Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Nancy Pelosi, Girl Theologian

There are certain jobs which nearly everyone thinks they can do.

Screenwriter William Goldman says that writing is one such. Everyone on a movie production is convinced that he could probably write the script just fine, if he wasn't busy doing something else. So why is the writing taking so long to produce the pages?

Apparently House Speaker Nancy Pelosi thinks that running the Catholic Church is something she could do just fine, if only she wasn't busy... doing whatever it is that she does when she's not failing to pass her legislative agenda and putting her foot in her mouth during interviews.

She had a fairly standard instance of foot in mouth over the weekend when on Meet The Press she opined:

I would say that as an ardent, practicing Catholic, this is an issue that I have studied for a long time. And what I know is, over the centuries, the doctors of the church have not been able to make that definition. And Senator–St. Augustine said at three months. We don’t know.... And so I don’t think anybody can tell you when life begins, human life begins.
Meet The Press, 8-24-2008

She went on to insist that the Church had only come to insist that life should be protected from the moment of conception within the last fifty years. Such high profile misrepresentation of Catholic teaching was too much for those who are officially tasked with preserving Catholic teaching in the US, and so within two days Ms. Pelosi had been set straight by:

One might think that under this episcopal onslaught our intrepid girl theologian would return to discoursing on subjects which are actually within her alleged realm of expertise. Not so! She issued through a spokesperson a statement including:
After she was elected to Congress, and the choice issue became more public as she would have to vote on it, she studied the matter more closely. Her views on when life begins were informed by the views of Saint Augustine, who said: ‘…the law does not provide that the act [abortion] pertains to homicide, for there cannot yet be said to be a live soul in a body that lacks sensation…’ (Saint Augustine, On Exodus 21.22)
Unfortunately, the Speaker does not, as the saying goes, know what the hell she is talking about. The passage in Exodus which is cited lays down what punishments should be meted out upon an assailant who accidentally causes a woman to miscarry, and the text is in some dispute resulting in different readings. Augustine apparently (based on the secondary sources that I've been able to find regarding Augustine's thinking on fetal development an abortion -- I've not been able to identify the alleged source which Pelosi quotes) took the passage to mean that someone who caused a fetal death before animation or ensoulment (according to Aristotelian science, it was the soul/form which allowed an animal to sense, move and grow) could be assessed a fine as a punishment, because he hadn't actually killed anyone, but rather destroyed a sort of seed. Someone who caused fetal death after ensoulment was considered to have committed homicide, and punished according to the "life for a life" principle.

For a bit more on the 4th Century science involved in Augustine's view, see this recent post I did over at Catholics Against Joe Biden.

So what we have here is a 21st Century politician trying to lecture modern prelates (who have doubtless read a great deal more Augustine than she) based on Augustine's analysis of an single line if Exodus and his 4th Century understanding of embryology. If Ms. Pelosi is incapable of seeing the many problems with trying to do this, it is perhaps best that she simply leaves the bishops to do their job and goes back to doing whatever it is that she is good at.


Anonymous said...

The Blackadder Says:

St. Augustine was a Senator? Who'da thunk it!

Anonymous said...

That is the greatest title I have ever read. Now I'm going to read your essay.

Anonymous said...

Hiding behind 4th century biology. Nice try, Nancy.

rose said...

This person seems to have located the Augustine passage in question.

And I know that schadenfreude is a sin, but I must say that after years of listening to "devout Catholics" blather on in this vein, it's really satisfying to see the bishops finally delivering a smackdown.

CMinor said...

Edifying translation, rhinemouse.

Somebody correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't a lot of Augustine's theorizing more related to the issue of when it is appropriate to baptize a suspected early miscarriage than to abortion?

Pro Ecclesia said...

The upside is that at least it has people talking about St. Augustine on his feast day.

Anonymous said...

I think "The Pelosian Heresy" has a nice ring to it.


Contra Pelosius.