As the result of reading my Saint Meinrad newsletter, I was
invited to participate in the Second Conference of the
International Association for the Study of the Philosophy of Edith
Stein in London, Ontario, in June.
Fr. Thomas Gricoski, OSB, a monk of Saint Meinrad Archabbey and
doctoral candidate at the Catholic University in Leuven, Belgium,
made a presentation on "essential being," and I made a presentation
on eternal life. I won't give you a summary of the philosophical
nuances, but this was an amazing experience.
Most of you probably know that Dr. Edith Stein was born to a
devout Jewish family, stopped praying as a teenager, became one of
the first women to earn a doctorate from a German university,
became a Catholic, a Carmelite nun, and then died a martyr at
She was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988, and is now known
as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross. Her feast day is August
What you may not know is that, after she became Catholic, Dr.
Stein devoted her professional endeavors toward encouraging a
dialogue between Thomism and a modern philosophical movement known
as phenomenology. Why should you care? Because her project is still
one of great importance to our world today.
In addition to my day job, I am a doctoral candidate in
philosophy at the University of Memphis. My dissertation is in
preparation and will discuss Edith Stein's major philosophical
treatise, Finite and Eternal Being.
That book was the last of three manuscripts that Dr. Stein
prepared for publication dealing with points of contact and
contrast between Thomism and phenomenology.
Most persons in the philosophy department at the University of
Memphis and, indeed, I would say, most persons in the philosophy
department of any public university in the United States understand
philosophy to be divided between analytical (i.e., Anglo-American)
and continental (i.e., German and French) philosophy.
Obviously, this division leaves out an awful lot of people. Most
importantly for my purposes, it leaves out Catholic philosophy all
Just as Dr. Stein thought, I believe that the project of
introducing (or reintroducing) the philosophia perennis to
public discourse is an essential and important project for Catholic
philosophers and Catholics who are philosophers.
Catholic philosophy has a grounding in reality - what is real -
that, in my opinion, is desperately needed. Catholic philosophy
teaches that there is a connection between how things (especially
human beings) are and how they ought to be.
We are not simply starting from a blank slate in deciding how to
order the relations among persons and nations. Some arrangements
are conducive to human flourishing based upon the kind of being
that human beings are; others are not.
I am writing one day after the United States Supreme Court
issued its opinions in the Windsor and
Hollingsworth cases (the same-sex marriage cases). These
cases raise profound questions for the Catholic Church in the
United States, because they represent a third major area in which
Catholic moral teaching is now at variance with the laws and
regulations of the United States.
The first of these is the Court's decisions on the "right" to
abortion; the second is the HHS Mandate requiring all employers to
make provision for contraceptive services in health insurance
plans; and the third is the Court's decision finding that a federal
definition of marriage as the union of one man and one women
violates due process and equal protection principles of the federal
I am a U.S. bankruptcy judge, so have some interest in these
cases because of changes they mean for my work. I also have friends
who have passionate feelings about same-sex marriage - both for it
and against it - and so have an interest in what the decision will
mean for them. But neither of these is my overriding interest at
this time and as a philosopher. My interest is in how the Catholic
Church in the United States will respond.
For example, the Church could simply distinguish between
sacramental marriage and other forms of marriage. It could, in
effect, say that this is how we do it no matter how it is
done by others.
This position I sometimes call "Marine Corps Catholicism" - a
Church that is only for the few and the proud. Special rules apply
to its members. If you want to be a member, you have to follow the
rules. Whether you want to be in or not is up to you. A lot is
demanded, and one might feel a certain pride in following the
rules, but it is not for everyone.
Unfortunately, Marine Corps Catholicism has a tendency to look a
little like Pelagianism. And it doesn't square with the
understanding of the Church announced at Vatican Council II -
erected for all ages "to be the pillar and mainstay of the truth"
Lumen Gentium, § 8; cf. 1 Tim. 3:15.
The Church understands herself to be the Body of Christ - the
vehicle of saving grace for the whole world. She does not simply
announce rules for the few and the proud, but communicates the
divine revelation she received through the incarnation of Jesus
Christ - the good news for all people.
The Church believes that because of this revelation and her
founding by the Lord Himself, she is in a unique position to know
what is best in the sense of what is necessary for the flourishing
of human persons.
The Church teaches that human persons cannot flourish in a
society that permits children to be killed in their mothers' wombs
and that separates the purpose of procreation from the conjugal
In the same way, she teaches that marriage is a "covenant by
which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership
of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good
of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring. [It]
has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament
between the baptized" Code of Canon Law, can. 1055, §
The link between these three teachings is clear: the
transmission of life and the flourishing of humanity require
lifelong commitments between men and women who are open to the gift
In these coming days, we American Catholics will be called upon
to respond to the latest decisions of our Supreme Court. May we
remember the project of St. Teresa Benedicta and bring to the
discussion an understanding of the teachings of the Church that is
rooted in reality and God's plan for human flourishing.