"What Noonan brings . . . to this invaluable book is unblinking honesty about the record of the church to which he is deeply devoted. That is a standard for anyone wishing to pursue the conversation." —The New York Times Book Review
". . . Immensely valuable and scrupulously researched. . . . [a] trenchant historical account." —Commonweal
"John T. Noonan's writing is tight, the examples are striking, the one-liners abundant, and the treasure-trove of amazing (and egregious) ecclesial statements is eye-popping . . . Excellent book...." —Catholic Library World
“Anyone looking for a comprehensive and insightful read on church history need look no further than John T. Noonan Jr.'s A Church That Can and Cannot Change. In short, to-the-point chapters Noonan, an accomplished historian and a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals, leads the reader by the nose through his argument that the church's moral teaching can and does change-and probably will again. The heart of his case is his unflinching account of the church's relationship with slavery. Meticulously presenting the evidence, Noonan demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt the church's move from acceptance of human slavery to eventual condemnation.” --U.S. Catholic, November 2005
"[A] magisterial work.... This book should be high on the list of must reads for anyone interested in Catholic moral theology but also for any educated Catholic who wants to understand how you can teach one thing in the past and another thing today." —Theology Today, October 2005
"Highly recommended." —Choice, July/August, 2005
“Noonan's works on usury, contraception, religious freedom, abortion, divorce, and bribery have set the gold standard for research in theological ethics. His research is especially compelling for Roman Catholic ethics shaped to some degree by magisterial teachings that often make the claim of inerrancy precisely through another claim: that its utterances are continuously the same and resist change, despite evidence to the contrary. . . . This brilliant book teaches us that, if we appreciate history, inevitably we are called to understand more than we presently know.” —The Journal of Religion, vol. 87, no. 4, October 2007
From the Inside Flap
By concrete examples, dated and put in context, John T. Noonan, Jr., demonstrates how the moral teaching of the Catholic Church has changed and is changing without abandoning its foundational commitment to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. From St. Paul's return of a runaway slave to his master, to John Henry Newman's startle at the idea that slavery is intrinsically evil, the Church resisted condemning slavery. Today, John Paul II has made clear that slavery in itself, everywhere and always, is sinful. Similar revolutions have occurred in the Church's teaching on making money out of lending and on respect for the beliefs of heretics. And another, little-known change is taking place as modern popes grant divorces.
In these changes Noonan perceives the Catholic Church to be a vigorous, living organism answering new questions with new answers and enlarging the capacity of believers to learn through experience and empathy what love demands. He contends that the impetus to change comes from a variety of sources, including prayer, meditation on Scripture, new theological insights and analyses, the evolution of human institutions, and the examples and instruction given by persons of good will.
Noonan also states that the Church cannot change its commitment to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Given this absolute, how can the moral teaching of the Church change? Noonan finds this question unanswerable when asked in the abstract. But in the context of the specific facts and events he discusses in this book, an answer becomes clear. As our capacity to grasp the Gospel grows, so do our understanding and compassion, which give life to the Gospel commandments of love.
Noonans incisive book, based on the Erasmus Lectures he delivered at the University of Notre Dame in 2003, will challenge anyone interested in the history and future of the Catholic Church.