Notable Christians: J. Budziszewski

You need to know about this important Christian thinker:

OK, I can hear you saying: ‘J who? Never heard of him!’ Sadly, most folks would not have heard of him, including most Christians. But the American Christian, academic, author, and philosopher should be much more widely known. In terms of just who he is, it might be easiest here to just cite what his Amazon bio says (in part):

J. Budziszewski (Ph.D. Yale, 1981) is a professor of government and philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin, where he also teaches courses in the law school and the religious studies department. He specializes in political philosophy, ethical philosophy, legal philosophy, and the interaction of religion with philosophy. Among his research interests are classical natural law, virtue ethics, conscience and moral self deception, the institution of the family in relation to political and social order, religion in public life, and the problem of toleration.

I did once hear him speak long ago, but I cannot fully recall when and where. I have most of his books, and as can be seen below, many of them deal with things like natural law and the thought of Thomas Aquinas. Indeed, his four large Cambridge University Press tomes (so far) on Thomas Aquinas fully reveal his deep-seated interests here.

If you are a fan of Budziszewski but have not seen too many new volumes of his appearing lately (at least more popular level works), it is because those four works on Aquinas (first released in 2014) make up some 2000 pages. So he has kept quite busy on that ongoing project. He also has a blog site, The Underground Thomist:

As to his particular faith commitment, he had a Baptist upbringing in Wisconsin (coming from Polish lineage), then moved into atheism and socialism while at college, then came back to faith and eventually converted to Catholicism. Those who want to learn more of this journey can hear him tell his story here:

Perhaps the simplest way I can help you become familiar with the man and his work is to just list his books, and then offer some representative quotes. Here then are 15 (of his 18) volumes, listed alphabetically:

Ask Me Anything. NavPress, 2004.
Ask Me Anything 2. NavPress, 2008.
Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Divine Law. Cambridge University Press, 2021.
Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Happiness and Ultimate Purpose. Cambridge University Press, 2020, 2021.
Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on Law. Cambridge University Press, 2014, 2016.
Commentary on Thomas Aquinas’s Virtue Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2017, 2018.
Evangelicals in the Public Square (edited by Budziszewski). Baker, 2006.
How and How Not to Be Happy. Regnery Gateway, 2022.
How To Stay Christian in College. NavPrwess, 1999, 2014.
The Line Through the Heart. ISI Books, 2009.
On the Meaning of Sex. ISI Books, 2012.
The Revenge of Conscience. Spence Publishing, 1999.
True Tolerance. Transaction Publishers, 1992, 2008.
What We Can’t Not Know. Spence Publishing, 2003, 2004.
Written on the Heart. IVP, 1997.

Image of The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction
The Line Through the Heart: Natural Law as Fact, Theory, and Sign of Contradiction by J. Budziszewski (Author) Amazon logo


With so many excellent books filled with so much wisdom, in-depth knowledge, and profound insight, let me just offer a handful of quotes here: specifically, several brief quotes each from just five of his more popular books:

“From the traditional view, the notion of a ‘potential person’ is absurd, for a person is not the kind of thing that one can be ‘potentially.’ Nonpersons do not turn into persons, any more than characters, given time, turn into actors. Hamlet will never become Sir Laurence Olivier. In short, one is either a person or not, just as one is either human or not. Unborn human beings are not ‘potential’ persons, but actual persons loaded with inbuilt potentialities, which still await expression.” The Line Through the Heart, p. 101

“The love of justice is not the only good impulse that can be be twisted toward the wrong. Every good impulse can be, such as love of country, love of family, compassion for those who suffer. The first may be distorted into jingoism, the second into nepotism, the third into mere sentimentality. Even the love of God can be perverted, and when it is, it is a terrible thing. Yet the fact that something right can be perverted does not stop it from being right. As this is true of the other good impulses, so it is true of love of justice.” The Line Through the Heart, pp. 122-123

“Does liberalism live up to neutrality? The answer is no, because neutrality is logically impossible. It is not a bad idea; it fails to rise to the level of an idea. One must choose what to tolerate, what to accommodate, what to encourage – and choice, by its nature, is never neutral.” The Line Through the Heart, p. 175

“If you really believe that the meaning of tolerance is tolerating, then you ought to tolerate even intolerance. If you really believe that the best foundation for toleration is to avoid having strong convictions about good and evil, then you should not try to harbor the strong conviction that intolerance is bad.” The Line Through the Heart, p. 179

“Certainly sex is pleasurable, but there is nothing distinctive about that. In various ways and degrees, the exercise of every voluntary power is pleasurable. It is pleasurable to eat, pleasurable to breath, even pleasurable to flex the muscles of the leg. The problem is that eating is pleasurable even if I am eating too much, breathing is pleasurable even if I am sniffing glue, flexing the muscles of the leg is pleasurable even if I am kicking the dog. For a criterion of when it is good to enjoy each pleasure, one must look beyond the fact that it is a pleasure.” On the Meaning of Sex, p. 24

“May it be needless to say that mothers and fathers must also recover the conviction of their need for each other.  They must do this not only for their own sakes, but for their young. Every child needs both a mother’s and a father’s love. It is not enough to provide an intermediate love that is half motherly and half fatherly, or an inconsistent love that is motherly at some times, fatherly at others. Nor is it enough to give one kind of love for real, while giving only a pretense or simulacrum of the other kind. Even though the two loves resemble each other, they are distinct, and neither can be imitated by anything else. Yes, it may be true heroism when through no fault of one’s own, a father or a mother raises a child all alone; yet it is better not to be alone. No woman can fully take the place of a father, any more than any man can substitute for a mother.” On the Meaning of Sex, p. 62

“Even when we do love well, mortal love is not enough. It was never intended to be enough. Not because of its imperfection, not because we love so poorly, but in itself and by its essence, it is not enough. For all its beauty, just because of its beauty, it cannot satisfy us completely, and the more deeply anyone loves, the more keenly he feels this to be true. The key that unlocks the riddle is that mortal love wants immortal love. The supernatural purpose of mortal love, and the cause of its sweet sorrow, is to awaken in us the longing for that greater love which alone can give us all that we long for.” On the Meaning of Sex, p. 142

“Even if if it were true that we do not know what babies are – a point I do not concede – why should we say that because the baby might not be human we may kill him? Why not say that because he might be, we should protect him? We do not say that because I might not hit anyone, I may swing my hatchet blindly in a crowded room; we say that because I might hit someone, I shouldn’t.” The Revenge of Conscience, p. 10

“The second moral error of political liberalism is expropriationism. According to this notion I may take from others to help the needy, giving nothing of my own; according to Christianity I should give of my own to help the needy, taking from no one. We might call expropriationism the Robin Hood fallacy. Today, the expropriationist is usually a propitiationist too, confusing the needy with some subset of the merely wanty. So we are speaking of a style of politics in which the groups in power decide for us which of their causes our wealth is to support, taking that wealth by force.” The Revenge of Conscience, p. 91

“Tolerance was an issue in early Christianity because Christians were were on the defensive. Their refusal to participate in the official ruler cult made them objects of suspicion. For pagans, participation was not a problem. Though in theory some sort of divinity was the ultimate concern for pagans too, it was, in their view, fissured. Their divinities were not jealous; there was always room for another god, demigod, or hero.” True Tolerance, p. 223

“A widespread prejudice among political theorists is that secular creeds depend on reason while religions depend on faith. Both halves of the prejudice are mistaken. Many of the creeds conventionally called ‘religions’ give a very high place to reason indeed. Likewise, many of the creeds conventionally called ‘secular’ expect blind acceptance of dogma.” True Tolerance, p. 227

“Not every secular creed is a religion, but none is without religious implications. In the sphere of the ultimate concern as in every other, tolerance may be possible but neutrality is not. Most secularists who propound ethical and political philosophies do not realize that every such system presupposes a complete or incomplete theology.” True Tolerance, p. 228

“As a Christian I regard the natural-law tradition as the nearest approach to the truth about the ‘law written on the heart’ which ethical and political philosophy have yet, by the grace of God, achieved. I do not mean to be flippant in speaking of God’s grace. True, the law written on the heart is utterly inferior to the revealed truth of the gospel, for though it tells us what sin is, it tells us nothing of how to escape it. Yet it too is a real gift of God, for we have to know the bad news before we can grasp the Good News.” Written on the Heart, p. 11

“Thomas Aquinas, a thirteenth-century Dominican monk and Christian saint, is generally regarded as the greatest of all medieval philosophers and one of the greatest philosophers of all time. His output was prodigious. My edition of the Summa Theologica, the work from which his Treatise on Law is taken, runs to about three thousand pages, and the Summa is itself only a small part of his life’s work. Yet Thomas can get more onto a page than most writers get into ten. Summa, by the way, means ‘summary.’ Written for beginners, the Summa was an attempt to summarize all that could be known about God, about man and about their relationship.” Written on the Heart, p. 53

“Although Scripture confirms the reality of general revelation, it also holds that general revelation is obscured – more precisely, that we have obscured it through our rebellion against the Revealer. . . . In sum, the very heart on which God has written his law is estranged from itself. Jeremiah laments that it is ‘deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9 NIV). Indeed it needs to be written upon again, this time with transforming power (31:33). Until this is accomplished, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we discern the law of God more through the consequences of its violation than through the witness of clear conscience. Unfortunately even that instruction may be ignored when we need it the most (Proverbs 1:7). We are ‘by nature’ – by fallen nature – ‘children of wrath’ (Ephesians 2:3).” Written on the Heart, p. 182

[2006 words]

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