The National Catholic Review

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.

 

Comments

Anonymous | 5/29/2009 - 10:56am
This post has been quoted and linked in the blog ''The Spirit of a Liberal''.  A couple of personal notes about Dr. Diaz are included in that blogpost and reprinted here. Diaz is a theology professor at St. John’s/St. Ben’s in central Minnesota.  St. John’s School of Theology is where I pursued post-graduate studies in theology and Christian history although I was there before Diaz.  But, I can attest to the progressive spirit of ecumenism as well as a committment to the highest standards of critical scholarship amongst the Benedictines of these fine institutions.   Recent St Ben’s graduate Beth Dahlman of Faith in Public Life concurs.  ''St. Ben’s and St. John’s (the two schools have a close partnership and share an academic program) are special places to me; they embody a commitment to a lived faith that is theologically and spiritually serious while still engaged with the needs of the wider world.'' Dahlman was a theology major at St Ben’s where she served as TA for Diaz’ systematic theology class, and Diaz served on the advisory committee for her honors thesis.  She suggests that Diaz is an outstanding choice for ambassador based on ”the passion with which he taught theology and his inclusion of theologians from diverse backgrounds, in the way he hosted classes at his home for end-of-semester celebrations, and in his obvious love for his family–that will serve him well in his new position.”
Anonymous | 5/28/2009 - 5:03pm
Why is Mr. Guitierez concerned with Mr. Diaz' position on women's ordination, or any other doctrinal issue of the Catholic Church?  Mr. Diaz has been nominated as an ambassador from one sovereign state to another.  It will be his job to represent the interests of the United States to the Holy See, and to help foster international cooperation on issues of common interest; namely, the protection of the rights of women, global solidarity with the poor, and yes, the protection of unborn human being. If the Holy See begins consulting diplomats on matters doctrinal, things do not bode well for Holy Mother Church.
Anonymous | 5/28/2009 - 2:52pm
Frankly, I'm just glad all the speculation in the Catholic press is over.  Hopefully he will be confirmed fairly quickly and be off to Rome.
Anonymous | 5/28/2009 - 9:59am
Pardon me, but given the constant indoctrination we're given from other writers on this blog that we really aren't in a position-ever-to know whether someone is really a 'Catholic' or not, this statement offends me: "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."  
Anonymous | 5/28/2009 - 9:02am
Agree with Zavala, and hope this diplomat will be seen by Rome AND by Americans as a diplomat and not yet another member of the Catholic Political Action Committee.  It's too bad that some have to politicize every damn thing and I am disappointed in Winters, whom I admire, that he had to stoop to name-calling of Hudson, Weigel and Novak.  For crying out loud, when you start your position from "those nasty theocons over there" you're not covering yourself in glory.  You should be better than that. I'm sick of Catholics on the right hyperventilating over every issue that comes down the pike, but I'm also sick of people on the left trying to excuse Obama's 100% NARAL rating by pretending that those who dislike it are mere unsophisticates or raging "theocons."  There is much to like about Obama, but lets be honest, on life issues he STINKS. Can we at least be honest about that?  No?  Well, if we're going to start from a place of intellectual dishonesty, then there is no place to go but down.
Anonymous | 5/27/2009 - 10:55pm
Gosh. I just hope Mr. Díaz does NOT take all those US obsessions/politics to the Holy See and manages to act as a diplomat: not "Hispanic" (whatever that means), not a theologian even, just a professional, able diplomat.
Anonymous | 5/27/2009 - 10:05pm
What is Mr. Diaz position on the ordination of women?  I hope President Obama is not sending to the Vatican a person who will reinforce their inordinate attachment to patriarchy.  I fully support Mr. Diaz use of ''sic'' when quoting texts that render ''homo'' as ''man.''  It is a proper and gentle way of reminding everyone that our ''pro-life'' church keeps aborting female priestly vocations because the church has not been authorized by Christ to ordain women.  I wonder who authorized St. Thomas Aquinas to write that ''as regards the individual nature, woman is defective and misbegotten'' (sic, sic, sic).  Perhaps he got authorization from Aristotle, who wrote that ''silence is a woman's glory'' (sic, sic, sic). In Christ, Luis Luis T. Gutierrez, Ph.D. Editor, E-Journal of Solidarity, Sustainability, and Nonviolence [url=http://www.pelicanweb.org/solisust.html]http://www.pelicanweb.org/solisust.html[/url] This is a monthly, free subscription, open access e-journal.