A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Pope to Notre Dame U.: Continue to defend church teachings

Pope Francis has told University of Notre Dame officials he hopes the school will  "continue to offer unambiguous testimony" in defense of the church's moral teaching and freedom.

His brief remarks at the Vatican on Thursday are being interpreted in various ways, often to the university's detriment. See what you think. Here is the key passage:

This commitment to “missionary discipleship” ought to be reflected in a special way in Catholic universities (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 132-134), which by their very nature are committed to demonstrating the harmony of faith and reason and the relevance of the Christian message for a full and authentically human life. Essential in this regard is the uncompromising witness of Catholic universities to the Church’s moral teaching, and the defense of her freedom, precisely in and through her institutions, to uphold that teaching as authoritatively proclaimed by the magisterium of her pastors. It is my hope that the University of Notre Dame will continue to offer unambiguous testimony to this aspect of its foundational Catholic identity, especially in the face of efforts, from whatever quarter, to dilute that indispensable witness. And this is important: its identity, as it was intended from the beginning. To defend it, to preserve it and to advance it!

It seems to me that the pope's use of the word "continue" (emphasis added) makes it hard to interpret this as a rebuke of the school, although that has not stopped people from trying. There is no doubt Francis is setting out expectations for Notre Dame and other Catholic universities, but that's as far as he goes. "Continue" sounds like another way of saying, "Keep up the good work." Perhaps what this boils down to is that Francis prefers encouragement to condemnation as a management tool. A lot of management experts would agree.

Compare the encouraging tone of his remarks with the rhetoric of the scores of bishops who assailed the university in 2009 for granting an honorary degree to President Obama. For example, Phoenix Bishop Thomas Olmsted, who wrote to Notre Dame's president that this was "a public act of disobedience to the Bishops of the United States."


Commenting Guidelines

Yes, most words aplied to God are used in analogous fashion only, but isn't "consubstantial" an exception, because the word itself has been made up precisely to describe the Trinity? That is, the definition of "consubstantial" is precisely "the way in which the three persons of the Trinity are one". Everything else that's said about the word "consubstantial" is an imperfect effort to describe the Trinity.

Pope Francis replaced "in communion with" or "sharing life with" or "being present with" by "consubstantial with". He got carried away, that's all. I'm sure he would retract it if people complained.  It's not a big deal.

Claire --

Yes, the term "consubstantial" was invented to describe the Trinity, but it includes the word "substance", and that part, I think, is being used analogously to apply to God.  At least that is my understanding of the history of the term.  The theologians can correct me.

The reason I find tthe Pope's application of it to Mary to be jarring, is because he seems to be applying a term which should be reserved to God  to Mary.  Carried to its logical conclusion this implies that she is is something like a 4th person of the Trinity.  Shades of "Co-Redemptrix"!!  

I think there is an an old and continuing inclination in Catholicism to deify Mary, even though Catholic theology does not limit God's qualities to the "masculine".  Time to catechize the people so they realize that God is also "feminine" and our Mother.    

Ann, in Sempiternus Rex Christi, Pope Pius XII quoted Pope St. Leo the Great:

34. This same doctrine was set forth by our predecessor Leo the Great in these words: 'What principally contributed to the justification of mankind was that the only Begotten Son of God deigned to become the Son of Man, so that being God smoúsios to the Father, that is of the same substance, the same [person] should exist as true man consubstantial with his mother in the flesh; we rejoice over both these things, since only by both are we saved; we admit no division of the visible from the invisible, the corporeal from the incorporeal, the passible from the impassible, the palpable from the impalpable, the form of the servant from the form of God. For although he remains the one from eternity, he began to be the other in time; these two have met in unity and can have neither separation nor end' (St. Leo. Serm. 30, 6. PL. liv, 233S).

The typo is on the Vatican website, but 

smoúsios should be omooúsios

John: you have managed to get me confused. It's really not so much about Mary as about ourselves and the relation we hope to have to God one day. We hope to be united to God of course, but how closely? I think, naturally, as closely as water mingling with wine, or, similarly, as close as two persons having sex, but that is not as close as being "consubstantial". The quotes in the Wikipedia article on divinization are all slightly different from one another (becoming "like God", "gods", "assimilated into God", etc.). 

I have read that Rublev's famous Trinity icon has, in front, an empty seat at the table around which the three persons of the Trinity are seated: that extra seat is reserved for Man. That view of humanity's vocation to join the Trinity in such a way would go in the direction of using the word "consubstantial".

In reality, we don't know.



John H. ==


Thanks for the translation of the St. Leo text. I grant you, that on the basis of this text we can't interpret the word "consubstantial" the way it has later been interpreted.  But this text do show very clearly what I maintained -- that this view implies *both* the divinity of Mary and that she is co-redemtrix. 

As I learned it, for Aquinas Mary was not even free of Original Sin from her conception, so a fortiori she couldn't possibley be have been divine.  Further, my trusty Aquinas dictionary says that in Aquinas' work  "consubstantial"  means "of LIKE substance", not "identical in substance".  (Unfortunately, I can never make the search function of Aquinas' work online work, or I'd look up the contexts of his uses of the word.)

Given the implications of Leo's theory, I can't see how  his theory could be the definitive explanation of the relationships between the Persons, Mary and the human Jesus.  At best it seems to be an early theory which needed -- and got  -- "clarification", to use a Vaticanese expression.

(You realize, of course, that I'm not a theologian, but a cat can look at a king.)


Claire -

You have inspired me to make another great theological pronouncement (what the hell, in for a dime,in for a dollar):

The main difference between the theologies of the Eastern Orthodox and those of the Roman Church is mainly the difference between the dominance of Plato in the East and, eventually, of Aristotle in the West.  The sticking point is Plato's theory of "participation of forms (essences)".  For Plato there is an identity of form in all things of the same kind, while in Aristotle there is not.  Or at least not usually -- sometimes even he reverts to the participation theory.  As I see it, Plato's theory inevitably leads to some sort of pantheism. The irony is that eventually Plato himself rejected the theory as "the most ridiculous of all"


John H. ==

Scratch my last reply to you.  If the Aquinas dictionary is right, then Aquinas would have to deny that the Father and Son were consubstantial in the sense I was defending --  because if "consubstantial" means only "like" in substance, then the Father and Son are only *like* in substance, and, thereore, not identical.  

Or something like that.

(Philosophers should keep out of theology??)

Claire. I don't know the answer to your question. I'm with Paul, who said "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known."

Ann, the Council of Nicea decided that Jesus was "of the same substance" (omooúsios) with the father and not "of similar substance" (omoioúsios) as the Arians wanted. 

I'm not a theologian, either. 

JOhn H. -

Thanks a bunch.  I didn't realize there were two words, and apparently I checked the wrong one (homoiousios) in my Aquinas dictionary!  I'm particularly glad you corrected me because I began to think that my indispensable dictionary wasn't as reliable as I had always thought it to be.  

Ann - yep, there's an iota of difference. 



About the Author

Paul Moses, a professor of journalism at Brooklyn College/CUNY, is the author of The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam and Francis of Assisi's Mission of Peace (Doubleday, 2009).