Episode 8: “Truth-telling” with Andrea Gagliarducci

In this edition: a conversation with veteran Vatican beat reporter Andrea Gagliarducci.

Listeners who pay any kind of attention to the news coming out of the Vatican will almost certainly have seen Andrea Gagliarducci’s by-line: he has a desk at the Italian-language editorial outfit of the Catholic News Agency, ACI Stampa, he has written for numerous publications ranging in size and reach from local Italian print journals to major international mastheads, and for six years he has been the principal author, editor and sole proprietor of MondayVatican – a weekly blog dedicated to frank and penetrating news analysis.

Still a young man, he is a journalist of the Old School, who cares deeply about getting the story right: he knows where the line between reporting and opinionating is drawn, and he toes that line with rigorous and scrupulous precision, even as he walks that line in his analysis pieces with acrobatic acumen.

Written in a style that is at once careful and quirkily inviting, Andrea’s work informs, explains, and encourages his readers to think more clearly and more deeply about the issues before them.

He also – and perhaps most importantly – challenges readers in the Anglosphere to see the issues at the center of the Universal Church from a new and different perspective, one that does not presume the Pope is always thinking about or speaking primarily or directly to the Church in the United States or the English-speaking world, but does not discount or deny the importance of English-speaking Catholicism in the life of the worldwide Church.

That is why we reached out to him – that, and his ability to correct, without seeming to correct, and to place a disagreement without being disagreeable: he is, we think you will hear and agree, a happy warrior and a consummate continental – and Catholic – gentleman.

St. Francis de Sales once wrote:

All joy and satisfaction consists in this: to discover and to recognize the truth about things, and the nobler the truths are the more joyfully and attentively our reason surrenders to their contemplation.


By Wolfgang Sauber – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

At bottom, the journalist’s mission is to tell the truth about things: to find it out and to tell it frankly – and while, on a beat such as that, on which Andrea has chosen to work and earn his living, training in the sacred sciences is a big help, the building blocks of truth-telling remain the same.

Our conversation begins with the place that old j-hands always begin and end: the “Five W’s”: who, what, where, when, why.


Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what make this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and clicking on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Episode 7: ut credat mundus – Part 2 of an ecumenical conversation with A.J. Boyd

This is Vocaris Media, and you are listening to Thinking with the Church. In this edition: the second part of a conversation with a man who has dedicated his life to studying, praying, and working to achieve Christian unity.

Andrew J. Boyd – “A.J.” to his friends – is Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome program of the Catholic University of America, as well as in the Rome programs of Providence College and Assumption College.


In the first part of our conversation, we talked about the evolution – so to speak – of the modern ecumenical movement: the prayerful, patient, painstaking search for full, visible unity in doctrine, life, and worship, of all Christ’s faithful.

This search for unity arises out of Christ’s own high priestly prayer at the Last Supper, when Jesus prayed:

Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee. As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he may give eternal life to all whom thou hast given him. Now this is eternal life: That they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. I have glorified thee on the earth; I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do. And now glorify thou me, O Father, with thyself, with the glory which I had, before the world was, with thee.

I have manifested thy name to the men whom thou hast given me out of the world. Thine they were, and to me thou gavest them; and they have kept thy word. Now they have known, that all things which thou hast given me, are from thee: Because the words which thou gavest me, I have given to them; and they have received them, and have known in very deed that I came out from thee, and they have believed that thou didst send me. I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them whom thou hast given me: because they are thine: And all my things are thine, and thine are mine; and I am glorified in them.

And now I am not in the world, and these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep them in thy name whom thou has given me; that they may be one, as we also are. While I was with them, I kept them in thy name. Those whom thou gavest me have I kept; and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition, that the scripture may be fulfilled. And now I come to thee; and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy filled in themselves. I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them, because they are not of the world; as I also am not of the world. I pray not that thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that thou shouldst keep them from evil.

They are not of the world, as I also am not of the world. Sanctify them in truth. Thy word is truth. As thou hast sent me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth. And not for them only do I pray, but for them also who through their word shall believe in me;

That they all may be one, as thou, Father, in me, and I in thee; that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou hast given me, I have given to them; that they may be one, as we also are one: I in them, and thou in me; that they may be made perfect in one: and the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast also loved me. Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me; that they may see my glory which thou hast given me, because thou hast loved me before the creation of the world. Just Father, the world hath not known thee; but I have known thee: and these have known that thou hast sent me.

And I have made known thy name to them, and will make it known; that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them, and I in them. – Holy Gospel according to St. John, Ch 17

That desire, which comes from Christ Our Lord in the climactic moment of His earthly ministry – at the institution of the Eucharist – is not therefore an adjunct, nor is it an ancillary element of the Faith: it is of the essence.

Toward the end of Part 1, I said something about the surprise I experienced when I first began to encounter Christians of different confessions and discovered how fervently they believe in the so-called “four marks” of the Church: Oneness, Holiness, Catholicity, and Apostolicity.

This week, in the second part of our conversation, A.J. and I explore some of the concrete possibilities for achieving a further and substantial measure of unity, especially as regards the Lutheran community.

We also address what Pope Francis has called, “the ecumenism of blood”: the unity of Christians in suffering and dying for faith in Jesus Christ – and our duty to make the most of the opportunities they have won for us by their heroic witness.

It happens that the second anniversary of one of the most starkly brutal episodes of Christian martyrdom in the early years of the 21st century fell just a few days ago – right in the middle of the week between the two editions presenting our conversation with Prof. Boyd.

I refer to the murder of 21 Coptic Orthodox Christians in Libya (I say 22 in the recording), a video recording of which traveled around the world.

Pope Francis condemned the act as soon as he heard of it.

On February 16th – the day after the video emerged – in remarks during a scheduled meeting with an ecumenical delegation from the Church of Scotland, the Holy Father departed from his prepared text to say, in his native Spanish:

I read about the execution of those twenty-one or twenty-two Coptic Christians. Their only words were: “Jesus, help me!”. They were killed simply for the fact that they were Christians. You, my brother, in your words referred to what is happening in the land of Jesus. The blood of our Christian brothers and sisters is a testimony which cries out to be heard. It makes no difference whether they be Catholics, Orthodox, Copts or Protestants. They are Christians! Their blood is one and the same. Their blood confesses Christ. As we recall these brothers who died only because they confessed Christ, I ask that we encourage each another to go forward with this ecumenism which is giving us strength, the ecumenism of blood. The martyrs belong to all Christians.

The spokesman for the Coptic Catholic Church, Fr. Rafic Greiche, gave an interview to Vatican Radio in which Fr. Greiche spoke of the early reception of the martyrdom of these men, whom he described as, “very poor people, but very near to God,” men who, “were not theologians, they were not people who even read the Bible or can read…but [had] the faith, and were brave.”

One of the martyred men was a convert – a man who received a baptism of blood – who came from Chad, and, seeing the faithful courage of his fellows, desired to be counted among their number on earth and in heaven. “He found his faith when he saw the [faith] of the other Egyptian Christians, he didn’t want to leave,” Fr. Greiche told Vatican Radio. “He wanted to be a martyr like them.”

21 Martys of Libya – icon by Tony Rezk


The reason I bring all this up – aside from the obvious and already mentioned 2nd anniversary of their martyrdom this past week – is to emphasize the urgency of the ecumenical project: an urgency palpable in A.J.’s remarks as he begins this segment, discussing a different specific area of ecumenical effort, namely, the work that Catholics and Lutherans have been doing together – work that has some surprising elements of “out-of-the-box” thinking.

That was A.J. Boyd, Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome Program of the Catholic University of America.

You can find Part 1 of our conversation in Episode 6 of Thinking with the Church.


Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what makes this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to the blog – www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com – and click on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Episode 6: Ut unum sint – Part 1 of an ecumenical conversation with Prof. A.J. Boyd

This is Vocaris Media, and you are listening to Thinking with the Church. In this edition: Part 1 of a conversation with a man who has dedicated his life to studying, praying, and working to achieve Christian unity.

Andrew J. Boyd – “A.J.” to his friends – is Adjunct Professor of Theology in the Rome program of the Catholic University of America, as well as in the Rome programs of Providence College and Assumption College.


He has taught short term courses through the Lay Centre at Foyer Unitas – the Rome center founded in 1986 and dedicated to the formation of the laity and to the promotion of the lay vocation in the Church and in the world, which also works to promote Christian unity and to create opportunities for genuine encounter and sincere dialogue with people of other religions.

AJ has also worked with the sabbatical program of the Pontifical North American College.

We’d known of each other for some time before we met “in real life” at the inauguration of the KAICIID dialogue foundation in Vienna in 2015.

He is an extraordinarily thoughtful interlocutor – only, don’t let his soft-spoken demeanor fool you – he is capable of giving as good as he gets in any discussion.

Don’t take my word for it, though. Let AJ get us rolling with his take on what the ecumenical project is.

ultima_cena_-_juan_de_juanes“Last Supper” by Vicente Juan Masip [Public domain], c. 1562, via Wikimedia Commons

That was Part 1 of a two-part conversation with ecumenist AJ Boyd.

We’ll bring you Part II next week.

There’s a story told among analytical philosophers – not that I traffic very much in such circles – about a theologian or divine who, one night at dinner in the college, pronounced, “The Church is One!” only to have one of his companions archly ask, “One what?”

Well, the Catholic Church has always thought – believed and taught – that there exists a single Church of Jesus Christ, which subsists in the Catholic Church, governed by the Successor of Peter and by the Bishops in communion with him (cf. Dominus Iesus 17):

Just as there is one Christ, so there exists a single body of Christ, a single Bride of Christ: “a single Catholic and apostolic Church”. Furthermore, the promises of the Lord that he would not abandon his Church (cf. Mt 16:18; 28:20) and that he would guide her by his Spirit (cf. Jn 16:13) mean, according to Catholic faith, that the unicity and the unity of the Church — like everything that belongs to the Church’s integrity — will never be lacking. (ibid.)

Indeed, one of the surprising things for me has been the discovery of how fervently Christians of other confessions also believe in the Four Marks: that the Church is indeed “One, Holy, Catholic,  and Apostolic” – however different their understanding of what the marks indicate and what it means to profess them – because – I must confess – I cannot understand caring about the Marks at all and not being instantly and therefore Catholic. So this fellow, who grew up in CatholicTown, USA, and has spent almost the whole of his adult life in Rome, is on a pretty steep learning curve.

I am sure of one thing, though: it is for us, the baptized faithful of every confession and of every state of life in the Church, to live, pray, and work for the unity desired and promised by Christ Our Lord:

In treating the question of the true religion, the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council taught: “We believe that this one true religion continues to exist in the Catholic and Apostolic Church, to which the Lord Jesus entrusted the task of spreading it among all people. Thus, he said to the Apostles: ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (Mt 28: 19-20). Especially in those things that concern God and his Church, all persons are required to seek the truth, and when they come to know it, to embrace it and hold fast to it”. (Ibid., 23, DH, 1)

In all this, “The revelation of Christ will continue to be ‘the true lodestar’ in history for all humanity. (Ibid.)” Dominus Iesus – a much maligned and deeply misunderstood document, supposedly one-sided and heavy-handed, ends with an almost mystical vision taken from the Fathers of the II Vatican Council.

“The truth, which is Christ,” writes Pope St. John Paul II in his Encyclical Letter Fides et ratio, “imposes itself as an all-embracing authority.” He goes on to say:

The Christian mystery, in fact, overcomes all barriers of time and space, and accomplishes the unity of the human family: ‘From their different locations and traditions all are called in Christ to share in the unity of the family of God’s children… Jesus destroys the walls of division and creates unity in a new and unsurpassed way through our sharing in his mystery. This unity is so deep that the Church can say with Saint Paul: ‘You are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are saints and members of the household of God’ (Eph 2:19). – Ibid.

It’s not by accident, I think, that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger concluded his doctrinal note on the relation of the Catholic Church to other Christian Churches and ecclesial communities and other religions, with just these quotations from the then-recently-published Fides et ratio. It is as if he were recalling us to the task set for us by Peter in his first letter: to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

I’ve told the story before on this podcast, about how a friend once asked me why I am Catholic – or why, after all, I am still Catholic?

I answered:

I am Catholic because the Catholic Church is true. The Catholic Church is the One Church founded by our Divine Savior, Jesus Christ, as the vehicle by which humanity is redeemed from sin and death, and restored to friendship with God. The Church is the efficacious sign of that friendship. I am Catholic because I would be reconciled to God, and to all my fellows, and at peace with all and every one, and the Catholic Church promises this. For now, I see this through a glass, darkly, in a darkness the brightest spots of which are often but the dimmest glimmers of hope – though I am told this is a hope, which does not disappoint. Why am I Catholic? Let me answer with Peter: where else shall I go?


Friends, the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what makes this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to the blog – www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com – and click on the “support TwtC” tab in the menu at the top, or by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

“Thanks!” as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita.

Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org.

Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

*********** Show Notes ***********

For the Common Declaration of the Catholic Church and the Assyrian Church of the East, click here

The Assyrian Church of the East grew out of the Nestorian tradition, which affirms that Christ existed as two persons – one human and the other Divine, to which one of the exaggerated responses was Monophysitism – the idea that Christ had only one Divine nature, either because His human nature had been subsumed by His Divine nature, or because the Divine mind somehow replaced or supplied Christ’s human reason in the Incarnation.

Both Nestorianism and Monophysitism were condemned by Church Councils at Chalcedon et passim.

For more on Nestorianism, click here

For more on Monophysitism, click here

At 24:05, A.J. refers to the “Ravenna Document” – the framework agreement among the Catholic Church and several Orthodox Churches regarding – among other things – the taxis of the 1st millennium, according to which, “Rome, as the Church that ‘presides in love’ according to the phrase of St Ignatius of Antioch (To the Romans, Prologue), occupied the first place in the taxis, and that the bishop of Rome was therefore the protos among the patriarchs.”

For a brief history of the modern ecumenical movement – especially the Catholic Church’s commitment to the movement in the wake of the II Vatican Council – see the summary from the US Catholic Bishops, here

Episode 5: Divine Playmates (part 2 of a conversation with Prof. Nicolas Steeves SJ)

This is Vocaris Media and you are listening to Thinking with the Church. This week, we spend more time with Prof. Nicolas Steeves SJ, of the Pontifical Gregorian University. Prof. Steeves is a Jesuit priest who teaches Fundamental Theology at the “Greg” – as it is affectionately known by its alumni.

You can hear Part One of our conversation in Episode 4 of the podcast, which you’ll find, along with show notes, at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com.

There, we talk about the role of imagination in theology – and we pull on several threads that we do not really tie up. So, in this episode, you can hear us tying those bows. Before we tie them, though, we delve more deeply into the questions we left open, including: Ignatian spirituality; how Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech works on the imagination, and what Fundamental Theology is.

We begin with St. Ignatius.

Speaking with Prof. Steeves, I am reminded of some lines from somewhere in C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity:

Already the new men are dotted here and there all over the earth. Some, as I have admitted, are still hardly recognisable: but others can be recognised. Every now and then one meets them. Their very voices and faces are different from ours: stronger, quieter, happier, more radiant. They begin where most of us leave off. They are, I say, recognisable; but you must know what to look for. They will not be very like the idea of ‘religious people’ which you have formed from your general reading. They do not draw attention to themselves. You tend to think that you are being kind to them when they are really being kind to you. They love you more than other men do, but they need you less. (We must get over wanting to be NEEDED: in some goodish people, specially women, that is the hardest of all temptations to resist.) They will usually seem to have a lot of time: you will wonder where it comes from. When you have recognised one of them, you will recognise the next one much more easily. And I strongly suspect (but how should I know?) that they recognise one another immediately and infallibly, across every barrier of colour, sex, class, age, and even of creeds. In that way, to become holy is rather like joining a secret society. To put it at the very lowest, it must be great fun. – C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Though, also with Lewis, I don’t pretend to know, I think I have found one of these in Prof. Steeves.

Anyway, that’s our story and we’re sticking to it.

Remember: producing Thinking with the Church is itself great fun – but it isn’t free, or even cheap, and the podcasting arm of Vocaris Media is listener-supported, so, your donations really are what makes this possible. $1 / show is what we ask – though we’re always happy to receive more.

You can make your donation by going to www.vocarismedia.com and looking for the “donate” button in the top-right corner of the page.

You can participate in discussions by going to the blog: again, that’s at www.thinkingwiththechurch.wordpress.com and leaving your thoughts in the comboxes.

Follow us on Twitter: @TWTC_Rome

You can write me directly on the emails: the address is craltieri@vocarismedia.com

Subscribe and leave us a review on iTunes, or use the RSS feed to subscribe through your favorite podcast manager.

Thanks as always to Executive Producer Ester Rita. Our web guru is Christopher Bauer Anderson – “Topher” Anderson of www.lifesiteministries.org. Sean Beeson composed our theme. Hear more of his musical stylings at www.seanbeeson.com.

St. Gabriel Archangel, pray for us!

Praised be Jesus Christ, now and forever!

Stumbling toward a solution: Amoris in light of the moral law and pastoral practice

Wherein TwtC host, Vocaris Media co-founder and GM Chris Altieri attempts to thread a scandalous needle.

Roman Observations

That the post-Synodal Exhortation, Amoris laetitia, has produced significant controversy, is not itself too controversial a statement. However lamentable the conduct of the controversy in some of its particulars, that the document should be have been controversial was inevitable.

The remarks to follow are scrupulously intended as general reflections offered in the hope that they might serve to inform the broader public conversation in the Church and in society, especially as the conduct of certain difficult and thorny issues surrounding the Exhortation is concerned.

Basically there are two camps in the controversy: one filled with people concerned to safeguard the Church’s tether to the natural moral law and to preserve the teaching the Church has received from her Divine Founder in all its effects; another peopled with faithful anxious to see that the supreme law – the salvation of souls – is truly and ultimately the one we serve…

View original post 3,530 more words

Episode 4: The God of our Imagination

Hello friends, and welcome to this latest edition of Thinking with the Church. This week, we are speaking with a Jesuit priest and theologian who teaches fundamental theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University, Prof. Nicolas Steeves SJ, who is most recently the author of Grâce à l’imagination: intégrer l’imagination en théologie fondamentale – a profoundly challenging and refreshing exploration of the role of imagination in the work of theology, and more broadly, in intellectual and social life.

As often happens with Prof. Steeves, our conversation took several unexpected turns. So, we have agreed in principle that we need to sit down again before too long to put bows on several of the strings we pulled and did not tie. That’s alright, though: you’ll discover that our talk quickly acquired a logic of its own, to which we were happy to give ourselves.

One might wonder what a political philosopher and a fundamental theologian have to say to one another, and the short answer is: too much for one episode of this podcast!

A more fulsome reply might be to say, with the Harvard philosopher and film critic, Stanley Cavell, that:

[Philosophy is] a willingness to think not about something other than what ordinary human beings think about, but rather to learn to think undistractedly about things that ordinary human beings cannot help thinking about, or anyway cannot help having occur to them, sometimes in fantasy, sometimes as a flash across a landscape; such things, for example, as whether we can know the world as it is in itself, or whether others really know the nature of one’s own experiences, or whether good and bad are relative, or whether we might now be dreaming that we are awake, or whether modern tyrannies and weapons and spaces and speeds and art are continuous with the past of the human race or discontinuous, and hence whether the learning of the human race is not irrelevant to the problems it has brought before itself. – Cavell, Themes Out of School,  9

Those are the sorts of things about which we are all bound to think – they are thoughts we cannot help have cross our mind, and sometimes they become the things of which we speak: over coffee, after dinner, late at night – sometimes we sink our teeth into them, and sometimes we mention them and pass them by – though I wonder sometimes whether I have anything original to say about them – whether there is anything to say that hasn’t already been said, and better, by someone else some other time.

Cavell asks elsewhere whether there can be any speaking at all – about anything – that is not quoting, since language itself is something given to us: something there before us and behind us.

If there is not, then all speech will be basically quotation, so it will be useless to quote, insofar as there is no original to be quoted. The metaphysical implications of this line of questioning are manifold. One need only think of St. Thomas, who found the newness of the world to be a question undecidable by reason, alone (Cf. ST I Q.46 a.2). If God’s saying, “Let there be light!” etc., is God’s giving sound to His breath and speaking the being of the world, then the whole world is a divine quotation, and the human capacity for language is on this reading an ability to speak of the divine, and a lack of attention to this fact of language, when understood as this ability, could make all speech blasphemy – from which God save us.

But we were talking about imagination – and mine seems to be running amok.

Cavell mentioned “fantasy” – which is another word for “imagination” after all – one etymologically linked to “fancy” which is itself also an older though still recognizable way of saying imagination – as in the expression, “fancy that?” or “How does that tickle your fancy?”

Those expressions are still reasonably current ways of asking, in essence, “What happens – how do you feel -when you imagine the thing proposed?”

At the end of Episode 3, featuring Fr. Brian Reedy SJ, I noted that imagination is useful to the thinker only when the structure of knowledge is assumed to be essentially open and unlimited – and now I’ll say that, when we do suppose that the structure of knowledge is essentially open and unlimited, we discover ourselves in a world that is infinitely knowable – which is to say a world of endless discovery, endless adventure, and endless danger – which is the only world in which – as far as I can tell – an infinitely good and loving God will fit.

Here is where we pick up the thread of our conversation with Prof. Steeves: at the point of recovery – recovery of the role of imagination in the project of theology.


That was Part 1 of a conversation with Fr. Nicolas Steeves SJ, Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. We covered a good deal of ground in Part 1, though we do need to return to flesh out our discussion of Ignatian spirituality, and to try to discover the nexus of moral and cognitive imagination.

I also want to come back to Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech: together with King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, it was the focus of an extended meditation on America that served as an interlude between the third and fourth chapters of my own – still fairly recent, at least in academic terms – book, The Soul of a Nation: America as a Tradition of Inquiry and Nationhood.

That, however, is – as we said – a topic for another conversation.

*********** Show Notes ***********

For brief biographical details on Fr. William Lynch, SJ, click here, and for a quick, sympathetic presentation of his thought, see here.

Jean-Francois Lyotard was a socialist, and then post-Marxist post-modern philosopher who wrote literary psychology and social criticism.

Walter Brueggemann is a prominent scholar of the Old Testament and theologian, whose work has focused on recovering literary sensibility within the Protestant tradition(s) of biblical exegesis and theology.

The verse from the Book of Proverbs to which Prof. Steeves refers in his discussion of Brueggemann is Proverbs 15:17, of which Bruegemmann makes use, offering an extended meditative treatment, in a 1988 Sermon, “What you Eat Is what you Get”, which may be found in his Collected Sermons.

Special Edition: A Meditation on Mortality

Hello friends, and welcome to this special edition of Thinking with the Church. We did not drop an episode last week, because my EP and I were traveling on some unexpected and basically unpleasant business, so this week we are bringing out two episodes: this special edition, and the regularly-scheduled Episode 4, which will follow this edition shortly.

This special edition is essentially an extended philosophical meditation on death.

My mother, Maudie Altieri, passed away two Sundays ago, on January 22nd, 2017, and my wife’s grandmother, Caterina Pezzi, followed my mother out of time and into eternity two days later.

Both women received the Sacraments of Holy Mother Church, and died surrounded by family. The prayers of countless friends have been, and continue to be a buoy and a consolation to us all, especially the Masses offered for the intentions of our dear departed ones.

That we have been in such great need of buoying and consolation, even in the face of what can only be described as the happiest of circumstances in which any Christian – indeed any person – could pass from this life, is testimony to the violence of death itself: the all-powerful Creator and Lord of all there is has made us to live, and yet we die. Not even the sure promise of resurrection and the confidence that faith in Christ’s victory over death will bring us to life everlasting can alter by one iota the terrible and unnatural character of the separation of the soul from the body.

Our Blessed Lady carried the Beatific Vision in her womb: her unspeakably intimate knowledge of God’s inexorable design for victory over death itself, so far from shielding her from grief, so multiplied her pain as to make her Mother of Sorrows, for she knew at what price that victory is bought.

Our Lord was the Beatific Vision unto Himself in His Human and Divine Natures hypostatically joined: yet He wept real tears at the death of His dear friend, Lazarus, though He was presently to raise His friend from the dead: and Our Blessed Lord sweat blood at the thought of His own death when it was imminent, and though He knew it would be death to sin, begged His Father to take the cup of His lot from Him.

Some of you might object that this turn of mine to Sacred Scripture and the data of our Holy Faith therein contained should constitute a prescinding from philosophy: not so, for the events are a dramatization – in the word’s etymological sense – of the quintessentially human experience of our own condition; they reveal us to ourselves, and they reveal to us the real danger we are in, of losing friendship with the source and author of our being, and the promise of a hope that does not disappoint, which is in God’s power to give us if we will receive it.

I know the women, whose passing occasions these considerations, lived and died in just that hope, and though they were sorry to leave us, that they were more glad to go to Him.

This knowledge consoles, but it does not comfort.

In this time of bereavement, my thoughts continue to return to St. Augustine of Hippo, the great Bishop and Doctor of the Church, whose Confessions have played – and continue to play – a foundational role in my whole understanding of the faith we confess and the world in which we are called to live and confess it.

Great are you, O Lord, and immensely praiseworthy: great is your virtue, and of your wisdom there is no reckoning. And mankind wants to praise you, as a portion of your creation, even mankind carrying around with himself his mortality, going about with the testimony of his sin and with the evidence that you resist the proud: even so, man desires to praise you, as he is part of your creation. You excite him, that he might delight to praise you, for you made us unto yourself and our heart is restless, until it should rest in you.

Magnus es, domine, et laudabilis valde: magna virtus tua, et sapientiae tuae non est numerus. Et laudare te vult homo, aliqua portio creaturae tuae, et homo circumferens mortalitem suam, circumferens testimonium peccati sui et testimonium, quia superbis resistis: et tamen laudare te vult homo, aliqua portio creaturae tuae. Tu excitas, ut laudare te delectet, quia fecisti nos ad te et inquietum est cor nostrum, donec requiescat in te. – Augustine, Confessions I.i.

We carry our mortality about with us.

Everywhere we go, the evidence of our sin is with us, and the price of it: Martin Heidegger describes this state as one of being-toward-death, though ever since I first studied Heidegger – under the influence and tutelage of the Augustinian scholar and philosopher, Archbishop Craig John-Neumann de Paulo – I have found Heidegger’s insistence on death as essentially non-relational to be utterly at odds with a candid application of Heidegger’s own Dasein analitik – an analytic my mentor, de Paulo, proved in his doctoral dissertation to be a “secularization” of Augustine’s own existential analytic.

Our desire for life everlasting is what, in the state of our confusion due to the Fall, drives us to sin. It is also, and at the same time, that desire, which impels us to conversion:

Because of a perverse will was eager longing (libido) made; and eager longing indulged became custom; and custom not resisted became necessity. By which links, as it were, joined together (for which reason I call it a chain), did a hard bondage hold me enthralled. But that new will which had begun to develop in me, freely to worship You, and to want to enjoy You, O God, the only sure enjoyment, was yet unable to overcome my former willfulness, made strong by long indulgence. Thus, did my two wills, the one old and the other new, the one carnal, the other spiritual, contend within me; and by their discord they dissipated my soul.

Quippe voluntate perversa facta est libido, et dum servitur libidini, facta est consuetudo, et dum consuetudini non resistur, facta est necessitas. Quibus quasi ansulis sibimet innexis unde catenam appellavi tenebat me obstrictum dura servitus. Voluntas autem nova, quae mihi esse coeperat, ut te gratis colere fruique te vellem, Deus, sola certa iucunditas, nondum erat idonea ad superandam priorem vetustate roberatam. Ita duae voluntates meae, una vetus, alia nova, illa carnalis, illa spiritalis, confilgebant inter se, atque discordando dissipabant animam meam. – Augustine, Confessions VIII.v.

Death drives us from our true selves: its experience is incommunicable; its immanence drives us to delight in – and to make, or try to make – the world the “smiling place” it is:

Let every one of us, brothers and sisters, look deeply into himself, let him weigh himself, let him prove himself in all of his deeds, in his good works, which he had done with charity, not expecting temporal retribution, but the promise of God alone, the face of God. Indeed, nothing that God promises is anything worth, without God Himself. God would not wholly satisfy me, unless He should promise me God Himself. What is the whole earth? What is the whole sea? What is the whole sky? What are all the stars? What is the sun? What is the moon? What is the host of angels? I thisrts for the Creator of all these: I starve for Him, I thirst for Him, to Him I say: “In You is the font of life.” Then He says to me: “I am that bread, which came down from heaven.” Let my pilgrimage hunger and thirst, that it might be satiated by my presence [before Him]. The world smiles with many things: beautiful, strong, various; more beautiful is the One who made them; more powerful and brighter is the One, who made them; more suave is the One, who made them. I shall be satiated when your glory is made manifest. Faith, therefore, which works by love, if it is in you, then already do you pertain to the predestined, the called, the justified: let it therefore grow in you. Faith therefore, which works by love, cannot be without hope. When, however, we shall arrive, will there yet be faith? Shall it be said to us: “Believe!” – but it were useless, for we shall see Him, we shall contemplate Him. Most beloved, we are sons and daughters of God, and what we shall be then has not yet appeared. For so long as it shall not have appeared, there shall be faith. We are sons and daughters of God: predestined, called, justified; we are sons and daughters of God, and what we shall be has not yet appeared. Faith is therefore the manner [of our being] until what we shall be should appear. We know that we shall be like unto Him. Shall it be [so] because we shall [then] believe? No. Why therefore? Because then we shall see Him as He is.

Unusquisque ergo, fratres mei, inspiciat se intus, appendat se, probet se in omnibus factis suis, bonis operibus suis, quae faciat cum caritate, non exspectans retributionem temporalem, sed promissum Dei, faciem Dei. Non enim quidquid tibi Deus promittit, valet aliquid praeter ipsum Deum. Omnino me non satiaret Deus, nisi promitteret mihi se ipsum Deum. Quid est tota terra? Quid est totum mare? Quid est totum caelum? Quid sunt omnia sidera? Quid sol? Quid luna? Quid exercitus angelorum? Omnium istorum Creatorem sitio: ipsum esurio, ipsum sitio, ipsi dico: Quoniam apud te est fons vitae. Qui mihi dicit: Ego sum panis qui de caelo descendi. Esuriat et sitiat peregrinatio mea, ut satietur praesentia mea. Arridet mundus multis rebus, pulchris, fortibus, variis: pulchrior est ille qui fecit, fortior et clarior ille qui fecit, suavior ille est qui fecit. Satiabor, cum manifestabitur gloria tua. Fides ergo quae per dilectionem operatur si est in vobis, iam pertinetis ad praedestinatos, vocatos, iustificatos: ergo crescat in vobis. Fides enim quae per dilectionem operatur, sine spe esse non potest. Cum autem venerimus, iam erit ibi fides? Dicetur nobis: Crede? Non utique. Videbimus eum, contemplabimur eum. Dilectissimi, filii Dei sumus, et nondum apparuit quod erimus. Quia nondum apparuit, ideo fides. Filii Dei sumus, praedestinati, vocati, iustificati; filii Dei sumus, et nondum apparuit quod erimus. Modo ergo fides, antequam appareat quod erimus. Scimus quod cum apparuerit, similes ei erimus. Numquid quia credimus? Non. Quare ergo? Quoniam videbimus eum sicuti est. Augustine – Sermon 158,7

Death is the ultimate expression of our alienation from ourselves and from our fellows: nevertheless, in Baptism, not even death can any longer separate us from the source of our being; and being united to their source, our selves are not destroyed in dying.

Even so, in death we are not ourselves: we may not be disembodied without being destroyed – and so what death reveals to us is that we shall not be so sundered in ourselves forever – though for so long as we are, we are somehow still waiting for ourselves – our true selves – though one great step closer to them than we are now. “Verily I say unto thee this day: thou shalt be with me in Paradise.”

Each of us – if we are counted among the living – will be not only restored, but changed utterly and in an instant: though we may enjoy the Beatific Vision even before the Resurrection, even so, the full restoration of the human family to perfect friendship with God must await the Second Coming and the establishment of the celestial Jerusalem. Herein lies the social dimension of death: the passing of each human life out of this world diminishes the whole human race, and each of its members; though we feel more keenly the passing of those members, who were closest to us, the passing of each and every one wounds and weakens our community.

This is the meaning – or part of it, at any rate – of Donne’s line in his 17th Meditation:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

There are lines at the end of Norman Maclean’s novella, A River Runs Through It, which have helped me get under or get through the matter, though in ways and for reasons that only now begin to become clear to me, however clear they seemed before:

Like many fly fishermen in western Montana where the summer days are almost Arctic in length, I often do not start fishing until the cool of the evening. Then in the Arctic half-light of the canyon, all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world’s great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of those rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.

It is worthwhile to note that, in the technical parlance of the paranormal, haunting is done by mute ghosts. The waters – can they be other than the waters of Baptism? – are those by which the author of the lines is bound to the words: the waters haunt him, which is to say they offer mute witness to the weave of time and eternity in which he is – in which we are – now suspended, out of which the words reach and under which they are buried, even beneath the basement of time.

In any case, it was my mother who taught me to fish when I was a boy: to love being on the water and attuned to the rhythms in the riot of creation, in the pregnant quiet at the break of day.

Her passing transforms the persistence of her presence into an ineluctable awareness of her absence: vague talk of her spirit being with us simply will not do; nor will invocations of eternal memory, though there is nothing wrong with those per se; the point is that even Pagans could boast as much, and even more: “I have built a monument more lasting than bronze … I shall not wholly die, and the greater part of me shall escape Libitina. (Exegi monumentum aere perennius … Non omnis moriar multaque pars mei vitabit Libitinam[.] – Horace, Ode 3.30 1, 6-7)”

Horace’s Ode is dripping with sarcasm. Our consolation is not nearly so cheap:

Praised be You, my Lord,
Through our Sister Bodily Death,
From whom no living man can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
Find in Your most holy will,
For the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
And give Him thanks
And serve Him with great humility.

When Our Lord comes again in judgment – and He is coming, and with Him a great and terrible wrath – His coming will break the world: it will shatter the universe and all that is in it, into pebbles.

It will not be His judgment, however, which blasts creation into dust; it will be His glory; as quiet and meek as was His first coming into the world, in a hovel, in a manger, in a hamlet, so great will be the glory of His second coming, that the world shall break at it.

Creation shall not have strength to withstand the coming into it of the Creator a second time, and all shall be undone:

Dies irae, dies illa,
solvet saeculum in favilla,
teste David cum Sibylla.

Every valley shall be lifted up,
and every mountain and hill be made low;
the uneven ground shall become level,
and the rough places a plain.
And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
and all flesh shall see it together,
for the mouth of the Lord has spoken. –
Isaiah 40:4-5

Some of us – my hope and the hope of the Church for each and every one of us is that we be counted among these – shall find that we have been carrying this glory inside of us (unbeknownst to the world, and even unbeknownst to us), and so shall be caught up in it, suddenly ourselves for the very first time, even as all that is and all that ever has been shudders and is wasted in an instant.

Some of us are very blessed, indeed, for we have been fed on this Uncreated Glory in secret: body, blood, soul, divinity, hidden under the species of bread and wine, though real and substantial in their presence. He shall make all things new. We wait in joyful hope.

altieri002Maudie Turner Altieri 2/14/1947 – 1/22/2017
Requiescat in pace

Creative Tension: listening to TwtC

We’re only three episodes into this little adventure called Thinking with the Church, and already a few discernible traits are emerging: one is that listeners are coming back week after week – something for which we’re immensely grateful (and not a little relieved!); another is that word of what we’re doing is spreading, with almost twice as many of you listening to episode 3 as listened to episode 1 – so, please keep telling your friends and colleagues about us!

A comment/question we’ve received is: are episodes 2 and 3 meant to be heard as a pair?

The short answer is, “No,” but that answer is too short by half: it turns out that they work very well together (and the order in which one listens to them doesn’t really much matter, though we did speak with my guest on Ep. 3 before we spoke with our guest on Ep. 2): Ep. 2 is a conversation with Prof. Philip Larrey of the Pontifical Lateran University about how Catholics can think of the technological developments underway in the world, without fear or prejudice – in a manner becoming the best in our tradition of thinking; Ep. 3 is a conversation with Fr. Brian Reedy SJ about our tradition of thinking – how it informs in surprising ways the practice and ethos of science in our day, and how our cultural and civilizational project has departed from the philosophical and theological vision that undergirds – underwrites – the practice of science, creating the risk of losing the authentic ethos of the practice.

Here, anyway, are links to the episodes, for easy sharing (or you could just share this post):

Remember: you can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and/or subscribe to the RSS Feed through your favorite podcast manager!

All images from Wikimedia Commons

Episode 3: “A whisper from the universe”

This week on Thinking with the Church:  a conversation with a biologist who designed – together with his students at Cristo Rey Prep in Houston – one of the experiments sent to space on the Space-X 9 and conducted aboard the International Space Station, with a convert to Catholicism who came to the fullness of the faith through a conviction in the oneness of truth and the need to seek the truth intrepidly, with an officer in the United States Navy, and with a Jesuit priest currently doing doctoral work in philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Our first round-table edition? Not yet. Fr. Brian Reedy SJ is our guest this week.

Fr. Reedy is an open book: ask him anything, and he’ll tell you what he thinks, and why – which makes talking with him as challenging as scaling a sheer mountain face, and refreshing as a cool spring in the desert – but don’t take my word for it: click below to hear the episode (show notes are below the player, and will be updated throughout the week)

*************** Show Notes ****************

Cristo Rey Jesuit Prep and the SpaceX 9 slime mold experiment:

In the introduction, I mentioned the work of a group of students led in part by our guest this week, Fr. Brian Reedy SJ. The story of dedication, perseverance in the face of extreme adversity, and good ol’ fashioned pluck, is one to tell. You can find out more at the following links: Press Release from  the Cristo Rey Network announcing the successful launch following the first, failed launch in 2014; NASA mission pages detail of the students’ experiment; more about the Cristo Rey Jesuit school network

Euler’s Theorem:

Leonhard Euler was a Swiss mathematician and polymath, whose contributions to number theory, pure and applied mathematics, physics, and engineering continue not only to influence but in many ways to direct the course of scientific discovery and technological achievement today. His theorem, which Fr. Reedy mentions toward the end of the conversation, is – forgive this mathematical layman’s conceit – essentially a mathematical expression of hermeneusis: the ability to see the deep unity in diversity and the infinite variety within the oneness of the created order – the forest and the trees, if you will – a mathematical foundation for our ability to see the whole without eschewing the question, “Which is which?” – a kind of thinking that is philosophy as I care about it most deeply.

leonhard_eulerLeonhard Euler, portrait by Emanuel Handmann

Episode 2: “A Piece of Work”

What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason! How infinite in faculty! In form, in moving, how express and admirable! In action how like an angel! In apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet, to me, what is this quintessence of dust? – Hamlet, Act II scene ii

Transhumanism is the focus of this week’s edition:

When have we stopped supplying nature and begun to supplant it? If there is nothing wrong – in principle – with improving on nature, then where do we draw the line when it comes to our efforts to improve (on) it?

When we design technology capable of anticipating our needs – and our desires – what do we risk losing?

Most importantly: what resources can we find within the Catholic tradition of thinking, to help us find our way across the troubled landscape of technological (r)evolution, with all its challenges and opportunities?

These were the focuses of my conversation with Fr. Philip Larrey, a priest of the Rome diocese and Professor of Philosophy at the Pontifical Lateran University, where he teaches logic and epistemology.

Talking with Prof. Larrey, by the way, is always great fun – but it is never easy: he knows the players, and the game, and the score – and he is fearless when it comes to engaging the ethical challenges of our technological age.

Be prepared to have him challenge you, as he challenges me every time we talk…

Read more in the show notes beneath the image – and don’t forget to subscribe to the show – we’re now available on iTunes!


Leonardo da Vinci [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

*********************** Show Notes **************************

Prof. Philip Larrey is a priest of the Rome diocese and Professor of Logic and Philosophy of Understanding at Rome’s Pontifical Lateran University. He is the author and editor of several books, including:

He is also the author of the forthcoming volume, Connected World: Talking About the Future With Those Who are Shaping it (Penguin, March 2017), to which our own Chris Altieri contributed a chapter.

Books mentioned during the course of the conversation:

The “Core Values” conference was held in November of 2016 at the Pontifical Lateran University, and involved leaders from the communications and information technology industries, academics, and intellectuals from a host of fields.

The thumb ailment is apparently called “texting thumb”: http://philadelphia.cbslocal.com/2012/08/13/texting-thumb-a-growing-health-condition/


Toward the end of the conversation, Prof. Larrey refers to a story he saw in the news recently about scientists, who claim to have discovered “the soul” and that “life after death really exists”: the Dec. 5, 2016 story in YourNnewsWire.com was based on a 2014 study conducted by researchers at the University of Southampton and published in the journal Resuscitation.


To contribute to the cause, go to Vocaris Media and find the donation button in the top-right corner – if you like what you hear, we hope you’ll give $1 / show – and remember that Vocaris Media’s podcast productions are listener-supported, so at the end of the day, it really IS up to you.

Next week on Thinking with the Church, we’ll talk to a biologist and teacher of biology who designed – together with his students at Cristo Rey Prep in Houston – one of the experiments sent to space on the Space-X 9 and conducted aboard the International Space Station.

We’ll talk with a convert to Catholicism who came to the fullness of the faith through a conviction in the oneness of truth and the need to seek the truth intrepidly – and we’ll also talk to a commissioned officer in the United States Navy and with a Jesuit priest currently doing doctoral work in philosophy at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

A round-table?

Not hardly.

Fr. Brian Reedy, SJ, will be our guest next week.

Thanks to Executive Producer Ester Rita and to web guru Christopher Bauer Anderson of the web design company Life Site Ministries LLC – you can find them at:


Sean Beeson composed our theme – you can get ears on his brilliant musical stylings at