Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nancy Pelosi's Theological Sources

As I mentioned in a previous post, Nancy Pelosi has been using her Augustine argument on abortion for several years. It struck me as highly unlikely that the congresswoman would, on her own, have made an investigation of the more obscure writings of the Church Fathers in order to form her conscience on abortion.

Daniel C. Maguire is a theologian at Marquette University who has for years proposed that there are valid pro-choice and pro-life "traditions" in the Catholic Church. He argues that one can be in either camp and still be a good Catholic.

An early work of his on this topic was published in 1983 in Christian Century. Therein he states something remarkably close to the Speaker's view:

"On the other hand, the teachings about abortion contained some remarkable scientific premonitions, including the insight that the early fetus could not have personal status. Said St. Augustine: "The law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide. For there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation when it is not formed in flesh and so is not endowed with sense." As Joseph Donceel, S.J., notes, up until the end of the 18th century "the law of the Roman Catholic Church forbade one to baptize an aborted fetus that showed no human shape or outline." If it were a personal human being, it would deserve baptism. On the question of a rational soul entering the fetus, Donceel notes that Thomas Aquinas "spoke of six weeks for the male embryo and three months for the female embryo." In Aquinas’s hylomorphic theory, the matter had to be ready to receive the appropriate form. According to such principles, as Rosemary Ruether points out, "Thomas Aquinas might well have had to place the point of human ensoulment in the last trimester if he had been acquainted with modern embryology.

"If the bishops and other negative absolutists would speak of tradition, let them speak of it in its full ambiguity and subtlety, instead of acting as though the tradition were a simplistic, Platonic negative floating through time untouched by contradiction, nuance or complexity."

Of course, Maguire is a quack, but the view he espouses is not unheard of from theologians at Universities merely "In the Catholic tradition."

When I was editor of Catholic San Francisco, I received many calls over my tenure from readers challenging any article espousing "official" Catholic teaching on life issues as representing only one view within the tradition. When challenged with authoratative magisterial teaching some callers remained unfazed saying that either a theologian or a Jesuit at the University of San Francisco ('with better credentials than you') had told them the opposite.

Plenty of culpability for the culture of death can be laid upon those moral theologians who preach their own gospel as the gospel of the Church.