In Depth Analysis

Extended commentary and thoughtful Catholic essays on complex topics.

Ad Orientem: Thoughts on debating the non-essential

When it comes to discussions of the liturgy, some readers find my viewpoint appalling, while others regard it as a breath of fresh air. The reason is fairly simple: I have an extremely “intellectual” piety, which means I find nearly every liturgical form and setting to be a distraction...

Is marriage a trap? Our preoccupation with nullity

It would be very difficult to assess all the conditions which impact a couple’s readiness for marriage. It is equally difficult to determine how unfavorable cultural factors may influence this readiness. We can discern adverse cultural trends, but there are many subcultures, and there are...

On speaking the truth: Is confusion the chief “Francis effect”?

Speaking the truth is perfectly compatible with charity. To think otherwise is to mistake charity for mere “niceness”. It is also to miss the point of Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate (Charity in Truth) (2009). In fact, the failure to tell the truth to those who are...

Caution! The Vatican's new magazine for women

As we reported on Wednesday, a magazine devoted to women is now being published as a regular “insert” for the Vatican newspaper, L’Osservatore Romano. The dust has still to settle on this, but the initial reports have naturally raised questions, most of which will probably prove...

Catholics Rising: Why Catholicism cannot be stopped

Perhaps it is time to state the obvious. The Catholic Faith, and the Church that announces and nourishes this Faith throughout history, cannot be stopped. This is a matter of Divine guarantee. Speaking of the Church built on Peter the rock, Our Lord promised: “The powers of death shall not...

The Controversy at the Heart of Amoris Laetitia

If Catholics who have divorced and remarried without obtaining an annulment can in some cases be given permission to receive communion, will this do more harm than good? That’s the question at the heart of the controversy over Pope Francis’ post synodal apostolic exhortation,...

Church Fathers: Origen's Theology

It is appropriate to begin this brief summary of Origen’s theology with a reminder that many of the more imaginative aspects of his “doctrine” were presented as his personal speculation and distinguished from the truths taught by the universal Church which all were obligated to...

Deal breakers in the quest for religious unity and evangelization

In my series on the relationship between the quest for religious unity and evangelization, I touched only lightly on two particular issues which very much affect how we ought to approach both activities. The first issue is the balance on our part between openness and risk; the second is the...

How I won’t grow spiritually, but you might: New efforts to keep it simple.

There are three elements in spiritual reading which will generally put me off. I am going to enumerate them because your own case may be very different. These elements are characteristic of five otherwise perfectly fine new books on spiritual growth from three publishers which have been sitting on...

Responding to the papal interview as if truth matters

I don’t want to belabor the point; Phil’s commentary on the latest papal interview is outstanding as it stands (The damage done—again—by the Pope’s interview). We may wish at some point to further discuss the Pope’s incautious moral characterization of Donald...

The essential posture of evangelization: We are all adopted.

This is the fourth installment of my series on the relationship between the quest for religious unity and evangelization. A large part of what I have been trying to get at may be summarized in a simple comparison between how the relationship of Catholics to those in other religions was viewed five...

Vatican did not tell bishops to avoid reporting abuse-- and reporters missed the real story

This week I read dozens of headlines about a new Vatican document that allegedly instructed bishops not to report sex-abuse complaints to the local police. For example: Catholic Church Tells Bishops They Are Not Obliged to Disclose Child Sex Abuse: Report (Time) New Catholic bishops told...

Religious unity, evangelization and the salvation crisis

Having examined the fundamental difference between the quest for religious unity and evangelization, it seems sensible to ask what, in the modern period, has caused evangelization (with its supernatural end) to so often be subordinated to religious unity (with its natural end). If we can...

Church Fathers: Origen's Works

Origen’s prodigious literary output was encouraged by his wealthy friends, in particular one Ambrose whom he had converted from Valentinianism. Out of his own pocket, this benefactor stationed in Origen’s lecture room “more than seven shorthand-writers, who relieved each other at...

Church Fathers: Origen's Life and Legacy

At last we come to Origen, surely the most titanic intellectual figure of the first three centuries of Christianity after St. Paul. In the breadth of his writings and in the depth of his influence, he is equaled by few among the Church Fathers. He brought the catechetical school of Alexandria to...

Under-the-radar signs of progress in Vatican reforms

Have you noticed that as Christmas approaches, you spend less time reading news headlines? There are two reasons for that phenomenon. First, you have other things on your mind; you’re busy with your last-minute preparations for the great feast. Second, the people who usually make the...

Old Earl's Christmas

I had known Earl for as long as I can remember, though he was my senior by thirty-seven years. He was a hard-working, reliable man, an excellent provider for his family, always responsible and deeply trustworthy. Born in 1911, he had already lived through the Great Depression and two world wars...

On the 'conversion' of Jews: The new Vatican statement

Our initial news story on the recent document issued by the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews was somewhat misleading (see New Vatican document: Catholics should not seek to convert Jews). The term “convert” in this context is usually used to describe the...

A case study in the development of doctrine

The trouble with master narratives of history is the air of inevitability they lend to events that could have gone very differently. Historians are the ones who construct narratives, yet it is also their job to disrupt them, or at least to go beyond them so that rather than taking the past for...

Sing of Mary, 3: Living the Rosary

The Rosary is a mainstay of Catholic devotion, typically regarded as the most powerful form of prayer after the Mass. Most of us carry a Rosary with us in purse or pocket, and certainly many who read these words have already made it a part of their daily prayers. When in distress, Catholics cling...

The other side of the Francis effect: Hypersensitivity and hysteria?

David Bentley Hart has expressed his perplexity over the “anxiety, disappointment, or hostility” Pope Francis inspires “in certain American Catholics of a conservative bent.” Hart is the typically profound and often entertaining writer of “The Back Page” essay...

Francis on Communion: The Pope's deeper questions, and ours

In responding to the Lutheran woman who asked how she could receive Communion with her Catholic husband (see my earlier analysis), Pope Francis raised a profound question. It is a question which could easily stimulate further development in the Church’s understanding of the Eucharist...

The Pope on Christian Humanism: To understand, we need concrete applications.

In a major address to the Italian bishops on Tuesday, Pope Francis outlined his vision of the Church in terms of “Christian humanism”. We now have a translation of the entire text, though the quotations in this commentary are from the substantial excerpts provided by Vatican...

Catholicism and Evolution: not so compatible after all?

Recall your frustration when the media reported Pope Francis’s remarks in favor of evolution as though they represented a total reversal of the Church’s teaching on the subject. Sheer annoyance with the media is enough to explain why educated Catholics responded by emphasizing that...

Church Fathers: Clement of Alexandria, Part II

In the previous article I gave an overview of the life and works of Clement of Alexandria, the head of the catechetical school of that city. He set out a new speculative path in theology, one which used philosophy both for preparatory study and as a tool for developing new insights. Now I will...

Church Fathers: Clement of Alexandria, Part I

Clement was the first great writer of the catechetical school of Alexandria, a city which under his influence became the intellectual center of Christianity. It was he who first made philosophy the handmaid of theology. Quasten calls him the “pioneer of Christian scholarship” and...

Trusting our shepherds: A healthy Church requires true bishops, not branch managers

I have noticed again, in discussions of Pope Francis’ reform of the annulment process, that some people fear the empowerment of bishops. Their instinct is that it is much better for Rome to take care of contentious issues (such as marriage annulments) for the entire Church. I make no...

Church Fathers: The Third Century and the School of Alexandria

The situation of Christianity in its third century was quite different from the second. The old paganism was in decline, not just because of the spread of Christian faith but because of other shifts in Greco-Roman culture. A number of new cults appeared as a result of encounters with Eastern...

The confusion, complexities and dangers of marriage annulments: A call to order

It’s a sad thing, a broken marriage. I am referring literally to a broken or severed marriage. Of course, all relationships can be broken or severed, and there is sadness in each case. But marriage is the most intimate and fruitful union of a man and a woman, the nexus of the family, a...

Henri de Lubac's fascinating notes on Vatican II

Here I explore the notes made by the French theologian Henri de Lubac as he prepared for and participated in the Second Vatican Council. I will gradually add revealing excerpts and comments from successive stages of de Lubac’s involvement. Each stage will be linked below. They will be...

Church Fathers: St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Part II

The previous article introduced the figure of St. Irenaeus of Lyons, “father of Catholic theology,” and gave an overview of his surviving texts, most notably the five-volume work known as Against Heresies. We examined the grounding principle of his theology: the rule of faith,...

Church Fathers: St. Irenaeus of Lyons, Part I

As we have seen, the problem of heresy became an increasingly pressing issue for Christians towards the end of the second century. Popes and bishops excommunicated the inventors and adherents of heresies and wrote pastoral letters warning the faithful. Among these protectors of the flock were the...

Church Fathers: Background on Heresies

We are reaching a point in the history of Christianity at which combatting heresy becomes a principal concern of ecclesiastical writers. We will soon be looking, for instance, at St. Irenaeus, whose status as the most important theologian of the second century is due largely to his massive work...

The Coup at the (Catholic) U

It was a remarkable thing even for the 1960s—the takeover of the Catholic University of America by its heterodox Department of Theology. I am referring, of course, to the wholesale defiance of episcopal oversight as soon as the bishops on the Board of Trustees tried to put a stop to the...

Church Fathers: The Other Greek Apologists

We know the names and some of the works of several other second century Greek Christian writers besides those covered in the preceding two installments. Though all of these explained and defended the Faith as did St. Justin Martyr, either they were writers of lesser power and reliability or their...

Church Fathers: St. Justin Martyr

St. Justin Martyr, generally considered the most important of the Greek apologists, was born between 100 and 110, the son of a pagan Priscus in Flavia Neapolis, Palestine. Justin tells us in his own writings that as a young man, he dallied with a few different schools of philosophy, yet found...

Church Fathers: Introduction to the Greek Apologists

Parallel with the increasing influence of Christianity as a religion distinct from Judaism, the second century saw, along with sporadic State persecutions and anti-Christian riots, the publication of numerous works of anti-Christian literature. While Christianity would in subsequent centuries be...

Church Fathers: The Shepherd of Hermas

The Shepherd (or Pastor) of Hermas, an important second-century Christian text, is categorized as an apocryphal apocalypse; it consists of a series of visions urging repentance and penance in preparation for the end times. It contains of three books containing five Visions, twelve...

O Canada! Assisted suicide, the Christian meaning of defeat, and King Alfred the Great

Last week’s news that the Canadian Supreme Court had struck down Canada’s law against assisted suicide is an object lesson. The justices have become the latest poster children for what is wrong with the world. I wish to consider just two of these serious wrongs, and to identify one...

On the failure of history—and historians—without Christ

When I was a brash young graduate student in the very early 1970s, Professor Lawrence Stone tried to teach me that the English Revolution and civil war were essentially caused by social and demographic factors, and that the previous emphasis on religious differences was essentially laughable. I...

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