Author: David Cloutier

Twitter as structure of sin

I have tried a few times over the past year or two to become a true “Twitter user” (@cloutiertheo) – meaning of course that one must be active and consistent in not only checking it but in contributing to it. I have failed each time. In part, this is because I can’t and won’t spend my life tethered to inputs from screens, and I have a “real” job as a professor. Professional journalists and people with high enough status jobs that someone can manage a twitter feed for them are one thing, but I’m not those things. But in...

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All I Want for Christmas is a Herbert McCabe Revival

In 1968, many things took place. That long year puts into perspective the dramas of 2018. One event of 1968 was the release of Law, Love, and Language, a definitive book on “what ethics is all about” (its American title) by the British Dominican Herbert McCabe. The book’s approach to the Catholic moral life promptly sank into oblivion, overwhelmed by the debates provoked by Pope Paul VI’s birth control encyclical Humanae Vitae. That document and the furor that followed has insured that, even to today, debates in Catholicism have been polarized around the same set of terms: law versus...

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Bush 41: The End of an Era

Americans, perhaps inevitably, invest the figures who occupy the presidency with a symbolic or narrative importance. That’s all well and good – telling history is a narrative art. That doesn’t mean it’s fictional; it just means that there is no such thing as “the true story” in some utterly factual way. Narratives ought to take account of facts, but inevitably they choose and weave in ways that aren’t simply dictated by them. Within Christianity, the obsession with “true stories” in regards to the Bible – meaning somehow utterly factual accounts without regard to art – ends up in one of...

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1st Sunday of Advent: Waiting for Renewal

Readings: Jer 33:14-16; Ps 25; 1 Thess 3:12-4:2; Lk 21: 25-28, 34-36 The first Sunday of Advent marks the beginning of a new liturgical year. If ever the Catholic Church was in need of a year to end, it was this past one. Advent, while pointing us toward the Incarnation of Jesus at Christmas, begins with a different anticipation, of the second coming of Christ – it begins exactly where ordinary time ends. The second coming is a reminder that the waiting and longing for the Messiah to come is not over for Christians. While that waiting is pervaded...

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Help Us See More Clearly

Possibly the most important work in Christian ethics in the last decade has been Oliver O’Donovan’s trilogy of books subtitled “ethics as theology.” In researching for an essay I am writing on the importance of the final judgment in ethical debates, I draw on O’Donovan’s work, and it seemed the recent events in the Church might be helpfully illuminated by his claims. O’Donovan makes a distinction between our “purposes” – the limited sense of what our actions will accomplish in “the future beneath our feet” – and the actual “end” of our action – which we can only know after the fact via reflection, and we can only know ultimately in the light of God’s reflection. O’Donovan insists that all our historical endeavors, whether for the self or the neighbor, however important they are, must recognize the limitations involved in judging according to standards of “utility” or (he amusingly notes) “impact.” “Impact” matters; but we are sorely deceived if we think the final court of judgment is measurable “results” or (worse) online likes. The grave danger is to think the measurable, immediate future IS the future, is “what matters” about our actions. This is what eschatology – and more precisely, the notion of a final judgment – does for ethics: not give it a final “metric” we can grasp and righteously measure ourselves by, but rather “discloses and confirms...

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