November 20, 2006

Ability to Respond

The deep reflections on the issue of torture in From Disciplina to the Day of Pardon, by Drew Christiansen, S.J., (10/2) are both pertinent and pressing for any Christian troubled by the present political situation in the United States. Your rejection of St. Augustine’s views on politics, however, fails to engage the full tragic character of his understanding of history. The commentaries on Augustine by Dino Bingogiart and Henry Paolucci have influenced my understanding of this issue, and I regret their voices are not available to respond to your statement.

Augustine’s political realism has been persuasive for many because it echoes the view of politics one finds in Machiavelli and Hobbes. If this view lacks any basis in reality, then it is, of course, untenable. But I think it is crucial that any reflection on the political, be it philosophical or theological, clearly states whether the view of the political found in Augustine, Machiavelli and Hobbes must be accounted for. Any political state, that view holds, must be prepared to deal with the challenge of the implacable enemy, one who rejects any way of reconciling conflicts other than violence.

The first duty of every political authority is to maintain order against the criminal within and the enemy without. The use of law, coercion and ultimately capital punishment can always be effective against the criminal. Analogous measures may also be effective against external enemies whenever shared standards of law are available. But when they are not available, Hobbes’s war of all against all becomes a prospect that must be considered, as is the jihadist who views the United States as the evil empire. The jihadist does not merit the protection of international law, since he is a transnational terrorist. The Geneva Convention applies only to citizens of nation-states that are signers to the treaty.

The use of force in the defense of one’s life is defensible by the natural law. So is the right to wage war, but with a difference. The measure of violence a state may have to use is not set by its own moral standards. The enemy determines this. This dilemma is at the heart of the political theory one finds in Augustine, Machiavelli and Hobbes. The Bush administration’s decision to apply extralegal measures against international terrorists seems, therefore, defensible.

Persuasion and good example are surely the responsibility of any Christian in conflict with an opponent. And such a Christian would be beyond judgment if he eschewed the use of force in defending his right to life. But would a state be similarly permitted to accede to another state’s lethal demands? I know no such moral law or Christian counsel that calls for this surrender. Human history, Augustine told us, is driven by two different loves, which form two very different kinds of societies. One confounds our ability to respond with justice and charity. And citizens of a nation state have the right to expect their political leaders to meet this dilemma.

George B. Pepper
Brewster, Mass.

About Holiness

I read with interest the article entitled When the Church Calls, by Edward P. Hahnenberg (10/9). But I must respectfully disagree with the statement that it took four centuries and three ecumenical councils for the church finally to admit the truth of Luther’s claim that every Christian has a calling.

One of the greatest saints of the counter-Reformation period, St. Francis de Sales (1567-1622), bishop of Geneva and a doctor of the church, published in 1609 a classic work of spirituality, specifically written for the laity. In Part 1, Chapter 3, of the Introduction to the Devout Life, he wrote:

It is an error, or rather a heresy, to wish to banish the devout life from the regiment of soldiers, the mechanic’s shop, the court of princes, or the home of married people. It is true...that purely contemplative, monastic, and religious devotion cannot be exercised in such states of life. However, besides those three kinds of devotion there are several others adapted to bring perfection to those living in the secular state.... Wherever we may be, we can and should aspire to a perfect life.

The Introduction to the Devout Life has been a bestseller ever since it was published. It has been translated into numerous languages and has influenced the lives of countless lay people, including mine, throughout the past four centuries. Since St. Francis de Sales was a bishop, a canonized saint and a doctor of the church, I do not think it is possible to say that it took the church until Vatican II to respond to Luther and recognize that all are called to holiness. If I am not mistaken, Pope Paul VI stated that St. Francis de Sales was, in fact, a precursor of Vatican II.

I would encourage anyone who wishes to learn more about holiness for the laity to read the life and works of St. Francis de Sales. (Ironically, a few pages after Mr. Hahnenberg’s article, your magazine advertises a forthcoming book entitled Adrien Gambart’s Emblem Book (1664): The Life of St. Francis de Sales in Symbols.)

Margaret Margeton
Arlington, Va.

Full Justice

The editorial The People’s Schools (9/18) had a very unsatisfactory ending. It states that if it is politically certain that nonpublic schools are not going to receive full public financial support, it is time to put a new principle in place. The principle? The weak affirmation that nonpublic schools may not have a right to equal aid, but they have an equal right to some aid.

Why this timid position? There are few more fundamental rights than the right of parents to direct the education of their children, as the U.S. Supreme Court recognized in its 1925 decision in Pierce v. Society of Sisters.

In that case, the court unanimously declared that the Oregon law requiring children to attend public schools was unconstitutional. In doing so, the court stated that the child is not the mere creature of the State; those who nurture him and direct his destiny have the right, coupled with the high duty, to recognize and prepare him for additional obligations.

Yet in practice the exercise of that right has been and is being made impossible because of the financial burdens placed upon parents. Hundreds of thousands of children are, in effect, being forced to attend public schools. Hundreds of Catholic and other schools are having to close their doors, despite the heroic efforts of parishes and dioceses to provide sufficient funding. The rights of parents are effectively being denied by court decisions and public policies that prevent any effective way of providing justice for parents and students. In the face of this injustice, there should be a vigorous, continuing effort to change public opinion and the political certainties of the day. The supporters of equal rights did not give up their efforts to overcome racial segregation in schools. They were not satisfied with partial success. They persevered for years, despite many setbacks. Ultimately they succeeded.

The rights of parents and the well-being of our society demand our courage, perseverance and organized advocacy on behalf of parental rights in education and the just treatment of all children.

Rather than weakly acquiesce in continued injustice by being content with a right to some aid, we need a more vigorous call for increased efforts, particularly at a time when increasing numbers of Americans are coming to recognize the importance of educational choice and embracing alternative forms of education.

One would hope America, which has in the past spoken strongly on behalf of parental rights, would continue to do so and forcefully urge more organized efforts by the Catholic school community and others to obtain not partial, but full justice.

(Rev.) James G. Fanelli
East Hartford, Conn.

Screen Glitches

Thank you for your interesting and informative article Saints on the Screen, by James Martin, S.J., (10/30). But two corrections are required in the section about Roses in December.

Jean Donovan came to Maryknoll for some of her training, but she was not a Maryknoll lay missionary. Jean was a member of the Cleveland Team with Dorothy Kazel, an Ursuline sister. Sisters Ita Ford and Maura Clark were Maryknoll sisters. The four women were friends and collaborated often in securing safety for Salvadoran refugees.

The four women were martyred together in El Salvador, not Nicaragua.

Jon Sobrino, S.J., later wrote: I should like to recall the four North American women missionaries who gave their lives in 1980, the United States’ most precious gift to El Salvador. They have the eternal gratitude of the Salvadoran people, thank you. In Maura, Ita, Dorothy and Jean, God has visited El Salvador.

Rosemary Huber, M.M.
Maryknoll, N.Y.

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