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50 of 67 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Unconvincing. Here are excerpts from Avery Cardinal Dulles' review in "First Things" Oct 2005, January 8, 2006
This review is from: A Church That Can and Cannot Change: The Development of Catholic Moral Teaching (ND Erasmus Institute Books) (Hardcover)
Here are excerpts from Avery Cardinal Dulles' review in "First Things" (Oct 2005).


The overarching thesis seems to be that in all these areas social change makes it possible for Christians to overcome the blindness that had previously afflicted their moral vision. The doctrinal change, in Noonan's estimation, is in many cases an about-face, repudiating the erroneous past teaching of the magisterium itself.

More than half of the book deals with slavery...Jesus, though he repeatedly denounced sin as a kind of moral slavery, said not a word against slavery as a social institution. Nor did the writers of the New Testament. Peter and Paul exhort slaves to be obedient to their masters. Paul urges Philemon to treat his converted slave Onesimus as a brother in Christ. While discreetly suggesting that he manumit Onesimus, he does not say that Philemon is morally obliged to free Onesimus....

...[T]he popes were far from silent. As soon as the enslavement of native populations by European colonists started, they began to protest, although Noonan gives only a few isolated examples. Eugene IV in 1435 condemned the enslavement of the peoples of the newly colonized Canary Islands and, under pain of excommunication, ordered all such slaves to be immediately set free. Pius II and Sixtus IV emphatically repeated these prohibitions. In a bull addressed to all the faithful of the Christian world Paul III in 1537 condemned the enslavement of Indians in North and South America. Gregory XIV in 1591 ordered the freeing of all the Filipino slaves held by Spaniards. Urban VIII in 1639 issued a bull applying the principles of Paul III to Portuguese colonies in South America and requiring the liberation of all Indian slaves.

In 1781 Benedict XIV renewed the call of previous popes to free the Indian slaves of South America. Thus it was no break with previous teaching when Gregory XVI in 1839 issued a general condemnation of the enslavement of Indians and Blacks. In particular, he condemned the importation of Negro slaves from Africa. Leo XIII followed along the path set by Gregory XVI.

...In A Church That Can and Cannot Change, Noonan gives only a few glimpses of this complex history. He correctly notes that the Catholic magisterium in past centuries never made an absolute condemnation of slavery as such. But he contends that John Paul II reversed the traditional teaching. In support he quotes a statement of John Paul II in 1992. Speaking at the infamous "House of Slaves" on the Island of Gorée in Senegal, from which innumerable slaves had been exported, he declared: "It is fitting to confess in all truth and humility this sin of man against man, this sin of man against God." Noonan adds: "What this confession did not remark was how recently the sin had been discovered." But if we look up the quotation, we will find that the pope is here speaking of the slave trade, which had repeatedly been condemned. Far from changing the doctrine, John Paul is explicitly reaffirming the position of Pope Pius II, whom he quotes as having declared in 1492 that the slave trade was an enormous crime, magnum scelus.

Noonan has one further argument for doctrinal change. In 1993, in his encyclical Veritatis Splendor, John Paul II took, from Vatican II's pastoral constitution on the Church in the modern world, a long list of social evils: "homicide, genocide, abortion, euthanasia and voluntary suicide . . . mutilation, physical and mental torture and attempts to coerce the spirit; whatever is offensive to human dignity, such as sub-human living conditions, arbitrary imprisonments, deportation, slavery, prostitution and trafficking in women and children; degrading conditions of work which treat laborers as mere instruments of profit, and not as free responsible persons." Where Vatican II had called these practices "shameful" (probra), John Paul II calls them "intrinsically evil." In the same encyclical the pope teaches that intrinsically evil acts are prohibited always and everywhere, without any exception.

Did John Paul II, by including slavery in his list of social evils, effect the revolution in Catholic moral theology that Noonan attributes to him? It seems to me that if he had wanted to assert his position as definitive he would have had to say more clearly how he was defining slavery. He would have had to make it clear that he was rejecting the nuanced views of the biblical writers and Catholic theologians for so many past centuries. If any form of slavery could be justified under any conditions, slavery as such would not be, in the technical sense, intrinsically evil.

According to the logic of Noonan's argument, whatever holds for slavery would have to be said for deportations, subhuman living conditions, and degrading conditions of work. But could not degrading or subhuman conditions be inevitable, for example, after some great natural disaster in which mere survival is an achievement? Individual deportations of undesirable aliens occur continually as a matter of national policy today; mass deportations could perhaps be necessary for the sake of peace and security. If pressed, I suspect, the pope would have admitted the need for some qualifications, but he could not have specified these without a rather long excursus that would have been distracting in the framework of his encyclical. So far as I am aware, he never repeated his assertion that slavery is intrinsically evil. Neither the Catechism of the Catholic Church nor the recent Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church... speaks so absolutely.

For all these reasons Noonan's case for a reversal of doctrine is unconvincing. Jacques Maritain provided some helpful distinctions in his book The Rights of Man and Natural Law....[C]ertain attenuated forms of servitude, such as serfdom, are not opposed to natural law except in its secondary requirements or aspirations. These lesser forms of servitude...cannot be eliminated except by degrees....These concessions do not seem to me to be a reversal of the original teaching but rather a nuancing of it.
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Showing 1-10 of 11 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 3, 2007 11:09:29 AM PDT
Anne Rice says:
In my opinion, this negative review does not do justice to Noonan, or to Noonan's precise reasoning and empirical investigation. It seems the reviewer misunderstood Noonan, and perhaps missed the vital thrust of Noonan's work. I urge readers to read Noonan and judge for themselves. Don't let this negative review put you off. Noonan's work is too important to be treated in this way.

Posted on Aug 24, 2007 4:27:49 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 24, 2007 4:43:46 PM PDT
Agree with Anne. I don't believe Dulles read the book at all but skimmed it. One can go to the supplement of the Summa Theologica and read Aquinas say that the child of a slave mother is then a slave and Aquinas then gives the decretals (canon law) which support him. Noonan notes that the 1917 canon law continued the ban on slaves receiving Holy Orders. I lost all literary respect for Dulles in this matter and would not trust him in another review. He notes the Popes that opposed slavery but does not note that Bishops and religious orders had slaves in the US in the 19th century (see Catholic Historical Society archives)...which proves Noonan's point that inherited slavery was always excepted in the anti slavery bulls... hence Bishop England in the US continued in the 19th century to write in support of it in his newspaper...Catholic Misselany. Dulles is of the emperor's new clothes Catholicism school which dismisses past changes to make the Popes look infallible even when they did not say that they were....LOL.... and it as a school is not as honest as it thinks it is. Further one can simply go to the Trent catechism on line to the section of coveting and see the catechism forbid coveting another person's slave
and go to the section on stealing where it forbids the slave entrapement but also forbids appropriating another man's slave which word "appropriate" it later uses for theft of church money. Trent's catechism was from 1566 which post dates two of the Popes that Dulles uses as proof that the Church opposed slavery.
In short Noonan was right: Popes opposed the trade and new native slavery but none of them opposed the inherited-from-the-mother slavery based on the Church's connection to Roman law.
England was in the forefront of really opposing slavery because it had common law instead of the old Roman law.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2008 11:37:22 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 23, 2008 11:47:34 AM PST
So Anne Rice now knows more than one of the world's most eminent theologians: Avery CARDINAL Dulles S.J. huh?

Come on. Don't be silly.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 23, 2008 11:46:20 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Dec 23, 2008 9:12:14 PM PST
William, your post is laughable on its face. What exactly is your point?

FIRST, Aquinas is a theologian, not the Pope, and the Summa is NOT the Magesterium of the Church. Aquinas can be wrong on a matter like slavery. Don't you know this, or are you misrepresenting authoritative Church teaching on purpose because of an agenda?

The reviewers problem with this text is it gives the uninformed (like Anne Rice) an excuse to hope for (and even advocate for) the Church changing what CANNOT change. Such a book is very dangerous, because it could lead people to think they can engage in acts such as contraceptive sex and sodomy and not enter into a state of sin.

You also cite Cannon Law. Canon law is not magesterial teaching either. Don't you know this? Or are you misrepresenting authoritative Church teaching on purpose?

What is you agenda?

The TRUTH is that the "argument" contained in the book we are discussing is very weak. Dulles' thorough and complete destruction of the books central thesis should be enough to convince anyone not hostile to the truth.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 18, 2009 1:04:28 PM PDT
Anne Rice says:
Again, I urge readers to evaluate this book for themselves. It's beautifully written and extremely well reasoned. The statement above, "Such a book is very dangerous" is a bit of a frightening one. There is nothing dangerous at all about Noonan's book. It's quite an education.

In reply to an earlier post on Dec 5, 2009 5:47:20 PM PST
Well, Anne, if you take the idea of sin seriously, then any book that promotes any kind of action is at least potentially dangerous so long as it is fallible. The point would not be that there is nothing dangerous about Noonan's book, but that it is no more dangerous than any other book on these subjects.

For what it's worth, Avery Dulles does tend to know what he is talking about, so those of us who are not scholars of the history of Catholic teaching cannot just brush him off. Certainly the questions here are extremely complex, and in all likelihood neither Noonan nor Dulles has it exactly right. In the end, you're right that anybody who cares about Catholic teaching should be reading Noonan's book, because it is one of the best articulations of an important position on how we should understand that teaching.

In reply to an earlier post on Aug 14, 2010 6:57:06 AM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 14, 2010 7:03:10 AM PDT
Avery Dulles is perhaps writing in good faith - he simply is unaware of the pro-slavery Bulls like "Dum diversa", "Romanus Pontifex" and later derivatives which were used to justify the enslavement of black Africans and Native Americans.
"We grant you [Kings of Spain and Portugal] by these present documents, with our Apostolic Authority, full and free permission to invade, search out, capture, and subjugate the Saracens and pagans and any other unbelievers and enemies of Christ wherever they may be, as well as their kingdoms, duchies, counties, principalities, and other property [...] and to reduce their persons into perpetual slavery." Dum Diversas, Pope Nicholas V

The problem is that after Pope Leo XIII issued letters in 1888, 1890 which mentioned 12 previous Popes who were aboltionists there followed in popular Catholic scholarly works essays which followed Leo's assertion, thus making the church appear to have been always abolitionist. The point was that 5 of the Popes mentioned by Leo had also isssued publicly texts which sanctioned slavery. In order to protect a false conception of infallibilty even generally reliable sources like the 1911 Catholic Enyclopedia dropped any reference to the pro-slavery Papal bulls and to General Councils, such as the Lateran ,which sanctioned slavery presumably to protect Leo from criticism.

The only comprehensive scholarly account I know which gives all the relevant Papal text references (pro and anti-slavery) was written by Father John Francis Maxwell in 1975 - "The Catholic Church and slavery". He explains how "just" slavery was always acceptable whilst certain other kinds of enslavement were under the ban thus explaining why Popes such as Paul III sanctioned as well banned certain kinds of enslavement. Maxwell discusses the historical "whitewashing" that took place in the late 19th century but the effects of it still appear today in works like Avery Dulles and the New Catholic Encyclopedia who appear not to know all the relevant facts. The Wikipedia article "Catholic church and Slavery" now contains a wealth of well referenced details to all of the Papal and Council texts relating to slavery.

Posted on Oct 20, 2010 11:55:33 PM PDT
Anne Rice says:
Now in October 2010, I am reading the book again, and I am more
than ever convinced of its brilliance, and importance.
I urge all those interested in the history of the Roman Catholic
church to read it.
I wish I could do justice here, in a few words, to Noonan's intellect, but
I can't.
Only reading the book itself can do that.
The book is vitally important just now when so many Catholics
seem to be unaware that their church has ever changed in its interpretation of
Of course the church changes all the time, and is always reforming itself.
A better grasp of the history of the evolution of doctrine is I think a great
benefit to anyone seriously seeking "the truth" about God's word, or
the Church's word.

Posted on Jan 7, 2013 11:14:34 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 7, 2013 11:17:22 AM PST
Apparently Amazon now allows a "reviewer" to stand in the shadow of an actual reviewer, via copy+paste.

The text of Father Maxwell's "Slavery and the Catholic Church" is available at anthonyflood DOT com SLASH maxwell DOT htm

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 7, 2013 11:40:32 AM PST
A reader says:

I provided a reference to Cardinal Dulles' review (of Noonan's book) in a journal - "First Things" - which I often recommend. I did not resort to self-promotion as you did (though I see nothing wrong with your self-promotion).

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