A “magisterial” book on moral theology

Orbis BookThis is something to look forward to this Monday. My former professor in theology, Dr. Christina Astorga is coming to De La Salle  – Manila to launch her latest book Catholic Moral Theology and Social Ethics. After holding professorial stints in different universities in the United States, she now serves as the Chair of the Theology Department of the University of Portland. The Vatican-censured Jesuit theologian Roger Haight describes the book as  “A summa of post-Vatican II Catholic moral theology and social ethics, this magisterial work…offers a creative synthesis of Catholic moral thinking today.” Lisa Sowle Cahill, J. Donald Monan Professor of Moral Theology, Boston College wrote: “Strikingly original work…incisive, spiritually attuned, globally sensitive.” The book is published by Orbis Books, New York.

I peeked at the table of contents of the book at Amazon, giving me the impression that this book is going to be the “new textbook” with a new method in the study of Catholic moral theology. Dr. Astorga has been consistently impressing the heavily male populated boardroom of theologians with her deep, scholarly mind. From the Philippine Jesuits, she now penetrates the bigger domain of theological exploration in the United States, having addressed as plenary speaker at the 2014  Catholic Theological Society of America Convention this June. Her book was awarded the National Book Award by the College Theology Society. As a Jesuit brainchild, her bias naturally is towards ‘Ignatian spirituality’ and it is easy to suspect from the table of contents how this brand of spirituality must have informed her take on morality.

‘Ignatian spirituality’ aside, I think there is another way of looking at morality from a more contemplative view after my years of exposure to the thoughts of Maggie Ross, Rowan Williams, Iain McGilchrist, Patricia Churchland, the Japanese poetry, Zen Buddhism, and my latest find Mari Ruti. This is what excites me in the coming new year.


“Rubbish” for Paul

I’ve been pondering on Paul’s usage of FORGETTING and LOSS, trying to understand it through the lens of ‘beholding’. What was it that Paul desired to relegate into the bin of forgetfulness? And was this ‘thing’ somehow connected to the things he considered as “rubbish” or “losses” or “damaging”? Again, biblical interpretation can employ different models. Maggie Ross”s “beholding model” to my view is a far more fertile parameter for an “honest interrogation,” “holding more open the space of questioning between the human and the divine” (MacKendrick) than other models spawned by the linearity and dialectics of the “religion of rationalism” (of which “epistemology” is a subset) of the West.

Back to the couple of questions I raised. James Dunn, paraphrasing W.D. Davies argues that Paul can only be best understood with Judaism as the main backdrop. This is a new perspective on Paul according to Dunn because Christianity has been so busy in its prejudices, consciously or subconsciously, against Judaism. The “loss” mentioned by Paul for example could be used for denigrating Judaism being a “second-rate” religion. But the beholding model could render a different take: what seems “forgetful” for Paul, being a rabid implementor of the strictures of the Law, were the statics of the same Law. What Paul may have considered as “rubbish” or “damaging” was how the observance of the Law was turned into an idolatry, becoming the basis of exclusion rather than pointing to the infinite space of the Holy or potential icons for beholding the way the book of Deuteronomy was during the time of exile from the beholding in the First Temple.

This tendency for religious statics is not exclusive of course to Judaism. They are multiplying in Christianity and a few consider them as “rubbish” worth our forgetting. It is not Martian to think of Christianity being in exile and it takes a few priests only to remind us of the exiled vision and what’s damaging within our institutional self-referentiality,’priests’ writing stories, scribbling visions resembling the “creation stories and its vision” written during the period of Babylonian exile, writers of faith classified by Walter Brueggemann as capable not only of preserving the integrity of texts but also midwife for “new meaning to explode.”


Karmen MacKendrick, Immemorial Silence (State University of New York Press, 2001).

Maggie Ross, Behold Not The Cloud of Experience, in E.A. Jones, ed., The Medieval Mystical Tradition in England: Exeter Symposium VIII (D.S. Brewer, Cambridge, 2013).

‘Beholding’ is incarnational. For an in-depth treatment of St. Paul’s incarnational theology, see Ward Blanton, A Materialism for the Masses: Saint Paul and the Philosophy of Undying Life (New York: Columbia University Press, 2014). In this book, Blanton critically dialogues with ‘revered philosophers’ of the West, and the theologians who subscribed to the thought of Saint Paul as a metaphysical icon, caught between the hierarchy of master and slave, a paragon of pop Platonism that Freud and Nietszche, Derrida and Foucault are so linear about, the Paul who is labelled as the ‘imperial founder of Christendom. Blanton on the other hand argues on the ‘immanent’ life of Saint Paul, driven from below just like any ordinary human being by the aspiration to a singular life, the road to singularity – long and winding and tortuous.

Excellent sources of institutional self-referentiality include Peter Brown, Through the Eye of a Needle: Wealth, the Fall of Rome, and the Making of Christianity of the West (Princeton University Press, 2012); Michele Renee Salzman, The Making of a Christian Aristocracy: Social and Religious Change in the Western Roman Empire (Harvard University Press, 2002); Richard E. Rubenstein, When Jesus Became God: The Epic Fight Over Christ’s Divinity in the Last Days of Rome (New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1999); and Jeanne Halgren Kilde, Sacred Power, Sacred Space: An Introduction to Christian Architecture and Worship (Oxford University Press, 2008).

Arguably, the most meaningful journal article on theology in intersection with other disciplines  I have read is Maggie Ross, Apophatic Prayer as a Theological Model: Seeking Coordinates in the Ineffable, Notes for a Quantum Theology, Journal of Literature and Theology, Vol. 7, No. 4, December 1993.

Walter Brueggemann, Texts that Linger, Words that Explode: Listening to Prophetic Voices (MN: Augsburg Press, 2000).




Turtles’ Massacre


We, citizens of the Philippines, hereby stand by our government and express our fullest support for the immediate prosecution of the Chinese nationals with their shameless Filipino collaborators arrested for the capture of over 500 endangered marine turtles in our seas. In addition to violating national and international laws such as the Wildlife Conservation Act, the Fisheries Code, and the Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, these Chinese nationals pierced the eyes of the marine turtles and tied them through their eye sockets to prevent them from escaping–an act of barbaric cruelty against animals.

We congratulate and applaud the Philippine National Police Maritime Group Special Boat Unit for seizing the Chinese fishing boat and apprehending its crew to enforce maritime and marine conservation laws. As the richest marine waters on Earth, we Filipinos must take the lead in marine law enforcement.

The Philippines has been called the “Center of the Center of Marine Biodiversity on Earth.” Because we are the most gifted of the seas, we have the credibility and responsibility to advocate for its conservation, not only for today but for all time. We must not allow ourselves to be bullied by a neighborhood toughie. Small as we are, we must be ready to stand up to whoever dares to destroy our God-given wealth of marine resources, even if they are the most powerful country on Earth.

This poaching incident is not an isolated one. Chinese, Vietnamese, and Taiwanese poachers have been arrested in the past and current administrations. The Chinese poachers have even entered our Tubbataha Reefs. However, as a gesture of friendship and appeasement to China, our Government quickly released the accused.

This has been taken as a sign of weakness by the foreign nationals who continue to intrude into our territorial waters and capture endangered species.

That time is over.

We challenge the authoritarian government of the People’s Republic of China to face the Philippines in the International Tribunal of the Law of the Sea where we shall settle our differences in a manner appropriate for civilized nations under a regime of the rule of law. Its continued refusal to meet the Philippines in an impartial international forum reveals the lack of legal basis of its atrocious claim to the entire South China Sea, including the West Philippine Sea as defined by the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea. This refusal to engage the Philippines in an organized and orderly forum also reveals the cowardice and/or sheer arrogance of the Government of China.

We strongly urge the authorities in Palawan and the national government, especially President Benigno Aquino II, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Justice, and the Police to be strong in the face of undue pressure. We, the people of the Philippines, stand by our government officials in this battle to uphold the country’s right to protect our Philippine Seas, the richest marine waters on Earth.

Atty. Antonio Oposa

Anna Oposa

Kester Yu

Atty. Liza Osorio

Atty. Golly Ramos

Atty. Hector Theodosius

Antonio Madabi

Lourdes Manulat

Julius Carabio


NCR comments worth pondering on…

from mokantx:

“Like most here, I think this whole Canonization process has gone off the rails.

I see little I can truly emulate in any pope, bishop, king or queen, for their lives are SO different from mine as to have very little in common. I have no power. I have no “status.” I have no influence, beyond my family and circle of friends and work-related contacts.

What kinship, for example, would I feel with John XXIII or JPII when it comes to trying to raise a family during a severe economic downturn? Where is the shared anguish over the things my daughters faced during their years at school? How much are my efforts to take care of my mother, who is approaching 90 and slowly “losing it,” while still maintaining my job, marriage, and other obligations, can I see mirrored in the lives of these Saints?

If the message is that i’m supposed to “find” something in holy-card images and lives spent in spheres I could only imagine, it’s not working. I’d think that the saint-making machine we call the papacy has little to offer, save perhaps for those who are bishops and aspiring for a promotion.

But a person I CAN connect to, is my departed father. Here’s a man who struggled his entire life, who always tried to do the right thing, and who had neither a mean nor prideful bone in his body. He did without so his kids might become educated. He helped the poor whenever he could, but ALWAYS did so in quiet, “off the radar” kinds of ways. This is a man who, to the best of my memory, never owned a brand new car, had his hair “styled” beyond what they did at his local barber shop, owned seasons tickets to a sports team, etc. His circle of friends were his WWII buddies. His biggest vice was a perennial bag of candy on top of the refrigerator. But I saw this man struggle. I saw him take pleasure in his children, protect his wife, and do all he could to live a good life in a society that is not always kind to those that straddle the line between the working poor, and the lower middle class.

A person like this is someone who can speak to me, for in his struggles, I see mine, and in his virtues, I see what I strive to become. Isn’t THAT what Canonization was SUPPOSED to be about?”


“I was taught that from time to time, the church raises up people and Canonizes them, essentially to lift up someone we can look up to, emulate, pray to for intercession, and in general, to remind us that we are all saints in the making, if we live our lives well. That “lifting up” is meant to energize, to recognize that “one of us made it,” in so many words. It’s supposed to be a good thing, sort of a rallying cry.

Problem is that when we see such a high percentage of people whose lives are SO unlike our own, SO unreachable to us, then what really IS the purpose here? I cannot help but think that the process has become so twisted, that it’s centered primarily on “popes and politics.” I used my dad earlier, NOT because I think he should be Canonized, but because I think we ALL know really good, holy, everyday people who did their best to do it all right, including people like those mentioned by AnonAJ in that post. who work in health care, or other ways that help support the dignity of each of us. Yet, I cannot think of a SINGLE such person who has been Canonized for that reason. So exactly who or what is being “uplifted here?” Is my life of so little value, so little meaning to the powers that be in the church that guys like us, and whatever we do, simply don’t matter? Think about it: the odds of my Canonization are at BEST, something like a Billion to one. But if I’m a modern day pope, at least over the last 62 years, the odds rise to something like 80-90% (or higher).

Honestly, it sorta seems like I’m being told that I cannot be worthy, because I cannot be a Pope. For a woman, it’s doubly bad, because it seems about the only way to be Canonized is to remain a Virgin, die a Martyr, or do some so extraordinary that the bishops almost HAVE to do something to acknowledge her existence, as the rest of the world “gets it.”

So what do our daily lives mean to the church? Right now, all signs suggest that to those at the top, our lives mean very little. The lives of clergy mean more (enough to place them above children in the order of who should be protected), the lives of bishops mean a LOT more, and the lives of popes apparently mean up to a billion times more…”


And this one:

“Coogan observes: “By the second half of the twentieth century, even the popes’ spiritual authority was being eroded, because of flawed leadership. Pius XII’s silence about the Holocaust was moral cowardice, if not latent anti-Semitism. Paul VI’s insistence on banning artificial contraception in his encyclical Humanae Vitae, against the opinion of a majority of his advisors, effectively ended papal authority for many Catholics. John Paul II’s clericalism led to years of denial and coddling of predatory priest pedophiles and their episcopal superiors, which further diminished the Church’s authority as well as its coffers. “

Coogan then adds: “Significantly, these last two issues concern what the current pope has called an obsessive preoccupation with sex and reproduction; it is of more than tangential interest that of the thousands of men and women put on the path to sainthood by John Paul II and Benedict XVI, only a tiny percentage were married. Most openly sexually active persons, it seems, can’t really be saintly “.

Coogan calls “spades” spades as he further observes: “The haste to canonize the last five deceased popes is an effort to shore up the diminished spiritual authority of the papacy. If every pope is a saint, who could dare disagree with them? Surely they are being elevated to sainthood not mainly because of their personal holiness but because they were popes, even though as popes most of them were deeply flawed. Is flawed leadership no bar to sainthood?”

In a perceptive, but biting, final observation, Coogan concludes: “The Vatican is locked in a time warp of absolute monarchical authority, and popes canonizing their predecessors is an attempt to preserve and enhance it. The joint canonization of John XXIII and John Paul II—the first a darling of liberal Catholics, the second a favorite of traditional Catholics—is calculated to appeal to different constituencies. Even sainthood is political, and it is disingenuous to pretend that it is not.”

It is interesting how unique this “pope saint making” really is historically. Coogan points out: “From the beginning of the fourteenth century to the mid-twentieth, only two popes were canonized and another three were declared “Blessed.” Not so any more: since the papacy of John Paul II a flurry of canonizations has been underway, not just for ordinary individuals deemed holy, but also for modern popes.”

Coogan then adds: “Remarkably, all of the popes since the mid-twentieth century, except of course for those still alive, are on the path to canonization: Pius XII (1939–1958, declared Servant of God in 1990 and Venerable in 2009), John XXIII (1958–1963, declared Servant of God in 1965, Venerable in 1999, and Blessed in 2000), Paul VI (1963–1978, declared Servant of God in 1993 and Venerable in 2012), John Paul I (1978, declared Servant of God in 2003), and John Paul II (1978–2005, declared Servant of God in 2005, Venerable in 2009, and Blessed in 2011). Why this sudden, almost automatic rush to sainthood for recent popes?”

Why do you think?

Such informed candor from a scriptural scholar is unusual, but he is now an emeritus and still lectures at a secular school, Harvard. So he is beyond being “nailed” for telling the unpleasant truth about the Vatican so seldom heard, in my experience, from faculty members at Catholic institutions—too bad for Catholics, especially students.”


Here’s the link to Scripture scholar Michael Coogan’s article on canonization at Yale Press blog…


“As the canonizations of these two popes and the 2003 beatification of Mother Teresa of Calcutta illustrate, we are moving away from an age when Catholics come to know their saints only through stories, statues and stained glass windows. Instead, we are witnesses to their goodness firsthand.

But though we are getting closer to our saints, canonization is still weighed much too heavily toward religious celebrities. The ranks of candidates for sainthood remains stunningly thin when it comes to ordinary laypeople, Korean martyrs notwithstanding.

Earlier this month, a Spanish missionary to Brazil, the bishop of Quebec, and an Ursuline nun joined the ranks of saints. Since the new year opened, a New Jersey nun, a bishop from Spain, a priest from Italy and the queen consort of the two kingdoms of Sicily and Naples were beatified.

Where are the ordinary laity? Will obscurity continue to remain the destiny of a righteous layperson lacking a large religious community or diocese to plead his or her cause for sainthood?”

You can read the rest of Francis J. Butler’s article “Where are all the saints without cassocks?” here.