Summer Reading for June 2016

Summer Reading for June 2016

David L. Schindler and Nicholas J. Healy Jr. Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity: The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. A New Translation, Redaction History, and Interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015. Reviewed by Matthew Kenneth Minerd, Ph.L.

David K. O’Connor, Plato’s Bedroom: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2015). Reviewed by Matthew Kenneth Minerd, Ph.L.

Thomas Baima, ed., What is a Parish: Canonical, Pastoral, and Theological Perspectives (Hillenbrand Books, 2011) 207 pp., ISBN: 978-1-59525-033-9, $ 20.00. Reviewed by Dr. Edward Peters. 

Certain Sainthood, Donald S. Prudlo (Cornell University Press 2015) ISBN: 978-0-8014-5403-5 pp. 224. Reviewed by Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., S.T.


David L. Schindler and Nicholas J. Healy Jr. Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity: The Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Freedom. A New Translation, Redaction History, and Interpretation of Dignitatis Humanae. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2015.

Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity provides the reader with a sustained interpretation of the redaction and meaning of the Second Vatican Council’s Declaration on Religious Liberty, Dignitatis humanae. Allow me to begin with several structural remarks about the text as a whole, for its contents are somewhat varied and serve several (albeit unified) purposes.

Providing an historical narrative of the drafting of the Declaration, it includes all five drafts of the document, as well as several intervention letters by (then) Bishop / Archbishop Karol Wojtyla and Bishop Alfred Ancel of Lyons. Accompanying these texts is a synopsis essay by Nicholas Healy (of the John Paul II Institute for Studies on Marriage and the Family at The Catholic University of America) concerning the history of the drafting, overall emendations, and promulgation of what ultimately came to be known as Dignitatis humanae. Healy’s essay provides an accessible entrée into more detailed historical accounts (of which numerous volumes are cited in the notes accompanying Healy’s text). As an introduction to the details of the drafting history of Dignitatis humanae, Healy’s account provides adequate coverage of the issues involved in the debates surrounding the Declaration. Likewise, an additional appendix presents a side-by-side comparison of the third schema (of five) with the final document, providing a helpful view of the most significant and informative alterations to the text. For readers not looking to undertake a long and arduous investigation of the history of the drafts, this alone is helpful.

Also included in the volume is an enlightening essay by the well-known David L. Schindler (also of the John Paul II Institute). The essay provides a more theoretical discussion of the issues that were at play throughout deliberations surrounding the drafting of the Declaration. For those familiar with Schindler’s views concerning the public square, many of his interpretive remarks will not be surprising. However, lest one should think that his account provides a biased, “Schindlerian” view of the meaning of Dignitatis humanae, the aforementioned appendix texts of Wotyla are particularly supportive of Schindler’s main contentions.

Schindler’s essay argues forcefully against a juridical interpretation of the Declaration, drawing especially on the developments visible in the redaction history after the third schema. He cogently calls into question the general claim that the final form of Dignitatis humanae primarily asserts a juridical right to non-coercion on the part of the state. As is well known, this is the interpretation of Fr. John Courtney Murray, S.J., and is arguably the dominant view of the document in most intellectual circles. Such a reading could rightly be accused of embracing a kind of religious indifferentism (and indeed has been accused of such by those who hold that Dignitatis humanae breaks with Magisterial Tradition).

Schindler defends well the claim that the revision history leading up to the promulgation of Dignitatis humanae shows an increased concern with the ontological grounding of claims regarding religious freedom. Indeed, he claims that it is only from this perspective that true and complete religious freedom can be expressed and maintained. As stated in his own words:

The juridical state is itself always “a soul write large,” albeit an empty or positivist soul that differs from that presupposed in the argument of the Declaration, a state that thus grants favored legal status, however unconsciously, to those churches that lend support to such a positivist soul. . . . My answer, proposed in terms of the Declaration, has been that the positivistic religions (churches) legally favored de facto by the juridical state cannot, as a matter of principle, sustain this dignity and right, while Catholicism is able to sustain this dignity and right and is committed as a matter of principle to doing so (146-7).

Indeed, this is precisely where the argument is most “Schindlerian”—in that he contests the deceptive pluralism underlying juridical conceptions of religious freedom. That is, to the degree that we consider the right to religious freedom to be primarily a right to non-interference by the state with regard to religious matters, we will lack the philosophical vocabulary needed for expressing the intrinsic unity of truth and freedom—the assertion that Schindler argues lies at the core of the final form of Dignitatis humanae. When religious freedom is considered principally from the perspective of “freedom from coercion,” any political system expressing this perspective will implicitly favor religious claims that are relativistic in bent. In contrast to such negative views of the nature of freedom (i.e. primarily as “freedom from”), Schindler argues that the right to religious freedom expressed in Dignitatis humanae must be viewed in the context of a human nature whose freedom is intrinsically ordered to knowledge of the truth, and itself is broadened precisely through coming to know both natural and supernatural truth. This also implies that the civic order must not be understood primarily in terms of a juridical right from non-coercion but, instead, must express the fact that the temporal order exists as oriented to the eternal—at least if one is to have the proper perspective concerning human nature, the range of human reason, and the proper structure of civic life.

The questions addressed in this text are singularly important for reflection. The recent battles in the United States regarding questions of religious liberty have often struck me as being couched in terms closer to the juridical approach, not basing itself on a deep appreciation of the ontological bases for the human right to religious freedom. Certainly, Schindler’s position regarding modern political society has its detractors. His outlook calls for a radical re-envisioning of our architectonic ideas concerning the political order. Since he addresses such matters more fully in his Ordering Love: Liberal Societies and the Memory of God (as well as in the pages of Communio), the details of his position can be left to be addressed elsewhere.

I write this review as one who is more staunchly a “Traditional Thomist” than is Schindler. Thus, on questions of the distinction between the natural and supernatural orders, I likely draw the boundaries more starkly than he does. However, very little of what he says concerning these matters in his essay concerned my “semi-Cajetanean” (or, more rightly, “Maritainian”) eye. On the whole, Schindler’s argument is explicitly undertaken with the work of Servais Pinckaers in the background, and he very ably draws on Josef Pieper’s work (especially Living the Truth) to present an insightful form of Thomistic anthropology, articulating the intrinsic relationship between human freedom and knowledge of the truth. It is from this rich metaphysical soil that his overall argument blossoms forth.

Although the redaction history and text versions included in this volume are helpful, it is Schindler’s essay that is its uncontested centerpiece. His claims concerning the public sphere are radical, of course, insofar as our generally accepted public anthropology is much closer to that of the false pluralism of the “indifferent ontology” that Schindler opposes. Even though philosophical and theological details concerning these matters require further discussion than that offered by Schindler, his long essay provides an important entrée into the appropriate hermeneutic for discussing these matters in an honest and complete manner. The Catholic position concerning these matters is radical in the face of a modern ontology that generally closes off the natural from any kind of real and true transcendence. Schindler’s interpretive essay reminds us that we must have ears to hear the opposition expressed by Dignitatis humanae toward any anthropology that would replace religious freedom with mere religious tolerance.

Freedom, Truth, and Human Dignity is a dense read. However, I highly recommend it for pastors and Catholic intellectuals looking to articulate our views in the midst of (yet another) charged season of political debate and turmoil. In spite of the pragmatic necessities of the election season, it is also necessary for us to be ready to defend our view of the human person in totality. Without such an adequate vision of the human person’s orientation to the truth of religion, we will fail to live political lives in accord with the profound truths proposed by the Church. On this score, it is appropriate to end with words from an appendix to the text, taken from (then) Archbishop Wojtyla:

When speaking about religious freedom, therefore, we must present the human person with complete accuracy, as someone who cannot be considered only a means in the economy or in society, since the person is their end. The human person must appear in the real grandeur of his rational nature, and religion must appear as this nature’s crown and summit. . . . The Council, therefore, in the light of faith and sound reason, should declare the full and genuine truth about man, who in religion is in no way alienated, but rather achieves his own perfection. Not only believers but nonbelievers also await this truth (437).

– Matthew Kenneth Minerd, Ph.L. is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America and adjunct instructor of philosophy, Mount St. Mary’s University.


David K. O’Connor, Plato’s Bedroom: Ancient Wisdom and Modern Love (South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press, 2015).

For most pastors (and, truly, for most Christians), Lady Philosophy often takes on multiple roles. At one time, she is the handmaiden, directed by theology to a task higher than her own role. At other times, she is a tool of apologetics, sometimes defending truths against the philosophical errors of the current day, at other times helping theology to point the way toward the very possibility of a wisdom that is higher than mere human wisdom. Sometimes, when we are fortunate, we come upon a philosopher who philosophizes within the milieu of faith, but in a way that is purely philosophical. In such a case, natural wisdom is given free play—clearly emanating from a soul that has been touched by Christ, though only explicitly pronouncing this fact in a non-thematic way.

It is this last sort of task that is undertaken in David K. O’Connor’s Plato’s Bedroom. Specifically, the genre is that of a close reading of two Platonic texts, namely, the Symposium and the Phaedrus. In these two dialogues, Plato (as he is wont, through the various interlocutors found in discussion with Socrates) discusses aspects of the human phenomena of love, beauty, poetry, and the ecstasy involved in all of these realities. O’Connor’s book is neither a mere commentary nor a slavish reiteration of the texts. Instead, it is a carefully crafted retelling of the stories, noting many of the text’s subtle dramatic points and remarks, guiding the reader through the main themes of the two dialogues.

In a brief review, it is impossible to catalogue all of the details of the dialogues. However, O’Connor carefully (and lucidly) discusses the various ways that Socrates’s interlocutors fall short in their descriptions of the experience of love. Above all, O’Connor presents Plato’s views about the untamed and ecstatic nature of love—its inability to be held within the simple constraints of an individual’s self-controlled view of the world. Yet, just as one believes that he might take a Platonic flight into the heights of divine madness, our author shows himself to be imbued with a Catholic sensibility.

Though this happens on a number of occasions throughout his remarks, O’Connor’s Catholicism comes to the fore in a particularly marvelous way in the midst of his discussion of a myth proposed by Aristophanes in the Symposium. In response to the Greek author’s peculiar view of human sexuality (i.e., that it arose only after a kind of cleaving that was a punishment), O’Connor presents an excellent set of reflections on the traditional Catholic view of the deep personal meaning of human sexuality and love. Indeed, given the author’s own ability to note Plato’s careful crafting of narrative, the reader of Plato’s Bedroom suspects that it is not without reason that O’Connor places this matter directly in the center of the work. Whatever might be the case, he is enabled in centrally placing said remarks precisely because Aristophanes’ speech is in the middle of the Symposium (likely itself for emphasis in Plato’s overall dialogue structure). O’Connor’s brief remarks upon love, sexuality, and Humanae vitae merely follow the drift of Plato’s narrative. However, they provide some quite insightful words—all voiced by an author whom the reader now likely trusts, given his affable and natural tone throughout Plato’s Bedroom. He is not on a mission to convert the reader. He merely is musing—and since he is a Catholic, such Catholic thoughts are not surprising in the midst of a discussion of love and the human person.

As he progresses through the Platonic texts, O’Connor constantly makes reference to various contemporary literature and films to solidify the point he is making as he reads the Platonic dialogues. In particular, he shows much interest in the short stories of Andre Dubus, whose works are used on a number of occasions to bear evidence to themes of love, sexuality, and fidelity. O’Connor’s reflections on the ever-popular notion of “my lover is my other half” are profoundly aided by his remarks on the French film, The Hairdresser’s Husband. Remarks on the film, Babette’s Feast, provide an opportunity for unassuming but profound insights concerning the Catholic’s sacramental view of the body and sexuality. Among the some of the other works that he puts to good use, O’Connor reflects upon themes from texts and films as varied as Thomas Mann’s A Death in Venice, Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Peter Jackson’s film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, and Atom Egoyan’s film, Exotica.

This method should not be copied slavishly by others, but it does provide a model for one manner of writing philosophy. O’Connor’s references are always very natural, and fit the particular twists of the overall narrative that he is explaining from Plato’s dense dialogues. Not all philosophy has to take the form of reflection coupled with textual exposition. However, O’Connor does provide an excellent model for how such reflection can humanize the often-misunderstood paths of philosophical exposition and discussion. He enables the reader to understand the Symposium and the Phaedrus by speaking in his own voice. The film and literature references are not some sort of “extrinsically applied philosophy” as much as they are O’Connor’s own natural vocabulary for helping the reader to see with O’Connor’s own eyes. It is a sane method of pedagogy, and by the end of the text, I suspect that even someone who has never read a page of Plato in his or her life will want to pick up the Symposium and the Phaedrus—now able to do so because he or she has spent time musing on the text with such an honest and open soul as is O’Connor’s.

There is a reason that I opened this review as I did. There are many tasks that fall to evangelization. The crown, summit, and goal of all evangelization is the bringing of the Good News of Christ to those who need to experience the saving wounds, and assuring light of our Resurrected Savior. However, we humans are rational animals who travel, step-by-step, upon the paths of life and salvation. Our experience of wisdom is not the face-to-face brilliance of the Beatific Vision—at least, not yet. Often, we need a bit of natural wisdom to help cleanse our souls—to show us the human meaning of love so that we can understand something of the Divine ecstasy toward which we are called as Christians.

O’Connor’s Plato’s Bedroom provides an admirable example of this genre. It is an edifying reflection with a man who is at once amicus Platonis et amicus veritatis—a friend of Plato, and a friend of the truth. One should not try to replicate what he has done in a facile manner. His cultural references are his own, and his reading of the text clearly arises from years of close converse with Plato’s intellectual milieu. However, the reader of this review will have something to gain by joining O’Connor in his close reading and reflection upon the Symposium and the Phaedrus. The text will provide you with some “natural/philosophical evangelization” and, hopefully, will provide a model for your own encounters with those who need to see how the Christian can appropriate and appreciate the best of natural wisdom.

– Matthew Kenneth Minerd, Ph.L. is a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy at The Catholic University of America and adjunct instructor of philosophy, Mount St. Mary’s University


Thomas Baima, ed., What is a Parish: Canonical, Pastoral, and Theological Perspectives (Hillenbrand Books, 2011) 207 pp., ISBN: 978-1-59525-033-9, $ 20.00. Reviewed by Dr. Edward Peters.

The great majority of Catholics receive the great majority of their exposure to things Catholic in their local parishes. When the parish is healthy (for that matter, when the parish is simply functional) the Church herself “works” for that particular community of the Christian faithful constituted, as it is, in a particular Church, and entrusted to a pastor (Canon 515 § 1). But when the local parish is dysfunctional (including when a parish obsessively focuses on just one liturgical expression or just one application of the social gospel), the Church herself is experienced as disconnected from or uncaring toward those people. That is why accurately identifying what a healthy parish is, and is not, whence a parish springs, and where it leads, what might be added to parish life without dilution of its mission, or removed without diminution of its nature, is so important. All of those points and several others besides are the focus of this fine text.

As it happened, Fr. Baima’s collection of essays on modern parish structure and life, What is a Parish? was sent to me for review just as a series of unusual professional assignments landed on my desk. Fulfilling these duties, and keeping up with the various canonical perturbations consequent to the ascension of Pope Francis to the Chair of Peter, combined for a time to keep me from reading this work until just this year. Fortunately, the essays in this collection (originally delivered at a conference on parish life organized by the Dominican School of Theology and Philosophy in Berkeley California, and first published in Chicago Studies) have lost none of their strength.

A phrase such as “This wonderful book has something for everyone” is rarely true, but I am hard-pressed to come up with a more succinct description of Baima’s collection than exactly that. It is a wonderful set of essays, both in terms of their content, and in terms of the clarity with which that content is delivered, and it really does contain something for just about everyone who has an interest in what we call a “parish.”

To the usual and reliable format of papers presented by experts at a conference on parish life, Baima’s work offers two improvements: first, he included papers offered “in response” to other papers—responses not classically organized as refutations of the earlier papers, but rather, as remarks occasioned by the thoughts of the first presenters, and offered in their light; second, to a roster of experts well-known among those interested in the American parish life and structures (including the late Francis Cdl. George, Mark Chopko, Esq., or the Rev. Joseph Fox, op.,) one finds also papers from, for example, Sherry Wedell of the Sienna Center in Colorado, and Mark Shea, a prominent Catholic blogger based on the West Coast.

It is not likely, of course, that every reader of What is a Parish? will need to, or even want to, read every essay therein. But I think it very likely that a pastor who reads, say, Fr. Michael Sweeney’s inaugural essay on the enigma that is a parish, will not want to miss Wedell’s brief comments on parochial formation of adults, or Shea’s narration of what a successful parish looks like in terms of education. As the contributions themselves need not be read in the order printed (except, of course, for those produced in response to another’s essay), one can safely pick up Baima’s collection and pretty much start anywhere with profit. But let me make, besides those offered above, the following specific suggestions.

Bishops, and those broadly interested in the ecclesiology of the parish, should start with Sweeney’s orientation essay, then turn to Cdl. George’s remarks on the parish and communio, move on to Fr. Christian’s paper on intra-parish institutions, then read Fr. Oerlich comments on Congar’s theology of the local Church, followed by Fr. Barnett’s response to Oerlich. Diocesan administrators (especially vicars general, moderators of the curia, chancellors), again after reading Sweeney’s essay, could move directly to Fox’s canonical outline of parish structure, and then Fr. Pagé’s response—a response that draws, by the way, on some interesting contrasts between parish structures as experienced in the U.S., and those experienced in Canada. This same group of upper level administrators, and perhaps diocesan finance officers, not to mention civil attorneys serving parochial and diocesan clients, should certainly read Mark Chopko’s article on the civil law of parishes, not so much for his outline of Supreme Court cases (though this is well done), as for its ability to keep track of Catholic ecclesiastical concerns through those lines of cases. Richard Garnet’s response to Chopko is, I may add, quite engaging. Baima’s own essay concludes this collection and, as well as it serves as a sort of valedictory to the other papers, it could well serve as a second introduction to them.

Dr. Edward Peters teaches canon law at the Sacred Heart Major Seminary, Detroit


Certain Sainthood, Donald S. Prudlo (Cornell University Press 2015) ISBN: 978-0-8014-5403-5 pp. 224. Reviewed by Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., S.T.

The very innocent title to this historical work hides a very deep and interesting analysis of the development of the doctrine of papal infallibility. The thesis of the author is that the development of the theory of canonization in the Middle Ages, especially of saints from the mendicant orders of the Dominicans and Franciscans, forms the proper locus classicus for the principles which will eventually be used in the First Vatican Council to define papal infallibility.

The author states the purpose of the book: “to explore the articulation of a Christian doctrine (in this case the infallibility of the Pope) and situate it among the historical events that underlay its development.” (p. 11) The author does not fully agree with more contemporary theories which place the development of the dogma of papal infallibility in the context of the attempt of the Church to deal with the Spiritual Franciscans, especially as represented by Peter John Olivi (1248-94). He instead gives a well-documented and spirited presentation demonstrating that the foundation of this doctrine turns around the canonization of saints.

In Chapter 1, he examines the language and legal procedures gradually developed by the Church to guarantee that the canonization of a saint insured the saint was in heaven. In Chapter 2, he shows that this doctrine was not developed by some process divorced from the actual lived experience used in canonization. In Chapter 3, he roots this in the canonization of Thomas Becket in 1173, which was really the first canonization that extended a saint’s cult to the whole Church. Open opposition in the Church to the whole idea of canonization was principally among the heretical Waldensians and Albigensians. This was especially true of the mendicant saints. A central figure in this dispute was the canonization of St. Peter of Verona (Peter Martyr) because he had been an inquisitor, and was one of the few people in the Middle Ages (Thomas Becket and St. Sylvester being the others) who were canonized as martyrs. Chapter 4 explains this opposition. Disputes about this led historically to both an expression of the reservations and solutions involved in the process of declaring that someone was in heaven. This is dealt with in Chapter 5. Finally, in Chapter 6, he examines the final solution to these problems, and applies them to various groups, always keeping in mind the effect on the faithful.

A pivotal figure in this discussion is Thomas Aquinas who basically laid out the criteria which were the conclusive arguments for papal infallibility in this discussion. The crucial text for this is his Quodlibet IX, 8. This text, which the author translates in its entirety in an appendix, has occasioned much comment in history, even to the present day, and the author thinks much of the interpretation of this text is misplaced and mistaken. According to him, the crucial argument can be summarized thus: “1a. There is no damnable error in the Church; 1b. The universal judgment of the Church is not able to err; 2. It belongs to the pope to make the determination of faith; 3. Divine Providence and the Holy Spirit will protect the church in such determinations; therefore plainly, 4. Divine Providence and the Holy Spirit will protect the pope to whom it belongs to make such determinations.” (p. 130)

The bibliography is excellent. Though this scholarly work will be of great benefit to professional historians and theologians, it can also be read with profit by ordinary laypeople.

-Fr. Brian Mullady, O.P., S.T. entered the Dominican Order in 1966 and was ordained in 1972. He has been a parish priest, high school teacher, retreat master, mission preacher, and university professor. He has had seven series on EWTN and is the author of two books and numerous articles, including his regular column in HPR, “Questions Answered.”

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