National Catholic Register


Reader Julianne Wiley writes…

BY Mark Shea

| Posted 11/26/10 at 2:00 AM


I just gave a talk on Elizabeth Anscombe to my parish Council of Catholic Women, and it was a big success!  I am so excited!  None of these women had ever heard of her before, and going into it I had my doubts that I could win them over, since the ones on the Right accept the Bomb, and the ones on the Left accept Abortion (you know the problem) and none have much use for academic philosophy.

BUT!  I tried to craft the talk so EA would capture their interest and sympathy before I detonated the stuff that would blow their minds—- and I think it worked!  I think they all ended up “on her side,” and wanting to know lots more about her and her tremendous ethical judgments so important for our day.

I am sending you three attachments: the text of the talk itself, the hand-out on the exceptionless norm against killing the innocent, and the prayer for EA’s beatification.

Could you put something about this in your blog?  I would love to send these resources to anybody who asks for them,

I hope somebody will do a good popular biography of EA.  Soon.  I mean ~really~ soon. We need a powerful infusion of the wisdom and inspiration that is meant to be her gift to us all.

For those who are interested, Gertrude Elizabeth Margaret Anscombe was one of the greatest Catholic philosophers of the 20th Century.  She was a convert and had one of the toughest minds in the world, combined with a Catholic faith that was childlike in the best sense. (I remember reading an article about her somewhere and the amazingly simple and gentle catechesis she gave her seven children about how to behave at Mass and what was going on when the consecration occurred:

It is easiest to tell what transubstantiation is by saying this: little children should be taught about it as early as possible. Not of course using the word “transubstantiation”, because it is not a little child’s word. But the thing can be taught, and it is best taught at mass at the consecration, the one part where a small child should be got to fix its attention on what is going on. I mean a child that is beginning to speak, one that understands enough language to be told and to tell you things that have happened and to follow a simple story. Such a child can be taught then by whispering to it such things as: “Look! Look what the priest is doing ... He is saying Jesus’ words that change the bread into Jesus’ body. Now he’s lifting it up. Look! Now bow your head and say ‘My Lord and my God’,” and then “Look, now he’s taken hold of the cup. He’s saying the words that change the wine into Jesus’ blood. Look up at the cup. Now bow your head and say ‘We believe, we adore your precious blood, O Christ of God’.” [The cry of the Ethiopians at the consecration of the chalice.] This need not be disturbing to the surrounding people.

She once debated C.S. Lewis and by universal acclamation, she cleaned his clock so badly that he had to revise his book Miracles in order to take into account the points she made.

One of her principal contributions to Catholic moral theology was her coinage of the term “consequentialism”, which is a three dollar word to describe the moral heresy that the ends justify the means.  She did not, of course, invent that idea, merely the term to describe it.  The idea is already found in St. Paul, when he mocks the assertion, “Let us do evil that good may come of it” and states bluntly that those who say such things deserve condemnation.

Because of her courageous opposition to consequentialism (subsequently condemned in Veritatis Splendor), Anscombe “scandalized liberal colleagues with articles defending the Roman Catholic Church’s opposition to contraception in the 1960s and early 1970s. Later in life, she was arrested twice while protesting outside an abortion clinic in Britain, after abortion had been legalized”.  And because she was a consistent thinker, she likewise scandalized the Right by protesting against Oxford’s decision to grant an honorary degree to Harry S. Truman, whom she denounced as a mass murderer for his use of atomic bombs at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

She was a thoroughly Catholic convert who is one of the Church’s great ornaments in a very dark time.  I hope they canonize her someday.

If you want a copy of Julianne’s materials, email her here.  Anscombe is somebody worth getting to know.