Apostolic Succession without Success

It used to be that the claims of a Cardinal in the church might be above the paygrade of an ordinary university theologian, but in sectors where papal supremacy is still audacious, a bishop’s links to the apostles doesn’t count much any more. Timothy Cardinal Dolan’s op-ed for the Wall St. Journal has not pleased a bevy of Roman Catholic theologians and ethicists:

Jesuit Fr. John Langan, who holds the Cardinal Bernardin Chair of Catholic Social Thought at Georgetown University, faults Dolan for crediting all the positive accomplishments of the economy “to the private sector, while exempting it from serious criticism for the actual defects of our system, the problems of ‘real existing capitalism.'”

“Virtuous American capitalism,” Langan argues, “is an abstraction. The key question is whether the notion is being used to prick or to lull our consciences.”

For Langan, “The real arguments which need to be faced have to do with achieving the right balance of private initiative, redistributive programs, fair regulations, opportunities for the young and for the previously excluded, equitable and realistic taxation, a style of management that treats workers with dignity and respects the environment.”

Unfortunately, he says, “far too many of the friends of American capitalism devote their energies to denouncing, defunding, and otherwise restricting efforts to face the immensely complex set of problems that confront us. They are devoted to a powerful but incomplete method of economic thinking that marginalizes important human needs and values that Catholic teaching is committed to proclaiming and defending.”

What especially caught the ire of the theologians was Cardinal Dolan’s focus on personal morality and virtue while excluding structural issues.

“Cardinal Dolan’s stress on personal virtue as the solution to issues of economic injustice does not give sufficient attention to the structural causes of poverty,” Hollenbach complains.

“These structural issues have long been a major emphasis in Catholic social teaching, especially since Pius XI placed high stress on social justice as a reality that goes beyond the justice of individuals,” he says. “Pope Francis is clearly aware of these structural issues when he argues that markets do not lead to justice by ‘trickle down.’ The Pope’s critique is another way of calling for structural change.”

Dolan’s column “reflects a heavily individualistic understanding of morality,” says Professor Mark Allman, chair of Religious & Theological Studies Department at Merrimack College.

“He seems to reduce the bad behavior of the financial districts to individual choices, which ignores John Paul II’s teaching on ‘social sin’ as ‘institutionalized evil,'” Allman says. “Granted John Paul said all sin is traced back to individual choices, nevertheless there are structural and cultural practices that contribute to a culture or status quo that can be inhumane.” But in Dolan’s piece, “There’s no mention of the need for structural change.”

Then again, the Cardinal wasn’t resting simply on his own ecclesiastical authority, perhaps because economics is an aspect of human interaction that resists divinely revealed categories. Dolan, it turns out, needed the help of Larry Kudlow to yield an opinion with the weight of apostolic authority:

Larry Kudlow of CNBC tweeted that he worked with Cardinal Dolan on the piece. On his show back in August, after quoting the pope’s tweet that people are “unemployed, often as a result of a self-centered mindset bent on profit at any cost,” Kudlow commented, “That doesn’t sound like much of a free market message to me.”

Many of the themes in Dolan’s column can be heard in Kudlow’s show. “I hope sincerely that the pope does not believe that his native Argentina was an example of capitalism,” Kudlow said. “That was state-run fascism, and that was cronyism and stealing.”

He argued that what Pope Francis is saying is, “businesses, politicians, and everybody, we all have to have a conscience. As we go about our business in this system, we must have a conscience and we must not forget those who are less fortunate.” Kudlow said he believes that “Judeo-Christian values, meritocracy values, that is where the rising tide lifts all boats.” He acknowledged, “That does not mean poverty ends, but that is where the rising tide comes from.”

In contrast, Kudlow said “Pope John Paul II had a much more market-friendly approach to all this” because he lived under Soviet Communist rule. “He understood that the socialist systems or even the quasi-socialist systems have no freedom,” he opined. “I am not sure this pope really understands that.”

So the next time Jason and the Callers want to lecture Protestants about our poorly governed ideas and communions, they may want to consider the incoherence in their own seemingly well-ordered circles.

13 thoughts on “Apostolic Succession without Success

  1. It is interesting that in the caller’s lecture that he is so convinced that Jesus’ remarks about binding presumes infallibility. From Jesus’ remarks about the Supper, you might assume infallibility in the Church’s participation in that. However, by the time you read Corinthians, you realize exactly how much the church can fail in that institution, even to the point that is no longer the Supper. Why not binding and looking as well?


  2. They’re up in arms because Dolan is justifiably trying to school the Pope and his running buddies.

    Dolan has had to observe the enthusiastic flight of the common man to the floor of Kodak and Bausch and Lomb and Xerox, etc, etc.

    For Langan, “The real arguments which need to be faced have to do with achieving the right balance of private initiative, redistributive programs, fair regulations, opportunities for the young and for the previously excluded, equitable and realistic taxation, a style of management that treats workers with dignity and respects the environment.”

    This is an impossibility because its article of faith is that we can have it all and every decent (and maybe even indecent) American knows that to be nonsense. In On Understanding Poverty one of the contributing sociologists asserted that the poor assert the bourgeois values. I don’t doubt that’s still true this half a century later. How could they not? They know the values to be capable of giving a person the best shot at controlling those things that are largely in a person’s control. That they are too difficult to remain faithful to is another topic and problem altogether.

    Tocqueville rules here and not the thinking of marxist redeemers who have no choice but to allow a private sector because w/out it, redistribution isn’t possible only widespread squalor. But these redeemers hold to the total depravity of only the business class. Anyone who has moved from job to job, not career to career or preferment to preferment, knows the value of easily putting food on your table.

    In the double pox, think of the zeal with which Romney’s demise was planned by the release of that tape. A wait staff works hard and while it’ll react against any dissing it doesn’t regard reduced opportunity as helpful.

    Dolan’s critics can deny it all they want but the truth that most people are looking for a way to provide for themselves free from having to petition the State can’t be gainsaid, at least not now and at least not in the US. And even in Italy where the economy is awful, the government incompetent w/out institutional interest bearing fruit that can work around incompetence, my two cousins in Rome just found work after having been without it for over a year and are thrilled.

    “Cardinal Dolan’s stress on personal virtue as the solution to issues of economic injustice does not give sufficient attention to the structural causes of poverty,” Hollenbach complains.

    Again, nonsense from the point of view of the man of modest means who wants opportunity to provide for himself and those he loves.

    The frugality of the various groups of immigrants is testament to the fact that personal virtue matters.


  3. MLD, well, the Irish were always an unruly lot and never mixed well with the Mediterranean element in the RCC. But David Brat may be the guy to bring evangelicals and RC’s even more together:

    Brat’s 1996 economics doctoral dissertation at American University, called “Human Capital, Religion and Economic Growth,” looked at the role of religion in three European countries in affecting the advance of science. He concluded that Protestantism helped in Britain and Germany and that Catholicism hurt in France, Nelson said.

    “[Brat] argues that science is best advanced in a nation where there is a powerful ‘bottom up’ in favor of the individual such as in Protestantism and especially the Calvinist and other dissenting branches of Protestantism,” Nelson said.

    This whole question of how religion and economics influence one another has been a central topic in the Catholic Church since the 1990s, when Pope John Paul II broke somewhat from a church focus on charity to write a major paper praising aspects of capitalism.

    Nelson said Catholic conservatives in the following decade made some headway influencing John Paul and Pope Benedict XVI to be more open to the value of competitive markets and profit as a way to boost the economy.

    Historically the Catholic Church has been extremely skeptical of capitalism, seeing it as being unconcerned with the common good, and Francis alarmed many conservatives last fall when he wrote in a key paper that “trickle-down theories” are crude, naive and unproven.

    Brat hasn’t written enough on his policies (nor has Francis on capitalism) for it to be truly clear how much overlap is there. The professor is appearing at a time of fierce debate between religious liberals and religious conservatives over what a “Christian” economic system might look like and what role the government should play.

    In his 2011 essay, Brat wrote that “capitalism is here to stay, and we need a church model that corresponds to that reality. . . . The church should rise up higher than Nietzsche could see and prove him wrong. We should love our neighbor so much that we actually believe in right and wrong and do something about it. If we all did the right thing and had the guts to spread the word, we would not need the government to backstop every action we take.”

    In the 2011 paper Brat said he is “a fairly orthodox Calvinist (in theory, not practice)” but reportedly attends a Catholic church.


  4. I saw Dolan’s piece and it was pretty middle-of-the road. Something there to tick off those on the far left as well as the far right.

    Meanwhile, I see that the Pope has lumped weapons makers in with the dregs of society. Hard for the Magistrate to bear the sword if there are no sword makers.

    A lot of what this Pope says does come off like knee-jerk liberalism. This is probably a symptom of his being a politician and somewhat out of touch with the real world like so many other cultural elites.


  5. What he clearly does not show himself to be is an infallible interpreter and problem solver of all the thorny spiritual and material problems that vex humanity.


  6. EC, I haven’t seen Francis yet. I keep expecting to encounter Ratzinger at a coffee shop, making notes in his journal, or perhaps, moping with his head down while carrying a loaf of bread back to his residence (which I did see on Friday).


  7. D.G., you know what they say: The Irish are white Italians and the Italians are the Irish olive eaters.

    I liked your post on coming home to the same liturgical sense and feel.

    I spent the summer of my 12th year in Italy and it was the first time I visited St. Peter’s. I climbed the 128 (IIRC) steps to the cupola and looked out over the City.

    I feel guilty and even a bit disloyal admitting that I found St. Peter’s garish and oddly spiritually unhaunted. That is, it felt empty when I was expecting it to feel full.

    The most beautiful church I saw was in a little town that dates back to the 16th C in a little town -that somehow avoided the Allied bombing runs- called Pescocostanza. It’s called La Chiesa Piccola. Its altar, its pulpit, its choir loft all hand-scrolled wood. It’s small enough that a priest knows your name, your sins and the sins of your family.


  8. “[Brat] argues that science is best advanced in a nation where there is a powerful ‘bottom up’ in favor of the individual such as in Protestantism and especially the Calvinist and other dissenting branches of Protestantism,” Nelson said.

    I don’t say Amen to that because Amen belongs to God but if you’re an immigrant from a homeland that couldn’t feed you, America, warts and all, provides relief and freedom.

    The Italians say patria e pagnotta which means your fatherland is the land in which you can earn your bread.

    I know you don’t care about America because it’s not your home.

    And as an immigrant your new home is like a hotel, you check in and it’s never really home but your native land isn’t really home either. It was and remains for me a bifurcated existence.

    Jesus was attached to Israel and even to his life on earth, I think. He seemed sad to leave.

    Calvin was attached to France.

    No place is home but I’m attached to America, “it’s a good Italian name.”


  9. I remember being in Little Italy in NYC during college and seeing some guys that just had to Mafia, or at least what I imagined guys in the Mafia would look like. Sharp dressers.


  10. Popes are pikers compared with this fella. Fascinating piece.


    By Dara Horn

    June 13, 2014 5:54 p.m. ET

    ‘Are you Jewish?” If you’ve lived in a large American city in the past 30 years and look the part, chances are that a young Hasidic man has approached you with this question. Men who answer “yes” are given a quick tutorial in donning tefillin, ritual objects worn by Jewish men during prayer; women receive Sabbath candles with instructions to recite ancient blessings. It all seems suspiciously cultlike, but these bearded enthusiasts aren’t out to convert anyone. They are emissaries of Chabad (also known as Lubavitch), a religious movement whose goal is to expose more Jews to Judaism—unconditionally.

    Their approach has succeeded in a secular age when hundreds of other Jewish organizations have failed. A recent Pew study of American Jews showed a dramatic attenuation of communal ties, and other religions have also seen declining institutional involvement, but Chabad has built thriving outposts from Anchorage to Zimbabwe, touched the lives of millions, and become ubiquitous almost to the point of comedy. On a recent trip to Australia, I discovered that the building adjacent to my hotel in Melbourne was an exact replica of 770 Eastern Parkway, Chabad’s legendary Brooklyn headquarters. Two excellent new biographies of Chabad’s great 20th-century leader, the Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-94), help explain how one man turned a decimated sect into a world-wide presence.

    Hasidism is a religious revival movement inspired by the spiritual crises that followed the 1648 massacres of tens of thousands of Jews in Ukraine. Led by charismatic leaders called rebbes (a variant of a Hebrew word for “teacher”) who elevated seeking God through sincere action like prayer and deeds of kindness above studying Torah. Hasidism flourished in Eastern Europe, with various dynastic courts gaining ardent followers.

    In the 1780s, a rebbe named Shneur Zalman in the Belarusian town of Lubavitch founded a new Hasidic group called Chabad (a Hebrew acronym for wisdom, understanding and knowledge), distinguished for its intellectual rigor. He also began his own dynasty; leadership descended within the family through followers’ consensus. It is this mantle that Menachem Mendel Schneerson, a direct descendant of Shneur Zalman, reluctantly assumed after the death of his father-in-law Yosef Yitzchak Schneerson, the sixth rebbe, in 1950. (The tangled Schneerson family tree would put the Windsors to shame.) After a year of power struggles with a brother-in-law who badly wanted the job—and whose son was later sued by Chabad for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of rare books—Schneerson became the seventh Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1951.

    By all accounts, Schneerson, born in 1902 and raised in Ukraine, was gifted with extraordinary intelligence and empathy. He never studied in a yeshiva but learned Torah and Talmud with his father and reportedly committed all 63 tractates of the Talmud to memory; his close relationship with his father-in-law, whom he first met in 1923 and who was later imprisoned and exiled by the Soviets, defined his spiritual life. As a young man he studied physics, calculus and philosophy at the University of Berlin. Just before the Nazi takeover, Schneerson and his wife moved to Paris, where he earned a degree in electrical engineering. This served him well when the couple escaped to New York in 1941, where he found a job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, supervising work on battleship electrical systems. Most Lubavitchers were murdered in the Holocaust; at Chabad’s new Crown Heights headquarters, people had to be pulled off the street to provide the quorum of 10 Jewish men for prayers. The new Rebbe’s worldliness—he spoke seven languages and could read more than 10—prepared him to lead not just a small sect but a movement that could reach millions.

    Those who admire young Mormons who commit to two-year missions ought to be awed by Chabad shluchim (emissaries), young married couples barely in their 20s who are sent to far-flung places to build Jewish communities and serve the needs of Jewish travelers—not for two years but for their entire lives, raising their children abroad. As pre-eminent Israeli Torah scholar Adin Steinsaltz details in “My Rebbe,” this practice began with the fifth rebbe at the turn of the 20th century, who sent shluchim to outlying regions of the Russian empire. But Schneerson vastly expanded the program. Shluchim are recruited for their intelligence and ingenuity, serve voluntarily, receive no salary (they must raise funds to support themselves), and devote their lives to bringing Judaism to places where resources like kosher food or synagogues are often nonexistent.

    The Rebbe insisted on maintaining shluchim in challenging circumstances. In “Rebbe,” American rabbi and author Joseph Telushkin describes a 1982 incident where the Israeli government planned to evacuate the Tunisian Jewish community after the Palestine Liberation Organization established a headquarters in Tunis. The Rebbe, citing his own intelligence sources, insisted the threat wasn’t credible. The Israelis backed down, and Chabad, along with the city’s native Jewish community, remains in Tunis today. Such persistence isn’t without risk: In 2008, shluchim in Mumbai were targeted, tortured and murdered during citywide terrorist attacks, an incident that goes unmentioned in these books. It is worth noting that this atrocity did not lead to any pullback—8,000 shluchim currently serve around the world.

    Both of these biographies depict the Rebbe’s management style. One of the Rebbe’s principles, for instance, was his religiously motivated insistence on never waiting to get things done. As Mr. Telushkin recounts, in 1978 a Jewish chaplain for South African prisons visited the Rebbe and lamented that Jewish prisoners, many of whom were dissidents, had permission to observe Passover but not Hanukkah. The Rebbe suggested that the chaplain approach the director of prisons. When the chaplain noted that Hanukkah would begin the following evening, the Rebbe told him to call the director at home, even though it was after midnight in Johannesburg, so that “he would be impressed by the matter’s urgency.” The director was indeed impressed, and prisoners received Hanukkah candles the following night.

    The Rebbe also held private meetings all through the night and often until dawn. Petitioners from students to senators felt the urgency of the hour as they arrived for appointments at, say, 2 a.m. Mr. Steinsaltz vividly describes the profound, almost supernatural attention that people felt they received during these encounters. “Many people who stood in the Rebbe’s presence came away feeling that they had been branded, as a being that is marked by fire and set aside; so it was with me,” he writes.

    Spreading himself too thin was never the Rebbe’s concern; he responded to those who complained of being overwhelmed with “I’m also tired. So what?” The Rebbe slept no more than a few hours nightly and ate only dark chocolate while at work, which was nearly always. During the day he prayed, often at his father-in-law’s grave, prepared religious discourses (later collected in over 200 volumes), edited Chabad publications, and handled correspondence from around the world. He and his wife were childless, which greatly pained them, but they had daily tea together. According to Mr. Steinsaltz, the Rebbe once remarked that this ritual was “as important to him as putting on tefillin.” Despite running a global organization, he rarely left Crown Heights.

    The Rebbe never traveled to Israel. Nonetheless, he consulted with Israeli prime ministers and generals, who sometimes regretted ignoring his advice. In 1969, he wrote a detailed letter to Gen. Ariel Sharon pointing out vulnerabilities in a particular defensive line—which was attacked by Egypt in 1973 exactly as the Rebbe had warned. Congressmen made the Rebbe’s office into a regular campaign stop. In 1982, the Rebbe met Nevada Sen. Jacob Hecht and told him to make Soviet Jewry his priority. Later, when President Reagan owed Hecht a favor, Hecht convinced Reagan to pressure Mikhail Gorbachev for Jewish emigration.

    But the Rebbe’s influence stemmed less from realpolitik than insight. Shirley Chisholm, the Brooklyn representative who was the first black woman in Congress, told the Rebbe of her dismay at being relegated to the agriculture committee. The Rebbe suggested: “You can use the gift God’s given you to feed hungry people.” Chisholm would go on to spearhead children’s food-stamp programs that still feed millions.

    These two books, timed to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Rebbe’s death, take very different approaches to their subject. Mr. Steinsaltz, writing from a deeply religious perspective, vividly describes Chabad’s history and the Rebbe’s achievements, interspersing biographical facts with musings on spirituality that can be quite moving. “My Rebbe” gives a rich sense of Hasidic history and ideas, as well as the Rebbe’s spiritual impact. Mr. Telushkin’s book is more journalistic, and a more accessible choice for the non-Jewish or nonreligious reader. It will appeal to those curious about the Rebbe’s influence on public life, and Mr. Telushkin is particularly strong on the Rebbe’s impact on Soviet Jewry, Israel-Diaspora relations and American politics. He includes many revealing anecdotes, along with the Rebbe’s thoughts on subjects ranging from evolution to baseball. (Mr. Telushkin also provides a timeline appendix that could be a book in itself.)

    Both authors exhibit a frank admiration for the Rebbe, even when addressing his movement’s flaws. Not everyone appreciates Chabad’s assertiveness: Native Jewish communities in places where shluchim are sent don’t always welcome Chabad’s incursions, and after the Rebbe’s death a narrow slice of Lubavitchers who regarded him as a messianic figure gave the movement its own extremist fringe. Yet as Mr. Telushkin explains, the Rebbe repeatedly denied he was the Messiah. In 1965, he ordered an elderly Lubavitcher who had scattered messianic fliers around Tel Aviv to collect and destroy every flier. Mr. Telushkin relates that when an emissary presented the Rebbe with a letter addressing him as “King Messiah,” the Rebbe threw “it down in frustration, and wrote on it, ‘Tell him that when the Moshiach comes, I will give him the letter.’ ” When a journalist asked point-blank if he were the Messiah, the Rebbe answered: “I am not.” Still, Mr. Steinsaltz admits that, like other Lubavitchers, “while he was alive, I believed that he could be [the Messiah]. That is, I believed in the potential of his candidacy.”

    To be fair, Lubavitchers who saw their Rebbe as the Messiah were influenced by his own mission: For the Rebbe, the entire goal of human life was to bring about the world’s redemption, and he interpreted the atrocities the Jews had suffered in the 20th century as the birthpangs of a messianic age. What comes through in his countless public talks, Mr. Telushkin writes, “is his passion and insistence that world redemption via the Messiah must happen soon and that people must do everything in their power to influence it to happen. He would speak about this time and again, often with tears and barely suppressed sobs.” Yet he would appoint no heir to take his place.

    Judaism has many traditions regarding a future Messiah; none of them allow the Messiah to die, which the Rebbe did in 1994. This did not stop some Lubavitchers from believing, in grief-related denial, that their deceased leader would somehow return and redeem the world—a belief that sparked a schism within the Chabad movement. Here Mr. Steinsaltz’s book is particularly helpful, describing a concept of life after death that includes a person’s legacy in the here and now. The Rebbe, he writes, “implanted his spirit in so many people that . . . his insights and his singular passionate desire to change the world continue.” Mr. Telushkin and Mr. Steinsaltz both respectfully dismiss Chabad’s messianic margin today as, in Mr. Telushkin’s term, a “nonissue.”

    These two books, while mesmerizing, are not objective works of criticism. Mr. Steinsaltz is a Lubavitcher Hasid who had a close relationship with the Rebbe: His book opens not with a catchy anecdote but with a discussion of eschatology. While this may alienate skeptics, Mr. Steinsaltz sensitively examines the Rebbe’s spiritual gifts, particularly his track record of “miracles.” In one example, Mr. Steinsaltz recounts how Jean Sulzberger of the New York Times NYT +1.44% publishing family approached the Rebbe, concerned that she felt distanced from God. The Rebbe told her to see a doctor. She did and discovered she had cancer. “One may describe this as a miracle,” Mr. Steinsaltz writes, “or one could say that this story reflects the Rebbe’s deep understanding of human nature.”

    Mr. Telushkin’s father was the Rebbe’s personal accountant and friend. But he, too, is under the Rebbe’s sway—and movingly so. The Rebbe, the author relates, once called Mr. Telushkin’s hospitalized father to bother him with an accounting question. To the author, it seemed intrusive, but his father was enlivened and cheered. It was a calculated gesture typical of the Rebbe’s “moral imagination,” honoring each individual’s need to feel needed.

    For all his immense achievements, the Rebbe’s power ultimately came from a simple message that anyone can appreciate. As Mr. Telushkin puts it: “Love your fellow, and not just those who agree with you.”

    —Ms. Horn’s most recent novel is “A Guide for the Perplexed.”


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