An Interview with Craig Iffland

by Gordon Nary

Gordon: When did you join St. Joseph Parish in South Bend, Indiana and how has the parish contributed to you spirituality?


Craig: As a graduate student at the University of Notre Dame, it is easy to be a kind of spiritual nomad – going to mass wherever and whenever is convenient on campus. However, I’ve always made an effort to do some period of prayer in the early morning followed by daily mass. For much of my time at Notre Dame, my morning prayer and mass has taken place at St. Joseph’s. One of the beautiful things about daily mass, especially those held in the early morning (7am), is that a community of persons is formed almost exclusively by their shared commitment to daily mass. You know everyone there. You even know the days they won’t be there. You know whether the singing—while always full of joy and thanksgiving—will be pleasant to the ears or not because you know the people there who are blessed with the gift of song and those who are not. Beyond that, it is inspiring to see the commitment of so many working professionals, and young mothers and fathers, to find time in their busy schedules to participate in the sacrifice of the Holy Mass.


Gordon: Why did you choose The University of Dame to pursue your studies in Moral Theology?


Craig: After my undergraduate studies at the University of Virginia, I really wanted to be a philosopher. For that reason, I decided to do some graduate study in philosophy at the University of St. Andrews. By that time, I had already formed a strong interest in the thought of Thomas Aquinas, the famed medieval theologian and philosopher. One of my professors told me that if my interest was to study Thomas Aquinas, I should seek out whatever doctoral program would allow me to pursue that interest to the full. Everyone I sounded out for advice on the matter – even prominent scholars in competing doctoral programs – kept suggesting the same program: Moral Theology at the University of Notre Dame. The choice wasn’t difficult.


Gordon: Please share with our readers an overview of your doctoral dissertation (“Following and Not-Following the Divine Law”).


Craig: My dissertation, “Following and Not-Following the Divine Law,” explores the definition of sin as a violation of the divine law. By putting Aquinas’s understanding of the divine law into conversation with contemporary scholars in law and philosophy, I develop a theological defense of the obligatory character of legal and customary norms protecting individuals from unjust harm. If I am correct, some contemporary legal norms – like those contained in the law of armed conflict – can be credibly counted as part of the divine law, and by extension, their breach can be seen as a transgression against the divine law itself, i.e., a sin.


Gordon: You are also a Visiting Research Fellow in International Law and Ethics at the Afro-Middle East Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa. Could you tell us a bit about your research in South Africa?


Craig: My research focused principally on an evaluation of the moral and legal justifications for “collateral damage” proffered by the United States government and prominent figures in Al-Qaeda. The principal conclusion I reached is that, while both the United States and Al-Qaeda accept that they are under some kind of obligation to minimize collateral damage, each deploy similar forms of reasoning that ensure that this obligation will not have a real tangible effect in the development of their own wartime strategies.


Gordon: You were a coeditor of the book Care Professions and Globalization. What interested you in this topic?

Craig: Although there are many reasons the topic interests me, my main concern was to defend “care” work, which includes, but is not limited to, various forms of domestic work, as a genuine profession. That is to say, such work involves a unique set of teachable skills not possessed by all persons and is subject to certain internal standards of excellence. In this regard, “care” work is no different than doctoring or lawyering, which are more readily identified in contemporary culture as “professions.” By presenting “care” work as a profession, I hoped to push back against a kind of cultural prejudice against “care” work that devalues the work being done as well as the persons (usually women) who do such work. This devaluation is not only false, since “care” work is essential to every society, but also leads to unjust compensation and exploitative work arrangements. This volume was intended to begin a conversation about how to speak about the professionalization of care in a way that was sensitive to these issues.


Gordon: What in your opinion is the major moral challenge facing the Catholic Church and how can we best address it?


Craig: Although I don’t remember the quote exactly, a spiritual author once wrote something like “these world crises are crises of saints.” The point he was trying to make is that, no matter the particular challenegs of the age in which we live, the Christian solution is always the same: personal sanctity. If everyone in the Church strives for personal holiness, we can be assured that we will be addressing the major moral challenge common to every generation. That being said, one cannot simply ignore the more specific challenges that confront us here and now. Speaking from the perspective of a Roman Catholic living in the United States, I would say the greatest challenge is for Catholics to find a way to give witness to the Church’s religious, moral, and social teaching that is sensitive to the lack of moral credibility the Church has incurred as a result of the sex abuse crisis. I don’t have a ready-made prescription for how to address this challenge. Nonetheless, I do think that we will be unable to meet this challenge unless the ordinary, lay faithful of the Catholic Church in the United States view it as a personal challenge and burden rather than it being a challenge and burden exclusive to religious brothers and sisters, priests, bishops, or the hierarchy as a whole


Gordon: Thank you for a great interview.

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