I certainly had not planned on spending my evening with Miguel Diaz’s book "On Being Human: U.S. Hispanic and Rahnerian Perspectives." But, then word came that he was about to be named the U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, and so I had to turn off "Law & Order" and read this exercise in academic theology, serious rigorous academic theology. I love to read, but academic theology may be better than getting your teeth pulled but not by much.
Of course, Mr. Diaz is not being sent to Rome as Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. He is going to represent our country. His choice was unexpected, certainly, but the selection shows that the Obama team, which has so far had an uneven relationship with Catholic concerns, was not going to waste this appointment on a fundraiser and reduce the ambassadorship to a sinecure. Mr. Diaz is a serious Catholic, he has served as Academic Dean of the seminary in Boynton Beach, and a professor at several Catholic universities.
Deal Hudson, George Weigel and Michael Novak have become increasingly unhinged – sfaciato, the Italians say – in their denunciations of President Obama and the Democrats as Sandro Magister demonstrated earlier this week. They would have the authorities in Rome believe that there is no such thing as a pro-life Democrat. Mr. Diaz, who is ardently pro-life and who will soon be ensconced on the Aventine, will be a walking reproof to the neo-cons’ false characterization of the Obama administration and its priorities.
I think appointing a theologian is a bit of a risk. The Obama team has tended to rely on the Leftie Catholic choir, which is not always the best judge of hierarchic or Vatican sensibilities. That choir also tends to bring its baggage in the form of a track record of support for liberal concerns in areas such as ecclesiology or the ordination of women, which raise red flags in Rome and at the USCCB. So, I admit to opening the pages of Mr. Diaz’s book with some trepidation.
Happily, the work seems balanced. (I am only half way through and I am posting tonightrather than in the morning because of an all day conference at Catholic University on Church-State relations I must attend.) He quotes another Hispanic theologian, Roberto Goizueta, approvingly and accurately on the un-Christian objectification of personhood in both Capitalist and Marxist thought. He follows Virgilio Elizondo in seeing Jesus’ Galilean identity as anthropologically akin to Hispanic mestizo identity, a point that seems a bit of a stretch for me, overly consumed with our fascination with identity, but Diaz presents it in a non-reductionist way. I am still pondering his take on the relationship of grace and nature – always the heart of the matter. So far at least (I am only half way through the book) there is no mention of "anonymous Christians" which is the part of Rahnerian thought, often poorly used by his disciples, that has long been a concern of Pope Benedict for its negative effect on inter-religious dialogue. The most annoying thing in the text is the way he inserts "[sic]" in every quote, some of them from long ago, in which the English word "man" is rendered for the Latin "homo." This is the kind of inclusive language correctness that makes people like me roll our eyes when we encounter academic theology. And I wish in his long and interesting discussion of Hispanic culture he would have mentioned that it is a culture born in the Church and one in which, unlike the U.S., faith never exhibits a defensive posture, still less a reduction of religion to ethics.
Now, Pope Benedict is many things but a Rahnerian is not among them. Still, I am sure the Vatican will be pleased that President Obama has selected a man of substance and of faith as its ambassador. He was not my candidate but he is a fine choice.