Monday, April 6, 2009

Personal Aside: Two Thoughts While Shaving…In Opposition to Neil Steinberg Anent Notre Dame.


1. Media Support for FDR.

A reader…I don’t know how old he is but doubt he’s my age of 80…writes to contradict, saying that a large number of newspapers editorially opposed FDR in addition to Colonel McCormick’s “Tribune.” Indeed he’s right—but then as now, editorials were not heavily read. The overwhelming amount of news coverage…by working stiffs…was pro-FDR with the exception of the “Trib” and William Randolph Hearst’s chain (here in Chicago the “Chicago American”). But even here in Chicago these newspapers avidly supported FDR: the “Daily News,” the “Times” and Marshall Field’s “Sun” which amalgamated with the “Times” making it the “Sun-Times.” I talked to Walter Trohan about this some years ago. He was Washington editor of the “Tribune” during most of those years and died at the age of 100!

All the while, radio broadcasters were heavily pro-FDR including the CBS stable: Edward R. Murrow, Charles Collingwood, Eric Severeid, Winston Burdett, Robert Trout, Robert St. John, Gabriel Heatter et al. The only radio network to oppose, and then slightly, was Mutual Broadcasting, owned by the “Tribune.”

2. Cut Myself Re George?

Someone asked speculatively if perhaps I cut myself while shaving thinking of Cardinal George’s response to Notre Dame. No, I was delighted! I only cut myself when I disagree with someone. No cuts, no bruises: thank you.

Neil Steinberg.

Introduction: The ruckus over Cardinal Francis George’s rebuke to Notre Dame for its invitation to Barack Obama to make its 2009 commencement address and receive an honorary degree (testifying to the approbation of the university) is very fortunate for those of us who are defenders of the Church to make salient points on the true nature of theology and Catholic education. Today is Neil Steinberg’s turn on the griddle. Tuesday there will be a response to the Op Ed attack on Cardinal George’s action by self-described Catholics William Daley and Sun-Timers Michael Sneed; also to the “Tribune” anti-George editorial and to Catholic Carol Marin as well as answers to criticism from Mayor Richard M. Daley. .

Dear Mr. Steinberg: The 200 words or so in your “Sun-Times” column…on Catholics who like Cardinal George are fighting against the Obama invitation by Notre Dame not being very catholic … is a veritable fountain of ignorance. But take heart: Aquinas would define your ignorance as invincible: meaning that with your ignorance you can’t help it…and if you choose to overcome it, you need what he called supererogatory diligence…far more than the diligence needed by an average man to solve a crossword puzzle for instance. You’re mired in nihilistic relativism which is a hard addiction to break. However, it is worthwhile for me to try. Before telling you what Catholic education was founded to be, let me correct your faulty assumptions of my Church.

Let’s take the first statement: You say, “Has the Catholic Church gone back to the idea that all people, regardless of religion, must cleave to Catholic doctrine? Because they tried that, and it caused problems—the whole Inquisition thing—a while back.” Invincible ignorance for which you are forgiven.

Did the Church ever mandate that all people “must cleave to Catholic doctrine?” Its Founder, Jesus Christ, chose twelve apostles and sent them to teach, to serve and sanctify the assembly of believers wherever they found them. Did He insist they grab their audiences by the collar and say, “Join up”? No, He sent them out to the nation of Israel with the following instruction: “Whatever town or village you enter, search for some worthy person there and stay at his house until you leave…If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town.”

In fact, rather than oppress others, it was the Church which was the persecuted for many centuries. Did you ever hear of the trial by fire the early apostles and disciples faced at the hands of the Roman imperium? The life in the catacombs? The martyrdom of all the apostles save John? The singing crowds of Christians…men, women and children… marching into the Coliseum to meet death? Surely even you heard of these things, Mr. Steinberg.

Even when Constantine made Catholicism aka Christianity acceptable under Roman law he didn’t do it by force, He codified Christian practice, returned all Christian property confiscated during the persecutions, legislated that slaves no longer be killed at the masters’ whim.

Assuredly you mention the Inquisition “a while back.” Six hundred years plus is a long while back—in 1478 and in Spain. The hugely magnified story stems from one Juan Antonio Llorente, published in a book “The Critical History of the Spanish Inquisition,” who says he carefully examined the records under the Tribunal and found that 105,285 lives were taken under Torquemada, 51,167 under Cisneros and 34,912 under Diego Perez. He claimed he used official documents to get the tally but when confronted said he had purposely burned the papers on which he had relied. Then he was dismissed by the Spanish court for lying, inventing statistics and embezzlement. The most reasonable estimate made of victims between 1551 and 1600 were four a year. In Spain punishment was exerted on all sides. Saints Ignatius Loyola and Teresa of Avila were also called to punishment for their orthodoxy. Four a year is four too much—but stay for the further answer.

So the answer is yes, Catholic zealots reigned for a time in Spain but about the same as Protestant reformers in England killed Catholics: about 800 a year In Protestant Britain about 30,000 went to the stake for witchcraft [“History of English Civil Law” by Sir. James Stephens] under Cromwell and the puritans. These numbers don’t make the Inquisition right but underscores the fact that severity in punishment existed on all sides.

Did the Inquisition color the whole Church? Evidently you think it does--but you went to jail in your Northbrook suburb in 2005…which is more recent than a while back—significantly less than 600 years—for beating your wife of 15 years in a drunken rage…which was covered by the news media and which you explained in your true confession book “Drunkard.” Do you think that episode should color your whole career? Your marriage? I think not.

Would you allow that the formation of western culture created by the Catholic church more than overbalance the Inquisition? The Benedictine monks who conserved civilization during the barbarian era? The Benedictine monks who invented the universities? The universities which invented science…nurtured philosophy, poetry, architecture…literature and art including Shakespeare, born a Catholic who lived under the shadow of the Elizabethan persecutions? Universities which invented international economics? The origins of western law? The Benedictine monks who defined charity that changed the world? The charity of Francis and his formation of an Order that supplied the only charity and alms giving extant? Come off your pomposity, your high horse, Mr. Steinberg. You remind us frequently of your Jewishness. Blowing up the Inquisition into a major fictitious guilt trip on Catholics today is as much a calumny as we heralding back to Shylock and Fagin popping gold coins in his money bag.

No. 2. You say “Where in Catholic theology does it say that they [students] are not allowed to hear other perspectives?” The answer: nowhere. Invincible ignorance again. The nature of Catholic education from the monastic orders stipulated that all sides should be considered before judgment is made. That’s the latest anti-Catholic spawn of hatred you raise. As a Jew…although I don’t know how observant you are (it appears you are not--which again is invincible ignorance)…you should know that the concept of truth to Catholics comes from the Hebrew [emet] which among the Jews conveyed the idea of being firm, steady, reliable , trustworthy. Thus in the Pentateuch the “peace of truth” was a genuine, lasting peace; a “judgment of truth” was a decision based on facts. That concept entered what we call the New Testament. The Greek term “aletheia” or truth implies that those who speak the truth can be believed.

The nature of all sides being discussed which began at the ancient universities including Oxford (where I served twice as a Fellow at St. John’s College) through scholastic-style argument, developed from Aquinas’ “Summa Theologiae.” Ever read even a portion of the “Summa” Mr. Steinberg? Being invincibly ignorant, I didn’t think so. It’s an argument with equal weight given to both sides with Aquinas weighing them carefully and coming to his conclusion. In the medieval universities…which were all Catholic…the master would assign students to argue one or the other side of a question. To obtain an early degree the student was expected to determine a question by himself to the satisfaction of the faculty whereupon if he pleased his masters, he would be assigned a bachelor of arts degree. The process would take from four to five years. That was the Age of Scholasticism.

But the medieval process differs from today’s universities—secular and Catholic—Mr. Steinberg. I’ve taught at Harvard, Princeton, DePaul, Loyola, the University of Illinois-Chicago, the Wharton School of Finance, the Kellogg School of Northwestern University, University of Pennsylvania, Roosevelt University. Do you think they follow across the board the scholastic arguments of pro-and-con with synthesis of truth as ascertained by reason? I will say they did in my classes where I had advocates of many persuasions appear, sometimes debate, always answering questions. But otherwise in the broad overall? You better believe they do not.

And the “Catholic” universities where I taught were the worst—not because they dish up pro-Catholic theology? Gee, if they only would! Because they regurgitate straight from-the-bottle secular liberalism. To them, orthodoxy is all but unknown. DePaul teaches homosexuality (Queer Studies: 101) to freshmen, antithetical to Catholic doctrine. Loyola has instituted a session of Presentation Court with a Loyola faculty member as sponsor in its law school in favor of same-sex marriage without a smidgeon of advocacy for the orthodox side…and is proud of it. The “Jesuit” university Marquette has given a regular berth to Daniel Maguire, an ex-priest who teaches the virtue of abortion through all nine months. Notre Dame is the home of major theologian Fr. Richard McBrien, pro-abortion and hostile to orthodoxy in most things. In fact, orthodoxy when recognized or taught at all, is the counter-culture at major Catholic schools, Mr. Steinberg…which is why a number of us have supported alternative Catholic colleges where both sides are imparted: Christendom, Saint Thomas Aquinas, Wyoming Catholic, Ave Maria among them.

As a matter of fact, the best reception I have ever had as an adjunct professor, expounding the conservative view and facing advocates of the other side, was at secular schools Harvard, Princeton, Northwestern and Roosevelt University. At DePaul, my class in politics was picketed…invaded while instruction was going on…by those under the banner of “reproductive freedom” who sought to silence me. Great freedom of inquiry, right? You’re right—most misnamed “Catholic” universities have faculties that mandate students “cleave”…the right word for it…to doctrine—but it is the liberal doctrine of the secular state-run behemoth with little variation.

So the idea that Catholic universities are strait-jackets of orthodoxy exists only in your fervid, cliché-ridden journalistic mind…a mindset so fixed that it will require more than mere nescience to overcome like solving a crossword puzzle—but invincible ignorance which requires supererogatory i.e. praiseworthy diligence to overcome.

Most “Catholic” universities here and elsewhere are indistinguishable from secular universities—and just as intolerant of unpopular opinion. That is far different from what not just Catholic universities…but all universities…were invented to do.

What medieval universities—all of them Catholic-- were designed to do…was to organize knowledge around higher studies dominated by the technique of logical discussion—the `quaestio’ and public disputation which determined the form of philosophy. Nothing, wrote Anselm, is known perfectly that has not been masticated by the teeth of disputation. What made it possible for Western civilization to develop science in a way no other civilization has? It lies in the pervasive and deep-seated spirit of inquiry that began in the Middle Ages—and with university education which was totally Catholic run.

So, take it from one who has taught for decades…in Catholic universities and out…your bigoted dictum that “it speaks of the intensity of Catholic belief that they often confuse the particular dictates of their religion, which they feel compelled to follow [sic], for the eternal machinery of life that all must follow” is a bare-faced untruth, written by one who does not know in the faintest degree the habits and nature of education in Catholic universities—and who by your mind-set of invincible ignorance is incapable of wanting to find out. That’s why I cheered the Cardinal’s statement—even though it will have no effect…and think you’re invincibly and possibly irremediably stuck in the past believing “Catholic” schools are rigid when they are just the opposite: left-wing and rebellious to the concept that led to their founding.

Don’t you even read your own newspaper? The Cardinal remonstrated some years ago to DePaul to not advocate homosexuality as a course in practice and was greeted by the priest-president’s thumbing his nose at the Church? Where in God’s name were you living when this happened? Answer: right here—but…I imagine you agreed with DePaul since by this action its faculty stood for what you obviously believe: an ethical subjectivism under which the rightness or wrongness of any action is up to the individual. At the bottom of it, you just savor the idea of a university not as a laboratory of ideas but as a test-tube of positivist ideology that reflects your own…and to see Catholic universities follow this gives you a boot. Don’t give us that bunk about freedom of inquiry. The entire drift of your hostility to the Church in your columns is you pretend openness but literally support consensus akin to agnosticism.

Thus what disturbs you about the action of the Cardinal in opposing Obama speaking and being honored at Notre Dame is this: You pose as an opponent of an authoritarian university insisting its students frog-march to the same mindset. Then you should cheer for real diversity by supporting orthodoxy where it is not allowed to show its head. Actually, you’re temperamentally opposed to the idea that a religion should dare to assert that after all inquiry is made, truth is ascertainable by rational knowledge. Your idol Obama pits himself not just against Church teaching but…in the case of when life begins… against rationality. Some say life begins at conception, others when the child is born. But Obama has proven himself incompetent by declaring that the question of when life begins is “above my pay grade.”

By that measure alone…as a self-confessed cipher on the central moral question of our time…he has disqualified himself to address any university whether he’s president of the United States or not—but especially a Catholic one which is presumed to believe that it is the capacity of human reason to know objective truth and to know what is right and wrong.

As for you, with your invincible ignorance you have wrapped yourself in the same cloak of pseudo dialectical dishonesty as Obama has. You’re not fighting for freedom of inquiry—but for continuing the one-sided status quo. By your columns which I’ve read for years you tacitly deny man’s capacity to know anything beyond an empirical knowledge of individual things. I’ve read you too long not to know that you are enveloped in a cocoon of contradiction. Arguing that nothing beyond materiality is certain you are confounded by the argument posed against yourself. If nothing is certain, you have just disproved it by declaring the great dilemma of all secular-centered liberaldom that only uncertainty is certain.

Here’s praying for a burst of divine grace,


Thomas F. Roeser


  1. Bravo,sir! You are a breath of fresh air in a culture of spiraling decline.

  2. Paul, Just This Guiy, You Know?April 6, 2009 at 6:22 AM


  3. Tom, As always, I find your argument some of the most intellectually stimulating on the web. I find the relativism presented by the media to be especially frustrating and infrequently pointed out by anyone. Keep up the great work.
    Rob Larson