Supreme Court justice nominee a testament to Catholic education

Neil Gorsuch attended Denver’s Christ the King School

Roxanne King

The nomination of Coloradan Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court justice during Catholic Schools Week appears to affirm the celebration’s 2017 theme: “Catholic Schools: Communities of Faith, Knowledge and Service.”

Gorsuch’s life exemplifies those qualities, according to President Donald Trump and Catholic educators.

Although Gorsuch attends an Episcopalian church in Boulder, he grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver and a Jesuit high school in Maryland.

Archbishop Samuel Aquila, who as a parish priest in the ‘80s taught Gorsuch religion at Christ the King, was delighted with his former student’s Jan. 31 nomination.

“I think it’s great that this has happened during Catholic Schools Week!” the archbishop said of the news, which was announced during the Jan. 29-Feb. 4 national observance.

Kevin Kijewski, the archdiocese’s superintendent of Catholic Schools, was equally elated.

“It’s great to see how a Catholic education, especially a Catholic education from within our own Archdiocese of Denver, can not only form and guide students to succeed and be the best they can be, but to provide the moral judgment and competence to play-out in such a highly visible and influential position.

“It is a testament to our schools and to having a Catholic education,” he told the Denver Catholic.

In a Feb. 1 interview with Fox 31, Kijewski noted, “Catholic thought and the Catholic intellectual tradition has shaped him.”

Gorsuch, a Denver native and judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, graduated with honors from both Columbia University and Harvard Law School and earned a doctorate in legal philosophy from Oxford University. After law school, he was chosen to be a law clerk to U.S. Supreme Court Justices Byron White and Anthony Kennedy. He is the son of Anne Gorsuch, who was the first female secretary of the Environmental Protection Agency.

President Donald J. Trump has nominated fourth-generation Coloradoan Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice Jan. 31. Gorsuch grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver, and his eighth grade teacher, JoAnn Ehrlich, remembers Gorsuch as being “humble, honest and fair.” file photo

President Donald J. Trump has nominated fourth-generation Coloradoan Neil Gorsuch to be the next Supreme Court justice Jan. 31. Gorsuch grew up attending Christ the King Catholic School in Denver, and his eighth grade teacher, JoAnn Ehrlich, remembers Gorsuch as being “humble, honest and fair.” (File photo)

“Judge Gorsuch was born and raised in Colorado and was taught the value of independence, hard work and public service. While in law school, he demonstrated a commitment to helping the less fortunate. He worked in both Harvard Prison Legal Assistance Projects and Harvard Defenders Program,” Trump said in his nomination. “He could have had any job at any law firm for any amount of money, but what he wanted to do with his career was to be a judge, to write decisions and to make an impact by upholding our laws and our Constitution.

“The qualifications of Judge Gorsuch are beyond dispute,” he said. “He is a man of our country and a man who our country really needs and needs badly to ensure the rule of law and the rule of justice.”

JoAnn Ehrlich, who has taught at Christ the King for some 25 years, was Gorsuch’s eighth-grade teacher.

“I’m really proud of him,” she told the Denver Catholic. “I was whooping and hollering for him [Jan. 31] like he had won the Super Bowl. Only it’s better—it’s better that he may be a Supreme Court justice.”

Ehrlich said the virtues of the eighth-grader she taught are evident in the man she watched accept the nomination.

“I remember him as being humble, honest and fair,” she said. “That’s what I saw then, that’s what I see now.”

Not only was Gorsuch a good student but he also had a great sense of humor and was friends with everyone, Ehrlich said. Even then, recalled Ehrlich, she saw “sparks” of his judicial career choice.

“He loved talking about history or government or politics,” she said. “He was just a good kid, a really good kid.”

In accepting the nomination, Gorsuch expressed gratitude and humility.

“Standing here in a house of history, and acutely aware of my own imperfections, I pledge that if I am confirmed I will do all my powers permit to be a faithful servant of the Constitution and laws of this great country.

“I am so thankful tonight for my family, my friends and my faith,” he added. “These are the things that keep me grounded at life’s peaks and have sustained me in its valleys.”

Featured image by Drew Angerer | Getty Images

COMING UP: 500 years later, who was Luther?

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Hero, villain, heretic, saint, reformer, corrupter, man of integrity, bombastic glutton. Which image of Luther should we believe? Because Luther primarily sought not to reform abuses in the Church but to reform the Church’s beliefs, Catholics cannot recognize him as a true reformer or a holy man. Nonetheless, it is widely agreed that Luther played a major role in shaping the modern world. With the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant movement he initiated approaching on October 31st, we have been given a number of new books to assess his legacy.

Paul Hacker, Luther’s Faith: Martin Luther and the Origin of Anthropocentric Religion, preface by Pope Benedict XVI (Emmaus, 2017).

Hacker’s book provides an in-depth, theological analysis of the issue that stands at the heart of the Reformation: Luther’s teaching on salvation by faith alone. Pope Benedict’s preface tells us that the Reformation dispute fundamentally concerned Luther’s “turning away from the center of the Gospel” (xxii). Emmaus released a new edition of Hacker’s book for the anniversary this year. It was published originally in 1970 (in English translation), the fruit of Hacker’s own intense study of Luther’s teaching on faith that led him into the Catholic Church from German Lutheranism.

Catholics agree with Protestants that salvation comes only through faith. The key issue of dispute, which Hacker reveals, is Luther’s subjective emphasis of absolute, personal certainty, which cannot be undermined even by serious sin. Hacker describes Luther’s faith as reflexive, that is turned back on oneself, by emphasizing subjective experience and personal surety more than anything else. He describes how Luther differs from the Catholic position: “Faith is the way to, or the perquisite of, salvation, but Luther makes it coincide with salvation itself. This becomes possible because he has first identified salvation with the consciousness of being saved or the certitude of salvation, and then he equates this consciousness with faith” (71). Hacker shows us how this view of faith negated the Church’s authority, the sacraments, and even the need to love God.

Brad Gregory, Rebel in the Ranks: Martin Luther, the Reformation, and the Conflicts that Continue to Shape Our World (HarperOne, 2017).

For those looking for a more general and accessible book, Brad Gregory gives us a broader narrative of how Luther’s troubled conscience exploded into the crisis that tore Christendom in two. The first section looks at Luther’s own story, tracing step by step his conflict with Church authority. The second section explains how Luther’s teaching spawned a multitude of new sects and divisions, all interpreting the Bible in their own fashion. Greggory explains: “What the early Reformation shows so clearly is that scripture and the Spirt can be interpreted and applied in radically divergent ways. Once the papacy and the Catholic Church are thrown off, there are no shared authorities to adjudicate disagreements” (137). The final section looks at how the Reformation set the tone for the development of a secular culture. Though not intending these consequences, Gregory argues that the Protestant Reformers “led indirectly to a profound diminishing of Christianity’s public influence in Western societies. The religious disagreements and conflicts that followed the Reformation set the stage for religion’s eventual separation from the rest of life” (2).

Eric Metaxas, Martin Luther: The Man Who Rediscovered God and Changed the World (Viking, 2017).

Metaxas, who wrote a monumental biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, provides us with a different perspective on Luther. His book seems poised to capture the largest audience for the anniversary this year. While I can’t agree with his view of Luther as a hero of faith, I can appreciate his presentation of a more sympathetic and thorough look at a man who has inspired many Protestant Christians. It is helpful to recognize why Luther is such an important figure for so many people. This book definitely provides many more details on the life of Luther (with over 450 pages). However, I would exercise caution, because it unfortunately also contains many gross misrepresentations of the state of the Church at the time of the Reformation.

For instance, even though Metaxas shows us many ways that Luther encountered the Bible in his early life, he still claims that the Bible and Church had no connection in the early 1500s and that “the study of the Bible per se was simply unheard of” (52). Luther himself was a theology professor and throughout the Middle Ages the Bible was the primary text for teaching theology. Brad Gregory makes clear in his book on Luther that there were even “twenty-two editions of the complete vernacular Bible . . . published in German . . . by 1518” (29). Metaxas presents a false picture of Catholics as ignorant, afraid to pray to Christ, and thinking they must earn their salvation through works. Good historical research could easily dispel these myths, such as the books of Eamon Duffy, but we see Protestants continue to project Luther’s own scruples (hating God and spending six hours in Confession, 47) onto the Church of his time.

Jerome K. Williams, True Reformers: Saints of the Catholic Reformation (Augustine Institute, 2017).

What could have Luther been if he had chosen faithful reform? The answer is a saint. There is no doubt that the Church was in need of serious reform in the 1500s. We have a number of great saints who show us that fidelity to God does not contradict fidelity to His Church. They stood against corruption and initiated deep and abiding reform. The Augustine Institute has release both a book and video series on true reformers, who boldly spoke out against abuses and led to a deeper realization of the truth found in the Bible, read in harmony with the Church. These figures—Teresa of Avila, Thomas More, Ignatius of Loyola, and Charles Borromeo, for instance—continue to inspire us to take up the task of genuine reform today.