"In verbo veritatis" (2 Cor 6:7)

April 2, 2022

An interview

Filed under: Uncategorized — komonchak @ 3:58 pm

Kenneth Woodward, former religion editor for Newsweek, interviewed me at my home a couple of months ago. It’s now available on the website of the Jesuit magazine America.

June 20, 2020

Epistemology of Reception

Filed under: Foundations in Ecclesiology, Uncategorized — komonchak @ 8:48 am

This is the talk I gave at the third Salamanca Conference held in 1996.  I re-read it recently and found that it sets out, in what I confess is a very dense argument, themes that have occupied me ever since I started work in ecclesiology in the late 1960s.  In fact, the central thesis was supposed to be the subject of a major book, something that I fear is never going to be written. One way of putting it is that if God wills that there be a Church, he wills that certain events take place in the subjectivity and inter-subjective relationships of human beings. Here I draw upon Bernard Lonergan’s theorem of divine transcendence and extrinsic denomination to make the point.

Comments very welcome!

JAK Epistemology of Reception


August 30, 2019

Episcopal conferences

Filed under: Essays, Foundations in Ecclesiology, Uncategorized — Tags: , — komonchak @ 5:04 pm

The Final Report of the 1985 Synod of Bishops called for a clarification of the theological and canonical nature of episcopal conferences. Even though the Report could be taken to be calling for theologians and canon lawyers to undertake that task, the Vatican took this to mean that they should appoint a committee to do the clarifying.  The result of this was an “Instrumentum laboris” (working paper) sent out to the bishops of the world.  It would receive severe criticisms from many episcopates, including that of the USA for which I wrote a lengthy critique which was adopted by the bishops.

A symposium on episcopal conferences was held at Georgetown University, the results of which were published in a book. I was asked to write an introduction explaining what the controversies were that surrounded the institution and then to offer a theological assessment of the working paper. Both essays are available here: JAK – Two essays on episcopal conferences .

The official text that came out of the Vatican effort is entitled Apostolos suos. It will be seen that the critiques of the draft had little effect, and this text presented a very narrow vision of the conferences which are basically seen as threats to the pope or to diocesan bishops, or to both.

Pope Francis has asked that the question of the role and authority of episcopal conferences be re-opened. These essays, then, if of little effect forty years ago, may have some pertinence today.

April 21, 2019

What is “the day the Lord has made”?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , — komonchak @ 10:33 am

This is the Easter Alleluia which used to be sung by the celebrant just before reading the Easter Gospel. It was sung at three different registers, from low to high.

This is from one of Augustine’s Easter sermons. In the fourth paragraph below, the “infants” were not babies but those who had been baptized at the Easter Vigil, just beginning their Christian lives.

You have heard Christ the Lord preached in these words: “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn 1:1). This is Christ the Lord, who if he had not lowered himself but had wished to remain so forever, we would have perished. We acknowledge the Word as God with God; we acknowledge the only Son equal to the Father; we acknowledge the light from light, the Day from Day. The Day who made the day was not himself made by the Day but begotten from it.

If, then, the Day from Day was not made but begotten, then what is the day the Lord has made? Why is it called day? Because it is light. “And God called the light day.” Let us ask, then, which day the Lord has made that we may rejoice and be glad in it.

At the very beginning of the world’s creation, it is read that “darkness was over the abyss, and the Spirit of God moved over the water. And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and light was made. And God divided the light from the darkness, and he called the light day and the darkness he called night” (Gen 1:2-5). This is a day the Lord has made. But is it the day in which we are to rejoice and be glad? There is another day the Lord has made which we should instead acknowledge, and rejoice and be glad in it.

It was said to believers in Christ: “You are the light of the world” (Mt 5:14). If a light, then a day, because “God called the light day.” Yesterday God’s Spirit moved over the water here too. There had been darkness over the abyss, because these infants were still bearing their sins. But when through the Spirit their sins were forgiven them, then did the Lord say: “Let there be light, and light was made.” Here is “the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Ps 117[118], 24).

We are addressing you this day with the words of the Apostle: O day which the Lord has made, “you once were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord” (Eph 5:8). “Once, he says, “you were darkness.” Were you darkness, or not? Recall your deeds, and see if you weren’t. Look at the your consciences. Because you once were darkness, but now are light, not in yourselves, but in the Lord, “walk as children of the light.” (Augustine, Sermon 226; PL 38, 1009)

April 16, 2019

Seeking because found

His mercy saw you before you knew him, when you were still lying under sin. Did we first seek Christ, or did he seek us first? Did we in our illness go to the Physician, or did he come to the sick? Wasn’t that sheep lost, and didn’t the shepherd leave the ninety-nine sheep in the wilderness and seek and find it and joyfully carry it back on his shoulders? Wasn’t that coin lost, and didn’t the woman light a lamp and search through her house until she found it? And when she had found it, she said to her neighbors, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin I lost.” In the same way we were lost like that sheep, lost like that coin…. We were sought so that we might be found, and it is because we were found that we are speaking. There is no pride in this because before we were found, we would have been lost if we had not been sought…. We are seeking you lest you be lost. We are seeking you because we were sought. We want to find you because we were found. (Tr. in Ioannis Evang., v, 12; PL 35, 1448)

A major theme in Augustine is that of seeking in order to find, finding in order to seek, but here it’s his (our) being sought and found that inspires the Christian imperative and motivates his ministry. “We seek you because we were found.” Another way of expressing that the imperatives that ought to drive our Christian hearts are immediate implications of the indicatives that state what we have received. How can those shown mercy not show mercy? How can those sought and found not seek in order to find?

Perhaps you know Pascal’s variation on the theme in the fragment in which he has Christ say: “You would not have sought me if you had not already found me.” I’m not sure that Augustine would have put it that way, but I would love to be a bug on the wall as Pascal and he talk with one another about it. I think they might have agreed that to begin to seek God is already the work of God’s grace. It’s somewhat like when Augustine says that to cry out from the depths–De profoundis–is already to begin to rise….

April 9, 2019

Christ’s enriching poverty

Augustine begins his exposition of Psalm 40[41] by referring to one of the more common mocking criticisms of faith made by pagans of his time: that Christians worship a mere man, a mortal who died a disgraceful death, and from their taunts we can get some sense of what a revolution of beliefs and expectations Christianity required in the ancient world. But it is not clear, seventeen centuries later, that this “transvaluation of values,” to use Nietzsche’s phrase, is any easier today than then, and the proponents of what is called “the New Atheism” don’t hesitate to encourage public taunting of Christian beliefs. The passage below doesn’t represent an argument designed to convince the pagans; it’s more like an invitation.

What you believe against him is vain; it would be better to believe in him that you may “understand about the needy and poor one” (Ps 40[41]:2, for “he who was rich became poor,” says the Apostle, “so that by his poverty you might become rich” (2 Cor 8:9). But now because he became poor, he is despised and people say, “He was a man. He died; he was crucified. You’re worshipping a man, placing your hope in a man, adoring a dead man.” No, you’re wrong. Understand about the needy and poor one so that you may be made rich by his poverty. What does it mean: “Understand about the needy and poor one?” So that you may recognize a needy and poor Christ, who says in another Psalm: “”But I am needy and poor, the Lord has a care for me” (Ps 39[40]:18). What is it to understand about the needy and poor one? That “he emptied himself, taking on the form of a slave, made in the likeness of men, and in habit found as a man” (Ph 2:7). He was rich with his Father and poor among us; rich in heaven, poor on the earth, rich as God, poor as man.

Does this disturb you, that you see a man, that you look upon flesh, that you look at his death, that you mock his cross? Is this what disturbs you? “Understand about the needy and poor one.” What does this mean? Understand that where weakness is displayed before you, divinity lies hidden there. Rich because that is what he is, but poor because that is what you were. But his poverty is our riches, just as his weakness is our strength, just as his foolishness is our wisdom, just as his mortality is our immortality. Consider what this poor one is, and don’t measure him by the poverty of others. He came to fill the poor, he who was made poor. Open yourself to faith, then; receive the poor one lest you remain poor….

Understand about the needy and poor one, that is, about Christ; understand the hidden riches in him whom you see as poor. For in him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:3)…. Don’t let his death narrow you and turn you aside from seeing his divinity. “Blessed is the one who understands about the needy and poor one.”

And look also at the poor, the needy, the hungry and thirsty, the naked, the ill, those in prison, and understand also about such a poor one, because when you are understanding about such a one, you are understanding about him who said, “I was hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, ill, in prison” (Mt 25:35, 36). (EnPs 40, 1-2; PL 38, 454-55)

March 28, 2019

Hearing ourselves sing

Here is another example of Augustine’s urging his people to recognize themselves in the voice or voices of the Psalms.

The exulting members of Christ sing this Psalm (Ps 123[124]). And here below who exults except out of hope? If this is our sure hope, then we too can sing with exultation. For the people singing are not strangers to us; it’s not as if in this Psalm we do not hear our own voices. Listen to it in such a way that you can hear yourselves; listen to it as if you were looking at yourselves in the mirror of the Scriptures. When you look at the Scriptures as if at a mirror, your face brightens: when in your exultant hope you find yourself like those members of Christ who sang these things, you too will be among them these members and you too will be singing them. [Augustine, EnPs 123,3; PL 37:1641])

I wonder if we shouldn’t make more of an effort to get our congregations of worshippers to pay attention to the Responsorial Psalm at Mass, to recognize themselves and their voices in them. I know I hardly ever preach about the Psalms used in our worship; in fact, in reading over the readings to prepare a homily for a particular day, I often skip right over the Responsorial Psalm, sometimes not even reading it.  I suspect that we would need to give a major catechesis on how to pray the Psalms and in particular how to pray them with their christological and ecclesiological resonances in mind. As sung at Mass, for example, “Jerusalem” is not a city in Israel.

March 27, 2019

How the Church is one

Even if you do not yet understand, believe this: the Father is the one God, Christ is God, the Son of God. What are the two of them? One God. And how can the two be said to be one God? How? You wonder at this? In the Acts of the Apostles it says that the believers “had one soul and one heart” (Acts 4:32). They were many souls, but their faith made them one soul. There were so many thousands of souls; they loved one another, and the many are one. They were on fire with the love of God, and from being a crowd they achieved a beautiful unity. If love made so many souls one soul, what love must there be in God, where there is no diversity but total equality? If here on earth, and among human beings, there could be such great charity as to make so many souls one soul, where the Father and the Son are inseparable from one another, what could they be except one God? (Augustine, De symbolo, 52,4; PL 40, 629.)

See also his comparison of the Church to a group of people eagerly rushing toward a shrine:

They talk to one another, and, on fire individually, they make a single flame [incensi singillatim faciunt unam flammam], and the flame created by their conversation as they approach carries them on to the holy place, and their holy thoughts make them holy”; (Augustine, Enar. in Ps 121, 2-4; PL 37:1619.)

I love this second quote for the nice balance it achieves. I imagine a crowd of pilgrims walking up a hill toward a shrine, silhouetted against a dark sky, each person carrying a candle, all of them, from afar, making a single flame. A single flame but only because each of them is carrying a candle and because all of them are carrying candles, there is one flame.

Despite what many people have thought, I think that Augustine’s ecclesiology is very concrete. When he cites and emphasizes many of the most beautiful biblical designations of the Church, he does not leave them unexplained nor does he assume that they are true of some Church over and above its members, halfway between us and God. He explains them by pointing to the very specific, concrete thoughts or loves or actions that illustrate or embody what the lofty terms mean, that make them true of the people in front of him. Thus, here, the many believers after Pentecost had a single soul because they all believed and loved. The Church is one because of what is going on in the members of the Church. The Church is one because and to the degree that its members believe in the same God and because and to the degree that they love God and one another. To put it in fancy words: the Church is an event of subjectivity and inter-subjectivity.

March 26, 2019

Night, light, and delight

Augustine is commenting on Psalm 138[139], a wonderful prayer about God’s presence and providence in the Psalmist’s life. Several themes of the Psalm are audible in Augustine’s reflection.

Considering the length of his life, what does the Psalmist say to himself? “And I said, ‘Perhaps darkness will trample me’” (Ps 138:11). See, he says, I’ve come to believe in Christ; I’ve already been lifted on the two wings of charity, and yet this world abounds in wickedness, and because iniquity will abound, the charity of many will grow cold. That’s what the Lord said, “Because iniquity will abound, the charity of many will grow cold” (Mt 24:12). In this life, amid such great scandals, amid so many sins, amid such great turmoil of daily temptations, of evil suggestions every day, he says, What do I do? How can I reach “the uttermost parts of the sea”? (Ps 137[138]:9) I hear the terrible words from the Lord: “Because wickedness will abound, the charity of many will grow cold.” But then he adds, “The one who perseveres to the end will be saved” (Mt 24:13).

Considering the length of my life, I say to myself, “Perhaps darkness will trample me. And night will become light to my delight.” Night has become light for me, because in the night I had despaired of being able to cross so great a sea and survive so great a journey and come to the uttermost end, persevering until the end. Thanks be to God who sought me when I was fleeing from him, who struck my back with a blow of the whip, who called me, called me back from destruction, who made my night bright with light. This life is one long night. How was this night made bright? Because Christ descended into this night. Christ accepted flesh from this world and he illumined the night for us. Remember that woman who had lost that little coin, the drachma? She lit a lamp (Lk 15:8). God’s wisdom had lost a little coin, a drachma. What is a drachma? It’s a coin bearing the image of our Emperor himself, because man was made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), and was lost. And what did that wise woman do? She lit a lamp. A lamp is made of clay, but it gave enough light that the drachma could be found. The lamp of wisdom, then, the flesh of Christ, is made of clay, but it shines with its Word, and it finds the lost.

“And night will be my light to my delight.” Night has become light in my delight. Our delight is Christ. See how we are now rejoicing in this. Your shouts, your joys, what are these but delight? And where does that delight come from if not because our night has become bright because Christ the Lord is being preached to us? Because he sought you before you sought him, and he found you so that you could find him. “And night has become bright to my delight.” (EnPs 138, 14; PL 37, 1792-93)

Augustine’s sermons were taken down by stenographers as he was preaching them, and we see an indication of this in the final paragraph where the shouts of appreciation for his explanation as well as his response to them are noted. Maybe it was something like the “Amens” that you hear from a congregation in a black Church.

Notice also the reference to the delight of the Psalmist. Augustine is often presented as a Gloomy Gus, but, as I hope to show in a future post, he spoke often of the delights that ought to make and mark a Christian’s life, and not just in heaven.

Here is another place in which Augustine repeats the image of the Incarnation given in the little parable about the woman lighting a lamp and searching for her lost little coin.

How great are your works, O Lord! You have made all things in wisdom!” (Ps 102[104]:24). Where is that wisdom in which you have made all things? What sense can reach it? What eye can see it? How can it be sought? How can it be possessed? Only by grace! By his gift it is that we live, by his gift that we are good. He gives this to those who convert, but before they were converted and while they turned from him and gone off in their own ways, did he not seek them? Did he not come down? Was not the Word made flesh and did it not dwell among us? (Jn 1:14) Did he not light the lamp of his flesh, while he hung upon the cross, and search for his lost drachma? (Lk 15:8) He sought it and found it, and all his neighbors rejoiced with him, that is, every spiritual creature close to God. The drachma was found and the neighbors rejoiced; a human soul was found, and the angels rejoice. It was found and so it rejoices and says, “How great are your works, O Lord! You have done all things in wisdom!” (EnPs 103/4, 2; PL 37, 1378-79)

March 22, 2019

Everyone has some alms to give

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , — komonchak @ 8:50 am

Imagine someone who has only two coins. Is there anything more trifling that we could sow in order to reap a harvest? Yes, there is: “Whoever gives a cup of cold water to a disciple will not lose his reward” (Mt 10:42) A cup of cold water doesn’t cost two coins; it’s free. But it can happen that one person has it and another doesn’t. If the one who has the cup of water gives it to the one who doesn’t have it, if he gives what he has entirely out of love, he gives as much as that widow who gave her two coins and as much as Zacchaeus who gave half of his wealth. There is a reason the Lord said that it was cold water, to show that he was talking about a poor man. He said “a cup of cold water” so that no one could use as an excuse for not giving that he didn’t have wood by which to warm the water.

But what if he doesn’t have even that? He shouldn’t worry. “Peace on earth to men of good will.” The only thing to be afraid of is if he has something to give and doesn’t give it. If he has it and doesn’t give it, he’s become frozen inside; his sins have not melted like a torrent in a south wind because his will is frozen. What are all those goods that we possess worth? If our wills are warm, melted by the warm south wind, even if one of us doesn’t have anything, he is considered to have given everything.

How much beggars give each other! Pay attention, beloved, to how alms are given. Yes, there are beggars to whom you give alms, and beggars need it. Perhaps you notice some brothers and sister in need of something; and you give it, if Christ is within you, even to outsiders. And if there are beggars in difficulty, people who beg for a living, they too have things they can give each other. God hasn’t abandoned them in their trials because they give alms. One person can’t walk, and another, who can, adjusts his pace to the lame one; someone who can see uses his eyes for one blind; someone young and healthy can supply his strength to an old or sick person, support him. The one is needy, the other is rich.

Sometimes, even a rich person becomes poor and needs a poor person to help in some respect. One such person comes to a river, but he’s as soft as he is rich and can’t cross the river: if he were to strip down, he’d get cold, get sick, and die. A poor man comes along, in better shape, and takes the rich man across: he’s given an alms to a rich man. So don’t think that people without money are the only poor. If you see someone in need in some respect, perhaps you are rich in that in which he is poor, and you have something to give. It may be your limbs that you lend and that’s more than if you lent him money. Someone needs advice, and you’re full of advice: he’s poor in advice and you’re rich in it. You don’t have to labor at this, you don’t lose anything from it, but give your advice and you’ve given alms.

Right now, brothers and sisters, as we speak, you are like poor people before us, and what God has deigned to give to us, we give to you, and we all receive from the One who alone is good. That’s how the Body of Christ holds together: fellow members joined and united in charity and in the bond of peace when anyone who has something gives it to one who doesn’t. In what he has, he is rich; in what he doesn’t, he is poor. Cherish one another that way; love one another that way. Don’t think only of yourselves: notice those in need around you. (EnPs 125,12; PL 37,1665)

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