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US Senate's vote on radical abortion bill: Here's what to know

Credit: Unsplash. / null

Washington D.C., May 11, 2022 / 11:00 am (CNA).

The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday against moving forward with what pro-life leaders described as “The Abortion on Demand Until Birth Act.” 

The Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022 (WHPA), which needed 60 votes to move forward, failed in the Senate with 51 lawmakers voting against it and 49 voting for it. The vote fell along party lines, except for one Democrat who voted against the bill: Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, who is Catholic and has previously identified himself as pro-life. If approved, the bill would override states’ pro-life laws and remove restrictions on abortion up to the point of birth in some cases.

The intent of the WHPA, or S.4132, is to “enshrine a virtually unlimited abortion ‘right’ in federal law and block common ground pro-life laws around the country,” Marjorie Dannenfelser, the president of Susan B. Anthony List (SBA List), has warned.

The May 11 vote was Democrats’ response to a leaked Supreme Court draft opinion that suggests justices will overturn Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide in 1973.

“[F]or the first time in fifty years, women in America face the real possibility of living in a world where the protections of Roe v. Wade are a thing of the past,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said on the Senate floor Tuesday. “And there will be no hiding from where each of us stands on this most precious, most private, most personal decision that women ever have to make when it comes to their own bodies.”

An almost identical version of the WHPA failed in the Senate in February. That vote also fell along party lines, with only one Democrat (Manchin) voting against proceeding. No Republican voted in support of the WHPA. 

“It would impose abortion up until the moment of birth without any limits in all 50 states,” Republican Sen. Steve Daines of Montana, the founder and chair of the Senate Pro-Life Caucus, said on the floor Tuesday. “In a nutshell, this radical bill would make the United States of America one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a preborn child.”

Daines, who previously spoke with CNA about Democrats’ response to the leaked draft opinion, cited a saint — Mother Teresa of Calcutta — during his Tuesday remarks.

At the 1994 National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C., Mother Teresa urged, “I feel that the greatest destroyer of peace today is abortion, because it is a war against the child, a direct killing of an innocent child.” 

She added: “Any country that accepts abortion is not teaching its people to love, but to use any violence to get what they want. This is why the greatest destroyer of love and peace is abortion.”

What is the WHPA?

If the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade later this year, as the leaked draft opinion suggests, then abortion could be left up to individual states. The WHPA threatens pro-life state laws.

The act’s text lists a series of specific restrictions it would do away with, on everything from limitations on telemedicine to restrictions around viability, which the act defines as the point when a fetus can survive outside the womb — determined by “the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider.”

The WHPA would forbid any kind of limit on abortion before fetal viability, including “a prohibition or restriction on a particular abortion procedure.” After viability, the WHPA would outlaw limits on abortion “when, in the good-faith medical judgment of the treating health care provider, continuation of the pregnancy would pose a risk to the pregnant patient’s life or health.”

National pro-life groups, such as SBA List, have expressed concern over this section because the Supreme Court, in Doe v. Bolton, broadly defined what “may relate to health,” including “all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the wellbeing of the patient.”

In the past, SBA List has warned that the WHPA would also “nullify pro-life laws in states across the country, including late-term abortion limits when unborn children can feel pain, waiting periods, informed consent laws, antidiscrimination laws, and more.”

The Catholic position

In February, 13 Catholic senators, including Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), voted in favor of the WHPA. Wednesday's vote produced the same outcome.

President Joe Biden, who also is Catholic, and his administration have repeatedly expressed support for the WHPA.

The Catholic Church condemns abortion in the strongest possible terms.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church, which summarizes Church teaching, recognizes the inherent dignity and worth of the unborn human person and considers abortion a “crime against human life.” 

“Human life must be respected and protected absolutely from the moment of conception,” the catechism reads. “From the first moment of his existence, a human being must be recognized as having the rights of a person – among which is the inviolable right of every innocent being to life.”

In his 1995 encyclical Evangelium Vitae, Pope St. John Paul II addressed abortion in light of politics.

“I repeat once more that a law which violates an innocent person's natural right to life is unjust and, as such, is not valid as a law,” he wrote. “For this reason I urgently appeal once more to all political leaders not to pass laws which, by disregarding the dignity of the person, undermine the very fabric of society.”

The “Church encourages political leaders, starting with those who are Christians, not to give in, but to make those choices which, taking into account what is realistically attainable, will lead to the re- establishment of a just order in the defence and promotion of the value of life,” he added.

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith later explained the late pontiff’s teaching in a doctrinal note on “The Participation of Catholics in Political Life.”

“John Paul II, continuing the constant teaching of the Church, has reiterated many times that those who are directly involved in lawmaking bodies have a grave and clear obligation to oppose any law that attacks human life,” it read. “For them, as for every Catholic, it is impossible to promote such laws or to vote for them.”

Politico: Supreme Court abortion draft still the only one being circulated

United States Supreme Court. / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 11, 2022 / 06:33 am (CNA).

The draft opinion leaked to the press that would overturn Roe v. Wade is still the only one being circulated among Supreme Court justices, whose votes in a pivotal abortion case remain unchanged, Politico reported Wednesday.

Politico is the same news outlet that first published the draft, written by conservative associate justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., on May 2.

In its latest report, Politico said it has learned that "none of the conservative justices who initially sided with Alito have to date switched their votes."

The case in question, Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, centers on Mississippi's 15-week abortion ban, a direct challenge to Roe.

After Politico first published the draft opinion, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. ordered an investigation into the source of the lea, which he called an "egregious breach of trust" and an "affront" to the court.

The Supreme Court also said in a statement that while the draft is authentic, "it does not represent a decision by the Court or the final position of any member on the issues in the case."

News of the draft opinion has triggered a wave of protests by advocates of legalized abortion, as well as acts of violence and other provocations against Catholic churches and pro-life organizations.

Catholics under attack: Incidents since SCOTUS draft abortion decision, by state

Vandalism at St. John XXIII parish in Fort Collins, Colo., May 7, 2022. / Eileen Pulse

Washington, D.C. Newsroom, May 10, 2022 / 18:50 pm (CNA).

The publication of a leaked draft opinion in a pivotal Supreme Court abortion case on May 2 triggered a wave of protests by supporters of legalized abortion and acts of vandalism and violence targeting Catholic churches and pro-life organizations.

The draft opinion suggested that a conservative majority on the court is poised to overturn the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Here is a compilation of reported incidents since May 2, by state:

California

The 10 a.m. Mass on May 8 at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in Los Angeles was disrupted just before Communion by female protesters dressed in red gowns and large white hats. They were escorted from the church. The women shouted and unfurled a banner but were quickly escorted away, allowing the Mass to resume.

Colorado

St. John XXIII parish in Fort Collins, about an hour north of Denver, was tagged with graffiti in the early morning of May 7, police said. “My Body My Choice” and a symbol that appears to be an “A” signifying “anarchy” were written on the church’s exterior. Some exterior glass panels at the church also were broken.

The look and style of the graffiti appears similar to that which appeared on a Catholic church building in nearby Boulder a few days prior. Sacred Heart of Mary Parish was defaced with pro-abortion slogans the evening of May 3, marking the second time in less than a year that the parish has been targeted with graffiti of this sort. 

Maryland

About 100 protesters marched from the home of Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh to that of Chief Justice John Roberts, both in the Chevy Chase area, the evening of May 7. Demonstrators yelled “If you take away our choices, we will riot,” and “The whole world is watching.”

New York

Pro-abortion demonstrators rallied on May 7 outside the the Basilica of Saint Patrick's Old Cathedral (better known as “Old St. Pat’s”) in Lower Manhattan. The protest disrupted a monthly pro-life procession from the church to a nearby Planned Parenthood abortion clinic. A Franciscan friar was heckled, and a woman dressed in a bathing suit stuffed to simulate pregnancy danced in front of the church and crudely pretended to abort baby dolls.

The church’s pastor, Father Brian Graebe, later told Fox News, “We have received a number of threats to bomb the church, burn it down."

Oregon

Oregon Right to Life reported that on the evening of May 8 Molotov cocktails were thrown at the organization’s offices in Keizer, igniting a small fire. The fire was quickly put out and no one was hurt.

Texas

The tabernacle was stolen overnight from St. Bartholomew the Apostle Catholic Church in Katy, the pastor reported May 9.

On May 8, graffiti saying “Pro-choice is pro-life” was spray-painted on the front and side doors of Holy Rosary Catholic Church in Houston.

A pro-life pregnancy center in Denton called the Loreto House was vandalized over Mother’s Day weekend. Messages saying “Not a clinic” and “Forced abortion is murder” were left on the center’s street sign, walls, and doors.

Virginia

First Care Women’s Health, a pro-life pregnancy resource center in Manassas, was vandalized on the night of May 8-9. “ABORTION IS A RIGHT,” and “LIARS” was written in black spray paint on the building’s exterior.

Outside the Alexandria home of Justice Samuel Alito, who authored the leaked draft opinion, protesters from Shut Down DC chanted May 9 “abort the court.”

Wisconsin

A fire was set at the headquarters of Wisconsin Family Action, a pro-life advocacy group, in Madison on May 8. Police said a Molotov cocktail was thrown at the building but did not ignite, but another fire was set. The building was unoccupied at the time and no one was hurt. outside of the building also sprayed with graffiti depicting an anarchy symbol, a coded anti-police slogan and the phrase, "If abortions aren't safe then you aren't either."

US bishops urge fasting and prayer in response to pro-abortion threats

null / Daniel Ibanez/CNA

Denver Newsroom, May 10, 2022 / 14:50 pm (CNA).

In response to threats of violence from pro-abortion activists, the U.S. bishops’ conference is inviting Catholics around the country to join in fasting and praying the rosary on Friday, May 13, the feast of Our Lady of Fatima.

Archbishop William Lori of Baltimore, chairman of the bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, and Archbishop Jose Gomez of Los Angeles, president of the conference, urged Catholics to pray for the conversion of the hearts and minds of those who advocate for abortion, as well as for the overturning of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

Lori and Gomez also encouraged prayer for “a new commitment to building an America where children are welcomed, cherished, and cared for; where mothers and fathers are encouraged and strengthened; and where marriage and the family are recognized and supported as the true foundations of a healthy and flourishing society.”

The bishops also urged prayers for the United States, “for the integrity of our judicial system, and that all branches of government be dedicated to seeking the common good and protecting the dignity and rights of the human person, from conception to natural death.”

Finally, Lori and Gomez asked for “Our Blessed Mother’s intercession and guidance as the Church continues to walk with mothers and families in need, and continues to promote alternatives to abortion, and seeks to create a culture of life.”

Those in favor of legal abortion have staged demonstrations following the May 2 revelation of a leaked draft opinion from the U.S. Supreme Court, suggesting that the court is poised to overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey. 

If the court’s final ruling does overturn Roe and Casey, the question of abortion legalization will return to the states, and more than a dozen states will largely curtail abortion, or outlaw it altogether. 

There have been threats of violence from some online figures, including the group Ruth Sent Us, which threatened to disrupt Catholic Masses on Mother’s Day and to “burn the Eucharist.” 

Large-scale Mass disruption and property damage has not materialized, though there have been several instances of vandalism and attempted arson reported throughout the country at parishes and at pro-life pregnancy centers, and protestors did disrupt at least two Masses last weekend at the cathedrals of New York City and Los Angeles. 

Counter-Spells

I ’ve been thinking a lot about Thomas Merton’s infamous street epiphany lately, when the Trappist monk had the sudden and jolting revelation that God is uncontainable and omnipresent, capable of appearing in every fleck and filament of creation, in all things near to, and far from, familiar sites of the sacred. Merton’s epiphany, so his account goes, occurred at the corner of 4th Street and Walton in Louisville, as the walls that had separated him from the bustling masses came crashing down and he realized that he was one with them. The experience left him a changed man, his soul now fired by a dream of justice that spilled over the boundaries of the monastery. He had once stepped away from the world to seek God, and now this vision inspired a return, leading him to a deeper involvement with events of the day, especially the civil-rights and anti-war movements.

Merton’s revelation, of course, has a rich and ancient pedigree in Catholic thought, apparent in Jesus’ parables and sketches of grace among persons, places, and things considered unclean; in Meister Eckhart’s insistence that God is present in the stable and fireside as much as in the churches; in Ignatius of Loyola’s conviction that God is in all things; and in liberation theology’s intuition that one can encounter God in the face of the poor and oppressed, the stranger and the refugee.

Such theological intuitions have also been at the root of my own interest in hip-hop, a subject that has occupied my teaching and scholarship for close to two decades now. I introduced a class on this subject at the University of Arizona in the early 2000s, intent on exploring the intersections of the sacred and profane in hip-hop, a culture that includes graffiti writing, b-boying, deejaying/beat-making, and the art of emceeing or rapping. I didn’t grow up surrounded by books—I was the first in my Mexican-American family to graduate from college—so rappers were the first to enchant me with their verbal skills. They introduced me to the rich possibilities of language, how vowels and consonants can be stretched or swallowed, how meaning can exist on the surface of the sound alone, how words can flow and move together like a school of fish. And they introduced me, long before I read the words of liberation theology or Joyce’s Stephen Dedalus, to the presumption that God could be found in surprising and unexpected locations, that the word of God could carry in the wind and fall on one’s ears like a “shout in the street.”

There are moments in hip-hop when the power of the music can melt away all the barriers that separate us from the poor of the world, reminding us that we share the same humanity, the same fate.

I recall heading to class at the University of Chicago, where I was a graduate student, with Tupac, Public Enemy, Nas, OutKast, and Cypress Hill ringing in my ears and rattling my bones. Part of their allure, I see now, was the way their beats and rhymes not only complemented my interest in Afro-Latino theologies, but acknowledged and celebrated underprivileged backgrounds, lending dignity to places and peoples that had been routinely demeaned in American history. There are moments in hip-hop when the power of the music can melt away all the barriers that separate us from the poor of the world, reminding us that we share the same humanity, the same fate. To paraphrase Merton again, it’s like waking from a dream of separateness and elitism, of spurious self-isolation.

Over the years, I started to notice how frequently similar epiphanies occurred in hip-hop, how the subject of God constantly surfaced. I had noticed this before—this is what inspired my class, after all—but it was more pervasive than I had assumed. Religious themes are less a passing storm than a consistent weather pattern in hip-hop. In this way, hip-hop mirrors the religious appetites of African Americans and Latinos in general. (A 2007 Pew Forum study found that African Americans ranked as “the most religiously committed racial or ethnic group in the nation,” with Latinos not far behind.) Gradually, I began to pay greater attention to how rappers tussled with God, how they turned seemingly profane verses into sanctified oratory, whooping and discoursing like inspired preachers.

 

If God can be found in all things, and Black music had long been suffused with gospel shouts, sweet soul swoops, and emotions that resembled rapture, the crosscurrents of the sacred and the profane in hip-hop shouldn’t have come as too much of a surprise, but I still found myself amazed by the reach of religion in the music. Hidden in plain sight, it was a major concern of countless rappers, from many of the classic hip-hop tracks of the 1980s and ’90s—for example, in KRS-One’s Spiritual Minded (2002) or Ice Cube’s Death Certificate (1991)—to work by hip-hop luminaries of the new millennium: Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo (2016) and Jesus is King (2019), Chance the Rapper’s Coloring Book (2016), Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012). You could even find it in the stuff of reggaetoneros, like Vico C’s La Recta Final, (1989) and Bad Bunny’s OASIS (2019).

Such work has led me to see the genre in theological terms, as a form of “street scriptures” or “street theology.” It has led me to probe hip-hop for its prophetic and emancipatory possibilities. Sometimes these are political and protest-oriented. More often, they are expressions of defiance through dance and celebration, rebellion expressed as an abundance of joy. Though there have always been elements of both prophecy and revelry in hip-hop, the past decade or so has seen a clear renaissance of the former—the musical equivalent of a fist raised in the air.

In Russia, for instance, opposition voices have embraced hip-hop as an ideal medium for political activism, prompting a crackdown on the music. (“Russia’s Youth Found Rap. The Kremlin Is Worried,” reads a New York Times headline from 2019.) In Cuba, the 2021 rap “Patria y Vida” (“Homeland and Life”) came to define the unrest and rebellion occurring on the island. An appeal for life and liberty, the rap reclaims the slogan from the Cuban revolution, “Patria o Muerte” (“Homeland or Death”) and turns it into a cry for change: “Ya no gritemos patria o muerte sino patria y vida.” (“We no longer shout homeland or death, but homeland and life instead.”) Throughout the Caribbean and Latin America, in fact, various indigenous, Afro-Latino, and mestizo rappers are wielding the mic like a sword, their words increasingly cutting and dangerous.

Don’t get me wrong: hip-hop has always been flawed and ambiguous, and it sometimes deserves its reputation as devil’s music. But what may seem predictable, uniform, and flat to a distant observer can contain remarkable depth, variety, and beauty when you plunge into the subject itself. Immersed in this way, the listener will begin to notice the genre’s remarkable inventiveness, its love of rhyme and rhetorical extravagance, its testimonials of racial injustice, its longing for freedom and equality, its pining for God.

Besides the fact that in the ancient world sacred scripture would have been delivered in a lyrical, rap-like manner—chanted, declaimed, and sung in a ways that set it apart from ordinary speech—the way in which the Scriptures were originally composed bears a resemblance to the making of hip-hop, the two of them sharing a composite and collagist aesthetic.

David Tracy has argued that theology is best understood in this way, as a constellation of fragments, or as a rich and colorful tapestry of interwoven filaments. The Bible itself, a collage of various textual pieces and oral traditions stitched together by a masterful weaver of sorts, is a good example of this. Less the product of single authors than editors or redactors, biblical texts were composed and arranged by sampling, cutting, splicing, and rearranging threads of tradition. Instead of creating them out of thin air, biblical authors composed their texts out of preexisting stories, joining them together in beautiful and graceful patterns. “It is quite apparent,” Robert Alter explains about the Hebrew and Christian Bibles in The Art of Bible Translation, “that a concept of composite artistry, of literary composition through a collage of textual materials, was generally assumed to be normal procedure in ancient Israelite culture.”

Hip-hop, of course, is made in a similar fashion—by reusing and remixing the existing sounds and colors of the world. The greatest beat-makers of the culture—a Pete Rock, Marley Marl, DJ Premier, J Dilla, or Mannie Fresh—would sample a song of choice, chopping it into pieces and then rebuilding it into something new and fresh. A drum loop from James Brown, a horn riff from John Coltrane, a bass line from Parliament, marching snares from Mardi Gras, a piano run from Nina Simone, harmony from R&B and soul, a touch of gospel, classical strings, a Brazilian samba guitar, the cacophonous noises of the city, the raw diction of urban youth: hip-hop is nothing if not a collection of fragments, the music arranged and layered together by an expert deejay/producer/programmer so that it coheres in a mosaic-like design.

If there are echoes of scriptural traditions in the style of hip-hop, the tougher question is whether there are also echoes of scripture in the content of hip-hop. The answer, naturally, is yes and no, depending on the artist in question.

 

In the case of Lauryn Hill’s remarkable album The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill (1998), the answer is an emphatic yes. This album set a new benchmark for what hip-hip could be. In the mid-to-late 1990s, rap had taken a turn toward the frivolous and festive after the deaths of Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls in 1996 and 1997, respectively—as if the age needed some degree of escapism to cope with the losses. At some point, however, the banal celebrations of ghetto fab—the “shiny suit” era’s flaunting of cars, riches, jewels, sex, designer fashions—started to sound monotonous. At some point, we needed a bite of reality, and that’s exactly what Lauryn Hill’s album offered.

Lauryn Hill performs at Irving Plaza, New York, October 25, 1999 (ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock Photo).

Even her fashion choices, before anything was said or sung, spoke volumes about her convictions. Like Samson’s hair, Hill’s manner and style were part of her superpowers. They were hip in an unruly way; they signaled she was not to be messed with. She sported dreadlocks, sometimes twisted and coiled in cornrows, always slick. Her clothes—leather jackets, retro tops and jeans, African and Jamaican colors and textures—were both chic and rebellious; they complemented her natural beauty without reducing her to a sex object. She had touches of Jamaican reggae in her, splashes of 1970s funk and soul, traces of Public Enemy’s militancy, and the flair and emotion of gospel. These choices of self-presentation identified her with the struggle of Black folk around the globe, connected her with refugees and agitators, and defined her as a countercultural icon.

As for the soundscape, live instruments and layered harmonies evoked the music of the 1970s, dancehall reggae and patois-inflected raps evoked the Caribbean, and, of course, the spiritual content evoked communal and religious notes from an older past, going back to the age of the spirituals and gospel. “Gospel music is music inspired by the gospels,” Hill remarked about the inspiration for Miseducation. “In a huge respect, a lot of this music turned out to be just that. During this album, I turned to the Bible and wrote songs that I drew comfort from.”

More than just comforting, though, Miseducation was also defiant and edgy. Hill stood in the lineage of Black music—the lineage of Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Sam Cooke, and Al Green—formed by soul-shaking, body-quaking, house-wrecking religion. On one track you might hear warm gospel vocals; on the next, she was blowing rival rappers away like chaff. The result was all things to all people: now tender and sensitive, now bluesy and wistful, now sanctifying and prayerful, and sometimes, in the spirit of hip-hop, rugged and confrontational.

Take “Lost Ones,” one of the most hammering displays of lyricism on the album, its percussive flow of words complementing its hardcore hip-hop beats and record scratches. (The hook samples Sister Nancy’s dancehall hit “Bam Bam” from 1982.) It begins with a declaration of personal emancipation and then turns into a dis: “My emancipation don’t fit your equation / I was on the humble / You on every station / Some wanna play young Lauryn like she’s dumb / But remember not a game new under the sun.” In the late 1990s, rap’s standard formula—a combination of flaunting one’s wealth, drug hype, and supersized masculinity—had a hard time knowing what to do with a female rapper like Lauryn Hill. The hip-hop of that period often featured displays of subversive fun, anything to keep one’s mind off the spikes in homicide, bulging prisons, the poverty of the inner city. Older generations, facing such problems, did what they could to confront and challenge the system; hip-hop of the late 1990s seemed to be doing everything it could to claw its way to the top of that system and claim it as one’s own. Lauryn Hill, needless to say, found that dream empty:

Now, now how come your talk turn cold
Gained the whole world for the price of your soul….
Now you’re all floss
What a sight to behold
Wisdom is better than silver and gold
I was hopeless now I’m on hope road
Every man wants to act like he’s exempt
When he needs to get down on his knees and repent
Can’t slick talk on the day of judgment.

“Final Hour,” another one of Hill’s fast-moving, declamatory raps, continues in the same vein, warning about the high price of fame and fortune and the danger of neglecting the values of the soul. Like the prophets Moses and Aaron, whom she invokes, Hill decries idolatrous attachments to worldly treasures—“watch out what you cling to”—and envisions a revolutionary upheaval, the kind that would fix attention on the poor instead of the rich, on outcasts and slaves instead of the princes of the world. Echoing the central tenet of liberation theology, she calls for a soul-altering change, a conversion that would prioritize the needs of the poor above all else: “I’m about to change the focus from the richest to the brokest / I wrote this opus to reverse the hypnosis.” Haranguing and cajoling at once, Miseducation was intended to re-educate Hill’s listeners, to break the spell that enthralls people to the sparkle of American capitalism. These tracks are counter-spells.

Many of the other songs on the album are more syncretistic, crossing boundaries between R&B, rap, soul, and reggae. They foreshadow melody’s take-over of rap in the early aughts, post Drake. One of the most popular hits on the album, “To Zion,” was Hill’s powerful hymn to her newborn son, from whom it gets its name. That name, of course, derives from the Bible: Zion is a synonym for Jerusalem, and Hill rhapsodizes in the song in ways that recall Jeremiah’s giddy anticipation of a day when the people “shall gather and sing aloud on the heights of Zion…. Then shall young women rejoice in the dance / and the young men and the old shall be merry” (Jeremiah 31:12–13). Verse one begins with a measured delivery until Hill’s swelling joy, growing and kicking like the child in her womb, proves too much to contain in rapped verse and spills over into exalted harmonies: “The joy of my world is in Zion,” she croons with joy and delight. Hill was advised to terminate the life within her so that she could focus on her career. The song is about her refusal to follow this advice. Instead, she chose to see her child as a miraculous blessing in her life, a gift, not a curse. Suffused with the wonder of childbirth, the entire song is framed by the dream of Jeremiah, as well as by the story of the Annunciation, where the angel Gabriel appears to Mary, a terrified and unwed young woman, and tells her that she will conceive and bear a son who will bring good news to the world. “But then an angel came one day,” Hill sings, “Told me to kneel down and pray / For unto me a man-child would be born.” Notice the formal, elevated speech of the King James Bible: street slang is common throughout the album, but here Hill makes use of a consecrated and stately diction, redolent of the archaic, dignified language of Scripture. This diction suggests that something out of the ordinary is happening to her, and she waxes ecstatic about it.

“I wanted it to be a revolutionary song about a spiritual movement,” Hill remarked in an interview, “and also about my spiritual change, going from one place to another because of my son.” Her comment applies to the album as a whole. One can even trace a spiritual development in the track list: it travels from anger and lament, in the opening rap of “Lost Ones,” to serenity, ending with the sublime “Tell Him”—a song of pure prayer and praise. It quotes St. Paul’s famous panegyric on love in 1 Corinthians 13 word for word. There’s nothing inventive in the song’s lyrics; its originality is to be found in Hill’s gorgeous phrasing, the notes bending, stretching, and sighing throughout the track. She caresses the verses with such sensitivity and nuance that they suddenly seem new and fresh, no matter how many times you’ve heard them before.

The music of Miseducation soars to sublime heights without losing its bearing here on earth. It does not overlook the struggle for racial, gender, and class equality at the heart of Black history and Black aesthetics. In this respect, the album itself, and not just its title, owes something to Carter Woodson’s classic work The Miseducation of the Negro (1933). If the purpose of Woodson’s book was to revolutionize the education of Black students—awakening racial consciousness, advancing moral and spiritual development, engaging social and political matters, and wrestling with philosophical questions—Hill’s Miseducation shares a similar purpose. It is an album that offers its own holistic pedagogy, a pedagogy of and for the oppressed. It bravely addresses social questions, questions of race and gender, but it also speaks of spiritual crisis and personal redemption. It draws all its fragments—its various musical and thematic elements—into a coherent and memorable work of art.

 

Fast-forward a couple of decades and we find ourselves in an entirely new climate completely at odds with the sunny, unclouded disposition of the “shiny suit” era. Childish Gambino’s “This Is America,” a song and video that epitomizes these troubled times, opens with South African choral melodies, cheery and placid, a perfect harmony of female a cappella vocals. The musical accompaniment is bare and minimal at the start, a light pattern of metal jingles from a rain stick or Egyptian tambourine, a slow finger-picked acoustic guitar, and bright and breezy male voices crooning the lines “We just wanna party / Party just for you / We just want the money / Money just for you.” Childish Gambino enters the picture, strolling and dancing his way to a shoeless Black man strumming his guitar—a nostalgic image from the bucolic age of blues and folk music. After striking a “Jump Jim Crow” pose (hand on hip, leg bent, back contorted), Childish Gambino proceeds to pull out a gun and fire a blast at the bluesman’s head. The effect is shocking, brutal, grotesque, a jolting disruption of the carefree and blithe opening. Like a surrealistic image from the films of Luis Buñuel, the scene, and what follows, is dreadful and traumatizing, a subversive commentary on America’s addictions to guns, its racism and materialism, and social media.

Instead of moving forward, leaving past bigotries and brutalities behind us, history drags us backward, as in a moonwalk. Time is out of joint.

And the music registers it all: as Childish Gambino commits the murder, wearing a hollow and callous grin, totally indifferent to the victim, the music abruptly shifts from lighthearted folk melodies to the sinister, menacing, and street-savvy sound of trap music. What began as a cool breeze, a gentle strum of a folk guitar, suddenly leaps into another register, the winds now howling, the sky darkening, and the violently charged atmosphere producing rattling thunderclaps and lashing rain. The low-end bass, a heavy monotone thud, sounds ill-omened; the high-pitched synthesizer is eerie and dreadful; the drum-machine claps are spine-chilling, like the sound of waves slapping the side of a sinking boat; and Childish Gambino delivers his lines in fragmented, gnomic, and lurching bits, sputtering through the song as though he’s running out of gas. The song chronicles, in all, a world in exile from the heavenly realm. Instead of moving forward, leaving past bigotries and brutalities behind us, history drags us backward, as in a moonwalk. Time is out of joint.

Apocalyptic signs are pervasive in the video too: a hooded figure on a white horse, galloping in the background, evokes the horsemen of the Apocalypse in Revelation; crowds of people, rioting or simply running in terror, are scattered throughout; police cars with their lights flashing denote a state of emergency; there are burning cars, falling dead bodies, a brutally slain gospel choir and, at the end, Childish Gambino fleeing in absolute terror, his eyes bulging, muscles straining, and torso stretched forward as if he is lunging to escape not only the threats that hound him, but his very body. Much like the obscure and nightmarish imagery of Revelation—grotesque beasts that represent Roman aggression and persecution, warhorses as symbols of Death and Hades running roughshod over the innocent, allegories of exile and the sack of Jerusalem in 70 CE—the song is a jumbled collection of fragments, epitomizing our degraded and conflicted present, with America now replacing Rome.

The chaos and violence of the video blurs the line between the apocalypticism of the biblical tradition and the tragedy of the ancient Greeks, the former convinced that there is a redemptive arc in history, the latter viewing history as wreckage littered with countless wasted lives and irredeemable deaths. Still, if the song lacks a definitive revelation and avoids identifying a clear culprit, there is surely a burning message here. Just as the book of Revelation once urged resistance to the Roman Empire, “This Is America” seems to urge resistance to both the pressures of pop culture and the horrors of America’s gun violence and racism. Notice the reverence for the gun in the video: it’s swaddled in cloth and carried with great care as though it’s a sacred object. Human lives, by contrast, are treated with relative indifference; gun rights matter more than human rights.

The music, meanwhile, is banging and thunderous. Besides communicating the feeling of urban confinement, the trap beats of the song—808 kick drums, crisp snares, fluttering hi-hats, and dark-sounding synthesizers—are grimy, fatalistic, and chilling. Their frequencies are a commentary on the claustrophobic pressures of the Trump era: the empty and titillating forms of pop culture, the moral numbness and nihilism, the racial anxieties and tensions, the despair and loneliness, and the casual acceptance of outrageous injustice and cruelty.

While so much madness plays out in the world, Childish Gambino dances and preens with schoolchildren behind him. They seem totally oblivious to the deaths and catastrophes around them. At least ten different dances, from the South African Gwara Gwara (popularized by DJ Bongz’s song “Ofana Nawe”) to the “Shoot” dance of BlocBoy JB, are showcased in the video. Childish Gambino’s movements are particularly revealing, as they embody the conflicting themes and emotions of the song, the dialectical clashes of joy and tragedy, vanity and social awareness. Sinuous and spasmodic at the same time, his body captures the agony and elegance of Black history in America. I see a slight resemblance, too, to the moves of the undead in Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”—a fitting resemblance since “This Is America” portrays a culture beset by deadening and zombie-like forces. References to “straps” (guns), “bags” (money or drugs), designer brands (Gucci), whippin’ (cooking up drugs, making money, or driving expensive cars), and rampant narcissism (“I’m so cold,” “I’m so dope,” “I’m so pretty,” etc.) are threaded through the song. It parodies America’s addictions to pain-killing narcotics and toys—things that have the power to turn their users into zombies. Homicides, racial violence, injustice, acts of terror, all these things happen while Childish Gambino and his backup dancers go on dancing as if nothing has happened, posing for selfies, checking their followers on social media, and worrying about getting money. This is America.

T. S. Eliot famously observed that human beings cannot bear too much reality; we all seek shelter in fictions and fancies. “This Is America” questions the kinds of fictions and fancies in which Americans now live. It contests the most shallow and self-indulgent fancies of American pop culture, the banalities that reduce the Black experience in America to exotic and demeaning caricatures.

And yet, notwithstanding the bitter, tragic wisdom that the song delivers, how can one possibly miss the sheer beauty of the music, rapping, and dancing, the visual theater of it all? Here carnival coexists with apocalypse, celebration with violence and terror. There is a dazzling array of artistic styles in the video, all elegantly arranged by Childish Gambino, Ludwig Göransson, and the Japanese American filmmaker Hiro Murai. Fragments of these styles are reassembled in the video into a mosaic of Black life that does more than simply mirror our tattered lives; it also puts on festive display the rich surplus of Black arts in America, the accumulated genius of slaves and their descendants. While the chilling soundscape pushes the song to the edge of an abyss, the colorful parade of beauty in the video makes the song throb with an abundance of life and joy. Too often undervalued by “socially conscious” hip-hop, dance is cherished in “This Is America,” celebrated for the way it expresses transcendence in steps, gestures, and spins that require no commentary.

I’d like to think that Thomas Merton, witnessing so much beauty, so many incisive insights about modern life, would have come to appreciate the lowly street wisdom conveyed by “This Is America,” and by the culture of hip-hop more generally. Having emptied himself of the feeling of superiority toward ghetto and barrio dwellers—the inventors of hip-hop—he might have gone on to develop a greater sympathy and affection for the art that arose out of the corners and traps of the modern world. It might even have made him dance.

Issue: 

When Timing Is Paramount

On Wednesday, May 4, Religion News Service (RNS) carried a dispatch headed “Roe v. Wade: Faith leaders react to leaked SCOTUS opinion.” The article quoted twenty different “faith leaders” speaking for or against Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion. Not one of these religious leaders was a Catholic bishop.

That silence was quickly broken, by individual bishops across the country and by Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore, the head of the U.S. bishops’ pro-life committee. They all said what was expected and in order: Catholics must care about every unborn child and every mother. The Church was doing so through many ministries and programs. If the law was changed, as they hoped it would be, Catholics would have to be ready to do far more. 

I don’t know why the bishops were a lap behind other religious leaders in commenting on the leak, and I’m not unhappy about it. Perhaps RNS simply didn’t call them. Perhaps they wisely decided to take a few breaths before plunging into the scrum. They may well recall one very distinguished prelate who, for all his smarts and likeability, seemed to hew to the motto “Ready, fire, aim!” 

I suspect that many Catholics also welcomed the recent announcement by the bishops’ conference that its June 13–17 semi-annual meeting would eschew all public sessions and statements in favor of a closed-doors retreat. Last June’s meeting, when the conference muddled the most genuine sacramental concern about the Eucharist with the most partisan political gesture of censuring President Biden, is all too fresh in our memory. 

Unfortunately, episcopal silence at the very time when a landmark Court decision on abortion is going to be announced will be a lapse with grave consequences.

Everyone knows of the bishops’ opposition to Roe v. Wade and other Court decisions defending abortion rights, although it wouldn’t hurt to see this restated in a reasoned, sensitive, and pastoral manner. What the public has not heard is a matching statement from the Church’s leaders spelling out the components of a “culture of life” that would protect and empower vulnerable women and children. Those components would have to include the guaranteed provision of health care, paid maternal leave, childcare, income support, and a variety of anti-discrimination measures. They would have to include a firm cultural and legal rejection of violence against women and sexual predation. They would have to include personal compassion and a vigorous mobilization of Catholic generosity for women and families confronting troubled or tragic pregnancies. 

The episcopal response has to be unambiguous about the direction and urgency of change.

Noteworthy among the brief RNS statements from faith leaders who wanted to see Roe overturned were those stressing the responsibility to provide support and assistance to women and children. The bishops can do no less, but the conference as a whole has a sound basis in Catholic social teaching to do much more. 

In a column for Religion News Service, Jacob Lupfer noted that curtailing abortion access meant “we will need robust pro-child policies and more government assistance to children and families. Republicans and the pro-life movement should lead the charge for these public investments, and perhaps religious leaders like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops can provide moral leadership in holding them to account.”

It does not follow that the bishops must offer a full-fledged policy agenda in response to any Supreme Court decision. That would be impossible, if not improper. I have argued in Commonweal that the bishops should embark on a full-scale pastoral letter on abortion in all its complexities and ambiguities. But this is not the time for that. The bishops can acknowledge that assuring a full range of public and private measures to protect women and children is a challenging task, for which they have no precise blueprint. But the episcopal response has to be unambiguous about the direction and urgency of change, the need for personal and collective sacrifice, and the immorality of demanding sacrifice only from those who are already burdened.

There is strong precedent in the statement made last March by Archbishop José H. Gomez, president of the conference, and eight bishops leading committees addressing issues of women and children. “We exhort our nation to prioritize the well-being of women, children, and families with both material resources and personal accompaniment,” the bishops declared, “so that no woman ever feels forced to choose between her future and the life of her child.” They called upon the Church not only to welcome and support women challenged by their pregnancies or difficulties in caring for children after birth but also “to redouble our advocacy for laws that ensure the right to life for unborn children and that no mother or family lacks the basic resources needed to care for their children, regardless of race, age, immigration status, or any other factor.”

No one knows exactly when the Court will issue its ruling, or how closely the final ruling will resemble Alito’s draft opinion. It could occur before the bishops disappear into contemplative silence behind closed doors. It could occur during or afterward. But a short, resounding statement has to be at the ready, and it must come from some source representing the bishops’ conference—the USCCB’s pro-life committee, the conference president, the administrative board. Whatever the precise nature of the Court decision, the bishops must use the occasion to emphasize that protecting unborn life and caring for mothers and families entail obligations on everyone, especially those of us with anti-abortion convictions.

Timing may not always be everything, but in this case it’s about ninety percent. If the bishops say nothing or imagine that their longstanding opposition to abortion says all that needs saying, then their voices—and the Church’s voice—will be swallowed up by the harshest and most partisan reactions on either side of the debate, including some who falsely pretend to represent the Church. If the bishops allow that to happen, then harmful public perceptions about the Church’s views will be fixed in place during the many difficult battles about abortion yet to come. 

Ministry & Governance

There is great rejoicing in heaven today, or at least in that little corner where Yves Congar is still toiling away. No other twentieth-century Catholic theologian was so insistent on the close connection between baptism and mission. Now that Pope Francis has made clear in his motu proprio, Praedicate evangelium, that because “the Pope, bishops and other ordained ministers are not the only evangelizers in the church,” and “any member of the faithful can preside over a dicastery,” Congar’s great work, Lay People in the Church, comes to full fruition. Jesuit Fr. Gianfranco Ghirlando made this striking change even clearer at a March 21 press conference, saying that “the power of governance in the Church does not come from orders, but from one’s mission.” Governance becomes linked to canonical mission, which one is eligible for through baptism—not from the power of orders, as John Paul II had said in the previous curial reform. Now, in principle, all levels of Church governance are open to any Catholic, male or female. But there are two questions to be asked about the implications of the change for the role of ordained ministry. First, what is left for ordained ministry if governance is removed from the job description? And second, how, if at all, can we reconnect ministry and governance for the good of the Church?

Pope Francis has long wanted the ordained to give more attention to pastoral concerns and spend less time managing a complex institution like a parish or diocese. Given the growing shortage of ordained ministers, this surely makes good sense—except, of course, that just as the pope has now made clear that there is no essential connection between ordination and governance, so it is also evident that there is no essential connection between ordination and pastoral activities. Lay ecclesial ministers in the Church have been doing tasks of both governance and pastoral care quite successfully for several decades. It might indeed be a better Church if all the ordained spent their time on preaching and teaching, on exercising pastoral care and presiding at the Eucharist, while the managerial and governance functions are attended to by suitably qualified laypersons. This is evidently not what the pope wants for two reasons: first, if he did, he would have required Vatican dicasteries to be run by lay professionals and would have disqualified the ordained; and second, he would have expanded his new understanding of the relationship between governance and baptism to the realm of parishes and dioceses. In reforming the Vatican he is disconnecting the power of orders from bureaucracy, which is only common sense. But in the parish or diocesan context, governance remains closely tied to the power of orders and is unlikely to be changed in a fashion parallel to that envisaged for the Curia.

In reforming the Vatican he is disconnecting the power of orders from bureaucracy, which is only common sense.

In the last few decades, the increase in lay participation in parish and diocesan leadership positions in much of the global Catholic Church has anticipated what the pope is now implementing in the Vatican, but the American parochial and diocesan scene suggests the need for a little greater clarity about the papal reforms. In particular, it requires more thought about the relationship between governance and leadership. While Francis has decoupled governance of Vatican dicasteries from the power of orders, clearly this does not imply that papal authority over these dicasteries has been dissolved. Does this mean that governance at the level of the supreme pontiff is still coupled with the power of orders? Or is “Supreme Governor” to be added to the list of papal titles? We also might need to ask if Francis’s choice of the term “governance” connotes leadership, or if it is really meant to indicate the lesser role of management. If he means the former—that governance connotes leadership and it is now linked to baptismal rather than ministerial priesthood—does this constitute a diminishment of the roles of the ordained, or their redirection to more narrowly pastoral activities? I argue that another intention is more likely. The entire reform makes two important changes: first, to professionalize the Curia and thus to make it the servant of the world Church, and second, to insist on the bishop’s autonomy in his own diocese, free of the many frustrations that can occur because of curial “oversight.” Both of these moves reflect the ecclesial vision of Vatican II.

If this assessment is correct, then the papal reforms, while sweeping, are pragmatic moves with no theological or ecclesiological consequences. The common-sense clarification that any baptized Catholic can in principle lead a Vatican dicastery has a sting in its tail in the additional comment that no one, ordained or lay, should hold such a position if they are not qualified to assume it. There is little danger that a lay Catholic would ever be so placed, but there is plenty of evidence that the curial cardinals who have ruled the Vatican roost for so long have not always been selected for either competence or spectacular holiness. It might then be that we should look at the reform differently. Is it anything more than the practical follow-up to the annual excoriation of the Curia that Pope Francis has regularly handed out every Christmastime? If it is more, then how he assigns laypeople to the heads of one or another dicastery will be telling. If a layperson is placed in charge of the Dicastery for Laity, that will be no great surprise. But isn’t it possible (actually, way more than possible) that the best choice to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith might very well be a lay theologian? After all, most theologians these days are laypeople, and most bishops are not very good theologians. I suppose it is reasonable to assume that the competent individual to lead the Dicastery for Bishops will be a bishop, and an ordained person will most likely lead the Dicastery for the Clergy. But if Praedicate evangelium makes it so clear that evangelization is licensed by baptism, who is to say that the supreme dicastery in the papal vision, that of Evangelization, might not even be led by a layperson?

Who is to say that the supreme dicastery in the papal vision, that of Evangelization, might not even be led by a layperson?

If we assume that the idea of governance is connected to leadership, and not just to management, then this brings up the second question: the relationship between governance and ordination at the local church level. Let’s imagine for a moment the consequences of continuing Francis’s curial reform in the context of an American diocese. Evidently, governing or presiding over the various offices in diocesan administration would now be declared open to any baptized Catholic, not be tied to the power of orders. Of course, to some extent this has already been true for several decades, particularly in a role like the chancellor of the diocese, held not infrequently by a lay woman. A glance at my own diocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, shows lay governance of the majority of diocesan offices, excluding that for “clergy and religious” and the diocesan tribunal, which adjudicates all requests for marriage annulments. While it is not surprising or controversial that the office for clergy and religious is presided over by a priest, why every single officer on the tribunal is either a priest or a deacon is less easy to justify. Wisdom and a knowledge of canon law would seem to be the requirements for office, not ordination. The clerical monopoly in Bridgeport may be serendipitous, but if it is a pattern across American dioceses, it would need to change to fall into line with the papal reform­—if, that is, the reform is intended to be anything more than cleaning up the Roman Curia. Nor is there any particular reason why the head of the tribunal should not be a layperson, male or female. A quick glance beyond Bridgeport reveals a wide variety of organizational models. Compare, for example, the overwhelmingly clerical composition of the tribunal in the Archdiocese of New York with the overwhelmingly lay membership of the tribunal in the diocese of Raleigh, North Carolina.

If we look a little further at the structure of leadership in the parish, things become even more interesting. As is well-known, canon law stipulates that a parish pastoral council must be presided over by the pastor and has only an advisory or consultative role. In other words, while it might take a vote on this or that matter, the vote never binds the pastor. Of course, the parish council would do well to defer to the priest over matters to do with liturgy, ritual and—maybe—theological discernment, but there are many matters often considered by parish councils that are far more mundane. In these cases it is hard to see why the pastor should always have the last say. It is not hard to imagine that lay roles might expand to more than consultative status as awareness increases of the new wind blowing through the Vatican.

This in its turn brings us to the one theological hypothetical that emerges from papal reform of the Curia. If it is correct that the papal reforms are intended to refocus priestly life on more narrowly sacramental roles, and if there could be and maybe also is already a carry-over to the structures of parochial life, shall we end up with the pastor as a mere Massing-priest, someone brought out to celebrate the Eucharist and deliver a homily on the scriptural texts of the day? This seems unsatisfactory. Isn’t the priest meant to be the leader of the local community, the symbol of its unity in faith? But the more governance at the parochial level is held in lay hands, the more restricted becomes the role of the clergy. We may not yet be ready for the full implications of this line of thought, though seventy years or so ago Yves Congar offered the prescient observation that “now we have to ask not what is the role of the laity in relationship to the clergy, but rather what is the role of the clergy in relationship to the laity.” When we conclude that the role of the clergy is being reduced to saying Mass and preaching, then we may have reached a moment at which we turn the ecclesiological question around and ask whether a rethinking of the categories of laity and clergy might lead to a different Church—in which, perhaps, the one at the altar is there because he or she is acceptable to the community as their leader, the symbol of their unity in faith.

So what might the future of ministry look like? Allow me to pirate from my book of twenty years ago, The Liberation of the Laity, and suggest that we might see a team ministry of several individuals ordained in each parish, each of them ordained because he or she has the gift of leadership in faith. Probably people with “day jobs,” they would be ordained into what is sometimes called “relational ontology.” That is, their ordination to leadership and presidency at the Eucharist would place them in a different relation to the community of faith than they would previously have had, and perhaps one that they might also relinquish after a time. Such a vision would obviously move us away from the so-called “character theology” which imagines an indelible ontological change occurring at the moment of ordination. This theology is not helpful and lies at the heart of the ills of clericalism. As Pope Francis prioritizes the ontological change of baptism as the license to govern, we might want to ask just how many ontological changes anyone needs, just how many times they can become a new creation. If and when we approach the clergy/laity relationship like this, acknowledging that the baptismal priesthood is the default and ministerial priesthood is distinguished by the charism of leadership more than by the power of orders, most of the difficulties considered above would evaporate.

Our True Identity

Mark McIntosh, who died in October 2021 of ALS at the age of sixty-one, was an Episcopal priest and a remarkable theologian. He held the inaugural professorship in Christian Spirituality at Loyola University Chicago. I never met McIntosh, but, as a reader of his work on Christian mystical theology, I have long felt a personal kinship with him.

McIntosh received his PhD from the University of Chicago, where he studied under David Tracy and Bernard McGinn (both well known to Commonweal readers), and wrote his doctoral dissertation on Hans Urs von Balthasar. Among his writings, three deserve special mention. Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology shows the continuing influence of von Balthasar, but also the emergence of McIntosh’s own distinctive voice. Discernment and Truth: The Spirituality and Theology of Knowledge explores the theological foundations of spiritual discernment and the transformative exigencies entailed by its truthful practice. Mysteries of Faith, addressed to a non-specialized audience, is a gem of direct communication rich in theological and spiritual insight.

The topic of his last book, The Divine Ideas, might appear to be more recondite, yet it was written while the author contended with growing physical paralysis and with an acute sense of the global threats posed by climate disruption, the pandemic, and misinformation. For McIntosh, immersion in the theological tradition concerning the “divine ideas” was not merely an academic exercise, but a matter of burning actuality.

 

Mystical theology as McIntosh understands it is not a branch or sub-division of theology, but rather a way of doing theology that keeps the inseparable connection of theology and spirituality front and center. It presents the mysteries of the faith as realities into which we are invited to enter rather than just ideas we are able to entertain. For this reason, prayer and liturgy are part of the practice of mystical theology. In the words of the fourth-century mystical theologian Evagrius Ponticus: the one who is a theologian prays and the one who prays is a theologian. Mystical theology is therefore not the investigation of extraordinary physical and psychic phenomena, but the cultivation, in mature Christian life, of a contemplative consciousness of the enlivening presence of God.

In The Divine Ideas, McIntosh marshals an array of Christian thinkers—from Origen and Augustine, through Maximus the Confessor and John Scotus Eriugena, to Aquinas and Bonaventure—who engaged with and transformed the Platonic philosophical tradition. For Platonists, the divine ideas constitute the permanent formal structures governing reality, of which the physical universe is only a derivative and passing reflection. Ideas, such as that of the Good and of Justice, are the ultimate measure of their shadowy earthly instantiations. Christian theologians, impelled by divine revelation, transformed this Platonic conception in two ways. Inspired by the doctrine of the Trinity, they viewed the Ideas not as subsistent realities, but as intrinsic to divine knowing itself. Indeed, the very generation of the Word from the Father includes the archetypal “ideas” of all that God will create. “All things were made through the Word, and without him was not anything made that was made” (John 1:3). And because “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us” (John 1:14), the physical universe and bodily reality assume a unique dignity and luster. Rather than being depreciated as pale imitations of a far nobler reality, they became sacramental signifiers of an eternal truth and beauty. Here is how McIntosh recapitulates the Trinitarian and Christological revolution these theologians accomplished.

The divine ideas teaching holds that the ideas of all creatures exist within the one eternal Idea that God has of Godself, namely within the eternal Word of God—and, conversely, that the one eternal Word who speaks the truth of every creature exists immanently within all creatures…. This means also that the incarnate Word, Jesus of Nazareth, bears within himself the deep truth of every creature.

This is the complex fundamental theme that this book develops in a series of variations. McIntosh holds that the divine-ideas tradition generates a “contemplative momentum.” The same thing could be said of his book, which explores ever more ample vistas. Let me sketch a few of these.

In Christ the transcendent dignity of every human being stands revealed.

First, the book—and the tradition it retrieves—has a profound sense of the ongoing agency of the Blessed Trinity. It affirms not a deistic Supreme Being who withdraws into Olympian isolation, but the Triune God who creates now, forever speaking a life-giving Word and breathing forth the Spirit upon a beloved creation.

Second, a Christological grammar governs the Christian appropriation of the divine-ideas teaching. The teaching is employed to elucidate the striking New Testament confession that Christ is “the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation” and that “in him all things hold together” (Col 1:15, 17). McIntosh writes that “God in Christ acts to restore the creation precisely by reuniting creatures with the knowledge of their true identity as it has always been known and loved in the eternal Word.” In Christ the transcendent dignity of every human being stands revealed. He or she is a concrete expression of God’s love, with a unique value and a distinct calling.

Third, the material creation exhibits “a real depth of intelligibility” as the fruit of God’s knowing and loving. Creation’s very being is sacramental. A richness of meaning lies embodied in the “ordinary.” “Charged with the grandeur of God,” creatures, both animate and inanimate, cry out, in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s words, “What I do is me: for that I came.” McIntosh writes that for the divine-ideas tradition “the whole creation exists as a continuous event of communication and indeed communion—whose source is the eternal self-communication of the Trinity and whose goal is the fulfillment of creatures as they come more perfectly to share in this divine communion.”

The perfected embodiment of this divine communication and communion is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The “first-born of all creation” becomes the “first-born from the dead” (Colossians 1:18), bringing creation home to its source. Here, as in his other books, McIntosh shows a deep sense of the human plight and of our need for redemption. The divine ideas are luminous guides and goals, but they also bring into relief the illusions and addictions that are roadblocks to wisdom. Made for glory, we too often settle for fool’s gold.

The death from which Christ saves us is far more than physical death. It is the very corroding of God’s image in us through fantasies of self-aggrandizement and hatred. These distortions of the generative divine ideas wreak havoc not only on individuals, but also on the whole human community and the rest of material creation. Sin falsifies divine communication and erects obstacles to the communion God desires. At its deepest, sin is refusal of Incarnation. For, in a sentence from Maximus the Confessor that McIntosh relishes, “the Word always and in all things desires to realize the mystery of his embodiment.”

With the resurrection of Christ, God’s life-giving Word stands fully revealed. Christians are those whose converted consciousness perceives the fulfillment of God’s plan in the risen Christ and whose conduct seeks to further the restoration of all things in him. Immersed in Christ’s paschal mystery in baptism and nourished by the Eucharist, Christians are led “into a new communion with the divine ideas…a new perception of all reality from within the eternal divine knowing and loving of all things.” Moreover, the divine-ideas tradition fosters the realization of the interconnectedness of all created reality. Every life is constitutively relational, each imaging to every other its Triune Creator.

 

Significantly, McIntosh entitles the last chapter of his book “Beatitude and the Goodness of Truth.” There he struggles to give some expression to belief in “the life of the world to come.” And, once more, his reflections are not notional, but deeply, even poignantly, personal. In his preface, he frankly confesses, “As my physical incapacities became more challenging, I often wondered about the truth of my own life and how that truth might be grounded in a deeper reality.” And at the end of his exploration of the divine-ideas tradition, he returns to the question: “What is the divine meaning inherent in our earthly struggle to fulfill the personal calling and gifts that comprise our embodied existence—especially in light of the fact that we know ourselves to be mortal, that all we have loved and sought to achieve will need to be surrendered.” With the help of that tradition he ventures a response. “The self-sharing and self-communication through which we become who we are with others are meant to be life-giving and gracious moments of fulfillment, expressing in time the eternal self-sharing generosity of the Trinity within which our exemplar truth exists imperishably.” Thus, beyond the failures, the prideful refusals of communication and spurning of communion, our hope lies in “the Incarnation and Paschal mystery of the eternal Word [who] reconnects each creature with its truth in the Word and makes possible, through the self-giving love of Jesus Christ, the consummating self-donation of the creatures to each other and ultimately to God.”

As one immersed in the writings of mystical theologians from Evagrius to Merton, McIntosh wrestles in his works with the imperative to exorcise the false ego and put on the true self renewed in Christ. His book Discernment and Truth is, at heart, a study of the liberation of the ego from its illusions and addictions to the truth and freedom of the children of God. What the present work offers is the further insight that our true Christic self is already present in God’s providential design for each of us in the Word that the Father utters from all eternity.

One might say that McIntosh has written, in this parting gift, an extended commentary upon Paul’s exclamation, “For those whom God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that the Son might be first-born among many brothers and sisters” (Romans 8:29). This is the beatitude for which McIntosh longs: “As creatures are enabled in Christ to fulfill the relational nature of their identities, they are made whole again with God’s knowing and loving of their truth, their divine ideas; and this means that they are made one within the eternal event of God’s knowing of Godself in the Word, and in this way come to share in the beatitude within which the Father knows all things in the Son within the eternal joy of the Holy Spirit.” May Mark McIntosh now know fully the one who has known and chosen him, and us, “before the foundation of the world.”

The Divine Ideas Tradition in Christian Mystical Theology
Mark A. McIntosh
Oxford University Press
$85 | 240 pp.

Issue: 

A Whip of Cords

 

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The whip is held high in Christ’s hand, and a man in a loose yellow robe braces for the blow. Other merchants cower or scramble to gather their possessions. Their bodies are contorted, their clothes bright, their faces full of fear. Nearby, Pharisees debate the coming violence, but Christ himself looks calm, serene, without a trace of anger in his face. We don’t see the blow land. And so we must imagine exactly how hard he strikes, since the moment El Greco depicts in Purification of the Temple is itself bloodless. No bruises, no scars, no bleeding flesh. We picture the righteous rage that lifted the whip, not the aftermath.

As a young man standing before this painting in the Frick Museum during the winter of 2006, I found it comforting. I was on leave visiting family, about to head to Iraq with the Marine Corps. I imagined that this painting, and the story from the gospels behind it, allowed my decision to serve in the military to sit comfortably with my faith. Here was Christ, “turn the other cheek,” “blessed are the peacemakers” Christ, doing violence.

It seemed to open the door to other kinds of violence. And though my particular job in the Marine Corps would likely be a safe, nonviolent one, the same could not be said for the enterprise to which I’d be contributing. Justification was required, both for the specific enterprise and for the thrill and fascination it held for me.

Violence was something I’d always enjoyed. The aestheticized violence of action movies, of course, but also the controlled violence of sport. I was a boxer and a rugby player. Those sports offered me ample opportunity to give and receive both pain and (usually) minor injury. Once, on a rugby tour in Canada, we engaged in a scrum with the opposing team and managed to push the Canadians back with enough force that they started backpedaling until one of the opposing players got caught in an odd position. We pressed forward; he began screaming in pain. We delightedly pushed harder. Fun. And boxing, of course, delivered such visceral satisfactions much more regularly (alongside humiliations, like the only fight my now-wife ever attended, about which you can guess the outcome).

The violence in Iraq was considerably more serious, the stakes higher, hence my desire for an image of righteous violence untroubled by horror. The text itself, though, from John 2, doesn’t have much horror. It is a rather restrained depiction of supposed violence.

The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables. Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

The passage doesn’t describe a single blow. We never see the injured, need not imagine a man living with the scars from Christ’s whip. There is no aftermath.

I went to Iraq and, because I was a Public Affairs Officer, doing my mostly safe job in a mostly safe part of a very dangerous place, that aftermath was my only experience of violence—the injured civilians (civilians always suffer the most in wars) alongside Marines and enemy combatants treated by my unit’s surgical platoon. There is no thrill in seeing such things. The horribly injured body of your enemy looks like any other human body, their pain no more pleasant to observe.

Our unit also contained the Mortuary Affairs unit, Marines whose job was to prepare the bodies of the dead to be sent home, a task that involves carefully preparing not simply the body (or body parts), but also the personal effects, the things that a Marine brought with him to war and that often spoke in a soft voice of his specific humanity outside of the uniform—whether it was through a sonogram kept in a pocket, or a prodigious stack of porn kept in a trunk. Someone in Mortuary Affairs told my sergeant a story of a Marine whose Humvee had caught fire after an IED strike. This Marine had made it outside the vehicle only to die in flames on the side of the road, and when his body came in, his two fists were tightly clutched around something, they didn’t know what.

The Mortuary Affairs Marine went to work, carefully prying the burned fingers back, trying not to snap them off. What was the dead man holding? What, in his last hour, was the thing he clutched onto? A cross, perhaps? A good luck charm sent by a loved one? No, it was just some rocks. The Marine, in flames, had fallen to the desert and clutched in agony at whatever he could, clutched so hard that the points of the rocks that had been lying there were embedded in his flesh. They were a testament to nothing more than human agony.

 

For the great Church Father Origen, the story doesn’t add up. First off, he’s pretty sure that if Jesus tried to drive out a group of merchants with a whip, he probably would have been the one getting whupped. “And who that received a blow from the scourge of small cords…would not have attacked him and raised a cry and avenged himself with his own hand, especially when there was such a multitude present who might all feel themselves insulted by Jesus in the same way?”

To fully imagine this scene means imagining a Christ at odds with the one we repeatedly encounter in the rest of the gospels.

But there’s a bigger problem. “To think, moreover, of the Son of God taking the small cords in his hands and plaiting a scourge out of them for this driving out from the temple,” Origen says, “does it not bespeak audacity and temerity and even some measure of lawlessness?” Jesus was no brawler. To fully imagine this scene means imagining a Christ at odds with the one we repeatedly encounter in the rest of the gospels.

Origen’s solution is to turn the whole thing into an allegory. The temple is “the soul skilled in reason,” the whip is Jesus’ “word plaited out of doctrines of demonstration and rebuke,” the ox is “earthly things,” the poor sheep are “senseless and brutal things” (what did sheep ever do to Origen?), and the doves are “empty and unstable thoughts.” If this interpretation seems dubious, well…tough. If it isn’t allegory, then “we must say that the passage would otherwise have an unlikely air.”

There’s something very appealing about this mode of Biblical analysis—if you don’t like a story in the gospels, just decide it means something totally different. As a child, I heard a priest (later arrested for embezzling parish funds to feed a gambling addiction) deliver a sermon in which he claimed that when Jesus said, “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he was referring not to an actual needle. That would make the passage far too radical. Instead, he claimed, it referred to a gate in Jerusalem called “the Eye of a Needle,” which, while small and narrow and difficult, could nevertheless allow a camel to shove his way through. Jeff Bezos’s afterlife, then, need not be a freefall into hellfire but something more like crossing the crowded floor of a dancehall: awkward but doable. The theological term for this style of biblical interpretation is bullshit. Christ being, after all, pretty radical, most people who call themselves Christian, myself included, couldn’t look ourselves in the mirror without it.

That’s why it’s not so surprising that before Christianity came to power (after Constantine saw the words “under this sign you will conquer” written in the sky, announcing the marriage of the Church and state violence), many of the Church Fathers were more uncompromising. “The whole world is wet with mutual blood; and murder,” says Cyprian of Carthage, “which in the case of an individual is admitted to be a crime, is called a virtue when it is committed wholesale.” “The catechumen or faithful who wants to become a soldier is to be rejected, for he has despised God,” says Hippolytus. “We who formerly used to murder one another do not only now refrain from making war upon our enemies,” writes Justin Martyr, “but also, that we may not lie nor deceive our examiners, willingly die confessing Christ.” “Shall it be held lawful to make an occupation of the sword, when the Lord proclaims that he who uses the sword shall perish by the sword?” Tertullian asks, before declaring, “A state of faith admits no plea of necessity.”

But the Church Fathers were not quite pacifists, as is sometimes claimed. Tertullian, for example, still prays for “security to the empire” and “for brave armies”—he’d just prefer the fighting be done by pagans. Or, as Origen put it in the second century, “While others go out to war, we, as priests and servants of God, take part in the campaign in that we keep our hands clean and pray for the just cause.” In this regard, they’re like some of our modern elites. The richest 20 percent of zip codes in America are heavily underrepresented in the mostly middle-class military, and I’ve been asked more times than I can count, “Why would you join the military after Dartmouth? You had options!” If the fighting must be done, let it be done by lesser people.

As the pagan world faded, though, Christians increasingly had to do the fighting themselves. And bloody hands, Christians worried, could mean spiritual death. “Whenever you March out, O worldly warrior,” wrote Bernard of Clairvaux, “you have to worry that killing your foe’s body may mean killing your soul, or that by him you may be killed, body and soul both.” As Philip G. Porter recently pointed out in these pages, early medieval Penitentials often imposed penances on soldiers who killed in war, regardless of whether the cause was just (“War & Penance,” January). “Homicide in war is not reckoned by our Fathers as homicide,” noted St. Basil the Great, one of the doctors of the Church, “Perhaps, however, it is well to counsel that those whose hands are not clean only abstain from Communion for three years.” Pope Gregory VII argued “it is impossible to engage in military service without sin,” though he also argued that “knights undergoing penance could nevertheless fight to defend justice on the advice of their bishops.” You can fight and kill, but as Philo Judaeus pointed out, those you kill share “a supreme and common relationship to a common father.” This is not the triumphant violence of American popular culture, but a more tragic vision, in which doing what needs to be done doesn’t always leave us untarnished.

So perhaps Christ, the untarnished one, didn’t do any violence at all. Scholars like Andy Alexis-Baker and N. Clayton Croy follow a tradition dating back to the sixth century, when Cosmas Indicopleustes argued that, if one pays close attention to the text of John’s Gospel, it does not actually say that Christ struck people.

He struck the brute beasts only, as it is written: “And having made a whip of cords he expelled all from the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.” That is to say: He struck these as living but irrational creatures…. But the rational beings he neither struck nor pushed away, but chastised with speech, as it is written: “And to those who sold doves he said, ‘Take these things hence, and do not make my Father’s house a marketplace.’”

In this reading, the key phrase in the passage is what is known as a partitive appositive, in which the “all” refers to the items in the next clause. The difference can be seen in the King James Version’s “and when he had made a scourge of small cords, he drove them all out of the temple, and the sheep, and the oxen,” in contrast to the NRSV translation: “Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle.”

In this modern translation, the makeshift whip is only for the animals, since, as Ernst Haenchen pointed out, “one cannot drive animals with hands alone.” Craig Keener argues that narratively, the idea that Jesus is using the whip on people makes no sense, since immediately after he is described as using the whip he addresses the dove sellers and commands them to pack up.

In Alexis-Baker’s telling, the definitive break with early nonviolent readings of the scene comes with Augustine. The Donatist Petilian had complained that Catholics were violating Christ’s teachings by engaging in violence. “The Lord Christ drove out the shameless merchants from the temple with whippings,” Augustine responded. “So we find…Christ a persecutor…. Christ even bodily persecuted those whom he expelled from the temple.”

Christ as persecutor—you can hear a sigh of relief across the centuries, as this development allows us to sanctify our darkest desires. It appears in Bernard of Clairvaux’s argument that crusaders are “animated by the same zeal for the house of God which of old passionately inflamed their leader himself when he armed his most holy hands, not indeed with a sword, but with a whip.” It appears in John Calvin’s use of this Gospel passage to defend his role in burning Michael Servetus at the stake. And it was there in my own rather dubious comfort as I stood before El Greco’s serenely violent interpretation of the scene.

But none of that can really be blamed, I think, on grammatical ambiguity. “To move from a little whip and overturning a table to firing machine guns, missiles and other modern weaponry is simply absurd,” writes Alexis-Baker, “If Christians want to justify war and other forms of killing, they will need to look somewhere besides this passage.”

Rembrandt van Rijn, ‘Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple,’ 1635 (Metropolitan Museum of Art/Gift of Felix M. Warburg and his family, 1941)

I recently found an image of the scene I much prefer, Rembrandt’s 1635 etching Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple (see pp. 18–19). It is a darker image, with Christ’s face deeply shadowed as he clutches the raised whip and the merchants cower in a clump. Rays of light, represented by streaking lines, emanate from a halo at the center of the image. The halo is not over Christ’s head. No, it surrounds the whip itself.

That’s what I like about the etching. That clarifying blasphemy. In the gospels, the scene seems such a challenge to our modern order, where money permeates everything and spaces for the sacred are disappearing. In the Rembrandt etching, though, we see what we have so often over the centuries preferred to worship.

Issue: 

Ukraine, the Vatican, and Vatican II

Since the outset of Russia’s brutal war against Ukraine, the Catholic Church seems to have had difficulty rising to the diplomatic challenges it presents. Here we are, in the midst of one of the most serious and dangerous (if not most dangerous) conflicts since 1945. But the Vatican—rather than drawing on, say, the courageous example of Pope John XXIII in skillfully aiding negotiations to defuse the Cuban missile crisis fifty years ago—seems to favor imagery. This was evident from the emphasis on visuals at the Way of the Cross on Good Friday in Rome.

In 1962, the few words that came out of the Vatican were measured and focused; its diplomacy did not yield to the demands of the media circus. But Pope Francis’s choice to have one woman from Ukraine and one from Russia pray together at Station XIII on April 15 resulted in unnecessary, avoidable controversy. True, it may have been intended as a prophetic gesture. But it failed to consider how the language of reconciliation—which was included in the original “script” for the event, with the input of the two women—might be perceived as an imposition on Ukraine just when mass graves and evidence of potential war crimes were being discovered in Bucha and elsewhere. It appeared to betray ignorance of how the language of “brotherhood” between the Russian and Ukrainian people carries echoes of the Soviet era. In the end, the two women—who work at a Rome hospital—walked together with the cross, while participants were invited to pause in “prayerful silence” and pray in their hearts for peace in the world.

The next day, Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin restored order in relations between the Holy See and Ukrainian representatives. But the damage was done, and it has widened the distance between this pontificate and large parts of Eastern European Catholicism and its diaspora. It’s true the Vatican has to walk a diplomatic tightrope, but in doing so it increasingly risks drawing moral equivalence between Russia and Ukraine. Perhaps this is what happens when even diplomacy can be shaped by how it’s perceived in social media, and when officials—or opportunists—act more like influencers than diplomats. Still, the Vatican’s predicament can’t be attributed simply to a problem with communication. Putin’s war requires the Holy See to devise a new doctrine for international relations, one that does not adhere to the Ostpolitik of decades ago (as I wrote at Commonweal last month). The Cold War era never saw a European conflict like this one, in which the aggressor has expressed genocidal intent in denying the right of the Ukrainian peoples to exist. Except for long-view notions like a more global and less European Church, and, at the same time a smaller, more Gospel-like Church, Rome really hasn’t had a strategy regarding what happens in the Church and in relations among the churches internationally.

But even then, the crisis signals something more: the twilight of the political and theological paradigm of the Catholic Church. If we think of Catholic progressivism as one of the world’s “collective cultural families,” we can see how the war is challenging the assumptions (or perhaps the illusions) it embraced after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. This progressivism has been characterized by a collection of benevolent impulses that reasonable people couldn’t possibly disagree with: peace, the expansion of rights for individuals and communities, respect for the planet, universal brotherhood, and so forth. But the war, one could now say, has brought history back to Europe.

Walking alone (or walking out) appears to be more popular than “walking together.”

Something similar can be said about the sixty-year season of the post–Vatican II  Church. We thought we had left the era of great conflicts behind. While some of the old political and religious regimes persisted, their influence and impact seemed to lessen: they were no longer going to determine the future. Indeed, it seemed a new world had arrived. Now we have to wonder whether this hopefulness was misplaced. Perhaps the grip of the old-world order was stronger than we knew, or at least stronger than the dream of building a new Church in the world. In recent years the spaces of dialogue have been overwhelmed or have disappeared, both in politics and in the Church: decisions are made in places that are inaccessible or hard to locate. Synodality could yet bring real change to the Church, in the long run. But it seems we’ve lost the patience (and the obedience) that characterized the generations of Chenu, Congar, de Lubac, Rahner, and of the scholars, priests, and monks who trained me. Now it seems that romanticism or a managerial view are the only options for thinking about the past and present of the Church; walking alone (or walking out) appears to be more popular than “walking together,” pace the synodal process.

Still, on a positive note, Rome has exhibited some wisdom during this crisis. Francis is trying to save the Catholic Church from the mortal danger to which Benedict XVI and the elite he appointed were blind: falling into the same civilizational trap the Russian Orthodox Church did in the 1990s. Contrary to Patriarch Kirill of Moscow (and some Catholic cardinals), Francis refuses to see the Church downgraded into an ideological refuge, whether for romantics or cynics, from the mass of collective identities that took shape during the Cold War.

 

Andrea Graziosi, one of the great Italian historians and a specialist of Russia and Ukraine in the last century, wrote recently that “the crisis of our West, visible in the seventies and then hidden by the triumph of 1991, was in the first decade of our century visible to all, including Putin.” The crisis of the Church has also been visible to all since the beginning of this century. In this epochal shift, the Catholic Church, the Vatican, and the papacy are still trying to find a role. We could think of Benedict as the last pope of the old era, and of Francis as the first pope of a new era. A political parallel might be the presidencies of George W. Bush and, in the new era, Barack Obama. But then we all know who followed Obama. Should we thus be on guard for what might happen in the Catholic Church?

It’s an important question, given the confusion of the diplomatic and international-relations efforts regarding Ukraine. The war is having a bigger impact on the Church than, say, 9/11 did.  In 1991 the Vatican already understood how the first Iraq war would affect relations between Christianity and Islam globally, and what U.S. wars in the Middle East might mean for the region (American neocons, including Catholic neocons, might have benefited from such foresight at the time). But now, the legacy of post-conciliar Ostpolitik, John Paul II’s idea of the unity of the European continent “from the Atlantic to the Ural Mountains,” Benedict XVI’s lament over the “Christian roots of Europe”—all of this seems outdated. Putin’s regime, supported by the Patriarch of Moscow, forces us to consider whether the categories and approaches that once helped us interpret the twentieth century no longer obtain. The crisis of confidence of Catholic leaders in the Vatican’s handling of the Russian war in Ukraine is the result of mounting nationalism in Europe, but it also re-ignites Eastern Catholic grievances that have been kept under control for long. And it also presents something of a theological emergency on top of the institutional paralysis of Roman Catholicism: the abuse scandal, the impending collapse of the clerical system, the ignoring or belittling of ecclesial issues (e.g., women in the Church). Key questions had been posed to the Church’s hierarchy, and with more theological coherence than today, at least fifty years ago, before postmodernism made the very concept of reform so arduous. Now it may be too late.

The war also casts a light on the sinister theo-political pieties of anti-liberal converts. Even if Francis has worked to confront this, his pontificate will not last forever. It will be up to the supporters of Vatican II Catholicism to counter the efforts of the Catholic alt-right (both in the United States and elsewhere), which seeks to link an emphasis on morality with ethnonationalism and political authoritarianism. At the same time, the war in Ukraine forces self-examination among progressive Catholics, whose horizons may now be clouded. Visions of a post-conciliar arcadia must be left behind; we should admit to some of the naivete of Vatican II itself (for example, its conception of martyrdom and martyrs only as something of the past). A naïve post–Vatican II progressivism unconsciously anticipated Fukuyama’s thesis of “the end of history.” But now it must reckon with those illusions, both in world affairs and in the Church.