Three notes on the death penalty

Over the past year, I have made slow progress toward deepening my grasp of moral philosophy.  As a philosopher, I am still not ready to join all the discussions that swirl around the Internet.

But when people began to wrangle about Pope Francis’s comments on the death penalty, I noticed a few points that I could contribute as a theologian.  Here are some key lines from the Holy Father’s remarks:

It must be clearly stated that the death penalty is an inhumane measure that, regardless of how it is carried out, abases human dignity.  It is per se contrary to the Gospel, because it entails the willful suppression of a human life that never ceases to be sacred in the eyes of its Creator and of which—ultimately—only God is the true judge and guarantor.

This is a strong argument, to be sure.  I hope to do some justice to the strength of the argument below.  But as a Catholic biblical scholar, I see three points that might deserve consideration: Continue reading “Three notes on the death penalty”

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To love the Lord with all your mind

As a college teacher, I often have to reflect on what a college education really aims at.  What should we be doing?

Jesus was asked a similar question once: “What is the greatest of the commandments?” The question was very broad, of course:  it meant something like, “What should we be doing with the whole of our lives?”  But the answer he gave, because it applies to every part of life, applies to a college as well.  He cited Deuteronomy 6:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord and you shall love the Lord you God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

One could spend a life unpacking that one sentence. But what I want to focus on now is the fact that Jesus didn’t quote it the way it is found in Deuteronomy—the way I just wrote it out. What he said was this: Continue reading “To love the Lord with all your mind”

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A note on the Latin text of Veritatis Splendor

In my last post, I offered an argument that Amoris Laetitia was written in a modern language and then translated into Latin later, with the various modern language translations based not on the Latin but on the modern-language original.  The argument had two bases: (1) The Latin text appeared on the Vatican website months after all other languages had been published; (2) the various translations share features that cannot be explained on the basis of independent translation from the Latin.

There are other possibilities, of course.  Maybe the Italians translate a text first, and then all the other translators use the Italian translation as a guide to their translation of the Latin.  Maybe all the translators get together at a pub to decide what the text should really say, and then go home to make it say that.  I don’t know!  But a couple of conversations with people who work in the Vatican Latin offices have left me, rightly or wrongly, with the impression that it has been a long time since a papal encyclical was originally composed in Latin.  Rumors have it that BXVI did compose in Latin, but even these rumors put the claim as a remarkable exception.

But since we are having fun with linguistic geekery, I thought I should look at the word “ideal” in John Paul II’s Veritatis Splendor, too.  The famous paragraph, the one people often cite in comparison with Amoris Laetitia 303, is VS 103: Continue reading “A note on the Latin text of Veritatis Splendor”

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A note on the Latin text of Amoris Laetitia

When Amoris Laetitia was first released in all the various modern languages, the geeks among the onlookers were frustrated to find that no Latin text was available on the Vatican website.  Months went by, and eventually a Latin text appeared, long after the debate over Amoris Laetitia was underway.  Just looking at the Vatican website, one would suppose that the Latin text was not the original text but was created some time after the various modern language editions.

Is this true?  I became curious.  Now that there is a Latin text, we can check.  If the Latin is original, then one will expect to find that the various translations render the Latin various ways, with the Polish sometimes agreeing with the Latin against the Spanish, and the Spanish sometimes agreeing with the Latin against the French, and so on.  But if the Latin was later, then one would expect to find sometimes that the various translations all agree with each other against the Latin, and one would expect to find this in a situation where a given phrase is especially hard to get into the Latin. Continue reading “A note on the Latin text of Amoris Laetitia”

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The structure of the Our Father

This past week I had the pleasure of teaching high schoolers in Wyoming Catholic College’s PEAK program.  As usual, I used my PEAK stint as an opportunity to learn something new, asking questions to which I had no clear answers, studying issues I had never clarified before.  And as usual, the students taught me.

Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College
Photo credit: Wyoming Catholic College

For example, one day I wrote the “Our Father” on the whiteboard and asked the students how it is organized.  One pointed out that it falls into couplets: Continue reading “The structure of the Our Father”

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The first-ever translation of this text by Aquinas

One of my projects this summer was editing a translation of part of Book IV of Aquinas’s commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard.  Since “Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard” is a pretty big mouthful, most people just call it the Scriptum.

Beth Mortensen of The Aquinas Institute has done a magnificent job translating this hitherto untranslated text by the Angelic Doctor.  I was tapped to read the whole thing and catch mistakes, but for the most part that just meant reading.

Some of problems I did fix related to an exciting development for the Aquinas Institute.  The Leonine Commission, the group officially tasked by the Church with working critical editions of all of Aquinas’s works, gave us access to their provisional critical edition of the Scriptum.  So in many places we were able to correct our translation by looking at a better Latin text than anything currently in print!

The Aquinas Institute is all about making Aquinas’s works widely available, so in addition to selling the new translation as a physical book they have also made the entire text available online for free.  It’s satisfying to see it go up!

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God in the Tomb

For most Catholics, Holy Saturday is a kind of blank.  Since there is no liturgy for Saturday itself, we don’t hear homilies explaining it.  Good Friday drives home the passion, and Easter booms with the resurrection, but Holy Saturday has no one to preach it.

And yet the Catechism says startling things about Holy Saturday.  In this post I’ll focus on just one aspect:  Christ’s stay in the tomb.  Here’s what the Catechism says (paragraph 626), echoing an ancient and consistent tradition:

Since the “Author of life” who was killed is the same “living one [who has] risen”, the divine person of the Son of God necessarily continued to possess his human soul and body, separated from each other by death:

By the fact that at Christ’s death his soul was separated from his flesh, his one person is not itself divided into two persons; for the human body and soul of Christ have existed in the same way from the beginning of his earthly existence, in the divine person of the Word; and in death, although separated from each other, both remained with one and the same person of the Word.

To put that in plain English, we all know that when we walk by Grandpa’s casket, the corpse in the casket is not Grandpa anymore—not really.  But when Joseph of Arimathea laid Jesus’ corpse in the tomb, that corpse was not a man but it was still Jesus—really and truly. Continue reading “God in the Tomb”

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Thinking about Amoris Laetitia: Should sacramental discipline change?

As promised in my last post, I would like to make a simple contribution to the conversation about communion for the divorced and remarried.  The questions competent people raise about moral philosophy are important, but I plan to take time over the Christmas break to think them through more carefully.

In any case, I think the moral philosophy questions are something of a red herring.  First Cardinal Casper and then Pope Francis mustered ethical arguments to show that the divorced and remarried may not be culpable for their ongoing situation, but it appears to me that their arguments are off-topic.  The arguments the Church has heretofore given for the exclusion of divorced and remarried Catholics from communion have not been rooted in moral philosophy but in sacramental theology.  Here’s a sampling: Continue reading “Thinking about Amoris Laetitia: Should sacramental discipline change?”

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What should the layman do about Amoris Laetitia?

To this point I have stayed out of the conversation about Amoris Laetitia.  But within the past few weeks, multiple people have approached me, as a guy who teaches theology, with questions about the uproar.  Voices not only of confusion but of alarm and even panic fill the Internet.  Should we be running around and shouting?  Or should we duck under the Catechism and wait for the storm to pass?  What should lay Catholics do?  That to me is the most pressing question:  Not what the Pope should do, not what the Cardinals should do, but what I, as a lay Catholic, should do. Continue reading “What should the layman do about Amoris Laetitia?”

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The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel

[This is the third in a three-part series on Mark’s Gospel.  The other parts are 1. Hearing Mark’s Gospel and 2. The Strange Beginning of Mark’s Gospel.]

While Mark’s beginning is strange to those who think about it carefully, his ending is strange to anyone who reads.  In the oldest and best manuscripts, Mark’s Gospel ends like this:

And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, “Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you.” And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to any one, for they were afraid.

That’s it.  No meeting the resurrected Jesus, no moment of glory, not even a moment when the petrified women actually tell someone what happened.  “They were afraid”—and the curtains drop.

The longer ending printed in our Bibles was written very, very early on, so early that it is canonical and considered an inspired text in its own right.  But the very fact that the longer ending is so ancient demonstrates that even the earliest Church found Mark’s ending strange.  No resurrection scene?  We gotta fix that.

For Mark, however, it made sense.  And I have a theory about how. Continue reading “The Strange Ending of Mark’s Gospel”

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