSL JOURNAL no. 63 (Summer 1988), 4-5.

Understanding Evangelicalism: A Primer

Evangelicalism has played an important role in American society for hundreds of years, and today “evangelicals” remain an influential voting bloc. The term “evangelical” is thrown around a lot in historical scholarship and political rhetoric, but its meaning is less clear than most people imagine. Twenty-first century evangelicalism shares some tenets with evangelicalism of years past, and it has changed in other ways. If we are going to understand evangelicalism’s impact on society and politics, we need to try to understand what exactly it is and where it came from.

I’m not going to get into specific leaders or institutions known for their influence on contemporary evangelicalism. That would require delving into the countless parachurch organizations, leaders, churches, radio stations, colleges, seminaries, etc. Evangelicals are interconnected yet fundamentally decentralized. Thus, it would be very difficult to make sense of that aspect of the movement (if it can even be called a movement) in a blog post. Rather, I’ll speak generally about fundamental beliefs and concepts that broadly describe evangelicals.

D. G. Hart’s Deconstructing Evangelicalism and Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind are good places to start if you are interested in this topic and want to know more about contemporary evangelicalism. John Fea recently wrote a book called Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump. This book may shed light upon current trends in evangelicalism, but I haven’t read it, so I can’t say for sure.

Continue reading Understanding Evangelicalism: A Primer



This was a book–roughly 82,000 words–I wrote over Christmas break, 2002-2003, and then revised four times between 2003 and 2008. I wrote it in between writing the biographies of J.R.R. Tolkien and Christopher Dawson as a way to understand Christian Humanism. I wanted to know its scope as well as its limits, hoping to find something to move well beyond the simple and deceptive left-right spectrum.

Here’s the opening to the original version:

The nineteenth century witnessed the flourishing of progressivist thought in social relations, politics, religion, and biology.  Everything was evolving, or so it seemed, toward the better.  Smiles were more frequent, and lives just kept getting happier, as the citizens of the world were becoming one, homogenized, contented mass.  The blessings of modernity entangled everything, East to West, claiming that no more perfect offerings needed to be made.  Once properly educated and the childhood superstitions of the race outgrown, the prophets of modernity assured us, the masses collectively would speak as a god.  In a word, according to intellectuals such as Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells, it would soon be “utopian.” 

It was a lie.  

Modernity was a trap, and we were its greatest victims.  We failed to resist, and it greedily fed on us.  In democratic regimes, the brightly colored and candy-coated machines of bureaucracy and large corporations mechanized us, making us far less than human.  In non-democratic regimes, the damage proved much worse, nearly irreparable.  Beginning with the assassination of a relatively minor figure by an equally obscure terrorist group in 1914, the twentieth century drowned in its vast killing fields, gulags, holocaust camps, trench warfare, and weapons of mass destruction.  Whether in the camps of the European or Asian ideologues, some humans, convinced of the righteousness of their cause, viewed all other human persons as nothing more than a collection of parts, ready to be dismembered and reassembled in a Picasso-esque fashion, or perhaps simply quartered and then quartered again.  Armed with the ideological doctrines of fascism, National Socialism, and Communism, the twentieth-century became a century of the inverted vision of Ezekiel: wheels within wheels, endlessly spinning, the abyss ever expanding, ever within reach.  All that was sacred became irrelevant.  All who remained relevant were shot.  And, the State and its faithful companion, War, demanded the sacrifice of much blood to the restored gods.  Demos, Mars, and Leviathan became ascendant, taking possession of the field, and claiming victory, their appetites insatiable.

And, the Logos wept.

If you’re interested, here’s the link to the amazon Kindle version ($4.99). If you’re interested in a copy to review for a print or online publication, please let us know through the contact button.

Thanks! And, enjoy.

Sermon: Feast of St. Stephen


The Archbishop preaches in the Cathedral on Christmas morning, 1170.

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” The fourteenth verse of the second chapter of the Gospel according to Saint Luke. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Dear children of God, my sermon this morning will be a very short one. I wish only that you should ponder and meditate on the deep meaning and mystery of our masses of Christmas Day. For whenever Mass is said, we re-enact the Passion and Death of Our Lord; and on this Christmas Day we do this in celebration of His Birth. So that at the same moment we rejoice in His coming for the salvation of men, and offer again to God His Body and Blood in sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world. It was in this same night that has just passed, that a multitude of the heavenly host appeared before the shepherds at Bethlehem, saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men”; at this same time of all the year that we celebrate at once the Birth of Our Lord and His Passion and Death upon the Cross. Beloved, as the World sees, this is to behave in a strange fashion. For who in the World will both mourn and rejoice at once and for the same reason? For either joy will be overcome by mourning or mourning will be cast out by joy; so that it is only in these our Christian mysteries that we can rejoice and mourn at once for the same reason. But think for a while on the meaning of this word “peace.” Does it seem strange to you that the angels should have announced Peace, when ceaselessly the world has been stricken with War and the fear of War? Does it seem to you that the angelic voices were mistaken, and that the promise was a disappointment and a cheat?

Reflect now, how Our Lord Himself spoke of Peace. He said to His disciples: “My peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you.” Did He mean peace as we think of it: the kingdom of England at peace with its neighbors, the barons at peace with the King, the householder counting over his peaceful gains, the swept hearth, his best wine for a friend at the table, his wife singing to the children? Those men His disciples knew no such things: they went forth to journey afar, to suffer by land and sea, to know torture, imprisonment, disappointment, to suffer death by martyrdom. What then did He mean? If you ask that, remember that He said also, “Not as the world giveth, give I unto you.” So then, He gave to his disciples peace, but not peace as the world gives.

Consider also one thing of which you have probably never thought. Not only do we at the feast of Christmas celebrate at once Our Lord’s Birth and His Death: but on the next day we celebrate the martyrdom of his first martyr, the blessed Stephen. Is it an accident, do you think, that the day of the first martyr follows immediately the day of the Birth of Christ? By no means. Just as we rejoice and mourn at once, in the Birth and Passion of Our Lord; so also, in a smaller figure, we both rejoice and mourn in the death of martyrs. We mourn, for the sins of the world that has martyred them; we rejoice, that another soul is numbered among the Saints in Heaven, for the glory of God and for the salvation of men.

Beloved, we do not think of a martyr simply as a good Christian who has been killed because he is a Christian: for that would be solely to mourn. We do not think of him simply as a good Christian who has been elevated to the company of the Saints: for that would be simply to rejoice: and neither our mourning nor our rejoicing is as the world’s is. A Christian martyrdom is no accident. Saints are not made by accident. Still less is a Christian martyrdom the effect of a man’s will to become a Saint, as a man by willing and contriving may become a ruler of men. Ambition fortifies the will of man to become ruler over other men: it operates with deception, cajolery, and violence, it is the action of impurity upon impurity. Not so in Heaven. A martyr, a saint, is always made by the design of God, for His love of men, to warn them and to lead them, to bring them back to His ways. A martyrdom is never the design of man; for the true martyr is he who has become the instrument of God, who has lost his will in the will of God, not lost it but found it, for he has found freedom in submission to God. The martyr no longer desires anything for himself, not even the glory of martyrdom. So thus as on earth the Church mourns and rejoices at once, in a fashion that the world cannot understand; so in Heaven the Saints are most high, having made themselves most low, seeing themselves not as we see them, but in the light of the Godhead from which they draw their being.

I have spoken to you today, dear children of God, of the martyrs of the past, asking you to remember especially our martyr of Canterbury, the blessed Archbishop Elphege; because it is fitting, on Christ’s birthday, to remember what is that peace which he brought; and because, dear children, I do not think that I shall ever preach to you again; and because it is possible that in a short time you may have yet another martyr, and that one perhaps not the last. I would have you keep in your hearts these words that I say, and think of them at another time. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

End of Sermon