The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture

The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture

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by Francis Cardinal George OMI

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Penned by the leading intellectual in the American Catholic hierarchy, this debut brings together some of the most influential writings on the Catholic vision—not just the Church itself but of the relation and unity of all people. Weaving together intellectual insight and personal wisdom, this investigation offers a luminous Catholic vision of communion,…  See more details below


Penned by the leading intellectual in the American Catholic hierarchy, this debut brings together some of the most influential writings on the Catholic vision—not just the Church itself but of the relation and unity of all people. Weaving together intellectual insight and personal wisdom, this investigation offers a luminous Catholic vision of communion, illustrating the Church’s relation to numerous religions as well as the secular world. Drawing from both the author’s observations of Catholicism in cultures around the globe and countless theologians’ perspectives—including Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, Thomas Aquinas, and Francis of Assisi—this analysis demonstrates how to recognize the self-giving, liberating God who provides freedom from the competitive, oppressive gods of secular modernity. This overview also recalls an assortment of fascinating stories, from a poignant moment with a non-Christian in Zambia to the humbling dedication of volunteers who came to observe Pope John Paul II’s visit to Mexico City. Confronting controversial issues head-on, this volume will inspire Christians everywhere while also offering non-Christians a renewed understanding of what a Christian lifestyle means for political and personal life today.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
As archbishop of Chicago, George is pastor of one of the largest Catholic communities in the United States, and as head of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops he presides over a powerful collection of churchmen. George is also one of the most thoughtful men in the American hierarchy, and somehow he found time to gather his ideas in a collection of essays on the role of the Catholic faith in the modern world. The essays generally reflect George's traditional approach and his style—for good and ill. He ranges widely and is always challenging; his writing can be as scholarly as it is spiritual. The work is organized like a catechism, which makes it easy to dip into. George invokes the late Pope John Paul II as his model. Yet this book has more in common with an earlier work on faith in the modern world, “Introduction to Christianity,” also by a well-known cardinal—Joseph Ratzinger, now known as Pope Benedict XVI. (Oct.)
Legatus Magazine
Cardinal George's offering will inspire Christians while also offering non-Christians a renewed understanding of what a Christian lifestyle means for political and personal life today.
From the Publisher

"A scholarly and spiritual collection of essays on the role of the Catholic faith in the modern world . . . from one of the most thoughtful men in the American hierarchy."  —Publishers Weekly

"Cardinal George's offering will inspire Christians while also offering non-Christians a renewed understanding of what a Christian lifestyle means for political and personal life today."  —Legatus Magazine

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The Difference God Makes

A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture

By Francis George

The Crossroad Publishing Company

Copyright © 2009 Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8245-2618-4


Of God and Man

The Two Cities in the Third Millennium

History is what God remembers. No calendar is neutral, as the French revolutionaries and various fascist dictators well understood. To mark a Christian millennium is to claim that we remember what God knows to be of central importance in human history. The millennium's importance is determined by the decisive and momentous influence of the person of Jesus Christ. Out of our understanding of who Christ is, the relationship between an incarnational metaphysics and the political/social sphere can be explored, demonstrating how the former ought to be the permanent, though freely offered, structuring element of the latter.

St. Augustine's understanding of this relationship is more helpful than the various views that have flowed from the characteristically modern construal of the world. This Augustinian perspective has shaped not only the Catholic community, but most Protestant and some other Christian groups as well. It has been a continuous point of reference throughout the past sixteen hundred years for analyzing the relationships between faith and society, and it continues to be a point of reference in understanding the relationship between faith and the modern nation state.

Philosophy of Incarnation

At the heart of Christianity is a provocative claim: In Jesus Christ, God has become a creature, without ceasing to be God and without compromising the integrity of the creature he becomes. Many pre-Christian myths and legends spoke of God or the gods "becoming" creaturely, but such incarnations always resulted in uneasy mixtures of the divine and the nondivine. Thus Achilles and Hercules are quasi-godly and quasi-mortal, their divinity compromised by their humanity and vice versa. But as the Greek and Latin theologians of the patristic period struggled to express their incarnational faith, they consciously abandoned this mythological construal. The Council of Chalcedon in 451 expressed the radicality of Christian belief when it said that in the divine person of Jesus Christ, two natures — divine and human — come together in a hypostatic union, without mixing, mingling, or confusion. This means that in Jesus the divine and the human unite without competition or compromise. Christ is not quasi-divine and quasi-human; in fact, just such a mythological reading was rejected in 325 at the Council of Nicea during the struggle against Arianism. Rather, Jesus is fully divine and fully human, the proximity of the divine enhancing and not weakening the integrity of the human.

But the condition for the possibility of such a claim is a new understanding of the nature of God. Finite things exist necessarily in a sort of mutual exclusivity: the being of one is predicated, at least in part, on its not being the other. Hence, when one finite thing "becomes" another, it does so through ontological aggression and surrender: the desk becomes a pile of ashes through being destroyed by fire, and the lion assimilates the antelope by devouring it. Competition characterizes the play between conditional realities. Therefore, when the Church proclaims that in Jesus Christ the divine and the human have come together without competition and compromise, she is saying something of extraordinary novelty. She is claiming that God is not a worldly nature, not a being, not one thing alongside others. God is not in competition with nature because God does not belong to created nature; God does not overwhelm finite being, because God is not a finite being.

When Christian theologians, inspired by their faith in the Incarnation, attempted to name God, they accordingly reached for language that evoked this distinctiveness. Thus St. Anselm said that God is not so much the supreme being as "that than which no greater can be thought," implying, paradoxically, that God plus the world is not greater than God alone. And when St. Thomas Aquinas named God, he avoided the term ens summum (highest being) and opted for ipsum esse subsistens (the subsistent act of to-be itself).

Both of these theologians thought of God as noncompetitively transcendent to the realm of finite things and therefore totally immanent to all things as the cause of their being. God is transcendent cause, and therefore Christianity is not a form of pantheism or Emersonian panentheism; but God is therefore closer to his creatures than they are to themselves. God is not related to the world, for that would create too great a division between God and the world, but neither is God identified with the world. The transcendent God is within his creation as the cause of its very being.

It is from this understanding of God, rooted in but developed from Jewish faith, that the peculiarly Christian sense of creation flows. Because God is not one being among others but rather the sheer energy of to-be itself, God does not make the world through manipulation, change, or violence, as the gods of philosophy and mythology do. Since there is literally nothing outside of God, he makes the entirety of the finite realm ex nihilo, through an act of purest and gentlest generosity. God's is a nonpossessive love. And since God is the act of to-be, all creaturely things exist in and through God, "participating" in the power of his being and the graciousness of his love. And we can draw a final implication: because all of nature and the cosmos are, likewise, creatures participating in the divine generosity, they are all related to one another by bonds of ontological intimacy.

When St. Francis of Assisi spoke of "brother sun and sister moon," he was making both a poetically evocative and metaphysically precise remark. All things in the cosmos exist in a communio with one another precisely because they are rooted in a more primordial communio with the creator God. This view of reality as a communion based on love is the worldview that proceeds from the Incarnation.

Augustine's Two Cities

Whatever Christians say about the social, political, and economic realm must flow from this grounding metaphysical vision. Or better put, there is an unavoidably social dimension to the Christian ontology of communio and participation. This can be discerned clearly in one of the most remarkable and influential presentations of the Christian worldview ever written: the De Civitate Dei — On the City of God — of St. Augustine. What strikes the modern reader perhaps most immediately is St. Augustine's adamant refusal to dialogue with the representatives of the polity of Rome who had challenged the legitimacy of Christianity. He is interested in neither accommodating nor compromising with the Roman system, which he sees as fallen. Rather, he boldly proposes the Christian way as being, in all regards, preferable. He does not turn to Rome to find a social theory or political arrangement compatible with a privatized and interiorized Christian spirituality; on the contrary, he excoriates Rome as an unjust society and holds up Christianity itself as the only valid basis for a just form of social arrangement.

Augustine's hermeneutical key is well known. He distinguishes sharply between the City of Man (a collectivity based upon self-love) and the City of God (a collectivity whose foundation is the shared love of God). The former is not so much an inadequate society; it is rather like a group of thieves or marauders masquerading as a body politic. Much of the first part of De Civitate Dei is a spirited demonstration that what looks like a paragon of justice — the Roman Empire — is in fact a manifestation of the City of Man.

Augustine's argument has a "theological" and a "political" phase. First, he shows, over hundreds of pages, that the multiple gods of Rome are in fact demons because they engage in and encourage various forms of immorality, including and especially rivalry, jealousy, and warfare. Then he paints a vivid picture of the political life that has followed from the worship of such gods. What has characterized Rome, from its founding in the fratricidal struggle between Romulus and Remus to the chaos of Augustine's day, is unremitting violence. The door of Janus, supposed to be closed during times of peace, has remained stubbornly open for almost the entirety of Roman history. The regnant spirit of Rome is what Augustine refers to as the libido dominandi, the lust for mastery, and it is this spirit that has sent conquering armies around the world. At the heart of Augustine's analysis of Rome is the correlation between a faulty metaphysics (the worship of finite and self-assertive gods) and a faulty polity of violence and domination. A denial of a metaphysic of participation and communio leads to the false imitation of justice in the City of Man.

But Christians believe in the God who is Father of Jesus Christ, a God of nonviolent and creative love who brings the whole of the world into being from nothing. Such a God, unlike the false gods of Rome, enters into competitive relation with no one or no thing. The worship of such a God leads to a society based not on the libido dominandi but on the love, compassion, nonviolence, and forgiveness preached and embodied by Jesus. What Augustine proposes, therefore, is an altera civitas that has "no logical or causal connection to the city of violence," requiring the repudiation of worldly dominium and worldly peace. It is a city based upon the consensus that mirrors the community of the saints and angels in heaven, an icon of the heavenly ordo. This communio conception of society corresponds to God's original and deepest intention toward the world.

If one seeks to know the origins of the City of Man — the corruption of this original intention of God — one has to look to the rebellion of Adam and Eve. In the original sin, Augustine sees the first human decision to sever the relationship with God, to deny the implications of creation and communio and to establish a kind of "secular" realm apart from God. The violence and injustice of Rome is, for Augustine, simply the latest and most virulent consequence of this original rebellion.

Again, what is surprising for moderns is Augustine's refusal to place this analysis in anything even vaguely resembling a "church/state" context. It is not the case that the secular state ought to order public life while the Church cares for the spiritual good of the people. There is no such easy distinction in Augustine. There is, rather, the dramatic difference between the false worship (and hence flawed social arrangement) of the City of Man and the proper worship (and hence life-giving social arrangement) of the City of God. The problem is not how to reconcile the competing concerns of the spiritual and the secular; the problem is orthodoxy, that is to say, getting our metaphysics and our praise of God in order, so that we can live in a just, rightly ordered society.

It is impossible to trace in a brief chapter the complex development (and corruption) of this Augustinian notion through late antiquity and the Middle Ages. But one can see its perdurance in the remarkable relationship between medieval worship and social life. At the center of the medieval town — both physically and psychologically — was the church or cathedral, where the drama of the paschal mystery and its communal implications were played out in a sacramental rhythm. This visual display of the Christian faith shaped the consciousness of worshipers and in turn influenced economic, agricultural, and political life, as had the Temple in Jerusalem. The activity of medieval guilds, the labors of farmers, the ordering of the economy — all were predicated upon and shaped by the sacramental life, especially baptism and the Eucharist. There was a keen sense that the heavenly liturgy (God's ordo), iconically displayed in the earthly liturgy, worked its way into all of those social and political realities that today we would misleadingly refer to as entirely "secular." In the medieval consciousness, a sacred/secular chasm would have seemed anomalous, since politics, economics, and social order existed as a sort of extension of the sacramental life of the Church.

As the civil society became more explicitly shaped by faith, it came to be treated as good in itself because it had the same ultimate goals as the Church: the incorporation of each citizen into communion with God. Thomas Aquinas, using Aristotle's reflections on man as essentially political and social, admitted real distinctions between church and state according to their respective functions, but he saw them united in a single goal — the common good of all on earth and a common life in God for all eternity.

The Emergence of the Modern: A Compromise with the City of Man

The dark underside of this ideal unity of the social order informed by religious faith was the use of state power, often uninfluenced by moral considerations of its limits, to enforce religious conformity — a conformity more often used for political than for genuinely religious ends. The reaction to this misuse of power justified modernity's understanding of religious freedom. What created modern consciousness is a breakdown of classical Christian participation metaphysics and the consequent emergence of a secular arena at best only incidentally related to God. It is this modern, nonparticipatory, ideological context that impoverishes most of our discussions of religion and politics. It is most evident, perhaps, not in the loss of visual symbols to integrate space but in the creation of rival calendars to shape the rhythm of public life. In the modern era, national feasts and ceremonies replaced the liturgical calendar of the Church, whose feasts become private observances. The end of the modern era, however, is signaled by the inability of the secular calendar to call people out of their private concerns into the rhythm of a shared public life. National holidays have become primarily occasions for private recreation. Time itself becomes a field to be personally scheduled, a function of private purposes. A rigorously secularized society is less and less able to call people to any kind of participation.

The loss of the communio ontology in Western thought begins, perhaps surprisingly, just after Aquinas, in the writings of Duns Scotus. Scotus consciously repudiates the Thomistic analogy of being — predicated upon participation — and adopts a univocal conception of being. Though it was perhaps Scotus's intention to draw the world and God into closer connection, this epistemological and ontological shift had the opposite effect. In maintaining that God and the world can be described with a univocal concept of being, Scotus implied that the divine and the nondivine are both instances of some greater and commonly shared power of existence. But in so doing, he radically separated God from the world, rendering the former a supreme being (however infinite) and the latter a collectivity of beings. In opting for the univocity of the idea of existence, Scotus set God and world alongside each other, thereby separating "nature" and "grace" far more definitively than Aquinas or Augustine ever had and effectively undermining a metaphysics of creation and participation. God is no longer that generous power in which all things exist but rather that supreme being next to whom or apart from whom all other beings exist.

The distancing of God from creation and the defining of the world as profane, made possible by this univocal concept of being, can be seen in the voluntarism and nominalism of William of Ockham, which in turn had a decisive influence on Martin Luther. Scotus's compromised sense of analogy shaped the later and more decadent scholasticism, finally giving rise to Francisco Suarez's awkward rendering of Thomas's doctrine of analogy. Some have argued that this Jesuit Renaissance version of Aquinas — with its sharp delineation of nature and grace — came to form modern consciousness, especially through the work of the Jesuit-trained René Descartes. In both its Lutheran and Cartesian manifestations, modernity assumes a fundamental split between the divine and the nondivine and hence implicitly denies the participation/communio metaphysics that had shaped the Christian world through the ancient and medieval periods.

What does this modern worldview produce in the arena of the social and political? Thomas Hobbes made the political implications of modernity most evident. In his famous description of the natural (prepolitical) state of human beings as "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short," Hobbes assumes the primacy of antagonism. Void of a religious, and therefore communitarian, sensibility, natural man is engaged in a desperate attempt to keep himself alive, fighting a "war of all against all." Responding only to his most elemental passions, man in the state of nature lives a thoroughly individualist and "secular" existence, and any link to an englobing and transcendent context is lost.


Excerpted from The Difference God Makes by Francis George. Copyright © 2009 Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.. Excerpted by permission of The Crossroad Publishing Company.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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The Difference God Makes: A Catholic Vision of Faith, Communion, and Culture 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
mc76NYC More than 1 year ago
This book by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago is a good book for the general Catholic reader, though it seems especially aimed toward those with at least a small degree of theological background. While the subtitle of the book makes it clear that he is not proposing his vision of Catholicism in the United States as the only or definitive one, he nevertheless has strong sentiments on improving or strengthening Catholic life and identity in the U.S. I found his chapters on John Paul II's encyclical Redemptoris Missio (Chapter 8), his reflections of liberal Catholicism (9), the laity (10) and the priesthood (11 and 12) to be particularly helpful and informative. I was disappointed that he did not include an extended reflection on the life and mission of the parish in Catholic life in a manner that he did for the journal Chicago Studies in 2007.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The she cat limps in quietly.-Cloverdream
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Tab sighed. 'Is clan life always like this?' He thought as he walked back to his cave.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago