Letters from our readers

March 2011

The two hearts of Mary and Jesus, and Lectio Divina

Editor: Blessings galore! Fr. Dwight Cam­pbell’s meditation (“Jesus living in Mary and the union of their two hearts,” Dec­ember 2010) is marvelous. I’ve a friend with whom I have a running discussion as to the primacy of Mary versus the primacy of Jesus. She will receive a copy of this article and learn that each is correct. The Trinity has gone the extra mile with Mary conceiving the Son of God and Jesus entwining himself so the two seem almost one. Fr. Campbell’s picture reflects the joyousness within himself. Hurrah!

Fr. Conley’s article (“A Christmas collatio: A method of group prayer,” December 2010) is simple and direct. This holy reading (collatioLectio Divina, for Benedictines) can be both private and interactive. Students at St. Bede Academy in Peru, Illinois are engaged in Lectio Divina—hopefully, others will begin the practice in their parishes.

Sister Andrea, O.S.B.

Original sin and the Eastern Churches

Editor: Mr. Likoudis’ rejoinder in the December 2010 to my earlier letter on original sin (October 2010) states that my letter unfortunately repeated Eastern Orthodox writers who blame St. Augustine for the Catholic doctrine of original sin, specifically, the idea that we inherit the guilt of Adam’s sin. Mr. Likoudis states this is a common error to “attribute as the view of the ‘Eastern Church’ what are only opinions of Eastern Orthodox theologians and writers from their own Tradition.” With all due respect to Mr. Likoudis, he then cites a Greek Orthodox theologian, Athanasius S. Frangopoulos, who seems to support the view that we all inherit the guilt of original sin.

However, in contrast to Frangopoulos, the Orthodox position on original sin “is that man has received death and corruption through Adam (original sin), though he does not share Adam’s guilt” (Pomazansky, Orthodox Dogmatic
Theology, p. 166). Examples of other Orthodox theologians who agree with this position include John Meyendorff (Byzantine Theology), Timothy Ware (The Orthodox Church), and John Romanides (The Ancestral Sin). They suggest that this is the proper interpretation of the Greek text of Rom 5:12 and that it differs from the Vulgate’s translation, which led to a different understanding and development of original sin in the West.

According to Fitzmyer (Anchor Bible, “Romans,” p. 409), the term “original sin” is in the western theological tradition. “Augustine claims that it is also part of the Greek patristic tradition, and cites the authority of John Chrysostom (Contra Iulianum 1.6.27 - PL 44.658-59), but he does not cite any clear passage that shows Chrysostom would have used the Greek equivalent of ‘original’ sin. When Greek fathers mention it, it is merely hamartia or Adam’s sin.”

The Catechism of the Catholic Church states, “Although it is proper to each individual, original sin does not have the character of a personal fault in any of Adam’s descendants” (§405). It seems we are responsible and accountable for our own sins and not held guilty for the sins of another, but do incur the consequences of Adam’s sin (death, concupiscence,
etc.) and, of course, we all sin. I suggested that the Catholic position is now at least closer to the Eastern position, which
seems more in line with Paul in Romans 5.

Rob Larsen
West Hills, California

Editor: Please allow me to add a comment to James Likoudis’ well-grounded criticism (Letters, December 2010) of Rob Larsen’s exaggeration of the difference between the Catholic and Orthodox understandings of original sin (Letters, October 2010). There are indeed certain differences, but Mr. Larsen fails to inform readers of a key agreement between the two respective positions, namely, that Adam’s sin transmits to us, among other things, the “loss of the indwelling
grace of God” (as Russian theologian Fr. Michael Pomazansky puts it in a current standard textbook Orthodox Dogmatic Theology [2005], p. 163, n. 10).

Now, it goes without saying that for both Catholics and Orthodox, nobody can be saved without that indwelling grace. Therefore, pace Mr. Larsen, Orthodox doctrine is certainly not that unbaptized infants are “holy innocents” (emphasis added) if that expression is taken to mean they are ready for Heaven even without the sacrament. By adding that “the Eastern Church did not wrestle with the salvation of infant baptism as was (and is) done in the West,” your correspondent insinuates that, according to Eastern tradition, infants dying without baptism certainly—or at least probably—reach heavenly glory.

This is not the case. It is true that ever since patristic times there has been little “wrestling” in the East about the destiny of such infants; but that is mainly because St. Augustine’s extreme view that they suffer (albeit mildly) the pains of Hell never made headway in the East, and so never prompted there the disputes which, in the medieval West, were eventually
resolved in favor of Limbo. Rather, the consensus that quietly spread throughout the East from at least the fourth century onward was already substantially that of Limbo—although with a less developed theology and without using that name. The classic Eastern expression of this belief that these souls are neither glorified nor actually suffer was that of
St. Gregory Nazianzen (d. 389), who summed up his understanding of their destiny thus:“Not everyone who is not good enough to be honored is bad enough to be punished” (Oration 40, “On Holy Baptism”).

Fr. Brian W. Harrison, O.S.
St. Louis, Missouri

Japan and the atomic bomb

Editor: Does what Dick Birmingham quoted from Pope John Paul II and Veritatis Splendor (Letters, January 2011) not apply equally for the planned invasion of Japan? So are we not talking about two intrinsically evil actions, neither of which has a vestige of moral nature? In peace, the idealism of JPII and St. Thomas Aquinas is a noble thing, but in the
reality of war it is the first thing to be abrogated. That’s not the way we want it—that is just the way it is. We had a moral quandary with only two evil choices.

So perhaps Dick can explain why it would have been better to risk millions of casualties in a prolonged war that would kill many more of those “innocent Japanese civilians” that were willingly supplying their troops with the arms used against our military forces. Dropping the bombs stopped the war, saved many more Japanese lives than they destroyed, and possibly preserved Japan from annihilation. Surely the attack on Pearl Harbor and the war that followed were enough to justify dropping the bombs to end it. I am sure all innocent victims were well rewarded for their martyrdom.

Bob Rowland
Irving, Texas

Editor: When I taught conversational English near Hiroshima, Japan in 1972, I asked one of my older students what he thought about the nuclear bombings in 1945. He told me that every Japanese man, woman and child was preparing to fight to the death against the expected invaders. The whole nation, he recounted, had been marshaled and instructed
in how to resist, and would have done so. Such was the zeal they had for home and emperor.

This man confided to me how relieved he was that the U.S. bombings demonstrated that a force existed that could neutralize a completely militarized society. This realization undercut the last strategy available to the Japanese military planners and brought the end of the war.

Reflecting on this conversation and the principles of just war theory, one has to ask what is meant by “innocent civilians” when a global war pits whole populations against each other in a fight to the death.

Deacon Peter Flatley
Queen of Angels Parish
Archdiocese of Seattle

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