Friday, April 22, 2022

More mischevious nonsense from The Pillar

Cross-posted from Rorate Caeli.

April 14th this year was Maundy Thursday. It is an interesting day for The Pillar to choose to publish a shoddy attack on two Catholic intellectuals, Prof Thomas Pink and Fr Edward Waldstein, for their alleged 'integralist' views, in an interview by Charlie Camosy with Joseph Capizzi.

Plant the critique out there in public, on the day in the year the victims are least likely to notice it quickly or react before the social media circus has moved on. Better still, if someone--like me--does notice and uses Twitter to call on the Pillar's editors, J.D. Flynn and Edward Condon, to account for it over the following 24 hours, they can just piously not react for the duration.

So here I am drawing attention to this interview once again. I happen know the targets of this piece. Prof Pink is a Patron of the Latin Mass Society. I know Fr Waldstein a little from the Roman Forum Summer Symposium. There are a great many would-be lay intellectual leaders of the Catholic world, and the field is quite crowded even if you focus on the Traditional Catholic niche, but Prof Pink and Fr Waldstein are the real thing: they are established and respected academics who are orthodox Catholics and engaged in some of the fundamental issues of the day. Prof Pink is one of the foremost Catholic intellectuals in the UK. 

Accordingly, I suppose it is not surprising that they should be the focus of asinine criticisms. Towards the end the interviewer Camosy tries to draw in a gaggle of other names into the discussion, but Capizzi doesn't really rise to the bait.

The article is presented as a balanced piece by the simple expedient of Capizzi saying 'on the one hand, on the other hand' from time to time, but the balance is unreal because the central characterisation of their position is completely misconceived. Capizzi kicks of the interview with this:

The major figures seem to be primarily online, as I haven’t seen much of their work in standard theological journals. The two (English-speaking) who jump first to mind are Thomas Pink and Edmund Waldstein.

I take their central claim to be that, just as man has two ends, spiritual and temporal, and that man’s temporal end is ordered to his spiritual end, so must the juridical authorities of the world be hierarchically ordered: the temporal juridical authority to the spiritual juridical authority.

In other words, the state should be subordinate to the Church. Relatedly, then, any political order is deficient to the degree it fails to seek this hierarchization of juridical authorities, or denies the existence of the spiritual juridical authority. Thus, “liberalism” must be rejected if and when it denies such ordering — or the existence of the spiritual juridical authority.

What Capizzi is doing is saying: 'before I descend into any criticisms, what these individuals support is this': and then presents something which is simply insane, a kind of theocracy, rule by the clergy, those who exercise spiritual power. What Pink and Waldstein actually believe (and yes, I have checked with them, but readers can look it up for themselves if they want to) is what all orthodox Catholic believe: that while the spiritual end of life is higher than the temporal end, the temporal power is sovereign in its own sphere. Those exercising spiritual authority are not hierarchically superior to those exercising temporal authority when it come to temporal affairs.

It remains true, of course, as Pope John XXIII taught in Pacem in Terris:

59. Men, however, composed as they are of bodies and immortal souls, can never in this mortal life succeed in satisfying all their needs or in attaining perfect happiness. Therefore the common good is to be procured by such ways and means which not only are not detrimental to man’s eternal salvation but which positively contribute to it.

This traditional position is also expressed by Vatican II's Gaudium et Spes 76:

The Church and the political community in their own fields are autonomous and independent from each other. Yet both, under different titles, are devoted to the personal and social vocation of the same men. The more that both foster sounder cooperation between themselves with due consideration for the circumstances of time and place, the more effective will their service be exercised for the good of all. For man's horizons are not limited only to the temporal order; while living in the context of human history, he preserves intact his eternal vocation.

Thus, first, temporal and spiritual authorities are 'autonomous and independent'. And yet, second, since Church and State are exercising authority over the self-same people they will have to find a way to cooperate. And, third, our spiritual goal is of greater ultimate importance than our temporal goals.

Naturally Pink and Waldstein have distinctive things to say about these matters, but the basis of their positions is comprised by the fundamental principles just enunciated, which go back to Pope Galasius' Duo Sunt: 'there are two powers', written in the year 494.

The whole point of this position is that there is no subordination of the temporal power as such to the spiritual. I take it Capizzi is aware of this and his point is to accuse Pink and Waldstein of rejecting this position in favour of the kind of view one might associate with post-revolutionary Iran.

Pink and Waldstein have been active in writing on these topics and Capizzi must have read something about their views in order to pick them out. Either he is putting out a calculated calumny, or else by some combination of laziness and stupidity he really believes what he has written. It is not for me to speculate, but I will say this.

A great deal of public commentary on Catholic matters is undertaken by people with rather limited intellectual formation, particularly journalists. To some extent this is inevitable, and it is good that a journalistic enterprise like The Pillar should invite an academic to help explain a phenomenon like integralism, whether or not that is a helpful term to apply to the views of Pink and Waldstein. There is a problem, however, in that at best the journalistic instinct is to simplify, and all too often journalists are drawn into ideological conflicts in which they present half-truths and half-baked arguments to vindicate one set of people and tear down another: just compare left- and right-leaning newspaper accounts of the same event. Journalists like to pile up supposed facts and opinions in the hope that at least some of it may stick.

Capizzi is allowing himself to be dragged into exactly this kind of exercise. It is a pretty poor showing for a supposedly Catholic outlet, but it is a particular problem for him as an academic. Journalists can always claim that academic arguments are a bit over the heads, and in general I am ready to believe them. But within academia, when someone gets his opponent's views completely upside-down this is not regarded as understandable partisanship. It is basic intellectual failure. It makes you look like a fool, and it renders everything you subsequently say on the subject worthless.

That is why it would be pointless for me to critique the rest of the interview, which of course contains all kinds of tendentious nonsense. From an academic point of view, it is not worth reading, because he is explaining--oh-so-charitably, oh-so-open-mindedly--an imaginary position, a straw man.

Capizzi should be ashamed of himself. JD Flynn and Ed Condon owe Pink and Waldstein an apology, and they should pull this interview. They will not, however: just as they refused to clarify or correct their insinuations of disobedience and wrongdoing levelled at Cardinal Burke last year.

I am sorry to say it, but for all the useful things The Pillar has done and may yet do, it is becoming marked for its failure to observe the fundamental requirements of intellectual honesty and respect for the reputations of public figures. Flynn and Condon need to do some hard thinking about the direction of their work.

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  1. Integralism, as Thomas Pink notes in his Public Discourse articles on this, is the view that civil establishment and recognition of the Church is necessary or obligatory (or, we might put it otherwise, it is a duty of every baptized Catholic to seek to bring about that establishment). That view is not a doctrinal requirement for Catholics.

  2. 'Integralism' as defined by Prof. Pink and Fr Waldstein is simply the teaching of the Church up until Vatican II. Even that Council CLAIMED that it 'le[ft] untouched traditional Catholic doctrine on the moral duty of men and societies toward the true religion and toward the one Church of Christ' (DH, Art. 1), before radically changing it.