The Captive Woman

"The Captive Woman," Claremont Review of Books, Summer 2004.


Not many sermons these days concern the laws of war for the Israelites as distinguished from the Israelis. But consider that the captive woman, though beautiful and fairly won, presents a risk—a non-Jewish wife for a Jew. In 397 A.D., St. Jerome made an allegory of the passage in a letter responding to the criticism that he relied too much on secular wisdom (Letter 70; my thanks to Professor Stephen Brown of Boston College for the reference, and with acknowledgments to my friend the late Ernest J. Fortin). The warrior who captures is the Church and the captive woman is Greek philosophy, always useful and attractive but dangerous to faith and community. The use of philosophy to Christians is to provide guidance for a way of life that is not prescribed for them by a comprehensive law like the divine law for Jews or for Muslims. But philosophy on its own is presumptuous in its claims for human reason and careless of the human need for authority. It can be welcomed only after a 30-day trial to show that it has changed its ways.

Today Greek philosophy has been succeeded by science, while the Christian religion has lived in a long, eventful marriage with philosophy and, somewhat complacently, sees no reason to reject it. The captive woman needs to be examined carefully, because once you marry her you will find it hard to get rid of her. She may actually turn on you. Modern science, more aggressive than Greek and medieval philosophy, wants to switch roles and make religion the captive woman and itself the conquering warrior in the position of deciding whether the marriage should continue. Here is a brief reasoning to show why science should remain a captive woman of religion.