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George Will: The Pope & the Surgeon
Tuesday, April 5, 2005, 11:34 AM

In Newsweek’s just-published commemorative issue on the life and death of John Paul II, George Will reflects on the souls of Terri Schiavo and John Paul II in conversation with the English writer, Ian McEwan, and his latest novel, Saturday, which Will describes as a “materialist’s manifesto.”

Will wonders what the pope would make of McEwan’s protaganist, Henry Perowne, who possesses “the sensibility of today’s post-Christian Europe”:

Perowne believes we are, in a sense, machines—matter and nothing more. He thinks as those people do who say, “I do not have a body, I am a body.” Perowne is a neurosurgeon.

With sharpened steel a neurosurgeon slices and splices and pares physical matter to palliate injuries to minds—to consciousness. Pharmacology also can do that. McEwan writes:

“A man who attempts to ease the miseries of failing minds by repairing brains is bound to respect the material world, its limits, and what it can sustain—consciousness, no less. It isn’t an article of faith with him, he knows it for a quotidian fact, the mind is what the brain, mere matter, performs.”

Perowne, the voice of scientifically sophisticated secularism, and presumably of McEwan, almost lyrically, and rightly, exhorts us to appreciate the “wonder of the real.” One can, however, imagine a faint, droll smile flickering on the strong, intelligent face of John Paul II were he to have read those almost casually appended three words—“consciousness, no less.” He might think to himself: The materialist must not tarry, he must hurry on, because as Emerson said, when skating on thin ice, safety lies in speed.

This pope might have read Emerson, and it is easy to imagine him, before frailty conquered his body, keeping abreast of contemporary literature, including McEwan. Before he was John Paul II he was Karol Wojtyla, a skiing poet, playwright and philosopher. And a defining theme of his papacy was the compatibility of faith and science, the explainer of reality. The explainer, but only up to a point, so far.

To read the entire column, click here.

George Weigel on John Paul II
Tuesday, April 5, 2005, 10:54 AM

Our friends at the Ethics and Public Policy Center (EPPC) have crafted a special web page, John Paul II in Words and Pictures, with links to this week’s published obituaries and remembrances of John Paul II by EPPC’s senior fellow, George Weigel, a biographer of the pope and leading American Catholic intellectual.

The site contains video excerpts from the film documentary, Witness to Hope, based on Weigel’s biography of John Paul II (also titled Witness to Hope) published to wide acclaim in 1999 (it’s not just a fascinating and inspiring story of a central figure of the past century, but a blueprint for traditional Christian leadership in the twenty-first century—if you haven’t read it, you ought to). There are also links to select lectures and articles on the pope.

Touchstone published Kent Hill’s review of Weigel’s Witness to Hope in our March 2001 edition.

On Ms. Schiavo, the Living Soul, and Contemporary Dualisms
Monday, April 4, 2005, 10:44 AM

David Hart, an Eastern Orthodox theologian and a contributor to Touchstone and this space, and brother of two Touchstone editors and frequent contributors, Addison Hart and Robert Hart (someone will be writing about “the Hart brothers”—Addison is a Roman Catholic priest and Robert is an Anglican one—someday), contributed a germaine, thoughtful and very helpful piece to last Friday’s Wall Street Journal, The Soul of a Controversy:

Terri Schiavo has now died, but of course the controversy surrounding her last days will persist indefinitely. Most of the issues raised as she was dying were legal and moral; but at the margins of the storm, questions of a more “metaphysical” nature were occasionally raised in public. For instance, I heard three people on the radio last week speculating on the whereabouts of her “soul.”

One opined that where consciousness has sunk below a certain minimally responsive level, the soul has already departed the body; the other two thought that the soul remains, but as a dormant prisoner of the ruined flesh, awaiting release. Their arguments, being intuitive, were of little interest. What caught my attention was the unreflective dualism to which all three clearly subscribed: The soul, they assumed, is a kind of magical essence haunting the body, a ghost in a machine.

This is in fact a peculiarly modern view of the matter, not much older than the 17th-century philosophy of Descartes. While it is now the model to which most of us habitually revert when talking about the soul—whether we believe in such things or not—it has scant basis in either Christian or Jewish tradition.

The “living soul” of Scripture is the whole corporeal and spiritual totality of a person whom the breath of God has wakened to life. Thomas Aquinas, interpreting centuries of Christian and pagan metaphysics, defined the immortal soul as the “form of the body,” the vital power animating, pervading, shaping an individual from the moment of conception, drawing all the energies of life into a unity.

There do seem to be a great many Christian clergy and laity mixed up on the soul. To read the rest of David Hart’s column click here.

The Pope’s Example of Silent Suffering
Friday, April 1, 2005, 1:59 PM

As conflicting reports about the pope’s health are issued by Italian news agencies and as some reports are denied by Vatican officials, there is something infinitely more valuable to read about John Paul II thanks to this brief meditation by Mark Thiessen, The Blessed Sounds of Silence, published this morning at National Review Online:

For the first time in his 26-year pontificate, Pope John Paul II failed to come to his window Easter Monday, unable to deliver even a silent blessing to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square. The day before, he did appear with an Easter Sunday address in hand—but when he opened his mouth, he was unable to speak. A tearful crowd watched as he tried repeatedly, in obvious pain, to deliver his prepared blessing, before slumping back into his chair—banging his fist in clear frustration.

But the pilgrims gathered at St. Peter’s—and millions more watching across the world—received greater spiritual nourishment from his silent Easter witness than they ever could have from the text of his remarks. They know that, far from burdening the Church, this time when John Paul is physically weakest may well be the greatest of his papacy. Here is why: The principal task of the pope is not the effective management of the Church bureaucracy—it is to serve as an effective witness for Christ in the world. John Paul does this more eloquently today, through his silent suffering, than he ever did with words. It does not really matter if he can use his voice intelligibly—or at all. By carrying on, despite his afflictions, he stands as a living rebuke to our utilitarian culture—and a living witness to the value of every life, especially the elderly and infirm.

Stephen Clark’s Charismatic Spirituality
Friday, April 1, 2005, 10:10 AM

Stephen Clark’s book, Charismatic Spirituality, mentioned in Steve Hutchens’ An Author Worth Knowing can be ordered by clicking here, where a table of contents and a sample chapter are also available for perusal. Our thanks to his community for providing this information.

How Liberalism Failed Terri Schiavo
Thursday, March 31, 2005, 3:58 PM

Eric Cohen, editor of The New Atlantis and director of the Biotechnology and American Democracy program at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, in an article written for The Weekly Standard explains How Liberalism Failed Terri Schiavo.

Robert George on Terri Schiavo
Thursday, March 31, 2005, 10:19 AM

Some readers may have wondered, as we have, what Robert George, a senior editor of Touchstone and a member of the President’s Council on Bioethics, is thinking about what we as a nation have done to Terri Schiavo. National Review Online published this interview with George, Always to Care, Never to Kill, on Tuesday.

Cremation and Terri Schiavo
Wednesday, March 30, 2005, 1:50 PM

In a ruling today, in response to what is believed to be the final judicial appeal by the Schindler family to save the life of their daughter, Terri Schiavo, the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, said:

“While the members of her family and the members of Congress have acted in a way that is both fervent and sincere, the time has come for dispassionate discharge of duty.” (Empahsis added.)

As Terri Schiavo enters her twelfth day without food and water, it is likely too late now to save her even if food and water were restored (in place of the deadly morphine they are “feeding” her). Yet, her robust fight to live ought to be pricking the conscience of the nation, especially of those in our society who assumed she was brain dead, in a coma, and on life support that, when withdrawn, would lead to a quick (and painless!) death.

As we pray for her deliverance from this ordeal, Terry Mattingly’s Scripps-Howard column exposes the next indignity that awaits Ms. Schiavo. Against the wishes of her immediate family, and their traditional Catholicism, Michael Schiavo plans to have Terri’s body cremated:

“Even in death, he isn’t going to allow them a shrine, a place to go talk to her,” Franciscan monk Paul O’Donnell told reporters, speaking for the family. “Won’t he at least give them her dead body?” This debate is stark evidence that many Catholics continue to struggle with changes made by the modern church. After centuries of opposition to cremation, the Code of Canon Law now states: “The Church earnestly recommends the pious custom of burial be retained; but it does not forbid cremation, unless this is chosen for reasons which are contrary to Christian teaching.”

The hardest liturgical changes to accept are those linked to emotional events at the crossroads of life—birth, marriage and death.

“Cremation is no longer considered shocking to most Catholics,” said Philip Lawler, editor of Catholic World Report. “But, overwhelmingly, traditional Catholics would lean toward a traditional burial. The older the Catholic, the more likely they would remember the traditions against cremation.”

The modern Catechism of the Catholic Church hints at the ancient roots of this controversy, noting that cremation is permitted, “provided that it does not demonstrate a denial of faith in the resurrection of the body.”

Early Christian believers were familiar with pagan cremation rituals and saw martyrs burned at the stake, noted Father C. John McCloskey III, of the Faith and Reason Institute in Chicago. The Jewish apostles knew that Judaism rejected cremation.

“The early church also defined itself in opposition to Manichaeism, Gnosticism and other heretical sects that taught that the soul is good and the body is bad. So it didn’t matter what you did with the body. The soul was all that mattered.

“But the church kept saying, ‘No, the body is good. It should be honored and treated with respect.’ … Thus, you had an emphasis in church tradition on funeral rites and the burial of the body in ground that has been blessed.”

To read the entire column, click here.

Dying of Thirst II (Meditations)
Thursday, March 24, 2005, 1:05 PM

After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now accomplished, that

the scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a

vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put

it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had

received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head,

and gave up the ghost. —John 19:28–30

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory: And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not. Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee? Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal. —Matthew 25:31-46

Dying of Thirst
Thursday, March 24, 2005, 11:25 AM

Jonathan Witt of Wittingshire has posted this harrowing description of dying of thirst. Jonathan says it was inspired by mainstream media attempts (see the Los Angeles Times and USA Today) to ease the public’s conscience and to stifle the intuition that something barbaric and inhumane is being done to Terri Schiavo while we watch and do nothing to stop it.

It appears a merciless state and federal judiciary are intent on Ms. Schiavo’s death and only a career-sacrificing and constitutional crisis-inducing move by Florida’s Governor Jeb Bush to order some department of his state to take her into custody and give her food and water will save her now. There are not many Thomas Mores or Joan of Arcs in history and one can see why. It’s sad that it has come down to Governor Bush’s “life” or Terri’s life, for he would certainly be cited by Judge Greer for disobeying “the law” and probably impeached (not to mention what the media would do to him), but doing the good sometimes requires ludicrous acts of self-negation.

Growing up in the shadow of post-World War II America, and many remembrances of the Holocaust, I’ve often wondered what it must have been like in Nazi Germany for the nation to standby while evil was done in the name of kindness or eugenic ideology. Now we all know how it can happen, what it feels like, and how helpless good people can be in the face of intentional evil.

r4209066064 2 Dying of ThirstThe family that was arrested yesterday in front of the Pinellis Park hospice trying to bring glasses of water to Ms. Schiavo (one of the family’s three children is pictured at right being led to a squad car in handcuffs!) gives some of us a kind of cold comfort by the opportunity their courage provides us to claim solidarity with their act. I do.

As Schiavo approaches death—on Good Friday? on Holy Saturday? on Easter?—the media have already begun to look back on the extraordinary efforts to save her life by Congress, by President and Governor Bush, by the Florida legislature, and to label them the acts of extremists, of politicians cornered by radical “religious right” conservatives who would block individual freedom (in this case Ms. Schiavo’s purported wish to die) and ignore scientific experts in the name of religion.

God help us as the many precedents set by this horrific case work their dark logic on our public life.

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