Friday, February 05, 2010

The following quote highlights what is at the heart of the divides that plague our Church in the post Vatican II era:
Although the Church has raised the tone of morals and benefited human society in countless ways, her true purpose is to deliver her members out of this present evil world and raise them beyond the capacities of their own nature....Newman insists that the aim of all Paul's labors and sufferings was not that he might civilize the world or cultivate human abilities, but that he might bring souls to glory. The real object of the gospel is to produce saints, few thought they may be, rather than to be useful for any worldly purpose. (Dulles, Newman, p. 85)
No one, whether "liberal" or "conservative" theologically, denies that the Church's ultimate business is not to build a paradise on earth. If it were, it sure isn't doing a very good job of it! It is not just Garrigou-Lagrange that says so, but also Rahner, and even Schillebeeckx.

The last sentence, however, reflects a sentiment that many "progressive" post-Vatican II Catholics find distasteful, as evidenced by Stephen Duffy's caricaturisation of the world-hating "x" position in his Graced Horizon. People who say things Newman aren't concerned about the world at all, especially not about the poor.

At issue is not an agreement with the position that Newman takes, but rather how deeply one feels that it is true and central. Those on the "Communio" side of things, Dulles's "neo-Augustinians" at the 1985 Synod of Bishops, feel the true purpose of the Church very strongly and are therefore hesitant about claims of social progress in the name of the gospel. Others agree with, but have little feeling for the assertion. They are much more sanguine about "working for justice" and creating a better world as an important part of the progress of the Gospel. They tend to think that the other-worldly implications of the Church' purpose will work themselves out in the life to come and so we don't need to bother about them too much outside of basic religious and ethical observance. In the meantime we have to invest a lion's share of our energy in making this world a more just place.

The thing is, Newman's position is right and central, and so the emotional coldness that some Catholic feel towards it has to indicate something like a lack of whole-hearted reception of the teaching, beyond intellectual assent.

This is similar to some Catholic's coolness or active resistance to pro-life activism, which indicates not that they don't think abortion is wrong, but that they do not have a strong emotional involvement in the Church's deep concern for violations of unborn human. They don't feel the horrors of abortion with every fiber of their being--an emotional reaction that best reflects the nature of abortion itself.

For the pro-life activist, it is hard to understand how anyone can truly understand what is happening in our world regarding abortion, euthanasia and the collapse of marriage and not do everything in their power to stop it, including expending a lot of energy on political activism. It is hard to see how Fr. Jenkins can even think of honoring such a strong advocate of legally protecting abortion as Obama.

The same goes for the inability to some to assimilate John Paul II's teaching on capital punishment. It is not that those who want to keep CP don't understand or accept the teaching intellectually; it is that they do not have a strong emotional revulsion to the diminishment of human dignity for the guilty, which is at the heart of John Paul II's teaching.

The issue, then, in evangelization, as Newman thought and taught himself in A Grammar of Assent, is how to cultivate not only an intellectual affirmation, but an emotional engagement with the truth.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

Newman and the Blue Cross

If "Poetic is argument through vivid representation," (Sr. Miriam Joseph, The Trivium, p. 225), then G.K. Chesterton is a master at poetics. I just finished reading "The Blue Cross," the first of the Fr. Brown stories, with a group of high school kids. What struck me this time was the underlying "argument" about the value of reason. Flambeau is a relativist, who believes that truth and justice may be different in different places at different times. He is also a egotist, who only cares about himself. Valentin is an Enlightenment rationalist, who still believes in first principles, and whose resistance to absolute empiricism allows him to see the reasonableness of pursuing the unlikely when the likely isn't bearing fruit. Fr. Brown, an avowed devotee reason, is not limited to it, but rather allows deeper truths (e.g., about men's souls learned in the confessional) to also inform his thinking and decisions.

Chesterton seems to be saying in "vivid representation" what Dulles notes in Newman's Idea of the University and in his other writings:
Rejecting the evangelical notion that faith and reason are mutually opposed, he adopted the view that reason was open to faith and fulfilled in faith. But, conscious of the proneness of human reason to fall captive to pride [Valentin] and self-interest [Flambeau], Newman saw the need for submission to the authority of divine revelation....He recognizes both the value of reason in interpreting the data of experience and the danger of rationalism (p. 144).

Specifically, Valentin has such a high regard for sovereign (not autonomous) reason that he cannot believe that a man who has submitted to the authority of the Church could be superior to him in intellect and in inference. Added to that an [irrational] prejudice about bumbling country parsons, and you have Valentin believing that Flambeau, who has proven himself very wily in his criminal activity, is vastly superior to Fr. Brown. The eyes of the rationalist are simply closed to the deeper truths about things that divine revelation and knowledge of the heart can give to even an ordinary country parson.

Would that it were true nowadays that you could tell whether a man is a priest or not by whether he attacks reason!

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

The Wall

Here's a recent post by me on the Archdiocese of Milwaukee blog about nova et vetera.
If we were to keep track of the cultural activities (movies, television, radio, books, or music) in which we engage in our homes each month, what percentage would predate 1960?....(more)

Newman and Dulles

In my senior year in college, when I discovered and recovered dogmatic Catholicism, there were a handful of authors who influenced me greatly. The big three during my fall semester were Ven. John Henry Cardinal Newman, St. Bonaventure, and [okay, a little offbeat] Robert Pirsig. It was a reading of A Grammar of Ascent in my Ways of Knowing tutorial (taught by the great Stephen Rogers) that helped me see the necessity and force of dogma. Pirsig (with Newman) helped me see the limits of discursive reason in the discovery of truth. Bonaventure helped me see the unity of all truth in Christ. Later The Mass, Thomas Merton and the Liturgy of the Hours would help me develop a personal spirituality that corresponded to my intellectual discoveries.

I've read a little Newman since then, the Apologia, some of Development of Doctrine, a sermon or two, but have not explored him systematically. I think his personality grates me too much for me to simply enjoy reading him, like I enjoy reading, for instance Lewis or Tolkien. He is too much a controversialist (which I am not, though I have strong opinions) and a little too sensitive to injury (which I am also, and therefore don't like to see or hear in others--and try to keep it out of my own writing).

One of the gifts I received this Christmas, from my daughter, was Avery Cardinal Dulles's book on Newman. I have been reading it on and off recently and am enjoying it thoroughly. Dulles, though not particularly artful in his writing, is quite insightful, and an excellent sifter and digester. In fact, Dulles is one of my theological heroes. If I were a priest, I would want to be one like him. He's kind of the priest version of McInerny for me, I guess (although not a literary).

Reading Dulles's book on Newman has born a significant amount of fruit in my own thinking. I am therefore going to be posting in the next few days a series of notes on the reading I am doing.

Monday, February 01, 2010

Isolated, anti-social home schooled kids

A home schooled mom tells the story of a time when she got into a conversation in a grocery store with a woman who found out that she was home schooled (because she had her kids in tow during the school day). The woman asked her, "How old to you let them get before you let them out of the house?" My friend was floored. What did she think? We keep them in cages and make the read Latin until they are 21? We don't let them meet people outside the home? They have no friends?

Anyway, as counter-evidence we have this summation of just one month's activities for a bunch of home schooled kids (friends, I might add) from Studeo blog. One of the girls is my daughter.

More on McInerny

His funeral is probably going on this minute. Although I was never one of his disciples, his influence has been greater on me that one might think. I can't wax poetic about him as Thomas Hibbs did on First Things, but I can echo the idea that he was a " a model of the intellectual life in the pursuit of sanctity."

McInerny first came to my attention when I was a senior at Notre Dame. I was just discovering for the first time genuine orthodox Catholicism. He was the first intellectual and scholar in the post Vatican II era I became aware of that embraced classical orthodoxy, and wasn't bowing to the zeitgeist as so many of the other active Catholics were. In the bookstore there were two pamphlets by McInerny for sale. The first was called something like "Why is masturbation wrong?" It was a simple and clear restatement of the Church's teaching on the matter. It was the first time I had ever heard that teaching from anyone.

The second was a called "The Man who would be Küng." It was a fanciful retrospective report from the year 2050 on the Küng case. I remember specifically that the introduction mentioned that the author had to get extraordinary permission to write a theological text in the vernacular rather than Latin. McInerny clearly had no sympathy for the disingenious attempt of Küng to pass off as Catholic what was for all intents and purposes a Protestant ecclesiology (I believe even Rahner consider it to be such). This was about the time I went to the inaugural talk by Fr. Richard McBrien, who had just been appointed the chair of the theology department. In that talk Fr. McBrien tried to be "balanced," but clearly believed Küng had been treated unfairly by the CDF.

It was about this time that McInerny was helping found the Fellowship of Catholic Scholars, which I am most grateful to belong to.

I first saw McInerny in person at my 10th college reunion. He was giving a talk about writing mystery stories to alumni in the Continuing Education Center. While I never cared that much for his mysteries, I was impressed to a deep degree by the self-possession with which he carried himself. He was sure, but not arrogant.

I was also, and continued to be bowled over by the broadness of his learning. He wasn't just a philosopher, but also a master of literature and of Catholic thought, clearly a man with a genuine Catholic liberal education, a type of education that has been lost at most Catholic schools, including the Notre Dame that he loved. At least I was able to get a taste of what was left of that type of education in the (General) Program of Liberal Studies at Notre Dame.

What McInerny has done for me is given me for emulation a model of the saintly scholar-gentleman. Intelligent, witty, calm in the face of controversy, clear-headed, careful, gentle, fair, charitable . And a real university scholar. That is most important to me. I'd say that he and J.R.R. Tolkien are the two men who have contributed most to the ideal I have for myself and what I strive to be. This is odd, since, as I said, I am not someone who has explored his thought, as I have Tolkien's.


I think the discussion about "inclusive" language is fascinating. I'm sympathetic with the traditional approach to pronouns, but one has to ask exactly what is traditional. For instance, in "The Blue Cross," a Fr. Brown mystery by Chesterton, one finds this sentence: "If Valentin's quick eye had caught a tall apple-woman, a tall grenadier, or even a tolerably tall duchess, he might have arrested them on the spot." I always thought this sentence would have required a "him," because of the "or" in the compound subject. Apparently not. And this was long before the pronoun wars and by a man who cannot be said to have been particularly sympathetic with the feminist linguistic or any other agenda. At least in the case of compound antecedents with an "or," them is allowable, even in traditional grammar.

My son the linguist thinks we should go back to using the southern ME pronoun "hem." I'm just joking. I don't think this would help at all. Nor do I think my son does.

Robin Mitchell (Update)

I just received word that Dr. Robin Mitchell, head of Trinity Academy, a wonderful independent Catholic school in the Greater Milwaukee area (Waukesha county), suffered a stroke over the weekend. Please pray for him! He, his wife, and his children are doing a wonderful thing for the Church in the spirit of Vatican II and Ven. John Paul II. I had some wonderful conversations with them this summer when I was considering teaching at their school. I wish I could have taught there, but circumstances did not permit it. Robin's son, Peter, a priest for the diocese of Lincoln, is a fabulous preacher.

Update: I just learned in an e-mail from Trinity that Dr. Mitchell did not suffer a stroke, but a serious heart attack. There was no neurological damage. Please continue to pray for him during his (undoubtedly long) recovery.