Monday, 2 December 2013

Unimaginative conservatism

Evangelii Gaudium is full of interesting passages. One of them concerns the "worldliness" that creeps into the Church, which has been one of the big themes of the pontificate to date. Para 94 summarizes the Pope's analysis using a number of long, technical words – though Francis carefully explains each term when he uses it. Each of the attitudes identified here as an obstacle to evangelization is a form of adulterated Christianity, a manifestation of anthropocentric immanentism, by which he means an obsession with man in this world rather than man as constitutively related to God.
"This worldliness can be fuelled in two deeply interrelated ways. One is the attraction of gnosticism, a purely subjective faith whose only interest is a certain experience or a set of ideas and bits of information which are meant to console and enlighten, but which ultimately keep one imprisoned in his or her own thoughts and feelings. The other is the self-absorbed promethean neopelagianism of those who ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain

Thursday, 28 November 2013

The Joy of the Gospel

In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis lays out a vision for his pontificate, much as John Paul II did in Redemptor Hominis (although the latter was an encyclical and the former is an Apostolic Exhortation).

It begins with a call to joy through a renewed encounter with the risen Lord. It includes a reiteration of John Paul’s appeal for help in transforming the papacy itself—a “conversion of the papacy” and of the “central structures of the universal Church”, all of which “need to hear the call to pastoral conversion” (n. 32). He clarifies many of the remarks he has made in interviews since the election, which have been widely misinterpreted. Sections 34 to 39 are particularly helpful, where he speaks of the “hierarchy of truths” (citing St Thomas Aquinas and Vatican II) and the priority of the virtue of mercy.

The Pope also points out that theology, doctrine, and pastoral practice (and the way they are expressed) continue to develop. “For those who long for a monolithic body of doctrine guarded by all and leaving no room for nuance, this might appear as undesirable and leading to confusion. But in fact such variety serves to bring out and develop different facets of the inexhaustible riches of the Gospel” (nn. 40-41).

In this brief summary of some of the main points of the Exhortation, which does not claim to cover everything of importance, I will begin by mentioning some of the most controversial.

Social Teaching
A number of paragraphs are devoted to economic, social, and political issues. This is not a social encyclical (see n. 184) and therefore the treatment must be somewhat cursory, but the basic outlines are clear. Francis condemns the “throw-away culture”, a culture of exclusion, and the idea that wealth will “trickle down” to the poor from the rich (it sometimes does, but hardly enough), the idolatry of money, the obsession with consumption, the accumulation of debt, and the spread of corruption, calling for a financial reform based on a firm grasp of ethics (nn. 53-59). “We can no longer trust in the unseen

Thursday, 26 September 2013

The Issue you've been waiting for...

The new issue of Second Spring is on the Economy – or oikonomia, the management of the household, which we see the Holy Family doing quite well in this splendid stained glass window photographed by Lawrence Lew OP, and used strikingly on our cover. The Thomas More College shop, where you can order copies, will be updated soon, or you phone them in the US at (603) 880-8308, or email our main address here and we will pass on your request.

It's an exciting issue. The culture wars have been going on for some time now, and caught up in them have been political positions that owe a lot to different economic ideologies. Second Spring stands with the so-called "paleo-conservative" or "imaginative conservative" values and philosophy of Burke, Chesterton, Kirk, and Communio. But under the impact of Pope Francis, the very terms of reference are changing, and this is a great time to think things through for yourself.

Several but not all of the articles are about economics, and they are written in an accessible, non-technical way. William Edmund Fahey, the President of Thomas More College, and John Medaille, the leading contemporary writer on Distributism, takes us deep into that philosophy of life, while Michael Black and Edward Hadas take a more independent but still radical stand. (Dr Black presents an unusual perspective on the importance of the Corporation in the modern world, and its theological origins. You'll never look at Wal-Mart the same again!)

In addition to all this, and the Reports, book reviews, and a collection of brilliant poems by Megan Furman, there is a major article on the mysterious and controversial Valentin Tomberg, the author of Meditations on the Tarot, and an important article on Evangelization by Edmund Adamus, Director for Marriage and Family Life for the Diocese of Westminster.

Don't miss it! And make sure your college library subscribes. Second Spring is here to stay.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Economy in question

The new issue of our journal Second Spring (issue 17), with a focus on the Economy and Catholic social teaching, is now available from Thomas More College. More about that soon, but in the meantime it is worth noting that a new journal, The Journal of Inklings Studies, has appeared in Oxford, with a first issue containing several important articles on Chesterton's (and Tolkien's) Distributism. Go HERE for the relevant issue. Meanwhile a series by John Medaille, the leading contemporary Distributist writer, is appearing on Imaginative Conservative. And see this interesting article on Catholic microfinance.

Environmental accounting

Clean water, forests and other natural resources are being used unsustainably, so some of the world’s largest banks plan to cut credit for companies which rely on them but fail to value them. For article go here.

Monday, 22 July 2013

Interfaith colloquium

The first-ever "Second Spring Interfaith Colloquium" was held at Blackfriars Hall in Oxford on 20 July 2013, under the auspices of Second Spring Oxford, the Catholic consultancy directed by Leonie and Stratford Caldecott. This meeting is the first of several now being planned in which Christian and Islamic thinkers will discuss notions of society, the secular, and the human vocation. Entitled “From Darkness to Light: God’s Call to the Creature in Christianity and Islam”, the event explored aspects of the Christian and Islamic understanding of creaturehood and implications for the way we think about personal identity, human potential, happiness, eternal life, and work. For both Christianity and Islam, a “vocational” society is one that facilitates a response to the universal spiritual call through participation in social life. The speakers were Dr Carol and Philip Zaleski (Smith College), Stratford Caldecott (St Benet’s Hall), and Dr Karim Lahham (Tabah Foundation). Future events will be announced on

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Queen of Palestine

The Franciscans have a long history in the Holy Land, and while there a priest friend, Mark Elvins, OFM Cap., noticed the chronic need of the few remaining Christian families in Palestine, and created a charity to help them: REGINA PALESTINAE, Our Lady Queen of Palestine (Registered Charity Number 1144012).

The charity pays for food and medicine, water, electricity, rent, the cost of surgery and education. It is currently the only charity which goes directly to the homes of the poor, befriending them and giving them the support they need. Many have been lifted from penury and supplied with food and life-saving medicine or surgery. A number of students have been able to finish their education with the support of Regina Palestinae and so

Sunday, 9 June 2013

The truth about political correctness

Political correctness identifies a syndrome we all recognize, but is hard to define. It can be best described as a set of attitudes rather than an ideology, since viewed philosophically it is completely incoherent. It can perhaps be traced back to the French Revolution, in the aftermath of which various slogans became fashionable – mostly involving “Liberty” and “Equality”, sometimes joined with “Fraternity” or “Reason” to make up a memorable threesome. In each case the “value” in question is distorted by extraction from traditional philosophical frameworks in which such ideas had been discussed for many centuries – or perhaps more tellingly, from a concern with truth.

Equality seems to mean treating people as if they were the same. But this is not justice. Justice is giving people their due. Why insist on equality at the expense of difference and diversity? Insisting on equality in that sense is unjust, because it is the differences between people that determine what they may be due. A man who is well fed is not due a food handout, and a blind man is not due an eye-test on the NHS. A child with one leg is not expected or entitled to run in the hundred-yard sprint on Sports Day. The only way in which all human beings are equal is in being human; but the “rights” our humanity implies will depend on what we understand it to amount to (not to mention when it begins and ends) – in other words, it depends on the truth about human beings.

Liberty or Freedom is similarly useless without truth. Popularly understood as the power to choose, freedom makes sense only when linked to the truth about those choices. A man going into a supermarket wearing a blindfold has no real power to choose. He still does not if, when he takes off the blindfold, the packaging on the products is full of lies. Nor does he, if the products are essentially all the same. Choice has to be real choice, in a real world, between realities that essentially differ. Even more importantly, he is not free if he is conditioned or habituated to choose in a certain way. In the case of moral choices, the principle is the same. Truth matters. In order to be truly free we need to know which options are morally good or not, and we need to have the power (the virtue) to choose the good over the evil.

Reason or Rationality was glorified by the Revolutionaries, but at the same time they contrived to replace it with a caricature. Reason is our capacity or faculty for attaining the truth (including the truth about good and evil, and the truth about being human). But modern thinkers gave up the aspiration for truth some while ago. Why is this? They cannot accept that truth lies beyond us – in which case our grasp of truth has to converge with the truth’s grasp of us. The moment we deny transcendent reality, truth becomes something we can manipulate, instead of something we submit to. “Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead on human knowing. Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned” (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, n. 5).

Fraternity was not always included as part of the triad, and one reason was that it is particularly hard to define. It evolved into our present obsession with “niceness”. This notion can be used to set the limits around the use of free will—so that what we do is limited by the obligation not to do harm to others, or else inspired by the positive duty to do good. But once again any real value in the notion is lost when its connection with truth is destroyed. What does harm to another person (or to oneself) depends on the truth about being human. For example, we need to know, before we encourage gay marriage, whether it is likely to do psychological or spiritual harm to any adopted children. But such questions are these days more likely to be decided a priori, based on assumptions that are no longer open to question, and so the question of truth once again eludes us.

Political correctness is philosophical nonsense. What we need is Justice not just Equality, Moral Responsibility not just Freedom, Intelligence not just Reason, and Charity not just Niceness or Fraternity—even if these don’t sound so good on a banner. We need Caritas in Veritate—love in truth.

Thursday, 30 May 2013

A Mother's Work is Never Done

The latest issue of HUMANUM, the online research journal of the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family (Washington, DC), which I edit, is on the theme of Mother's Work, in a series about Home and Family. The point of the journal is to review the latest thinking about topics that concern the most vulnerable members of our society, such as children. The present issue follows others on Absent Fathers, on Same-Sex Unions, on Reproductive Technology, and Divorce. It contains both articles and book reviews, and does not cost anything to read or download.

Monday, 13 May 2013

Social Teaching

Please be aware of a new website, based in the UK and devoted to Catholic Social Teaching. Introduced by Archbishop Vincent Nichols, contains among other things a simple guide to Caritas in Veritate.

Meanwhile another new site,, applies Catholic Social Teaching specifically to business management and leadership.  The Resources section contains a link to the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace document on the Vocation of the Business Leader, co-published with the John A. Ryan Institute for Catholic Social Thought in Minnesota.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Crisis of fatherhood

The current issue of HUMANUM, the freely available online journal of the Pope John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and Family in Washington, DC (or rather the Institute's Center for Pastoral and Cultural Research) is devoted to the crisis of fatherhood in our culture. It contains articles and book reviews devoted to the literature on this topic. (The following notes are based on the Editorial for the issue.)

The collapse of marriage in the developed world is happening faster than many believed possible. Civil marriages exceed religious ones, and both are in steep decline. In Italy, the heartland of Catholicism, where the largest religious institution on earth might be expected to have some influence, there are only 3.6 marriages a year for every thousand inhabitants, compared to 4.7 for the European Union as a whole – in the wealthy parts of Italy the numbers are even lower. Clearly most couples now do not get married. Single parents, especially single mothers, are commonplace. Given that it is hard enough for a stable, loving couple to bring up a child, or children, the difficulties faced by single parents are formidable.

The recovery of fatherhood is not merely a political and sociological challenge, to be met by strengthening the legislation that keeps families together, deters separation, and insists that a man takes more responsibility for his children (whether he be married or not). What needs to be recovered is a vision, a sense of responsibility, something the philosopher Gabriel Marcel in his book Homo Viator (1951) called a “creative vow.”

The father is more than a biological instrument above all when he is prepared to consecrate himself for a role that transcends the physical. He gives of himself biologically to the mother when the child is conceived; but he gives of himself spiritually when he accepts a continuing and indeed eternal responsibility for the gift that God gives him in return – the gift of the child whom he did not fashion and whose destiny he cannot determine or control.

No longer the primary breadwinner, today’s father is not even necessarily the one who engendered his own child, thanks to the wonders of IVF. Technology, which already in the 1960s severed the connection between sex and reproduction, now promises to separate gender from parenthood entirely. It is hardly surprising that so many fathers are missing from the landscape of the contemporary family.

In the current issue Nicholas J. Healy concludes: "It is tempting to cover the wounds that result from an absent father or from an abusive father by diminishing the significance of fatherhood. But this forgetfulness of origins leads to a greater loneliness and metaphysical confusion. A more promising path is to reflect more deeply on the hidden Fatherhood of God that undergirds and encompasses every human origin no matter how broken."

Here is a wonderful passage from George MacDonald on the theme of fatherhood and its

Friday, 5 April 2013

Peace, Justice... and Education

In order to understand the profound continuity between Pope Francis and his predecessor, it is useful to read Cardinal Ratzinger's 1991/1994 book, A Turning Point for Europe (Ignatius Press), and especially the chapter on "Peace and Justice in Crisis". The crisis of the one, he says, is the crisis of the other. He looks at the various threats to peace, from war between nations to the more complex phenomenon of terrorism, and goes on to the "real question for the survival of the human race", namely the foundations and content of law, and our sense of right and wrong.

Law cannot be entirely created by us: it must transcend us. It rests on truth and being. He goes on: "The task of the Church in this area is, therefore, first and foremost 'education', taking that word in the great sense it had for the Greek philosophers. She must break open the prison of positivism and awaken man's receptivity to the truth, to God, and thus to the power of conscience" (p. 55). (See Beauty in the Word.) But this culminates in "the task of making, not just talking about, peace, in deeds of love. No social service of the state can replace Christian love in both its spontaneous and organized forms.... Through the power of love, the Church must serve the poor, the sick, the lost, the oppressed. She must go into prison, into the suffering of mind and body, as far as the dark way of death" (p. 57).

He talks about forgiveness giving the power to make a new start, and about the fact that the Church cannot "rule" politically, or even subordinate herself to some project for the attainment of worldly peace. She must remain true to her own nature. "Only when she respects her limits is she limitless, and only then can her ministry of love and witness become a call to all men" (p. 59).

Monday, 25 March 2013

Democracy in the balance

"If there be one thing more than another which is true of genuine democracy, it is that genuine democracy is opposed to the rule of the mob. For genuine democracy is based fundamentally on the existence of the citizen, and the best definition of a mob is a body of a thousand men in which there is no citizen."
This quotation is from G.K. Chesterton's article on Victor Hugo, the author of Les Miserables, in Pall Mall magazine of 1902. In it Chesterton puts his finger on a great dilemma. It is wise to devote much attention to the idols of our time, of which Democracy is one. Others include Capitalism, Progress (or Evolution), Wealth, and Equality. None of these means anything, or rather, each of them

Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Ecology and St Joseph...

St Joseph by
Tatiana Krouzova
Pope Francis, whose inaugural Mass happened to fall on the feast of St Joseph, called this a "significant coincidence", and chose to speak on the theme of "protection" – protection of Jesus and Mary, of the Church, of all humanity, and of the environment. In his homily he said, "I would like to ask all those who have positions of responsibility in economic, political and social life, and all men and women of goodwill: let us be 'protectors' of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment." And the secret of this ability to protect, which we see in Joseph, is attentiveness to God and therefore being in touch with reality, with our surroundings, with those around us. It is also goodness and tenderness, compassion. "Only those who serve with love are able to protect!" "To protect creation, to protect every man and every woman, to look upon them with tenderness and love, is to open up a horizon of hope; it is to let a shaft of light break through the heavy clouds." Catholic ecologists like Glenn Juday will be delighted.

Of course, the reference to God's plan "inscribed in nature" is a reference to the deeper meaning of the doctrine of natural law, on which both previous popes have spoken – for example, Pope Benedict in his address to the German Bundestag on 22 September 2011, where he asked for an urgent debate on this topic, a debate that has not yet happened. "The importance of ecology is no longer disputed," he said. "We must listen to the language of nature and we must answer accordingly. Yet I would like to underline a point that seems to me to be neglected, today as in the past: there is also an ecology of man. Man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will. Man is not merely self-creating freedom. Man does not create himself. He is intellect and will, but he is also nature, and his will is rightly ordered if he respects his nature, listens to it and accepts himself for who he is, as one who did not create himself. In this way, and in no other, is true human freedom fulfilled."

Also please read this fascinating presentation by our friend Pablo Martinez de Anguita on his work as a Catholic ecologist.

Saturday, 16 March 2013

Pope Francis and G.K. Chesterton

We are all looking for clues to the personality and interests of our new Pope Francis, but one possible indicator has so far escaped the notice of the media. Pope Francis seems to be a fan of the English writer G.K. Chesterton—in fact as Archbishop of Buenos Aires, he sponsored two major conferences of the Chesterton Institute for Faith & Culture. (Latin America was turned on to Chesterton by the great Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, and the Argentinian Chesterton Society has for some years been pressing for Chesterton’s canonization.) Of course, this may just reflect his love of literature in general, rather than a specific devotion to Chesterton, but I hope to find out more in time. In any case, Chesterton’s love of the “common man” matches the new Pope’s evident attitude, as does his solid doctrinal orthodoxy. And Chesterton is also a favourite writer of the Communion and Liberation movement, with which the Pope was once associated. It all fits with what Catholic writer George Weigel has been calling the mood of “evangelical Catholicism” that’s in the air these days. I wonder if we will hear echoes of Distributism in some future social encyclical.

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The Guilds

Anthony Esolen has an interesting article on the guilds called "Leo's Guilds a Far Cry from Today's Unions" on the Crisis Magazine website. He writes: "Let us turn at last to the guilds. These were associations of craftsmen in the Middle Ages, centered in towns. They trained boys in manual labor that required much skill: there were guilds for shoemakers, carpenters, weavers, blacksmiths, silversmiths, milliners, masons, glazers, and so forth. The university, in fact, began as a student and faculty union, a guild for scholars...." READ WHOLE ARTICLE. See also two articles on the Guilds by Russell Sparkes on our Economy site.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Ecological conversion

Pope John Paul II, right from the beginning of his papacy, insisted on the importance of the environmental question and called for what he called "ecological conversion" on the part of Catholics. Ecological concern became, with him, an integral part of Catholic social teaching, and his successor, Pope Benedict, had carried on this tradition. These teachings are now enshrined in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Further details can be found in the relevant section of our web site. At the beginning of February the Centre for Faith & Culture welcomed Dr Glenn Juday, from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and the Catholic Coalition on Climate Change, to give a couple of seminars at the Catholic Chaplaincy and St Benet's Hall, Oxford, on environmental stewardship, and the challenge of educating Catholics on the realities of ecology and the ways in which we can contribute to a more responsible use of creation.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013


Readers may notice I have slowed down on this and my two other blogs. Being seriously ill, I need to devote my remaining energies to paid work. But this blog contains resources that I hope will continue to be useful, and I will continue to write as circumstances permit. For other announcements please go to Second Spring.

Friday, 4 January 2013

World Day of Peace

The Pope pulled no punches when he summarized the essence of his social teaching in his Message for the 46th World Day of Peace. Careful study of the document is recommended. In part he wrote:
5. In many quarters it is now recognized that a new model of development is needed, as well as a new approach to the economy. Both integral, sustainable development in solidarity and the common good require a correct scale of goods and values which can be structured with God as the ultimate point of reference. It is not enough to have many different means and