Thursday, January 09, 2003

Here's a post guaranteed to boost my readership (Or "why people have comments boxes")...
For those of you who are interested in spiralling ever deeper into the vortex of a discussion on Voegelin, Kevin Miller responds to my question about Voegelin and de Lubac as follows:
Okay: What was behind Voegelin’s ultimately explicit quarrel with Christianity?

I’m drawing here from the Rhodes essay on “Voegelin and Christian Faith” that I cite in the “footnote” to my post.

Even in Voegelin’s early thought, there were these three important elements:
  • Something like a Whiteheadian process theology, and a related conviction that the language of myth, religion, and philosophy must always be understood as symbolic.
  • A strong renunciation of apocalyptic – including, e.g., a rejection of Isaiah as “the first metastatic ideologue.”
  • Rejection of the Catholic notion of the Magisterium and doctrine/dogma as too propositional and reifying (see 1), so that these things could not serve as the basis for distinguishing genuine Christianity from Christian Gnosticism (the latter of which, he argued, tends to stem from the sort of apocalyptic discussed in 2).

In light of all these things, he ended up dissociating himself from Christian/Christocentric readings of history.

Rhodes thinks that Voegelin does make several valid points against some particular defenses of Christianity. He also posits some difficulties with Voegelin:
  • Voegelin’s process theology itself fails to describe experience.
  • Similarly, we experience revelation, etc., as more than “a process of the ground in human minds.”
  • Voegelin’s readings of apocalyptic are arbitrary and anachronistic.
  • There could be a divine institutionalization of spiritual authority.

Now, my thoughts on the implications of this for de Lubac (your final point in your post): Voegelin didn’t become a Gnostic, i.e., he didn’t reject his earlier rejection of millenarianism and/or JPII’s parallel rejection of “secular religion.” His concern was more to the effect that, pace a de Lubac or a JPII, Christianity, with what he saw as its literalistic, apocalyptic, and authoritarian elements, leads inexorably into the Gnosticism that a de Lubac or a JPII would join him in wanting to continue to reject. So the problem wasn’t that a Lubacian line of thought led him astray, i.e., into Gnosticism. The problem was that he thought that a Christian line of thought would lead anyone thus astray, and he didn’t want to go there. And if I’m reading your comment correctly, he did, then, reject (de Lubac’s or) JPII’s understanding that Christianity itself contains the resources (i.e., the distinction between “political society” and “Kingdom of God”) for avoiding Gnosticism. Was that your point?
Yes, that was my point.

Also, Kevin says:
Wahhabism probably is a kind of Gnosticism. It may not yet be a “secular religion.” And IF it doesn’t engage in human rights violations as massive as those propounded by a Hitler or a Stalin, that may be why.
To which I responded, "Gosh. What did you think 9/11 was?" To which he responded:
Valid point. But, 1. Note the “IF.” 2. 3,000 (or however many) people is too many, but it’s still not as many as Hitler or Stalin killed. MAYBE this is more than just a difference in numbers – i.e., there may be other differences in practice as well (e.g., the Wahhabis MAY care more about basic morality as they [mis]understand it than about total subservience to the social entity). And MAYBE there’s an ideological difference underlying this, more or less along the following lines: Hitler and Stalin probably thought, roughly, that their “citizens” (if we can dignify them by such a term) were their property. The Wahhabis probably think, roughly, that their people are Allah’s property, and that they are Allah’s (special?) servants. Hitler and Stalin probably thought of themselves as no one’s servants.
To which I responded, "Okay, but their certainty that they know the poliltical will of Allah makes them equivalent to God." To which he responded, "Fair enough."
Meditation for seminarians
This passage would be a good spiritual reading for a seminarian.
In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And when he came up out of the water, immediately he saw the heavens opened and the Spirit descending upon him like a dove;and a voice came from heaven, "Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased." The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered to him. Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent, and believe in the gospel." Bible, Revised Standard Version

First, there is the experience of a calling, an affirmation, a sense of election by the Father (Note: it is Jesus who sees the dove and hears the voice). Then, the struggle (seminary). The seminary ought to be a desert experience, a testing. Then, the preaching.
Modern Gnosticism
A few thoughts about Kevin Miller’s post on Voegelin:

The medieval immanentism that Voegelin was talking about must have been Joachimism, or at least that is what de Lubac would have said. For de Lubac, the Gnosticism of contemporary attempts to immanentize the eschaton (in such things as certain strands of political theology, for instance, some passages in the writings of Schillebeeckx which de Lubac criticizes explicitly in A Brief Catechesis on Nature and Grace) is a continuation of Joachimism, and therefore is a medieval heresy. See especially La Postérité spirituelle de Joachim de Flore.

Also, doesn’t this passage describe the problem with Wahabbism?

When people think they possess the secret of a perfect social organization which makes evil impossible, they also think that they can use any means, including violence and deceit, in order to bring that organization into being. Politics then becomes a "secular religion" which operates under the illusion of creating paradise in this world. But no political society — which possesses its own autonomy and laws — can ever be confused with the Kingdom of God. The Gospel parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30; 36-43) teaches that it is for God alone to separate the subjects of the Kingdom from the subjects of the Evil One, and that this judgment will take place at the end of time. By presuming to anticipate judgment here and now, man puts himself in the place of God and sets himself against the patience of God

On another note, if Voegelin did stray from Christian orthodoxy in later years I think it would be important to show how that straying at least was a partial rejection of this insight, lest someone (and there are people out there who are just itching for the chance) would then conclude: “Ha! See? De Lubac was a heretic!”

Wednesday, January 08, 2003

Book of the Moment #2
John Henry Cardinal Newman's An Essay in Aid of A Grammar of Assent. It has been over twenty years since I read this book and I still remember it as profoundly influencing my commitment to the Catholic Church. I wrote an essay in a epistemology tutorial coordinating some of Newman's ideas with St. Bonaventure's Itinerarium.

What Newman does in a nutshell is describe how we can be certain of things for which we do not have a air-tight scientific proof. What I remember is an emphasis on being convinced by a convergence of evidence, even when short of a syllogistic proof. I believe this is his famous illative sense. I can see how this would be very useful in apologetics. The prose is extremely dense, and a bit overblown in the way of much 19th century philosophical writings. I think Newman considered it his masterpiece. I'd like to read it again soon. Anyone want to read it with me?

Tuesday, January 07, 2003

Votive candles
The S.C.J. chapel here at Sacred Heart, dedicated to St. Joseph, was remodeled recently. I was apprehensive, especially after seeing the minimalist way they had renovated another chapel in the building. At any rate, as you can see by these pictures (start at page 5), it is a very well done renovation. I am impressed. It is actually quite a bit better than the functional chapel that it replaces.

There are a couple of things missing, however. One, oddly, is a holy water font. I've never heard of liturgists, even of the most Nazi variety, saying anything negative about a holy water font, so this absence is pretty surprising. Maybe they haven't purchased it yet.

The other thing missing, more predicably, is any images of the saints. Even the image of St. Joseph that graced the old chapel is missing, nor is there an image of Mary. At any rate, maybe they haven't purchased it yet.

And speaking of images, and moving on to the main point of this post, the other thing one is not likely to see in this chapel or any chapel here is votive candles. This, I think, is a shame. Votive offerings is a longstanding tradition of the western Church, and of the Judeo-Christian liturgical tradition. Such paraliturgical rituals as lighting a candle are clearly related to the liturgy, inasmuch as they put us into contact with the saints who are participating in the heavenly liturgy. Our earthly liturgy is simply a kind of "outpost" of that heavenly liturgy. So lighting a candle connects us and our everyday lives with both the earthly and heavenly liturgy. I can't really figure out why the liturgists would object, nor why so many churches did away with them, nor why new churches don't have them.

Don't get me started on electric votive candles!
I envy those who have a strong ethnic identity, such as Kevin Miller, who fancies himself a German. I do not identify strongly with any ethnicity. I have German, English, Irish, Jewish and perhaps Scottish and Welsh blood, but I don't think of myself as any of these. What I identify the most as is an Oklahoman. Oklahomans have a distinctive character which is hard to describe: it is a bit like being a Texan without the hubris.

As far as European cultures, I majored in German, but I don't think of myself as ethnically German. I love Austria, because of the Alps and because I lived there for 10 months. I guess culturally I identify most with England (not Britain). I love Irish music and culture, at least as it is celebrated at Milwaukee's IrishFest. I don't have any Mediterranian, Slavic, Scandinavian, African, Asian or Latin American heritage. I married a part Norwegen, though.

Culturally I am an American. Specifically a midwesterner. I tend to see all things through American eyes and with American sensibilities.

I think there is a tendancy among Americans to not see that we do have a very strong, clear and distinct culture that is recognizable, emulated and resented around the world. My daughter is always bemoaning the fact that as an American she doesn't have a culture like the Irish do. But what the heck is all this food, music, fashion, language, philosophy and movies that are omnipresent around the world if not a very distinctive American culture? Jeans, hamburgers, jazz, rock and roll, country music, Hollywood, t.v., the t-shirt, ball caps, the stetson, constitutionally established freedom and democracy, I could go on and on. All of things things are distinctly American (or at least, in the political realm, have a distinctly American version) and they are not intrinsically shallow even if our media tends to trivialize everything.

Country music is a perfect example. It is a very rich art form, every bit as meaningful as Irish music and more so than most Austrian popular "folk" music (which tends to go on and on about how pretty the mountains are; I love this one, though.). Of course, some country is trite and commercial, but the best isn't, any more than the best jazz, blues, pop and rock and roll. Can one really say that Peggy Lee's "Fever" or "Black Coffee" is inferior to any sample of ethnic popular music in the world? I don't think so. It certainly beats all those Irish songs about the I.R.A., in my book.

Monday, January 06, 2003

Happy Epiphany!
For those of you in the world who celebrate it on the 12th day of Christmas. Say, you guys down there in Argentina. When do you celebrate it? On Sunday or the 6th?
Transfiguration and Trinity
It just occurred to me that the Transfiguration has a Trinitarian form. If the Law is associated especially with the Father and the Prophets especially with the Holy Spirit, then what we have in the Transfiguration is a signification of the Trinity, no? Those of you familiar with Eastern Christianity, Patristic and medieval exegesis are probably saying "duh" at this point, since it is probably a commonplace, but I've never heard or thought of it before. It makes an already rich gospel pericope that much richer.

Now, does anyone know the significance of the 6 (8 in Luke) days between the prediction of the passion and the Transfiguration. The footnote in Mark version of the story in the RNAB is not helpful.