Archive for May, 2010


Reading The Theology Of The Body Into Wendell Berry’s Remembering

May 26, 2010

NATHAN SCHLUETER is an assistant professor of political science at Hillsdale College. In this essay he reads Wendell Berry’s novel Remembering in terms of John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. I think taking a philosophical work and being able to link its concepts to a literary piece is a wonderful gift and Dr. Schlueter’s accomplishment here is no mean feat: “By making detailed what is spare in the myth of the fall, and making concrete what is abstract in the Theology of the Body, Remembering by Wendell Berry brings us tangibly in touch with the primordial memory of wholeness that slumbers in every human heart.” A lengthy read but well worth the time.

Wendell Berry’s short novel Remembering is about a man who has lost his right hand to a machine in a farming accident. But the “hidden wound” of my title also refers to Wendell Berry’s collection of essays, The Hidden Wound. The subject of this book, its “hidden wound, is presumably racism, but Berry writes in the Afterword to the 1989 edition that “the root of our racial problem in America is not racism. The root is our inordinate desire to be superior to our condition.” This inordinate desire, Berry suggests, is the real hidden wound, lurking beneath the surface not only of racism but of every form of injustice.

Berry’s description of the hidden wound subtly but ineluctably calls to mind The Hidden Wound, Original Sin, which was caused by Adam and Eve’s refusal to accept their condition and by their inordinate desire to “be like God, knowing good and evil.” The Christian account of original sin not only provides a “first cause” explanation of human perversity, it also identifies through a rich narrative the archetypal pattern for every sin. When this narrative is reduced to a formula there is a risk that original sin will become merely a fact to be accepted or rejected, rather than a fecund source of self-understanding that provides better motives for belief

How stories can convey truth in ways that elude ordinary rational thought is a question worthy of great wonder and meditation. But if stories in general have this power, myth is characterized by stories that deliver truth in the most refined and compact narrative form. There is therefore no tension between myth and truth. As John Paul II writes, “the term ‘myth’ does not designate a fabulous content, but merely an archaic way of expressing a deeper content.” The myth of the fall has this quality. Much great imaginative literature is merely an articulation and ramification of this myth, deepening our understanding of its meaning and of ourselves as well.

Remembering provides a marvelous illustration of this point. Moving in its own right, when the story is read in light of the myth of the fall it takes on a singular power to bring before us in our ordinary lives the ever — present pattern expressed in the myth of the fall. That power is even greater when we bring to it insights from what is arguably the greatest commentary on the myth of the fall in the last five centuries, John Paul II’s Wednesday lectures, now collected under the title The Theology of the Body, as well as elaborations on that teaching found in the Apostolic Letter Mulieris dignitatem (“On the Dignity of Women”), the Encyclical Letter Evangelium vitae (“The Gospel of Life”), and the Apostolic Exhortation Familiaris consortio (“On the Christian Family in the Modern World”).

I should make clear that in the argument that follows I am not making a claim of influence. Wendell Berry can be described as an ambivalent Protestant Christian of Baptist upbringing, and to my knowledge he has never read John Paul II’s Wednesday lectures. Nevertheless the parallels between the Theology of the Body and Berry’s fiction should not be surprising, indeed would not be surprising to that sometime thespian and playwright John Paul II. He was convinced of the singular power of artists to perceive and to reveal the depths of the created order, a point he makes in the opening sentence to his Letter to Artists: “None can sense more deeply than you artists…something of the pathos with which God at the dawn of creation looked upon the work of his hands.”

The Theology of the Body
The governing principle of the Theology of the Body is what John Paul TT has called the “hermeneutics of the gift” (Theology, 2 January 1980, 58): self-gift is God’s very identity as a communion of persons, a fact manifested in the gift of creation and expressed most profoundly in God’s gift of himself on the cross in the person of Christ. It is “through a sincere gift of himself” therefore, that man not only “finds himself” but also most completely becomes “the image and likeness of God.” Man’s vocation to self-gift, according to John Paul II, is inscribed into the very language of the human body, especially in the sexual differentiation of man and woman, and so conjugal love, the two-in-one flesh communion of persons, is an icon of the Trinity, the very archetype of the communion of persons rooted in self-gift. (Theology, 22 Apr11 1981, 221)

It is important to understand that the Theology of the Body is not exclusively a teaching about sex, or even about human sexuality, though it has much to say about these things. Because it holds that God as Gift is written into the very fabric of his creation, there is nothing it does not touch: politics, work, technology, economics, culture, education — all are subject to illumination by the “hermeneutics of gift.” It is with good reason, therefore, that George Weigel, Pope John Paul II’s official biographer, has described the Theology of the Body as a “kind of theological time bomb set to go off with dramatic consequences, sometime in the third millennium of the Church.”

While the Theology of the Body feeds on a structure of theological analogies, it is derived from a rich and penetrating exegesis of biblical passages involving the body. That exegesis in turn draws deeply from three sources: (1) metaphysics and metaphysical anthropology; (2) phenomenology and human experience; and (3) the larger theological tradition of the Church. (See for example Theology, 13 February 1986), 72-73)

Phenomenology, a philosophical method dedicated to the exploration and articulation of the objective structure of human consciousness, was the subject of John Paul II’s second doctoral dissertation and deserves special attention here. At every step of his biblical exegesis John Paul II takes special care to show how the story of the fall expresses and clarifies basic human experience. For him, the “basic significance” of the story is not its “distance in time,” or the fact that it belongs to man’s “prehistory,” but rather that the “experiences” expressed there “are always at the root of every human experience,” even if they “are so intermingled with the ordinary things of life that we do not generally notice their extraordinary character.” (Theology, 12 December 1979, 51) This means that even in their condition after the fall human beings are still in some sense linked to that original condition by nature, experience, and memory, and that the original condition still provides a normative guide for human self-understanding and behavior. It “is indispensable in order to know who man is and who he should be, and therefore how he should mold his own activity. It is an essential and important thing for the future of human ethos.(Theology, 13 February 1980, 74. See also January 1980, 66 and 2 April 1980, 88)

There is no space here to explicate the full meaning of John Paul Il’s exegesis, or to review the ever growing edifice of commentaries upon it, but in this paper I would like to identify and discuss three of its core aspects that appear in the commentary on the creation accounts of Genesis: original solitude, original unity, and original nakedness. (These three basic elements are emphasized by John Crabowski in his introduction at 17, and by John Paul II on 12 December 1979, 52) Along the way, however, the reader should never forget that for John Paul II the mystery of Creation is never far from the mystery of Redemption.

The Meaning Of Original Solitude
John Paul II discovers in the creation accounts of Genesis a divine pedagogy, a process in which God reveals himself to man, and man to himself. The instruction begins with man’s original solitude. God creates Adam first, and brings before him the animals to see what lie will name them. Through observing and naming the visible, corporeal world Adam comes to the awareness that he is dissimilar from the rest of creation and therefore that he is in some sense alone. This solitude of Adam has a twofold and somewhat paradoxical significance. On the one hand it reveals man’s dignity as a person, his “subjectivity, which is constituted through self-knowledge.”(Theology, 10 October 1979, 37) It is also the ground of his superiority over the rest of the natural world:

“Man can dominate the earth because he alone — and no other of the living beings — is capable of ‘tilling it’ and transforming it according to his own needs,” John Paul II writes. (Theology, 24 October 1979, 39) It thus confirms, in part, the biblical declaration that man is made “in the image and likeness of God.”

On the other hand, man’s Original solitude, and his awareness of it, reveals to him his lack of self-sufficiency, his ultimate incompleteness. “But for the man there was not found a helper fit for him” (Genesis 2:20). This experience is reinforced by God’s warning to Adam against eating the forbidden fruit: “You shall die.” According to John Paul II, “The words of God-Yahweh addressed to man confirmed a dependence, in existing, such as to make man a limited being and, by his very nature, liable to nonexistence.” (Theology, 31 October 1979, 41)

The Meaning Of Origina1 Unity
By itself this second dimension of original solitude might result in an angst-ridden existentialism, but for John Paul II the experience of “double solitude” has a positive end: it points to man’s fundamental vocation to and identity in a communion of persons. Theology, 14 November 1979, 46) After bringing Adam to an awareness of his difference from the rest of creation, and thus to the awareness of both his dignity and his neediness, God puts Adam into a deep sleep and forms Eve from one of his ribs. Upon seeing Eve for the first time, Adam ecstatically declares in what is both the first human voice and the first poetic utterance in Sacred Scripture, “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man” (Genesis 3:23). Immediately after which the Bible says, “Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother, clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).

This two-in-one-flesh communion of persons illuminates the meaning of Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” In other words, man images God not only in the individuality of his original solitude, but also and perhaps especially as a community of persons: for John Paul II these two features, solitude and communion, are intimately connected, but solitude is ordered to communion: “Man becomes the image of God not so much in the moment of solitude as in the moment of communion. Right ‘from the beginning,’ he is not only an image in which the solitude of a person who rules the world is reflected, but also, and essentially, an image of an inscrutable divine communion of persons.”(Theology, 14 November 1979, 46)

The integral relation of solitude and communion in Genesis provides the ground for one of John Paul II’s favorite and most frequently quoted phrases from Section 24 of Gaudium et Spes: “Man, who is the only creature on earth which God willed for itself, cannot fully find himself except through a sincere gift of himself.” Further, in revealing man as a communion of persons, Genesis “could also be a preparation for understanding the Trinitarian concept of the ‘image of God.” (Theology, 14 November 1979, 46) This, he suggests, “perhaps even constitutes the deepest theological aspect of all that can be said about man”( Theology, 14 November 1979, 47)

It would be easy to conclude from the second creation account that human persons are principally ordered to one another, but a careful reading of the text points to the more fundamental communion of persons between human beings and God. Even in his original solitude man is in relationship with his Creator: “Man is ‘alone.’ That means that he, through his own humanity, through what he is, is constituted at the same time in a unique, exclusive, and unrepeatable relationship with God himself.” (Theology, 24 October 1979, 38) Moreover, this relationship includes both male and female. As John Paul II points out, the Hebrew word for Adam (‘adam) generically includes all of mankind; the differentiation of man into male (‘is) and female (‘issah) does not occur until after the creation of Eve. Thus, “Man is ‘male and female’ right from the beginning.”(Theology 7 November 1979, 43) From this he concludes that “the meaning of ‘original solitude,’ which can be referred simply to man, is substantially prior to the meaning of original unity. (Theology, 7 November 1979, 43)

The Meaning Of Original Nakedness
The Genesis treatment of original nakedness deepens our perspective on original solitude and original unity. Nakedness figures largely in this story. Before the fall Adam and Eve “were both naked, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25), and shame at their nakedness is the very first result of their disobedience (Genesis 3:7). Thus a “radical change of the meaning of the original nakedness” occurs between Genesis 2:25 and Genesis 3. (Theology, 12 December 1979, 53)

According to John Paul II the absence of shame in original nakedness does not represent a privation or lack of self-awareness, but a fullness of vision: “Nakedness signifies the original good of God’s vision. It signifies all the simplicity and fullness of the vision through which the ‘pure’ value of humanity as male and female, the ‘pure’ value of the body and of sex, is manifested,” (Theology, 2 January 1980, 57) Alternatively, “shame brings with it a specific limitation in seeing with the eyes of the body. This takes place above all because personal intimacy is disturbed and almost threatened by this sight.”(Theology, 2 January 1980, 58) 

In describing man’s original condition in this way John Paul II rejects an essentially deontological (Deontological ethics or deontology (from Greek δέον, deon, “obligation, duty”; and -λογία, -logia) is an approach to ethics that judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a rule or rules. Deontologists look at rules and duties.) and legalistic reading of man’s original condition and the fall. Creation is ordered by love, and the “beautifying awareness” of this love calls forth a response of love from man. (Theology 9 January 1980, 61 and 20 January 1980, 69) For this reason, John Paul IT writes that “Man should have understood, that the tree of knowledge had roots not only in the garden of Eden, but also in his humanity.” (Theology, 31 October 1979, 41) 

Original disobedience, and indeed every sin, is therefore best understood as the refusal to recognize and accept with gratitude the fundamental “giftedness” of creation on its own terms. Every sin involves an “objectification” of the good, a reduction and wrenching of it from the context of its ground in gift. On the plane of human relations, this manifests itself as “a reduction of the other to an ‘object for myself (an object of lust, of misappropriation, etc.).” (Theology, 6 February 1980, 70)

Nowhere is this pattern more evident than in the story of the fall itself: Eve abstracts the sensitive and spiritual goods of the apple from their larger moral context within the created order (“the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes,” etc.), and as a consequence both Eve and Adam abstract the sensitive goods of one another from their larger moral context within the good of the person (“and they knew that they were naked”). This reduction by abstraction is the specific quality of pornography, and of obscenity more generally. The problem with pornography, John Paul II suggests, is not that it shows too much, but that it shows too little of the full truth about man. (See discussion in Theology, 218-29 (15, 22, and 29 April and 6 May 1981) Indeed, such a reduction may be the very form of every sin.

Creation In John Paul II And Wendell Berry
The Theology of the Body therefore is rooted in a notion of “Creation as a Fundamental and Original Gift.” (This is the title of the remarks given 19 December 1979) This fact has an important bearing on artists, who are in some sense co-creators with God. John Paul II brings out this point in his “Letter to Artists,” which has for its epigraph a verse from Genesis 1:31 (“God saw all that he had made, and it was very good”). In Section 15 he writes the following:

The Spirit is the mysterious Artist of the universe …Every genuine inspiration, however, contains some tremor of that “breath” with which the Creator Spirit suffused the work of creation from the very beginning. Overseeing the mysterious laws governing the universe, the divine breath of the Creator Spirit reaches out to human genius and stirs its creative power. He touches it with a kind of inner illumination which brings together the sense of the good and the beautiful, and he awakens energies of mind and heart which enable it to conceive an idea and give it form in a work of art. It is right then to speak, even if only analogically, of “moments of grace,” because the human being is able to experience in some way the Absolute who is utterly beyond.

Wendell Berry seems to share John Paul II’s understanding of creation and the role of the artist. He begins Remembering with the following invocation/prayer, written in blank verse:

Heavenly Muse, Spirit who brooded on
the world and raised it shapely out of nothing,
Touch my lips with fire and burn away
All dross of speech, so that I keep in mind
The truth and end to which my words now move
In hope. Keep my mind within that Mind
Of which it is a part, whose wholeness is
The hope of sense in what I tell. And though
I go among the scatterings of that sense,
The members of its worldly body broken,
Rule my sight by vision of the parts
Rejoined. And in my exile’s journey far
From home, be with me, so I may return.


By this stirring invocation Berry signals to his readers the epic theme of his narrative. Like John Milton and Dante Alighieri, two poets who figure largely in the story, he chooses a classical idiom in which to associate his narrative with the Christian account of Creation, Fall, and Redemption. From the outset, therefore, readers are invited to consider the events of Remembering on a much larger scale than they might otherwise do. That scale involves nothing less than a right attitude toward Creation. Indeed, no word appears more often in Berry’s corpus than “creation” and its cognates.

The Meanings Of The Wound In Remembering
The centrality of the body to the action of Remembering is reflected in its title. Remembering plays on several inter-related meanings. The most obvious meaning is the faculty of memory itself. But this meaning should not be taken lightly, for it conjures up the entire mythical, epistemological, and theological edifices of the Muses, daughters of Memory, Plato’s anamnesis, and perhaps most importantly the memoria of Book X of Augustine’s Confessions, also a meditation on creation. More subtly, “Re-Membering” also draws upon the archaic but theologically rich biblical analogy of the parts of the body to the communion of persons in Christ. “For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another” (Romans 12:4-5 and 1 Corinthians 12:12). It thus captures another notion that pervades Berry’s moral imagination, membership. The title of Remembering expresses the central action of the novel: the epic journey from brokenness and despair through memory into wholeness.

“It is dark.” This lapidary sentence begins Remembering. At the beginning of the story the protagonist, a despairing Andy Catlett, finds himself lying alone, far from his home in Kentucky, in the mid-morning darkness of a hotel room in San Francisco. A journalist turned farmer, Andy has recently lost his right hand in a farming accident involving a corn picker. Andy’s wounded body is both the cause and visible sign of a much deeper interior wound. Frustrated, resentful, and angry, he has struck out at and wounded the community that sustains him, his friends, his family, and most significantly, his wife Flora.

The wound in Andy’s body reverberates into his interior life and through his relationships, especially his marriage. The intimate relationship between Andy’s wounded body and his spiritual response to that wound is central to the story, arid encourages reflection upon what it means to be a person in a body.

The complex of meanings in Andy’s wounded body is suggested in the following passage:

He remembered with longing the events of his body’s wholeness, grieving over them, as Adam remembered Paradise. He remembered how his own body had dressed itself while his mind thought of something else; how he had shifted burdens from hand to hand; how his right hand had danced with its awkward partner and made it graceful; how his right hand had been as deft and nervous as a bird. He remembered his poise as a two-handed lover, when he reached out to Flora and held and touched her, until the smooths and swells of her ached in his palm and fingers, and his hand knew her as a man knows his homeland. Now that hand that joined him to her had been cast away, and he mourned over it as over a priceless map or manual lost forever.

Most concretely, the loss of Andy’s hand means limits. From the most mundane activity like buttoning a shirt to the intimate caresses of his wife’s body, Andy is now hampered. He can no longer care for himself, Flora, or his children as he once could, and he is painfully aware that the favors he receives from others cannot be repaid in kind. In Andy’s bodily wound Berry figures the essential condition of all human beings. We are by nature incomplete and dependent beings, a fact most evident in our mortality, our liability “to nonexistence.”

In his frustration at this new dependency, however, Andy fails to recognize that his limits are only a vivid extension of the limits that all human beings must face, whether crippled or not. “I feel like I’m no account to anybody,” he tells flora. To which she responds, “Well, unfortunately that’s not for you to decide.” Andy’s wife Flora sees the point, though Andy does not. She tells him, “You must accept this as given to you to learn from, or it will hurt you worse than it already has.” But Andy refuses to accept this. instead “he raged, and he raged at his rage, and nothing that he had was what he wanted.”

Andy’s wound also represents the punishment, if not the actual choice, of original sin. Andy significantly compares his loss to Adam’s loss of Paradise by the fall. The figure is strengthened by the comparison of his hand to a “priceless map or manual lost forever,” a fitting image for the wound of original integrity, which harms mankind’s ability to know and follow the good. That Andy loses his hand in a machine compounds this agony, for technology represents the meager human effort to remedy the effects of the fall. The clothing of our first parents (“they sewed fig leaves together”) is a remarkable reminder of this fact, and also a warning, for Adam and Eve’s first use of technology is motivated by a desire to conceal their fault, to remedy its consequences rather than correct its cause.

The fact that God later provides better clothing to Adam and Eve is evidence that technology is good when it is informed by a proper understanding of the created order as a prior and original gift. However, technology can also be rooted in an attempt to escape from this order, or to dominate it tyrannically. Motivated by this understanding of creation, technology becomes infernal. (Immanuel Kant’s interpretation of the myth of the fall in Conjectures on the Beginning of Human History provides a perfect illustration of the infernal justification for unlimited technology.) John Paul II warns against this false attitude towards technology in Centesimus annus: “Man thinks that he can make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray.” Well before his accident Andy had gained a reputation for opposing the industrialization of farming, and he dreams with terror of bulldozers leveling all he has known and loved: “Bulldozers pushed and tramped the loosened, disformed, denuded earth, working it like dough toward some new shape entirely human conceived. The fields and their names, the farmsteads and the neighbors were gone; the graveyards and the names of the dead, all gone.” Andy is therefore particularly humiliated by the “hook” that has become his right hand, and in his frustration and anger he throws it into the wastebasket, saying “Lie there where you belong, you rattledy bastard!”

Hidden at the deepest level, however, Andy’s wound is a figure for human sexuality. At first glance this may seem like a surprising claim, but upon closer examination it bears rich fruit. Recall that in order to create Eve, God draws a rib from Adam’s side and then closes it up with flesh. It is important to see that this act constitutes a wound, and although it causes no real injury to Adam it does involve a real loss to his bodily integrity and independence. This hidden wound is also the origin of the sexual differentiation of man into male and female, and therefore is mysteriously linked to human sexuality. Human sexuality involves a mark upon the human body which forever testifies to the futility of the human quest for autonomy. As John Paul II points out, human sexuality, expressed in the somatic division between masculinity and femininity, reveals and expresses our intrinsic ordering to an “other.” Human beings cannot “have sex” alone any more than they can reproduce alone, and both sex and reproduction are ordered to the two-in-one-flesh communion of persons.

It is notable that classical mythology also figures Love as a wound, and that the word “Sex” is derived from the Latin secare which means both “to cut,” and “to cut off’ or “amputate.” (In classical mythology Eros/Cupid is the mischievous son of Venus who shoots his arrows of love into unwitting victims. The action of Eros is nowhere more powerfully represented than in the story of Dido and Aeneas in book four of the Aeneid. Benedict XVI picks up on this theme in the second chapter of his book On the Way to Jesus Christ, which is entitled “Wounded by the Arrow of Beauty.” See also the remarkable passage on love as a healing wound by St. Columban in Reading 9 of the Office of Readings for Ordinary Time.) It is with good reason therefore that the poet Aristophanes in Plato’s Symposium describes the sexual division at the root of Eros as a wound inflicted on the bodies of originally unified human beings by the Olympian gods as punishment for their pride (189e-194e). This myth captures well the experiences of suffering, limit, loss, and dependency that are central to Eros, but it also circumscribes the scope of Eros to the horizontal plane, to the sphere of human relationships. In reply Socrates argues that Eros is an arrow of love pointing to Transcendence. Though set in motion by the beauty of concrete, sensible objects, Eros leads the soul up the ladder of love to the universal and immaterial Beauty Itself: “This is what it is to go aright, or to be led by another, into the mystery of love: one goes always upwards for the sake of this Beauty, starting out from beautiful things and using them like rising stairs.”

Whereas Aristophanes and Socrates provide contrasting accounts of Eros in The Symposium, John Paul II’s interpretation of the “double solitude” in the myth of the fall preserves, unifies, and deepens both of them together. The unity of male and female in ‘adam captures that primordial unity of human beings in Aristophanes’ account, but rather than a punishment, this division and separation of ‘adam into ‘is-’issah, male and female, is a gift that reveals to man his deepest identity and vocation to self-gift in a communion of persons. On the other hand, ‘adam’s original unity and solitude in relationship to God points to the transcendent ordering of Eros that we find in Socrates’ account.

Human sexuality is so basic to human experience that its deepest meaning is easy to overlook. As John Paul II remarks, sexuality is one of those things that is “so intermingled with the ordinary things of life that we do not generally notice [its] extraordinary character.” (Theology, 12 December 1979, 51) Like the myth of the fall and Plato’s Symposium, Berry’s Remembering seeks to draw out the deeper meaning hidden in the mysteries of human solitude and sexuality. By figuring human sexuality in the loss of a hand, Berry reveals the extraordinary meaning hidden in this ordinary reality.

The Human Response To The Wound
At some level all human beings experience the hidden wound of solitude and dependency. What is their response? Andy’s first response to his wound is rebellion. Berry alludes to this fact in the title of the first chapter, “Darkness Visible.” The phrase is from Milton’s graphic description of Satan’s first view of hell in the early lines of Paradise Lost:

At once as far as angel’s ken he views
The dismal situation waste and wild,
A dungeon horrible, on all sides round
As one great furnace flam’d, yet from those flames
No light, but rather darkness visible
Served only to discover sights of woe,
Regions of sorrow, doleful shades, where peace
And rest can never dwell, hope never comes
That conies to all; but torture without end
Still urges, and a fiery deluge, fed
With ever-burning sulfur unconsumed. (I.59-69)

Milton’s Satan perfectly expresses the root principle behind the modern quest for autonomy:

The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n. (I.255)

In his representation of Satan Milton also shows that this quest is rooted not in a heroic defense of truth, but rather in resentment against and a rejection of the created order, and by extension the body, which is part of that order. Satan’s principle relies on the claim that the “mind” is all, despite the obvious and ever-present reminder of his own tortured body.

In the first part of Remembering Berry translates Satan’s principle into a contemporary American idiom. He thereby reveals the root cause that lurks behind the “boomer” impulse in the American historical experience, as opposed to the competing “sticker” tradition of building and homemaking. (Berry borrows these terms from the novelist Wallace Stegner.) Andy Catlett experiences the two dominant temptations associated with boomers: the impulse to recreate one’s identity from scratch, and the impulse always to be on the move. These impulses, like the infernal technological impulse noted above, underlie the quest for autonomy, and ultimately reflect a desire to escape the body and its limits. Each of them involves a kind of dualism that results in a dismembering. Berry also shows through Andy a way out of the predicament.

Andy’s temptation to recreate himself begins with a decisive rejection of his identity. His formal reason for traveling to San Francisco was to deliver a talk at a local college. But when the greeter from the college approaches him at the airport, Andy unaccountably denies he is himself and walks away. Berry describes the experience in striking terms reminiscent of Satan’s rejection of the body:

When he’d answered, “No maam,” to the young woman waiting to meet him at the airport gate, he had felt the sudden swing and stagger of disembodiment, as though a profound divorce had occurred, casting his body off to do what it would on its own, to be watched as from a distance, without premonition of what it might do.

Andy’s rejection of his identity is reinforced in the cold anonymity of his hotel room, that icon of American displacement:

The feel of the bed, the smell of the room seem compounded of the strangeness of all the strangers who have slept there: salesmen, company officers, solitary travelers, who have entered, shut the door, set down their bags, and stood, weary and silent, afraid to speak, even to themselves, their own names. A man could go so far from home, he thinks, that his own name would become unspeakable to him, unanswerable by anyone, so that if he dared speak it, it would escape him utterly, a bird out an open window, leaving him untongued in some boundless amplitude of mere absence.

But Andy cannot abide the agony of this solitude. In his pain and need he leaves the hotel for a walk through the early-morning streets of San Francisco. This turns out to be an epic journey, the significance of which is suggested by the inscription from Dante’s Commedia that Andy finds on a Catholic church as he passes. The inscription reads: “LA GLORIA DI COLUI CHE TUTTO MUOVE PER L’UNIVERSO PENETRA E RESPLENDE.”

These are the first lines of Paradiso, translated “The Glory of the one who moves all things / penetrates the universe with light” Andy is a latter—day Dante, but before he reaches his Paradise he must complete his travel through the lower regions which are as distinctly American as Dante’s were Florentine.

There is a reason Berry sets Remembering in the westernmost part of the continental United States, and in a city historically associated with the most intentional attempts at self-invention. “He wants to reach the city’s edge,” Ben-y writes. “He longs for the verge and immensity of the continent’s meeting with the sea.” Andy’s pilgrimage takes him through the footsteps of American history. In Berry’s telling, the persistent, pervasive, and restless American desire to “move west” is best understood, at root, as the attempt to escape from the body and its limits. The final frontier of this impulse is biotechnology, whose governing principle is the ultimate victory over suffering and death.

Here at the edge of the world Andy has left the encumbrances of family, history, indeed his very identity, in the search for something better. Here he experiences the final temptation:

Where might he not go? Who knows where he is? He feels the simplicity and lightness of his solitude…Other lives, other possible lives swarm around him…All distance is around him and he wants nothing that he has. All choice is around him, and he knows nothing that he wants.

Just as he is fantasizing about the possibilities of his new self, Andy is called back to himself in memory by the voice of his grandmother, Done Wheeler. This memory takes him back to a time even before his childhood, when first “the shuttle flung …though the web of his making.” There he sees distant relatives reenacting the rites that made him, until he arrives at the home of his grandmother Dorie Wheeler, where, gathering eggs together in the evening, she looks down at him smilingly and says, “Oh, my boy, how far away will you be sometime, remembering this?” The memory brings Andy to tears. The lines are worth quoting at length, both for their pathos and their beauty:

He is held, though he does not hold. He is caught up in the old pattern of entrances: of minds into minds, minds into place, places into minds. The pattern Innits and complicates him, singling him out in his own flesh. Out of the multitude of possible lives that have surrounded and beckoned to him like a crowd around a star, he returns now to himself a mere meteorite, scorched, small, and fallen. He has met again his one life and one death, and he takes them back. It is as though, leaving, he has met himself already returning, pushing in front of him a barn seventy-five feet by forty, and a hundred acres of land, and six generations of his own history, partly failed, and a few dead and living whose love has claimed him forever. He will be partial, and he will die; he will live out the truth of that. Though he does not hold, he is held. He is grieving, and he is full of joy. What is that Egypt but his Promised Land?

Andy’s decision to return home is a decision to accept the goodness of the created order and the goodness of his body, including the limits, partiality, suffering, and death they bring with them. In his powerful dramatization of this decision, Berry challenges and reverses the poisonous Romanticism that is almost coterminous with novelistic form, and that drips into the heart of contemporary American culture. Notably, now reconciled to his condition, Andy recovers the “hook” of his right hand from the waste-basket. “It is not a hand. It is not a substitute for a hand. It is only a tool, only a tool. His hand is gone. Sometime, somewhere behind him, his hand has left him. It has died, and is at peace.”

Berry adds something to his account that is only implicit, and never fully developed in John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. According to John Paul II, “Sex decides not only the somatic individuality of man, but defines at the same time his personal identity and concreteness…This concreteness means both the uniqueness and unrepeatability of the person.” (Theology, 5 March 1980, 79)  Man’s somatic “concreteness” means that he is necessarily implicated in a “partial” history, tradition, and memory that are not of his own making.

These partialities provide the context within which human beings must live and choose, and therefore they have ethical implications as well. For Andy this means the return to “a barn seventy-five feet by forty, arid a hundred acres of land, and six generations of his own history, partly failed, a few dead and living whose love has claimed him forever.” His decision to remain in his body, to return home, is also a choice for Place, a choice of being responsible to the narrative he has been given with all of its work, suffering, and joy. “What is that Egypt but his Promised Land?” The next two chapters of Remembering, “A Long Choosing” and “A Place Known and Dreamed,” are an elaboration of this observation.

So powerful is this climax of Remembering that one almost forgets that it occurs less than halfway through the story. Andy’s journey home, which is described in the latter half of the novel, is equally powerful. Like St. Augustine of the Confessions or Dante the Pilgrim, Andy now begins to pray along his way, recalling his own history and offering meditations born of his new-found wisdom. The principal subject of his meditations is wonder at the mystery, beauty, and meaning of being in a body, with its own partial history, memory, tradition, and community. He also laments the costs of repudiating these things. For example, as he passes through the “Gate of Universal Suspicion” (a prescient pre-9/11 coinage) at the airport he observes the crowd of individuals hurrying about:

He has heard the tread of his own people dancing in a ring, the fiddle measuring time to them, a voice calling them, through the steps of change and absence, home again, the dancers unaware of their steps, which only the music, older than memory, remembered. Now that dance is broken, dismembered in the Land of Universal Suspicion, where no face is open to another. Where any may be dangerous and none may be trusted, all must live in conflict, the fire of the world’s death prefigured in every heart.

Shall we disappear with our longing, dismembered, in the annihilating flame?

Spare us, O Lord, the logical consequences of our folly.

Healing The Hidden Wound
The final two chapters of Remembering, “Bridal” and “The Hilltop,” reinforce the parallels to John Paul II’s Theology of the Body that I have been suggesting above. In “Bridal” Berry returns the reader to the theme that has been implicit throughout the novel: the intimate relationship between Andy’s wound and his marriage. He thus suggests once again that Andy’s wound in some sense figures human sexuality and the community of persons to which it is ordered. Earlier in the story Andy remembers the wholeness he once had in his marriage to Flora:

They were two longing to be one, or one dividing relentlessly into two…It was as though grace and peace were bestowed on them out of the sanctity of marriage itself which simply furnished them to one another, free and sufficient as rain to leaf. It was as if they were not making marriage, but being made by it, and, while it held them, time and their lives flowed over them, like swift water over stones, rubbing then) together, grinding off their edges, making them fit together, fit to be together, in the only way that fragments can be rejoined.

In revolting against his wound, however, Andy also strikes against the very same things that once brought wholeness to his marriage. His reaction to his wound also wounds the unity of his marriage, dividing and separating him from Flora: “[His marriage] was no longer about duality, but about division, an infinite cold space that opened between them.”

In “Bridal” Berry describes with great accuracy the ever-present tension in the human soul between the meanings of “nakedness” before and after the fall. Even after his decision to return home Andy remains vulnerable to the objectifying glance of human beings after the fall. He notices “beautiful women” everywhere, “in summer dresses beautifully worn, flesh suggesting itself, as they move, in sweet pressures against the cloth.” Berry emphasizes the role of the body in Andy’s experience: “He lets them disembody him, his mind on the loose and rambling, envisioning unexpectable results, impossible conclusions.” And again, “Loving them apart from anything he knows, or might know, he is disembodied by them: no man going nowhere, or anywhere, his mind as perfectly departed from his life as a lost ghost, dreaming of meetings of eyes, touches, claspings, words.”

In making this connection between fantasy/lust and the body, Berry brings out the close connection that always exists between lust and abstraction. Lust is not only a reduction of the other, it is also a reduction of the self and thus., despite appearances, always involves an escape from what it means to be a person in a body. It is fitting, therefore, that Berry juxtaposes Andy’s out-of-body fantasizing with his flight on the airplane, for flight is a powerful representation of the human effort to transcend the limits of tile body. “To Andy, the air is an element as dangerous to mind as to body. For wingless creatures, it is the element of abstraction: abstract distance and speed, abstract desire.”

Berry also makes clear that Andy’s fantasizing is a result of his profound loneliness. At the deepest level he longs to make contact with concrete human persons, to meet their eyes and notice their faces. He wonders, “if they were going down, would the woman sitting beside him be willing to hold his hand?” In this loneliness, he meditates upon his marriage to Flora and on the trust it requires:

In twelve years they have given it a use and a life; a beauty has conic to it that is its answer to their love for it and their work; and it has given them a life that belonged to them even before they knew they wanted it. And all has depended on trust. How could he have forgotten? How could he have failed to understand?

Marriage is not a rational contract between two individuals for their private ends, but a community of persons based upon a self-gift which in turn recreates those persons. This self-gift requires trust, for there can never be enough knowledge of the other person and of the future to provide a certain ground for the decision. “How could he have imagined that it would be different? How could he have imagined that he might ever know enough to choose?” And then in language reminiscent of John Paul II, Andy observes that “To trust is simply to give oneself; the giving is for the future, for which there is no evidence. And once given, the self cannot be taken back, whatever the evidence.”

Such trust between two imperfect persons inevitably requires much forgiveness. “He knows the duality in those years, the imperfection in them both, and the grief and longing of their imperfection…He must have his own forgiveness and hers and the children’s, and the forgiveness of everyone and everything from which he has withheld himself.” In this realization, Andy imagines Flora coming to him again,

a bride, dressed all in white, as innocent as himself of the great power they were putting on, frightened and smiling — a gift to him such as he did not know, such as would not be known until the death that they would promise to meet together had been met, and so perhaps never to be known in this world.

He is awakened from this vision by the woman next to him, “who to his astonishment is patting his arm.” “Are you alright?” she asks. “Yes, I’ve been all right before, and I’m alright now.” This is the fitting conclusion of “Bridal.”

The ordinary Romance novel, if it ever got this far, would conclude somewhere around this point. For what can be more important or more beautiful than love between two human beings? But Berry’s imaginative vision reaches much fbrther than this, directing our attention to the higher eschatological meaning of marriage that is implied in the double solitude of man before the fall.

In the final chapter, “The Hilltop,” Andy has returned home. Flora is not home, and so he leaves her a note, “Can you forgive me? I pray that you will forgive me,” before going out for a walk on his land. This is in fact the third journey related in the novel, the first being his walk in San Francisco and the second being his flight home. If we follow the allusions to Dante, the first two journeys correspond to the Inferno and Purgatorio respectively. The themes of transgression and repentance in these two journeys seem to bear the interpretation. This final journey would then correspond to Dante’s Paradiso. Here again the parallel fits, for Andy is granted here a mystical vision of something like heaven.

Andy walks through the woods on his property, which lead to a high place overlooking Port William. While in the woods, he stops to rest and falls into a sleep reminiscent of the “deep sleep” of Adam, for it is like death: “He has entered the dark, and it is such darkness as he has never known. All that is around him and all that lie is has disappeared into it. He sees nothing, remembers nothing, knows nothing except a hopeless longing for something he does not know, for which he does not know a name.” He is awakened by a man, “dark as shadow,” touching his shoulder, and arises to find himself in the same place, which, “though it is familiar to him, is changed.” Somehow he recognizes the man as his guide, and he begins to follow this dark Virgil through the woods, which are now filled with a mysterious, singing light. Andy recognizes that “he has entered the eternal place in which we live in time” and would like to stay, but the man leads him on to the top of the hill overlooking Port William.

Andy looks and sees the town and the fields around it, Port William and its countryside as he never saw or dreamed them, the signs everywhere upon them of the care of a longer love than any who have lived there ever imagined. . And in the fields and the town, walking, standing, or sitting under trees, resting and talking together in the peace of a sabbath profound and bright, are people of such beauty that he weeps to see them. He sees that these are the membership of one another and of the place and of the song or light in which they live and move.

He sees that they are dead, and they are alive. He sees that he lives in eternity as he lives in time, and nothing is lost.

In Andy’s vision of a redeemed Port William, one cannot help recalling the verse of Revelation 21:2: “And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” The communion of persons in marriage is not man’s highest end. It is only a sacrament, a visible and efficacious sign, of the higher, more lasting, and more real communion of persons in Christ. It is our participation in this final “membership” that ultimately makes us whole, a fact beautifully expressed in the final lines of the novel, in terms softly evocative of Psalm 137:

He has come into the presence of these living by a change of sight, by which he has parted from them as they were and from himself as he was and is.
Now he prepares to leave them. Their names singing in his mind, he lifts toward them the restored right hand of his joy.

In Remembering Wendell Berry helps to heal the hidden wound of our fallen nature. He reveals in a powerful way the latent tendencies in our fallen nature and in our culture more generally toward Romanticism, Gnosticism, Manichaeism, and every other form of dualism that rejects the gift of Creation and the body. He also shows the terrifying costs of this great rejection. Moreover, by making detailed what is spare in the myth of the fall, and making concrete what is abstract in the Theology of the Body, Remembering brings us tangibly in touch with the primordial memory of wholeness that slumbers in every human heart. Above all, Remembering imprints a “beautifying awareness of the meaning of the body” (Theology, 30 January 1980, 69) into our own memory, giving us hope as we groan with all of creation for the redemption of our bodies.


Poems by Wendell Berry

May 25, 2010

Berry is the first of four children born to John Berry, a lawyer and tobacco farmer in Henry County, and Virginia Berry. The families of both of his parents have farmed in Henry County for at least five generations. Berry attended secondary school at Millersburg Military Institute, then earned a B.A. and M.A. in English at the University of Kentucky.

In 1957, he completed his M.A. and married Tanya Amyx. In 1958, he attended Stanford University’s creative writing program as a Wallace Stegner Fellow, studying under Stegner in a seminar that included Edward Abbey, Larry McMurtry, Robert Stone, Ernest Gaines, Tillie Olsen, and Ken Kesey. Berry’s first novel, Nathan Coulter, was published in April 1960.

A Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship took Berry and his family to Italy and France in 1961, where he came to know Wallace Fowlie, critic and translator of French literature. From 1962 to 1964, he taught English at New York University’s University College in the Bronx. In 1964, he began teaching creative writing at the University of Kentucky, from which he resigned in 1977. During this time in Lexington, he came to know author Guy Davenport, as well as author Thomas Merton and photographer Ralph Eugene Meatyard.

In 1965, Berry moved to a farm he had purchased, Lane’s Landing, and began growing corn and small grains on what eventually became a 125-acre homestead. Lane’s Landing is near Port Royal, Kentucky, in north central Kentucky, and his parents’ birthplaces, and is on the western bank of the Kentucky River, not far from where it flows into the Ohio River.

Berry has farmed, resided, and written at Lane’s Landing down to the present day. In the 1970s and early 1980s, he edited and wrote for the Rodale Press, including its publications Organic Gardening and Farming and The New Farm. From 1987 to 1993, he returned to the English Department of the University of Kentucky. Berry has written at least twenty-five books (or chatbooks) of poems, sixteen volumes of essays, and eleven novels and short story collections. His writing is grounded in the notion that one’s work ought to be rooted in and responsive to one’s place.

The Real Work

It may be that when we no longer know what to do
we have come to our real work,
and that when we no longer know which way to go
we have come to our real journey.
The mind that is not baffled is not employed.
The impeded stream is the one that sings.

The Peace Of Wild Things

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

What We Need Is Here

Geese appear high over us,
pass, and the sky closes. Abandon,
as in love or sleep, holds
them to their way, clear
in the ancient faith: what we need
is here. And we pray, not
for new earth or heaven, but to be
quiet in heart, and in eye,
clear. What we need is here.

Like The Water

Like the water
of a deep stream,
love is always too much.
We did not make it.
Though we drink till we burst,
we cannot have it all,
or want it all.
In its abundance
it survives our thirst.

In the evening we come down to the shore
to drink our fill,
and sleep,
while it flows
through the regions of the dark.
It does not hold us,
except we keep returning to its rich waters

We enter,
willing to die,
into the commonwealth of its joy.


The longer we are together
the larger death grows around us.
How many we know by now
who are dead! We, who were young,
now count the cost of having been.
And yet as we know the dead
we grow familiar with the world.
We, who were young and loved each other
ignorantly, now come to know
each other in love, married
by what we have done, as much
as by what we intend. Our hair
turns white with our ripening
as though to fly away in some
coming wind, bearing the seed
of what we know. It was bitter to learn
that we come to death as we come
to love, bitter to face
the just and solving welcome
that death prepares. But that is bitter
only to the ignorant, who pray
it will not happen. Having come
the bitter way to better prayer, we have
the sweetness of ripening. How sweet
to know you by the signs of this world!


Dear relatives and friends, when my last breath
Grows large and free in air, don’t call it death –
A word to enrich the undertaker and inspire
His surly art of imitating life; conspire
Against him. Say that my body cannot now
Be improved upon; it has no fault to show
To the sly cosmetician. Say that my flesh
Has a perfect compliance with the grass
Truer than any it could have striven for.
You will recognize the earth in me, as before
I wished to know it in myself: my earth
That has been my care and faithful charge from birth,
And toward which all my sorrows were surely bound,
And all my hopes. Say that I have found
A good solution, and am on my way
To the roots. And say I have left my native clay
At last, to be a traveler; that too will be so.
Traveler to where? Say you don’t know.

But do not let your ignorance
Of my spirit’s whereabouts dismay
You, or overwhelm your thoughts.
Be careful not to say

Anything too final. Whatever
Is unsure is possible, and life is bigger
Than flesh. Beyond reach of thought
Let imagination figure

Your hope. That will be generous
To me and to yourselves. Why settle
For some know-it-all’s despair
When the dead may dance to the fiddle

Hereafter, for all anybody knows?
And remember that the Heavenly soil
Need not be too rich to please
One who was happy in Port Royal.

I may be already heading back,
A new and better man, toward
That town. The thought’s unreasonable,
But so is life, thank the Lord!

So treat me, even dead,
As a man who has a place
To go, and something to do.
Don’t muck up my face

With wax and powder and rouge
As one would prettify
An unalterable fact
To give bitterness the lie.

Admit the native earth
My body is and will be,
Admit its freedom and
Its changeability.

Dress me in the clothes
I wore in the day’s round.
Lay me in a wooden box.
Put the box in the ground.

Beneath this stone a Berry is planted
In his home land, as he wanted.

He has come to the gathering of his kin,
Among whom some were worthy men,

Farmers mostly, who lived by hand,
But one was a cobbler from Ireland,

Another played the eternal fool
By riding on a circus mule

To be remembered in grateful laughter
Longer than the rest. After

Doing that they had to do
They are at ease here. Let all of you

Who yet for pain find force and voice
Look on their peace, and rejoice.


Notes on the Blue Guitar of Wallace Stevens

May 24, 2010

Picasso, The Old Guitarist, 1903. In 1977 David Hockney authored a book of etchings called "The Blue Guitar: Etchings By David Hockney Who Was Inspired By Wallace Stevens Who Was Inspired By Pablo Picasso". The book included the poetry of Wallace Stevens. The etchings were inspired by and were meant to represent the themes of Stevens's poem, "The Man With The Blue Guitar", which was inspired by a 1903 painting by Pablo Picasso titled "The Old Guitarist". It was published as a portfolio and as a book in spring 1997 by Petersburg Press.

The following can be sourced at no less than seven or eight locations on the Web. What I enjoy so much about Stevens (aside from a lengthy relationship I have with many of his poems) is that he appears to be the most secular of poets, someone who has disposed of the divine to seek the essence of reality. It is as if the divine has subverted our understanding of reality and it is only by disposing of it that we can come to grips with a true reality. Yet the more Stevens demands of his Supreme Fiction and true reality, the closer he brings us to what I see in Fr. Aidan Nichol’s developing the habit of Christian wonder (see the Habit of Theology: Faith Lives In Theology As “Christian Wonder”). The story is that on his death bed he received the last rites of the Catholic Church. See Fr. Arthur Hanley’s recollections here.

The man bent over his guitar,
A shearsman of sorts. The day was green.
They said, “You have a blue guitar,
You do not play things as they are.”
The man replied, “Things as they are
Are changed upon the blue guitar.”
And they said then, “But play, you must,
A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,
A tune upon the blue guitar
Of things exactly as they are.”
I cannot bring a world quite round,
Although I patch it as I can.
I sing a hero’s head, large eye
And bearded bronze, but not a man,
Although I patch him as I can
And reach through him almost to man.
If to serenade almost to man
Is to miss, by that, things as they are,
Say that it is the serenade
Of a man that plays a blue guitar.

Stevens is a rare example of a poet whose main output came at a fairly advanced age. His first major publication (four poems from a sequence entitled “Phases” in the November 1914 edition of Poetry Magazine) was written at the age of thirty-five, although as an undergraduate at Harvard, Stevens had written poetry and exchanged sonnets with George Santayana, with whom he was close through much of his life. Many of his canonical works were written well after he turned fifty. According to the literary critic Harold Bloom, who called Stevens the “best and most representative” American poet of the time, no Western writer since Sophocles has had such a late flowering of artistic genius.

Stevens’s first book of poetry, a volume of rococo inventiveness titled Harmonium, was published in 1923. He produced two more major books of poetry during the 1920s and 1930s and three more in the 1940s. He received the National Book Award in 1951 and 1955.

Imagination and reality
Stevens, whose work was meditative and philosophical, is very much a poet of ideas. “The poem must resist the intelligence / Almost successfully,” he wrote. Concerning the relation between consciousness and the world, in Stevens’s work “imagination” is not equivalent to consciousness nor is “reality” equivalent to the world as it exists outside our minds. Reality is the product of the imagination as it shapes the world. Because it is constantly changing as we attempt to find imaginatively satisfying ways to perceive the world, reality is an activity, not a static object. We approach reality with a piecemeal understanding, putting together parts of the world in an attempt to make it seem coherent. To make sense of the world is to construct a worldview through an active exercise of the imagination. This is no dry, philosophical activity, but a passionate engagement in finding order and meaning. Thus Stevens would write in The Idea of Order at Key West (my thoughts on the poem here)

Oh! Blessed rage for order, pale Ramon,
The maker’s rage to order words of the sea,
Words of the fragrant portals, dimly-starred,
And of ourselves and of our origins,
In ghostlier demarcations, keener sounds.

In his book Opus Posthumous, Stevens writes, “After one has abandoned a belief in god, poetry is that essence which takes its place as life’s redemption.” But as the poet attempts to find a fiction to replace the lost gods, he immediately encounters a problem: a direct knowledge of reality is not possible.

Stevens suggests that we live in the tension between the shapes we take as the world acts upon us and the ideas of order that our imagination imposes upon the world. The world influences us in our most normal activities: “The dress of a woman of Lhassa, / In its place, / Is an invisible element of that place / Made visible.” Likewise, were we to place a jar on a hill in Tennessee, we would impose an order onto the landscape.

As Stevens says in his essay “Imagination as Value”, “The truth seems to be that we live in concepts of the imagination before the reason has established them.” The imagination is the mechanism by which we unconsciously conceptualize the normal patterns of life, while reason is the way we consciously conceptualize these patterns.

The jar is a striking example of an order that does not feel a part of the land, and so seems to violate the existing order: “It did not give of bird or bush, / Like nothing else in Tennessee”. Contrast this to the feeling one gets while looking over the water where boats are anchored in darkness, with lanterns hanging on poles, “Arranging, deepening, enchanting night”. When the imagination is available to reality and does not try to force itself, reality becomes like a bar of sand onto which the imagination naturally washes and recedes.

The imagination can only conceive of a world for a moment — a particular time, place and culture — and so must continually revise its conception to align with the changing world. And as these worldviews come and go, each person is pulled in his or her normal life between the influence the world has on imagination and the influence imagination has on the way we view the world.

For this reason, the best we can hope for is a well-conceived fiction, satisfying for the moment, but sure to lapse into obsolescence as new imaginings wash over the world.

Supreme fiction
The imagination loses vitality as it ceases to adhere to what is real. When it adheres to the unreal and intensifies what is unreal, while its first effect may be extraordinary, that effect is the maximum effect that it will ever have.

Throughout his poetic career, Stevens was concerned with the question of what to think about the world now that our old notions of religion no longer suffice. His solution might be summarized by the notion of a “Supreme Fiction.” In this example from the satirical “A High-Toned Old Christian Woman,” Stevens plays with the notions of immediately accessible, but ultimately unsatisfying, notions of reality:

Poetry is the supreme Fiction, madame.
Take the moral law and make a nave of it
And from the nave build haunted heaven. Thus,
The conscience is converted into palms
Like windy citherns, hankering for hymns.
We agree in principle. That’s clear. But take
The opposing law and make a peristyle,
And from the peristyle project a masque
Beyond the planets. Thus, our bawdiness,
Unpurged by epitaph, indulged at last,
Is equally converted into palms,
Squiggling like saxophones. And palm for palm,
Madame, we are where we began.

The saxophones squiggle because, as J. Hillis Miller says of Stevens in his book, Poets of Reality, the theme of universal fluctuation is a constant theme throughout Stevens poetry: “A great many of Stevens’ poems show an object or group of objects in aimless oscillation or circling movement.” In the end, reality remains.

The supreme fiction is that conceptualization of reality that seems to resonate in its rightness, so much so that it seems to have captured, if only for a moment, something actual and real.

I am the angel of reality,
seen for a moment standing in the door.

I am the necessary angel of earth,
Since, in my sight, you see the earth again,
Cleared of its stiff and stubborn, man-locked set,
And, in my hearing, you hear its tragic drone
Rise liquidly in liquid lingerings,
Like watery words awash;

an apparition appareled in
Apparels of such lightest look that a turn
Of my shoulder and quickly, too quickly, I am gone?

In one of his last poems, “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour”, Stevens describes the experience of an idea which satisfies the imagination, “This is, therefore, the intensest rendezvous. / It is in that thought that we collect ourselves, / Out of all the indifferences, into one thing.” This one thing is “a light, a power, the miraculous influence” wherein we can forget ourselves, sensing a comforting order, “A knowledge, that which arranged the rendezvous, / within its vital boundary, in the mind.”

This knowledge necessarily exists within the mind, since it is an aspect of the imagination which can never attain a direct experience of reality.

We say God and the imagination are one . . .
How high that highest candle lights the dark.
Out of this same light, out of the central mind
We make a dwelling in the evening air,
In which being there together is enough.

Stevens concludes that God is a human creation, but that feeling of rightness which for so long a time existed with the idea of God may be accessed again. This supreme fiction will be something equally central to our being, but contemporary to our lives, in a way that God can never again be. But with the right idea, we may again find the same sort of solace that we once found in divinity. “[Stevens] finds, too, a definite value in the complete contact with reality. Only, in fact, by this stark knowledge can he attain his own spiritual self that can resist the disintegrating forces of life . . . . Powerful force though the mind is . . . it cannot find the absolutes. Heaven lies about the seeing man in his sensuous apprehension of the world . . .; everything about him is part of the truth.”

. . . Poetry

Exceeding music must take the place
Of empty heaven and its hymns,
Ourselves in poetry must take their place

In this way, Stevens’s poems adopt attitudes that are corollaries to those earlier spiritual longings that persist in the unconscious currents of the imagination. “The poem refreshes life so that we share, / For a moment, the first idea . . . It satisfies / Belief in an immaculate beginning / And sends us, winged by an unconscious will, / To an immaculate end.” The “first idea” is that essential reality that stands before all others, that essential truth; but since all knowledge is contingent on its time and place, that supreme fiction will surely be transitory. This is the necessary angel of subjective reality — a reality that must always be qualified — and as such, always misses the mark to some degree — always contains elements of unreality.

Miller summarizes Stevens’s position: “Though this dissolving of the self is in one way the end of everything, in another way it is the happy liberation. There are only two entities left now that the gods are dead: man and nature, subject and object. Nature is the physical world, visible, audible, tangible, present to all the senses, and man is consciousness, the nothing which receives nature and transforms it into something unreal . . . .”

The Role Of Poetry
Stevens often writes directly about poetry and its human function. The poet “tries by a peculiar speech to speak / The peculiar potency of the general, / To compound the imagination’s Latin with / The lingua franca et jocundissima.” Moreover, “The whole race is a poet that writes down / The eccentric propositions of its fate.” In a manner reminiscent of Wordsworth, Stevens saw the poet as one with heightened powers, but one who like all ordinary people continually creates and discards cognitive depictions of the world, not in solitude but in solidarity with other men and women.

These cognitive depictions find their outlet and their best and final form as words; and thus Stevens can say, “It is a world of words to the end of it, / In which nothing solid is its solid self.” In a poem called “Men Made out of Words,” he says: “Life / Consists of propositions about life.” Poetry is not about life, it is intimately a part of life. As Stevens wrote elsewhere, “The poem is the cry of its occasion, / Part of the res itself and not about it. / The poet speaks the poem as it is, // Not as it was.” Modern poetry is “the poem of the mind in the act of finding / What will suffice.”

It has to be living, to learn the speech of the place.
It has to face the men of the time and to meet
The women of the time. It has to think about war
And it has to find what will suffice. It has
To construct a new stage. It has to be on that stage,
And, like an insatiable actor, slowly and
With meditation, speak words that in the ear,
In the delicatest ear of the mind, repeat,
Exactly, that which it wants to hear, at the sound
Of which, an invisible audience listens,
Not to the play, but to itself, expressed
In an emotion as of two people, as of two
Emotions becoming one.

His poem An Ordinary Evening in New Haven is a self-conscious digression about the creation of poetry.

We keep coming back and coming back
To the real: to the hotel instead of the hymns
That fall upon it out of the wind. We seek
The poem of pure reality, untouched
By trope or deviation, straight to the word,
Straight to the transfixing object, to the object
At the exactest point at which it is itself,
Transfixing by being purely what it is
A view of New Haven, say, through the certain eye,
The eye made clear of uncertainty, with the sight
Of simple seeing, without reflection. We seek
Nothing beyond reality.

To create a stage is, for Stevens, a metaphor for the need of modern poetry to make its own new arena or realm in which it should be presented and in which it can be understood. Modern poetry is like “an insatiable actor” because it continually must be in “the act of finding what will suffice.” Stevens puns on the meaning of “act.” In one sense, poetry is an act, learning the speech, meeting the women, facing the men, etc. In another sense, it is a dramatic performance meant to be heard by an audience, as it speaks words that echo in the mind of the listener. The audience is “invisible” in the sense that a poet rarely meets his or her readers.

The typical reader picks up a book of poems and reads a poem or two, and the author never sees this happening. The reading of poetry is often a conversation between strangers. In this poem the two people are the actor that is the poem and the audience that is the listener, and their emotions should become “one.” The poet should find the words that will speak to the delicatest ear of its modern listeners, echoing what it wants to hear but cannot articulate for itself. The poet, in the act of the poem, finds the sufficing words and for the audience and they allow the listeners to hear what is in their ear, their mind. As a result, the emotions of speaking and listening, of poet as actor and listeners as audience, should become one.

Reputation And Influence
From the first, critics and fellow poets praised Stevens. Hart Crane wrote to a friend in 1919, after reading some of the poems that would make up Harmonium, “There is a man whose work makes most of the rest of us quail.” In the 1930s, the critic Yvor Winters criticized Stevens as a decadent hedonist but acknowledged his great talent. Beginning in the 1940s, critics such as Randall Jarrell spoke of Stevens as one of the major living American poets, even if they did so (as Jarrell did) with certain reservations about Stevens’s work. Stevens’s work became even better known after his death. Harold Bloom, Helen Vendler, and Frank Kermode are among the critics who have cemented Stevens’s position in the canon as a great poet. Many poets — James Merrill and Donald Justice most explicitly — have acknowledged Stevens as a major influence on their work, and his impact may also be seen in John Ashbery, Mark Strand, Jorie Graham, John Hollander, and others.


Contingency, Necessary Truths, Existence, Non-Existence And Ens Per Se

May 21, 2010

David Bentley Hart

In a response to a David Bentley Hart piece in FirstThings, a reader quotes Dr. Hart first:

The scientists fare almost as poorly. Among these, Victor Stenger is the most recklessly self-confident, but his inability to differentiate the physical distinction between something and nothing (in the sense of “not anything as such”) from the logical distinction between existence and nonexistence renders his argument empty.

And then writes:

I must admit, I don’t know the difference between “the physical distinction between something and nothing (in the sense of “not anything as such”) from the logical distinction between existence and nonexistence” either….

Still, I’d be grateful if someone could explain to me the difference between “the physical distinction between something and nothing (in the sense of “not anything as such”) from the logical distinction between existence and nonexistence”.

A reply was forthcoming, which I have elaborated on here and there:

The physical distinction between something and nothing (in the sense of “not anything as such”) differs from the metaphysical distinction between existence and nonexistence in the following, familiar way. It is only Hart’s erudition, otherwise so lovely, that obscures a point which everyone, except apparently the New Atheists, already implictly understands.

If I open up the refrigerator door and exclaim, “Hey, there’s no beer in the fridge!” I am making the purely physical claim that there is not anything such as beer in the refrigerator. The statement can be understood entirely in physical terms, as can other statements like “There is not anything such as tarragon in my omelette,” “There is not anything such as an elephant in my garage,” and so on. Examples could be multiplied endlessly. These statements seem to imply the modal claim that there “could” be an elephant in my garage, etc. Nothing we know about the world precludes the possibility; I am just making the matter-of-fact observation that, as it so happens, there is not.

The New Atheists are making a category mistake when they hold the statement “there is not anything such as God in the Universe” to be understood in the same sense as the examples given above, viz. a physical object (God) in a physical location (the Universe). We’ll get back to that in minute; but first let’s examine the metaphysical distinction between existence and nonexistence.

There is quite a lot of fine-grained philosophy that could be articulated here, but roughly speaking, to say in the metaphysical mood that “something exists” is just to say that that something is an “ens per se” (a being through itself), a necessary truth. The existence of these necessary truths is entailed by the fact of existence itself (which nobody can dispute). The technical sense of the term “being through itself” was intended to capture the fact that human beings do not require any other creature but only God’s concurrence to exist. Accordingly, a being through itself, or ens per se, is a substance. Since all physical beings are contingent, necessary truths can never be physical beings. So there is no sense in which any particular physical state of affairs implies anything about the existence or nonexistence of God.

In philosophy and logic, contingency is the status of propositions that are neither true under every possible valuation (i.e. tautologies) nor false under every possible valuation (i.e. contradictions). A contingent proposition is neither necessarily true nor necessarily false. Propositions that are contingent may be so because they contain logical connectives which, along with the truth value of any of its atomic parts, determine the truth value of the proposition. This is to say that the truth value of the proposition is contingent upon the truth values of the sentences which comprise it. Contingent propositions depend on the facts, whereas analytic propositions are true without regard to any facts about which they speak.

When a New Atheist conceives of God as a physical being occupying the physical universe, and then goes on to declare that since there is “not any such thing” (physical mood) as this God, then “God does not exist” (metaphysical mood), he is simply making a catagory mistake that no philosopher with even a modicum of respectability is entitled to make. This is just plain sophistry, as Hart rightly points out.

I think I can say, very slowly and carefully, that I may have learned something here.

A short video  introduction to Dr Hart here.


Fr. Luc Buyens of the Netherlands

May 20, 2010

Father Buyens during his homily.

This is a homily in which Fr. Luc Buyens of the Netherlands explained to his parishioners (and the protesters who were also present) why he couldn’t give Communion to an openly homosexual man. What with all the media commotion surrounding that and the upcoming confrontation with the Rainbow Sash Movement this next Pentacost Sunday, I think it is interesting to see what Fr. Buyens actually said. Below is the homily in English (emphases mine).  Caution: The English can be a tad tortured.

Dear parishioners of Reusel, dear people from elsewhere, 

After the feast of carnival last week, on Ash Wednesday we have entered our holy Lent, the Christian time of fasting. For us this is a time of more focus on prayer, the practice of confession and being solidary with our neighbour. A time which Jesus has entered before us in His mortal life. I believe that we, as postmodern people of the 21st century, can still learn from that. When a person chooses for such a time of purification, according to Luke the evangelist, there are three points which become clear. 

The temptation to turn stones into loaves… apparently, a lot is possible from the world of spirits. But Jesus replies: “Man lives not by bread alone”, and everyone who knows the Bible, knows what actually follows next: “but by every word of God”. It is sublime to know that Jesus will eventually feed His own with the bread of heaven, which makes us people grow into the ‘living rock’, into the spiritual building that He establishes and of which He is the cornerstone that holds everything together.

But apparently the devil isn’t caught that easily. He comes with a second challenge: “If you therefore will adore before me, all shall be yours”, and Jesus replies, “You shall adore the Lord your God, and him only shall you serve”: the God for Whom every knee must bend. How can we, dear people, adore and honour Him here on Earth?

The only right answer is: there where Jesus shows Himself in the Blessed Sacrament, especially in Adoration. ‘God with us’ in the form of consecrated bread. That is how He shall be with us until the end of days.

And how can we serve Him? In our neighbor, by serving him or her as we would want to be helped ourselves. Jesus lives in the first place in the poor, the small, the abandoned and fragile, the least of all. If we apply God’s word to what is called temptation, the enemy or tempter is sent back from the very start, and so follows the third temptation: Cast yourself down and you will be carried, in other words: the challenge to cross boundaries, to tempt fate as happens so often these days.

What does Jesus say then? “You shall not tempt the Lord your God”. Creature: know your place. Know what you are doing if you want to tempt the Lord your God. Woe that man… 

At that point Satan leaves until the designated time to take his revenge, which will cost him dearly, because Jesus’ death has given eternal life to people of good will and the restoration of all things. This is what God’s Church stands for. He who believes and is baptized will be saved from a death that will last forever. From now on man can consider his life from the principle of eternity and let this dictate his values. Jesus entrusted this faith to the Church and, by spreading the Word and administering the sacraments to the people, the Church sanctifies the world. 

Following the commotion after pastoral matters were leaked to the press, I would like to say the following. When we Catholics come together to celebrate the Eucharist we do this to consider God’s word and possibly to receive the sacrament of the Eucharist, Communion or Holy Host. “Truly my Body and Blood”, as Christ teaches us.

This ‘bread from heaven’ is one of the seven sacraments of the Church. In 2008 the Dutch bishops published a letter asking the ministers of the Eucharist to make the faithful aware of what communicating in God’s Church means. They gave four models to achieve a good formulation towards the faithful. All four of those models indicate that one can’t receive Communion under certain circumstances, and that, including the amendments in the Code of Canon Law and the Catechism, goes for everyone. 

Dear people, why do I mention all this? To tell you that there is nothing wrong when something is lived orderly. There are boundaries for homosexuals and heterosexuals, and for everyone else possible. 

There are rules which the Church must apply so that people approach and receive God in the right manner. The Church has the task to keep and protect the people. Especially when they threaten to make mistakes out of ignorance, the Church warns like a concerned mother. On the football field, the referee also engages with a player who acts inappropriately.

It can’t be that in the Church, which is eternal, all rules which stem from the Ten Commandments, are cast aside just like that. When I participate in carnival festivities I know I have to respect their rules and the same goes for when I want to participate actively in the life of the Church. Faith reveals itself in acts and here too the Law is what everything is measured by, to the benefit of all. “One jot, or one tittle shall not pass of the law, till all be fulfilled”, the Lord of heaven and earth says. 

I have said a lot and I could say more, but I know that I will feel like a useless help who only tried to do his work in good conscience. I did not want to single out anyone. Everything took place in private. I don’t want to discriminate or hurt anyone. I know that there is often a lot of pain and sorrow for the people concerned but also, despite all difficulties, the intention to do and be good.

The Church is called to be specifically close to those concerned and to help them carry the sacrifices of such a disposition as a cross, together with the crucified Christ. I believe that bringing such a sacrifice can be a great blessing to the Church and the world who needs that so much. They who are willing to carry this cross are even invited and encouraged to frequently receive the sacraments and the blessings of the Church to be strengthened to persevere. After every fall or mistake every believer can and must reconcile himself with God through an honest confession, if he wants to sit at the table of the Lord. That goes for every grave sin of any nature. 

To you, who have come here in such large numbers, I would like to say that I, as a priest, am willing to suffer for the sign I stand for. Just like I wish to be respectful to each and every one of you I would want to receive the same respect in return. Sadly, I must inform you, that things do not automatically point in that direction. I do not declare war on anyone, but I ask the Lord of heaven and earth that His peace may soon descend on Reusel once more. Our people here do no benefit from what is happening and do not work that way. 

To the press I would like to say that I did not want this disturbance. This parish has been entrusted to my care by the bishop of ‘s-Hertogenbosch. This is my workplace that has been given and nothing more. I think that I have given enough clarity and ask that you turn towards persons of the diocese of Den Bosch and specialists in these matters. 

In our Church it is not usual that priests act autonomously. In the case that I have been blamed I have only acted after discussion with the bishop and my colleagues. 

I wish to close with the word of the great apostle Paul with his words to the Christians of Philippi: “Be followers of me, brethren: and observe them who walk so as you have our model. For many walk, of whom I have told you often (and now tell you weeping) that they are enemies of the cross of Christ”. 

“Whose end is destruction: whose God is their belly: and whose glory is in their shame: who mind earthly things. But our conversation is in heaven: from whence also we look for the Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ, who will reform the body of our lowness, made like to the body of his glory, according to the operation whereby also he is able to subdue all things unto himself.” 

I wish you all a blessed preparation for Easter. 

Father Luc Buyens


A Recent Announcement by the Rainbow Sash Movement

May 19, 2010

“The Rainbow Sash Movement (Gay Catholics) will enter Catholic Cathedrals nationally and internationally on Pentecost Sunday, May 23, 2010 wearing Rainbow Sashes. The purpose for our Pentecost Sunday presence is to give voice to the voiceless in our Church.

There is something bipolar about a Church that will not give members of the Rainbow Sash Movement communion because they self identify as gay publicly, while at the same time elevating men to the office of Pope, Cardinal, Archbishop, or Bishop who placed the reputation of the Catholic Church ahead of needs of innocent children who were sexually victimized by both predator priests and Bishops. The only word that comes to mind to describe such a dichotomy, in charity, is hypocrite.

Gay Catholics should not be divorced from public self-identification because of sexual orientation. Unfortunately the currency of hierarchical pronouncements is locked in male chauvinistic culture of clericalism. Such statements are based on homophobias that are so out of touch that it bars the use of condoms even to curb AIDS, and encourages Papal attacks on gay and lesbian families.

As to why we wear the Rainbow Sash; we can no longer sit idly by while homophobia takes over the heart and soul of our Church. No longer satisfied with discriminating against LGBT Catholics, the Bishops are now going after our children in Catholic schools. Discrimination against the children of gay parents because of their parents’ sexual orientation is wrong, and only highlights how dysfunctional the current position of the Church has become.

We are not “flaunting” sexuality when we wear the Rainbow Sash. Simply put, if you are not seen, it is unlikely that your voice is recognized as significant enough to be given attention; if you cannot be heard, you cannot combat the prejudice you face, and no one can hear you cry out when you are the victim of injustice, when you suffer intimidation, or worship under institutionalized homophobia.

The love it or leave it mentality is not an option for us. On the contrary the Gospel challenge of love calls us to challenge exclusion with inclusion. In doing so, we follow in the spirit of the early Christians who challenged the exclusion of the uncircumcised.

Disrupting a mass or encouraging others to do so is a grave sin. I guess we are all familiar with attempts in the past but this is a more coordinated and organized effort which I fear will only increase over time. Church teaching on homosexuality cannot and will not change. It is a product of dogma.

That teaching was set forth and encapsulated by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under the leadership of then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict XVI, don’t you know) in the Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Pastoral Care of Homosexual Persons, promulgated in 1986. It is as follows:

“The Church, obedient to the Lord who founded her and gave to her the sacramental life, celebrates the divine plan of the loving and live-giving union of men and women in the sacrament of marriage. It is only in the marital relationship that the use of the sexual faculty can be morally good. A person engaging in homosexual behavior therefore acts immorally.”

“To choose someone of the same sex for one’s sexual activity is to annul the rich symbolism and meaning, not to mention the goals, of the Creator’s sexual design. Homosexual activity is not a complementary union, able to transmit life; and so it thwarts the call to a life of that form of self-giving which the Gospel says is the essence of Christian living. This does not mean that homosexual persons are not often generous and giving of themselves; but when they engage in homosexual activity they confirm within themselves a disordered sexual inclination which is essentially self-indulgent”.

“As in every moral disorder, homosexual activity prevents one’s own fulfillment and happiness by acting contrary to the creative wisdom of God. The Church, in rejecting erroneous opinions regarding homosexuality, does not limit but rather defends personal freedom and dignity realistically and authentically understood.”

This teaching cannot and will not change. It is not up for vote. It cannot be influenced by demonstrations or boycotts. It is the view of the Church that groups like the “Rainbow Sash” movement, by their open defiance of this teaching, undermine the authority of the Church, confuse those who struggle with same sex attraction and scandalize the faithful. Finally, they confuse the public as to what the Church actually teaches.

“The dissenting or confused Catholics who support the Homosexual Equivalency movement within the Church insist that the Catholic Church adopt their new doctrine of recognizing gay marriage and the tenets of Homosexualism — which amounts to heresy; what St. Paul warned of as “another Gospel”

But even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!
Galatians 1:8,9;

And no wonder! Even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light.
2 Corinthians. 11:14

Why Francis Cardinal George?
Cardinal George has been in the forefront of the defense of marriage and the family and society founded upon it. He is heroic in this stance and deserves our prayer and open, public support. On Friday, February 5, 2010, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops acting through Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I, the archbishop of Chicago and president of the Conference, issued a strong repudiation of the New Ways Ministry, a cousin to the Rainbow Sash Movement. The group is comprised of people who, like Rainbow Sash, openly dissent from the clear teaching of the Catholic Church concerning the immorality of homosexual practice.

Cardinal George has said of them: “They have aggressively opposed efforts to defend marriage as exclusively between one man and one woman. They foster dissent within the Catholic Church and cause scandal and confusion to many of the faithful. They have been publicly and repeatedly reprimanded by the Church.  For example, two of their former leaders, a priest and a religious sister, were ordered to resign their positions with the organization and separate themselves from any involvement.”

The Cardinal further said in his notice: “No one should be misled by the claim that New Ways Ministry provides an authentic interpretation of Catholic teaching and an authentic Catholic pastoral practice. Their claim to be Catholic only confuses the faithful regarding the authentic teaching and ministry of the Church with respect to persons with a homosexual inclination.” As for the organization, they responded to the correction by rejecting it whole cloth. In fact, they have encouraged an advocacy campaign to get the Church to change its position.

This decisive action by Cardinal George is to be commended. It was the proper response of a good shepherd and faithful teacher of the Church. It also seems to have increased the ire of the members of the Rainbow Sash movement. They are numbered among those who have been referred to as “homosexual equivalency activists.” They do not accept the teaching of the Church but rather seek to change it.

They also align themselves in the civil arena with those who openly oppose family based on the indissoluble marriage between a man and a woman and want to force society to recognize a legal and moral equivalency between true marriages and cohabitating practicing homosexuals. In these efforts they are led by well funded and strategic groups such as the “Human Rights Campaign” in the United States. 

This position is in direct opposition to the heroic and dedicated defense of marriage efforts undertaken by the Catholic Church and the teaching of the Church concerning true marriage as an indissoluble bond between one man and one woman, open to life, and the family and society founded upon it. The leaders of the “Rainbow Sash” movement intentionally confuse the faithful regarding the Church’s clear admonition to respect all persons, including those with same sex attractions, and her absolute prohibition of homosexual sexual activity.

We are in a new missionary age. Let us call upon the Holy Spirit for a New Pentecost for the Church so that she may rise to these challenges. Each parish Church should prepare themselves for the onslaughts to our Faith that appear to be in the offing.

God Bless Francis Cardinal George!



May 18, 2010


Cape Cod Afternoon by Edward Hopper

COLLEEN CARROLL CAMPBELL reflects on a recent scientific study on Alzheimer’s and her father who passed from the disease in 2008:

I thought about Dad last week, when I read about a new University of Iowa study that found patients with Alzheimer’s-type memory loss can remember the emotional imprint of an experience even after they have forgotten the event itself.

When I was 4, my father drove my older brother and me to Yellowstone National Park. We saw Old Faithful, rode horses and got outfitted head-to-toe in Western wear. I’ve seen the photos and heard the stories — especially the one about how I convinced Dad to buy me the store’s last pair of non-refundable, red-leather cowboy boots, only to confess the next morning that they did not fit.

I still have those boots somewhere in a cobweb–covered box in my basement, along with a snapshot of Dad hugging my brother and me as the three of us squinted in the Wyoming sun. Aside from those mementos and a vague impression that we had fun, I have no memory of the trip.

It’s a shame, considering the trouble my father took to get us there. But Dad never seemed to mind such things. He loved to show us new places, but mostly, he just loved us. And as long as his wife and children got that message, Dad did not much care if we remembered the details.

I thought about Dad last week, when I read about a new University of Iowa study that found patients with Alzheimer’s-type memory loss can remember the emotional imprint of an experience even after they have forgotten the event itself. The study, led by neuropsychology doctoral student Justin Feinstein and published in the Early Edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted on patients with damage to their hippocampus, who suffer from the same type of amnesia that signals the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

Researchers showed the patients happy and sad film clips and then gave them memory tests. The patients could recall few details about what they had just seen, yet the feelings of joy or sorrow associated with the film lingered well beyond their memories of the film itself. The study suggests that even if a demented person cannot remember that you paid him a visit or engaged him in a pleasant conversation, he still can benefit from the good feelings wrought by your good deed.

It’s a lesson that hits close to home. I watched my father battle Alzheimer’s disease for 15 years, before it finally took his life in 2008. One of the hardest things about those years — especially for my mother, his faithful and exhausted caregiver — was hearing well-intentioned people dismiss the need for her solicitous care or their own failure to visit him by saying that “he doesn’t remember anything anyway.”

Like millions of Americans living with Alzheimer’s disease, Dad’s failure to recollect names, dates and faces left him vulnerable to social isolation and to neglect from over worked aides in the nursing home where my mother had to move him in his final years.

A few of those aides treated Dad with the same tender, loving care you would show a baby who could not communicate his needs. Too many others shouted orders at him, apparently mistaking his dementia for deafness. Some barely talked to him at all, assuming — as I heard one mutter while leaving his room — that creating a pleasant environment for Dad “doesn’t matter because he doesn’t know where he is anyway.”

Dad’s memory may have been ravaged in those last years, but his emotional acuity was keener than ever. Like an infant reacting to stresses in his surroundings, Dad’s mood was mightily affected by the tone of voice and gentleness or harshness of another’s touch. I could always tell when he had just had a visit — usually from my mom — because I would find him singing and smiling in his chair, peaceful and jolly amid the dreary ordinariness of nursing home life. I suspected my own visits had a similar effect, even though Dad often forgot them as soon as I left.

Alzheimer’s is a devastating disease not only because of the confusion it sows in its victims, but also the sense of futility it breeds in their caregivers, who are tempted to despair that anything they do makes a difference. How nice that science finally has documented something devoted caregivers have known all along: Love is a gift never wasted, even if the one who receives forgets to say thanks.


Benedict’s “Islamophobia”

May 17, 2010

It is not “Islamophobic” to note the historical connection between conquest and Muslim expansion, or between contemporary jihadism and terrorism. Truth-telling is the essential prerequisite to genuine interreligious dialogue, which can only be based on the claims of reason. George Weigel continues his analysis of Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture and its response.

Alain Besancon concludes his analysis of the differences between Judaism and Christianity, on the one hand, and Islam, on the other, with this trenchant observation:

Efforts to engage in “dialogue” with Muslims have been set on a mistaken course. The early Church fathers deemed the works of Virgil and Plato a preparatio evangelica — preparation for the Gospel, for the truth of Christianity. The Qur’an is neither a preparation for biblical religion nor a retroactive endorsement of it. In approaching Muslims, self-respecting Christians and others would do better to rely on what remains within Islam of natural religion — and of religious virtue — and to take into account the common humanity that Muslims share with all people everywhere.

Pope Benedict XVI’s Regensburg Lecture in September 2006 took a similar tack. At Regensburg, the Pope identified the deepest theological source of jihadist ideology — its defective concept of God — and gave the world an interreligious arid ecumenical vocabulary by which Muslims, Christians, Jews, adherents of other world religions, and nonbelievers can engage in a genuine conversation about the threat posed to the human future by jihadism: the vocabulary of rationality and irrationality.

Widely criticized at the time as an intemperate and offensive assault on Muslim sensibilities, Benedict’s Regensburg Lecture in fact led, within a month, to one of the few hopeful events of 2006: the “Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI, originally signed by thirty-eight prominent Islamic leaders from across the globe.’ In that letter, these Muslim leaders welcomed the Pope’s call for an intellectually serious encounter between Muslims and Christians; rejected the jihadists’ interpretations of “jihad” as an obligatory holy war of conquest, to be waged until Allah’s sovereignty is acknowledged by the entire world; and condemned those “who have disregarded a long and well-established tradition in favor of utopian dreams where the end justifies the means,” writing that those who had done this “have done so of their own accord and without the sanction of God, his Prophet, or the learned tradition!’ The signatories went on to invite the Pope to a serious theological dialogue on the transcendence of God, and on the relationship of God’s nature and attributes to human categories of understanding. They also suggested that, in the mainstream Islamic tradition, God cannot command the irrational — like the murder of innocents.

The “Open Letter” was hardly flawless. It distorted history at points, and it contained no mechanism for specific follow-up. Jihadist murderers, while condemned, were not condemned by name, nor did the “Open Letter” address the pathological anti-Semitism that infects too much of the Islamic world. So there is much that needs further discussion. yet it is not without interest that this statement — which despite its shortcomings was still the most forthcoming from senior Muslim leaders in living memory — followed a robust and courageous critique of the theological roots of jihadism, not the exchange of banalities and pleasantries that too often characterizes interreligious dialogue. Surely there are lessons here for the future.

The first is that the western media acquiescence to Muslim complaints about western, American, Christian, or papal “Islamophobia” should stop. It is not “Islamophobic” for the Pope, or anyone else, to pray in the presence of Muslims, to defend religious freedom, or to condemn violence perpetrated in the name of God—suggestions variously made by National Public Radio, the New York Times, the Associated Press, and the New York Daily News during Benedict XVI’s December 2006 visit to Turkey. It would also be helpful if the western press — and particularly that part of the western press that reaches the Islamic world, like CNN and the BBC — would call things by their right names: murderers in Iraq are murderers and terrorists, not insurgents or sectarians; suicide bombers are, in fact, homicide bombers; and so forth.

The Islamic leaders’ “Open Letter” also suggests the imperative of a redefined interreligious dialogue. That dialogue would address the question of Islam’s ability to assimilate, in a critical way, the achievements of the Enlightenment — a question with which Christianity has been wrestling for centuries and which Islam must now finally engage. This was precisely the focus of interreligious dialogue Benedict XVI proposed in his Christmas 2006 address to the Roman. Curia, the central administrative apparatus of the Catholic Church. In it, the Pope made four crucial points.

  1. First, history itself has put before the Islamic world the “urgent task” of finding a way to come to grips with the intellectual and institutional achievements of the Enlightenment: the Muslim world can no longer live as if the Enlightenment, in both its achievements and its flaws, bad not happened.
  2. Second, this necessary Islamic encounter with Enlightenment thought and the institutions of governance that grew out of Enlightenment political theory requires separating the wheat from the chaff: the skepticism and relativism that characterize one stream of Enlightenment thought need not (and indeed should not) be accepted; yet one can (and must) make distinctions and accept the ideas that the Enlightenment got right — for example, religious freedom, understood as an inalienable human right to be acknowledged and protected by government — even as one rejects the ideas of which the Enlightenment made a hash (for example, the idea of God).
  3. Third, this process of coming to grips with the complex heritage and continuing momentum of the Enlightenment is an ongoing one. As the experience of the Catholic Church has demonstrated in recent decades, however, an ancient religious tradition can appropriate certain aspects of Enlightenment thought, and can come to appreciate the institutions of freedom that emerged from the Enlightenment, without compromising in a fundamental way its own core theological commitments — indeed, the experience of the Catholic Church on the question of religious freedom and the institutional separation of Church and state shows that a serious, critical engagement with Enlightenment ideas and institutions can lead a religious community to a revivification of classic theological concepts that may have lain dormant for a long period of time, and thus to a genuine development of religious understanding.
  4. Fourth, it is precisely on this ground — the ground where faith meets reason — that interreligious dialogue should be constructed.

All of which is to say that the interreligious dialogue of the future should focus on helping those Muslims willing to do so to explore the possibility of an Islamic case for religious tolerance, social pluralism, and civil society — even as Islam’s interlocutors (among Christians, Jews, and others, including non-believers) open themselves to the possibility that the Islamic critique of certain aspects of modern culture is not without merit.

Some will say that such an Islamic development of doctrine cannot happen: that the deep theological structures of Islamic self-understanding identified above make any fruitful encounter with the institutional achievements of the Enlightenment (let alone the Enlightenment’s intellectual accomplishments) so unlikely as to be virtually impossible. No one should gainsay the difficulties involved here. Yet Bernard Lewis suggests that what is often seen today — especially by European foreign ministries and the U.S. Department of State — as a natural affinity between Islamic societies and authoritarianism is in fact the product of the past two centuries.

Traditional Muslim societies, Lewis suggests, were characterized by forces that “limited the autocracy of the ruler,” including such “established orders” as “the bazaar merchants, the scribes, the guilds, the country gentry, the military establishment, the religious establishment, and so on.” The leaders of these powerful groups were not appointed by the state; they arose from within the groups themselves, and no wise ruler could afford to make major decisions without consulting them. This was not “democracy as we currently use that word,” Lewis concedes, but neither was it autocracy or even authoritarianism; it was a distinct form of “limited, responsible government.” And it was ended, first by the forced modernization imposed by state authority in the Arab Islamic world in the nineteenth century, and then by the Arab Islamic experience of the mid-twentieth century, which Lewis sketches in these trenchant terms:

In the year 1940, the government of France surrendered to the Axis and formed a collaborationist government in a place called Vichy. The French colonial empire was, for the most part, beyond the reach of the Nazis, which means that the governors of the French colonies had a free choice: to stay with Vichy or to join Charles de Gaulle, who had set up a Free French Committee in London. The overwhelming majority chose Vichy, which meant that Syria-Lebanon — a French-mandated territory in the heart of the Arab East — was now wide open to the Nazis.

The governor and his high officials in the administration in Syria-Lebanon took their orders from Vichy, which in turn took orders from Berlin. The Nazis moved in, made a tremendous propaganda effort, and were even able to move from Syria eastwards into Iraq and for a while set up a pro-Nazi, fascist regime. It was in this period that political parties were formed that were the nucleus of what later became the Baath Party. The Western Allies eventually drove the Nazis out of the Middle East and suppressed these organizations. But the war ended in 1945 and the Allies left. A few years later the Soviets moved in, established an immensely powerful presence in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and various other countries, and introduced Soviet-style political practice. The adaptation from the Nazi model to the communist model was very simple and easy, requiring only a few minor adjustments and it proceeded pretty well. That is the origin of the Baath Party and of the kind of governments that we have been confronting in the Middle East in recent years. That, as I would again repeat and emphasize, has nothing whatever to do with the traditional Arab or Islamic past.

The development of those elements of pluralism identified in Lewis’s depiction of the Islamic past into a future akin to what the West refers to as “civil society” is a project that Islamic reformers must pursue with great urgency, given the threat posed by global jihadism. It is often said that “Islam needs a Reformation” — that the world awaits an “Islamic Luther” or an “Islamic Calvin:’ This is a bit too easy; however, in terms of its close identification of the Reformation with the emergence of free societies in the West, and in its understanding of what ails politicized Islam. Rather than an Islamic Luther, Islamic reformers might better look toward the possibility of an Islamic Leo XIII: toward the possibility of a religious leader who reaches back into the deeper philosophical resources of his tradition in order to broker a critical engagement with Enlightenment political thought, and to shape his tradition’s encounter with the economic and political institutions of modernity.

Pope Leo XIII was not the father of the modern social doctrine of the Catholic Church because he fostered a rupture with tradition (pace Luther or Calvin). Rather, Leo understood that the highly politicized idea of “tradition” that prevailed in much of nineteenth-century Catholicism was not, in fact, traditional, and that the political arrangements it favored — such as the use of state power and authority to enforce the truth claims of the Church — were not the only possible conclusion to be drawn from core Catholic theological premises. Leo XIII’s retrieval of authentic Thomistic philosophy as a tool of social analysis led to a remarkable, evolutionary development of social doctrine in the Catholic Church, and eventually to the Second Vatican Council’s historic Declaration on Religious Freedom, a high-water mark in the disentanglement of the Church from state power — the disentanglement of sacerdotium from regnum. That process of retrieval and development, as distinct from rupture and revolution, is a model that can be recommended to genuine Islamic reformers today. Such an approach, emphasizing the capacity of reason to get at the truth of things, also holds out the possibility of an interreligious dialogue that is more than an exchange of either platitudes or shibboleths.

Non-Muslims can play no significant role in the intra-Islamic struggle to come to grips with Enlightenment ideas and free political institutions, for that struggle must be resolved, finally, in terms of Islamic premises. But non-Muslims can, just possibly, help shape the contours of that struggle from outside [in these ways]:

  1. They can do so by not giving most-favored-dialogue-partner status to those establishment Muslim religious authorities who still find it impossible to condemn jihadism.
  2. A Muslim religious leader who will not condemn suicide/homicide bombing, publicly and with the perpetrators condemned by name, is not a religious leader with whom reasonable people can be in serious conversation.
  3. Public condemnation of jihadism and jihadists ought to be the admission ticket required of any Islamic religious leader or scholar who seeks dialogue with western religious or intellectual institutions, and with western political and religious leaders.

And that requires prudence on the part of westerners, who may not be aware that what a prominent Islamic figure says on media being broadcast to the English-speaking world is sometimes not the same thing as what he says on al-Jazeera. It should go without saying that anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers are likewise disqualified as dialogue partners.

Non-Muslims can also help shape the terrain of the intra-Islamic struggle by working with those Muslim scholars, religious leaders, and activists who are trying to revive the tradition of reason in Islam. If Islam insists that its faith is post-Judeo-Christian, in the sense that the revelations of the one true God to the People of Israel and in Jesus Christ have been completely superseded by the revelation to Muhammad (and in that sense, only Muslims fully grasp whatever truths remain from prior revelations), then there is little ground for theological dialogue, strictly speaking. That theological dialogue may come in time — perhaps centuries of time. At the moment, however, the important thing would seem to be to concentrate on working at such common borders as exist between us: and the defense of reason against both jihadists and those postmodernists who deny the human capacity to know the truth of anything with certainty could be one such borderland meeting place, and an important one at that.

If, for example, Jews, Christians, Muslims, and agnostics (as well as Hindus, Buddhists, and adherents of other religions) could agree that there are certain moral truths “built into” the world, built into us, and built into the dynamics of human striving — moral truths that we can know, by careful reflection, to be ne — then we would have the first building blocks of a philosophical foundation on which to construct, together, free and just societies that respect religious conviction. We would have, in other words, a rational, interreligious “grammar” and vocabulary with which to engage each other on questions of what is, in fact, the meaning of freedom, justice, and other aspects of the good.

Winston Churchill, a man who did not shrink from fighting when necessary, famously said that “jaw, jaw is better than war, war:’ Unfortunately, much of what passes for “jaw, jaw” in contemporary interreligious dialogue is, in truth, “blah, blah”: in part, because of the political correctness of western dialogue partners, but, at a deeper level, because the dialogue partners have not yet developed a grammar that turns noise (or banality, which amounts to the same thing) into conversation. The development of such a grammar is not only imperative for genuine interreligious dialogue, although it surely is that it would also aid the efforts of Islamic reformers in their struggle against the jihadists who, they believe, have hijacked Islam — yet who have, in the process, made jihadism perhaps the most dynamic force in the contemporary Islamic world.


Papal Address at University of Regensburg

May 14, 2010


Aula Magna of the University of Regensburg
Tuesday, 12 September 2006
Faith, Reason and the University:Memories and Reflections

Your Eminences, Your Magnificences, Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:

It is a moving experience for me to be back again in the university and to be able once again to give a lecture at this podium. I think back to those years when, after a pleasant period at the Freisinger Hochschule, I began teaching at the University of Bonn. That was in 1959, in the days of the old university made up of ordinary professors. The various chairs had neither assistants nor secretaries, but in recompense there was much direct contact with students and in particular among the professors themselves. We would meet before and after lessons in the rooms of the teaching staff. There was a lively exchange with historians, philosophers, philologists and, naturally, between the two theological faculties.

Once a semester there was a dies academicus, when professors from every faculty appeared before the students of the entire university, making possible a genuine experience of universitas – something that you too, Magnificent Rector, just mentioned — the experience, in other words, of the fact that despite our specializations which at times make it difficult to communicate with each other, we made up a whole, working in everything on the basis of a single rationality with its various aspects and sharing responsibility for the right use of reason – this reality became a lived experience.

The university was also very proud of its two theological faculties. It was clear that, by inquiring about the reasonableness of faith, they too carried out a work which is necessarily part of the “whole” of the universitas scientiarum, even if not everyone could share the faith which theologians seek to correlate with reason as a whole. This profound sense of coherence within the universe of reason was not troubled, even when it was once reported that a colleague had said there was something odd about our university: it had two faculties devoted to something that did not exist: God. That even in the face of such radical skepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on – perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara — by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both.[Of the total number of 26 conversations (διάλεξις – Khoury translates this as “controversy”) in the dialogue (“Entretien”), T. Khoury published the 7th “controversy” with footnotes and an extensive introduction on the origin of the text, on the manuscript tradition and on the structure of the dialogue, together with brief summaries of the “controversies” not included in the edition; the Greek text is accompanied by a French translation: “Manuel II Paléologue, Entretiens avec un Musulman. 7e Controverse”, Sources Chrétiennes n. 115, Paris 1966. In the meantime, Karl Förstel published in Corpus Islamico--Christianum (Series Graeca ed. A. T. Khoury and R. Glei) an edition of the text in Greek and German with commentary: “Manuel II. Palaiologus, Dialoge mit einem Muslim”, 3 vols., Würzburg--Altenberge 1993-1996. As early as 1966, E. Trapp had published the Greek text with an introduction as vol. II of Wiener byzantinische Studien. I shall be quoting from Khoury’s edition.]

It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur’an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between — as they were called — three “Laws” or “rules of life”: the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point — itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole — which, in the context of the issue of “faith and reason”, I found interesting and which can serve as the starting–point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation (διάλεξις — controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: “There is no compulsion in religion.” According to some of the experts, this is probably one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the “Book” and the “infidels”, he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness, a brusqueness that we find unacceptable, on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”[ Controversy VII, 2 c: Khoury, pp. 142-143; Förstel, vol. I, VII. Dialog 1.5, pp. 240-241. In the Muslim world, this quotation has unfortunately been taken as an expression of my personal position, thus arousing understandable indignation. I hope that the reader of my text can see immediately that this sentence does not express my personal view of the Qur’an, for which I have the respect due to the holy book of a great religion. In quoting the text of the Emperor Manuel II, I intended solely to draw out the essential relationship between faith and reason. On this point I am in agreement with Manuel II, but without endorsing his polemic.]

The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. “God”, he says, “is not pleased by blood — and not acting reasonably (σὺν λόγω) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats… To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death…”

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.[ It was purely for the sake of this statement that I quoted the dialogue between Manuel and his Persian interlocutor. In this statement the theme of my subsequent reflections emerges.] The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self–evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazm went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practice idolatry.

At this point, as far as understanding of God and thus the concrete practice of religion is concerned, we are faced with an unavoidable dilemma. Is the conviction that acting unreasonably contradicts God’s nature merely a Greek idea, or is it always and intrinsically true? I believe that here we can see the profound harmony between what is Greek in the best sense of the word and the biblical understanding of faith in God. Modifying the first verse of the Book of Genesis, the first verse of the whole Bible, John began the prologue of his Gospel with the words: “In the beginning was the λόγος”.

This is the very word used by the emperor: God acts, σὺν λόγω, with logos. Logos means both reason and word — a reason which is creative and capable of self–communication, precisely as reason. John thus spoke the final word on the biblical concept of God, and in this word all the often toilsome and tortuous threads of biblical faith find their culmination and synthesis. In the beginning was the logos, and the logos is God, says the Evangelist. The encounter between the Biblical message and Greek thought did not happen by chance. The vision of Saint Paul, who saw the roads to Asia barred and in a dream saw a Macedonian man plead with him: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” (cf. Acts 16:6–10) — this vision can be interpreted as a “distillation” of the intrinsic necessity of a rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek inquiry.

In point of fact, this rapprochement had been going on for some time. The mysterious name of God, revealed from the burning bush, a name which separates this God from all other divinities with their many names and simply asserts being, “I am”, already presents a challenge to the notion of myth, to which Socrates’ attempt to vanquish and transcend myth stands in close analogy.[ Regarding the widely discussed interpretation of the episode of the burning bush, I refer to my book Introduction to Christianity, London 1969, pp. 77-93 (originally published in German as Einführung in das Christentum, Munich 1968; N.B. the pages quoted refer to the entire chapter entitled “The Biblical Belief in God”). I think that my statements in that book, despite later developments in the discussion, remain valid today.]

Within the Old Testament, the process which started at the burning bush came to new maturity at the time of the Exile, when the God of Israel, an Israel now deprived of its land and worship, was proclaimed as the God of heaven and earth and described in a simple formula which echoes the words uttered at the burning bush: “I am”. This new understanding of God is accompanied by a kind of enlightenment, which finds stark expression in the mockery of gods who are merely the work of human hands (cf. Psalms 115).

Thus, despite the bitter conflict with those Hellenistic rulers who sought to accommodate it forcibly to the customs and idolatrous cult of the Greeks, biblical faith, in the Hellenistic period, encountered the best of Greek thought at a deep level, resulting in a mutual enrichment evident especially in the later wisdom literature. Today we know that the Greek translation of the Old Testament produced at Alexandria — the Septuagint — is more than a simple (and in that sense really less than satisfactory) translation of the Hebrew text: it is an independent textual witness and a distinct and important step in the history of revelation, one which brought about this encounter in a way that was decisive for the birth and spread of Christianity.  A profound encounter of faith and reason is taking place here, an encounter between genuine enlightenment and religion. From the very heart of Christian faith and, at the same time, the heart of Greek thought now joined to faith, Manuel II was able to say: Not to act “with logos” is contrary to God’s nature.

In all honesty, one must observe that in the late Middle Ages we find trends in theology which would sunder this synthesis between the Greek spirit and the Christian spirit. In contrast with the so-called intellectualism of Augustine and Thomas, there arose with Duns Scotus a voluntarism which, in its later developments, led to the claim that we can only know God’s voluntas ordinata. Beyond this is the realm of God’s freedom, in virtue of which he could have done the opposite of everything he has actually done. This gives rise to positions which clearly approach those of Ibn Hazm and might even lead to the image of a capricious God, who is not even bound to truth and goodness. God’s transcendence and otherness are so exalted that our reason, our sense of the true and good, are no longer an authentic mirror of God, whose deepest possibilities remain eternally unattainable and hidden behind his actual decisions. As opposed to this, the faith of the Church has always insisted that between God and us, between his eternal Creator Spirit and our created reason there exists a real analogy, in which — as the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 stated — unlikeness remains infinitely greater than likeness, yet not to the point of abolishing analogy and its language.

God does not become more divine when we push him away from us in a sheer, impenetrable voluntarism; rather, the truly divine God is the God who has revealed himself as logos and, as logos, has acted and continues to act lovingly on our behalf. Certainly, love, as Saint Paul says, “transcends” knowledge and is thereby capable of perceiving more than thought alone (cf. Ephesians 3:19); nonetheless it continues to be love of the God who is Logos. Consequently, Christian worship is, again to quote Paul — “λογικη λατρεία”, worship in harmony with the eternal Word and with our reason (cf. Romans 12:1).

This inner rapprochement between Biblical faith and Greek philosophical inquiry was an event of decisive importance not only from the standpoint of the history of religions, but also from that of world history — it is an event which concerns us even today. Given this convergence, it is not surprising that Christianity, despite its origins and some significant developments in the East, finally took on its historically decisive character in Europe. We can also express this the other way around: this convergence, with the subsequent addition of the Roman heritage, created Europe and remains the foundation of what can rightly be called Europe.

The thesis that the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith has been countered by the call for a dehellenization of Christianity — a call which has more and more dominated theological discussions since the beginning of the modern age. Viewed more closely, three stages can be observed in the programme of dehellenization: although interconnected, they are clearly distinct from one another in their motivations and objectives.

Dehellenization first emerges in connection with the postulates of the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Looking at the tradition of scholastic theology, the Reformers thought they were confronted with a faith system totally conditioned by philosophy, that is to say an articulation of the faith based on an alien system of thought. As a result, faith no longer appeared as a living historical Word but as one element of an overarching philosophical system. The principle of sola scriptura, on the other hand, sought faith in its pure, primordial form, as originally found in the biblical Word. Metaphysics appeared as a premise derived from another source, from which faith had to be liberated in order to become once more fully itself. When Kant stated that he needed to set thinking aside in order to make room for faith, he carried this programme forward with a radicalism that the Reformers could never have foreseen. He thus anchored faith exclusively in practical reason, denying it access to reality as a whole.

The liberal theology of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ushered in a second stage in the process of dehellenization, with Adolf von Harnack as its outstanding representative. When I was a student, and in the early years of my teaching, this programme was highly influential in Catholic theology too. It took as its point of departure Pascal’s distinction between the God of the philosophers and the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. In my inaugural lecture at Bonn in 1959, I tried to address the issue, and I do not intend to repeat here what I said on that occasion, but I would like to describe at least briefly what was new about this second stage of dehellenization.

Harnack’s central idea was to return simply to the man Jesus and to his simple message, underneath the accretions of theology and indeed of hellenization: this simple message was seen as the culmination of the religious development of humanity. Jesus was said to have put an end to worship in favour of morality. In the end he was presented as the father of a humanitarian moral message. Fundamentally, Harnack’s goal was to bring Christianity back into harmony with modern reason, liberating it, that is to say, from seemingly philosophical and theological elements, such as faith in Christ’s divinity and the triune God. In this sense, historical–critical exegesis of the New Testament, as he saw it, restored to theology its place within the university: theology, for Harnack, is something essentially historical and therefore strictly scientific.

What it is able to say critically about Jesus is, so to speak, an expression of practical reason and consequently it can take its rightful place within the university. Behind this thinking lies the modern self–limitation of reason, classically expressed in Kant’s “Critiques”, but in the meantime further radicalized by the impact of the natural sciences. This modern concept of reason is based, to put it briefly, on a synthesis between Platonism (Cartesianism) and empiricism, a synthesis confirmed by the success of technology. On the one hand it presupposes the mathematical structure of matter, its intrinsic rationality, which makes it possible to understand how matter works and use it efficiently: this basic premise is, so to speak, the Platonic element in the modern understanding of nature. On the other hand, there is nature’s capacity to be exploited for our purposes, and here only the possibility of verification or falsification through experimentation can yield decisive certainty. The weight between the two poles can, depending on the circumstances, shift from one side to the other. As strongly positivistic a thinker as J. Monod has declared himself a convinced Platonist/Cartesian.

This gives rise to two principles which are crucial for the issue we have raised. First, only the kind of certainty resulting from the interplay of mathematical and empirical elements can be considered scientific. Anything that would claim to be science must be measured against this criterion. Hence the human sciences, such as history, psychology, sociology and philosophy, attempt to conform themselves to this canon of scientificity. A second point, which is important for our reflections, is that by its very nature this method excludes the question of God, making it appear an unscientific or pre–scientific question. Consequently, we are faced with a reduction of the radius of science and reason, one which needs to be questioned.

I will return to this problem later. In the meantime, it must be observed that from this standpoint any attempt to maintain theology’s claim to be “scientific” would end up reducing Christianity to a mere fragment of its former self. But we must say more: if science as a whole is this and this alone, then it is man himself who ends up being reduced, for the specifically human questions about our origin and destiny, the questions raised by religion and ethics, then have no place within the purview of collective reason as defined by “science”, so understood, and must thus be relegated to the realm of the subjective. The subject then decides, on the basis of his experiences, what he considers tenable in matters of religion, and the subjective “conscience” becomes the sole arbiter of what is ethical. In this way, though, ethics and religion lose their power to create a community and become a completely personal matter. This is a dangerous state of affairs for humanity, as we see from the disturbing pathologies of religion and reason which necessarily erupt when reason is so reduced that questions of religion and ethics no longer concern it. Attempts to construct an ethic from the rules of evolution or from psychology and sociology, end up being simply inadequate.

Before I draw the conclusions to which all this has been leading, I must briefly refer to the third stage of dehellenization, which is now in progress. In the light of our experience with cultural pluralism, it is often said nowadays that the synthesis with Hellenism achieved in the early Church was an initial inculturation which ought not to be binding on other cultures. The latter are said to have the right to return to the simple message of the New Testament prior to that inculturation, in order to inculturate it anew in their own particular milieux. This thesis is not simply false, but it is coarse and lacking in precision. The New Testament was written in Greek and bears the imprint of the Greek spirit, which had already come to maturity as the Old Testament developed. True, there are elements in the evolution of the early Church which do not have to be integrated into all cultures. Nonetheless, the fundamental decisions made about the relationship between faith and the use of human reason are part of the faith itself; they are developments consonant with the nature of faith itself.

And so I come to my conclusion. This attempt, painted with broad strokes, at a critique of modern reason from within has nothing to do with putting the clock back to the time before the Enlightenment and rejecting the insights of the modern age. The positive aspects of modernity are to be acknowledged unreservedly: we are all grateful for the marvellous possibilities that it has opened up for mankind and for the progress in humanity that has been granted to us. The scientific ethos, moreover, is — as you yourself mentioned, Magnificent Rector — the will to be obedient to the truth, and, as such, it embodies an attitude which belongs to the essential decisions of the Christian spirit.

The intention here is not one of retrenchment or negative criticism, but of broadening our concept of reason and its application. While we rejoice in the new possibilities open to humanity, we also see the dangers arising from these possibilities and we must ask ourselves how we can overcome them. We will succeed in doing so only if reason and faith come together in a new way, if we overcome the self–imposed limitation of reason to the empirically falsifiable, and if we once more disclose its vast horizons. In this sense theology rightly belongs in the university and within the wide–ranging dialogue of sciences, not merely as a historical discipline and one of the human sciences, but precisely as theology, as inquiry into the rationality of faith.

Only thus do we become capable of that genuine dialogue of cultures and religions so urgently needed today. In the Western world it is widely held that only positivistic reason and the forms of philosophy based on it are universally valid. Yet the world’s profoundly religious cultures see this exclusion of the divine from the universality of reason as an attack on their most profound convictions. A reason which is deaf to the divine and which relegates religion into the realm of subcultures is incapable of entering into the dialogue of cultures. At the same time, as I have attempted to show, modern scientific reason with its intrinsically Platonic element bears within itself a question which points beyond itself and beyond the possibilities of its methodology. Modern scientific reason quite simply has to accept the rational structure of matter and the correspondence between our spirit and the prevailing rational structures of nature as a given, on which its methodology has to be based.

Yet the question why this has to be so is a real question, and one which has to be remanded by the natural sciences to other modes and planes of thought — to philosophy and theology. For philosophy and, albeit in a different way, for theology, listening to the great experiences and insights of the religious traditions of humanity, and those of the Christian faith in particular, is a source of knowledge, and to ignore it would be an unacceptable restriction of our listening and responding.

Here I am reminded of something Socrates said to Phaedo. In their earlier conversations, many false philosophical opinions had been raised, and so Socrates says: “It would be easily understandable if someone became so annoyed at all these false notions that for the rest of his life he despised and mocked all talk about being — but in this way he would be deprived of the truth of existence and would suffer a great loss”. The West has long been endangered by this aversion to the questions which underlie its rationality, and can only suffer great harm thereby. The courage to engage the whole breadth of reason, and not the denial of its grandeur — this is the programme with which a theology grounded in Biblical faith enters into the debates of our time. “Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God”, said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures. To rediscover it constantly is the great task of the university.

Regensburg revisited: the Islamic response –By George Weigel
In mid–October, 38 Muslim leaders wrote an “Open Letter to His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI”, in response to the pope’s September lecture at Regensburg University and the international controversy that followed. This unprecedented letter could — just could — help move history in a more benign direction.

Understanding both what the Muslim leaders said and the need for further clarification (and action) on their part, is of the utmost importance. First, consider what they said.

Unlike those portside Catholic commentators who thought that the pope had been too abstractly theological at Regensburg, the Muslim leaders “applaud” the pope’s “efforts to oppose the dominance of positivism and materialism in human life” and they welcome the pope’s call for an intellectually serious encounter between Muslims and Christians.

They also accept, without cavil, the pope’s explanation that the condemnation of Islam by the medieval Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, which Benedict referenced in his lecture, cannot be taken to reflect the pope’s own views on the faith of Muslims.

The Muslim leaders also insist that the Qur’an’s injunction against “compulsion in religion” cannot be trumped by other Islamic texts. Thus they reject contemporary jihadists’ interpretations of jihad as an obligatory holy war of conquest, to be waged against all infidels until Allah’s sovereignty is acknowledged by the entire world.

Who else but the jihadists could the 38 signatories have in mind when they write that: “If some have disregarded a long and well–established tradition in favor of utopian dreams where the end justifies the means, they have done so of their own accord and without the sanction of God, his Prophet, or the learned tradition”? In this context, the signatories “totally condemn” the murder of a nun in Somalia in reaction to the Regensburg lecture.

The signatories go on to invite the pope (and, by extension, the Church) to a serious theological dialogue on the transcendence of God and on the relationship of God’s nature and attributes to human categories of understanding.

They also suggest that, in the mainstream Islamic tradition, God cannot command the irrational (like the murder of innocents) — another crucial point in the ongoing contest with those jihadists whom Canadian commentator David Warren aptly styles as “postmodern psychopaths…trying to reconstruct the conditions of 7th–century Arabia”. There are historical questions to be engaged in debating the signatories’ assertion that the rapid spread of Islam in its first centuries was primarily “political”.

Still, it is not without significance that the Muslim leaders close their letter by appealing to “what is common in essence in our two Abrahamic traditions”, the two great commandments as proclaimed in Mark’s Gospel: love of God without reservation and love of neighbour as oneself. What, then, needs further clarification?

It would have been helpful had this letter acknowledged the psychotic anti–Semitism that infects too much of the Islamic world today; an Islam in genuine dialogue with Christianity cannot but be in dialogue with Christianity’s parent, Judaism, as well.

The Muslim leaders’ letter tends to treat contemporary jihadism as almost a peripheral phenomenon: “…some [who] have disregarded a long and well–established tradition” seems a rather anodyne description of those jihadists whose radical interpretations of the Qur’an, often reflecting the teachings of the Wahhabi sect, are the most dynamic force in the Islamic world today.

Nor does the letter address the grave problem of Shia Islamic apocalypticism, as embodied by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his evident belief that he can accelerate the coming of the messianic age by means of nuclear holocaust.

Apart from two important figures (Sheikh Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi, head of the al–Azhar University in Cairo, and Sheikh Yusuf al–Qardawi, an influential jurist), the 38 signatories represent the A-list of international Islamic authorities. They now face a large question of action: how willing are they to challenge, discipline, and, if needs be, dramatically marginalize the jihadists who preach and commit murder “without the sanction of God, his Prophet, or the learned tradition”?

Each day’s headlines remind us that that crucial question remains to be answered. But it is now in play, globally. The world can thank Pope Benedict XVI for that.

Another Weigel Comment:

The premier example of this (Benedict XVI’s boldness) was his Regensburg lecture of September 2006 in Germany, widely criticized at the time as offensive to Islamic sensibilities. That lecture, in fact, has shifted both the course of inter-religious dialogue and the internal dynamics of the intra-Islamic debate, precisely as I believe Benedict XVI intended it to do. It has shifted the course of the dialogue by setting in motion a process that has now led to the formation of a Catholic-Muslim forum that will meet twice a year, once in Amman, Jordan, once in Rome, and that will focus its attention on the issues that Benedict XVI has put on the agenda – namely, religious freedom as the first of human rights and a right that can be known by reason, and secondly, the imperative of separating spiritual and political authority in a justly governed state.

There have been attempts from parts of the Islamic world to deflect the conversation off of these two issues, which Benedict regards as at the very heart of inter-religious dialogue, and indeed the Islamic encounter with the modern world, and he refuses to budge. He very calmly and quietly brings the conversation back to these two points, which obviously have a great resonance here in the United States.

In terms of shifting the dialogue, I would also point to the recent initiative by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, who proposes to gather in his country a new forum of dialogue among the monotheistic religions, and the Vatican’s reported negotiations, about which John might have some more to say later, with the Saudi government over the unthinkable, or the hitherto unthinkable, namely the building of a Catholic church in Saudi Arabia.

Now, those with vested interests in the status quo of inter-religious dialogue have missed virtually all of this, just as many people missed the impact of John Paul II when he went to Poland for the first time in June 1979. We all get it wrong sometimes; few have gotten it as comprehensively wrong as the editors of The New York Times in June ’79, who famously wrote on that last day of the pope’s visit: However wonderful this may have been for the people of Poland, if there is one thing certain, it is that this will have no political impact on the future of Central and Eastern Europe. Wrong, wrong, manifestly wrong.

I think we may, 20 years from now, 25 years from now, look back on the Regensburg lecture as a similar kind of moment that many missed because we were stuck in the grooves of conventional thinking about how inter-religious dialogue ought to operate and could not see the point of a direct, if respectful, challenge that reshuffled the variables and created the possibility of a new and deeper conversation. I believe the pope is going to come back at the U.N. to the themes of Regensburg, namely the relationship of faith and reason in the 21st century world, perhaps stressing at the U.N., again, the two substantive points at Regensburg – namely, that faith detached from reason is a danger, both to people of faith and to the world, and that a loss of faith in reason, a belief that we are incapable of knowing the truth of anything, is equally dangerous for the world.


Book Recommendation: The Courage To Be Catholic by George Weigel

May 13, 2010

I have quoted from this book in numerous posts but never provided my reading selections. The book is an extended essay giving Weigel’s take on the sexual abuse crisis circa 2002. As one Amazon reader noted: “[George Weigel's] criticisms of past handling of sexual abuse are fearless but fair. Pope John Paul II’s own excellent teachings on the formation of priests were given good exposure. The link between good priestly formation and adherence to the general teaching on sexual ethics was beautifully drawn. Best of all was his passionate call to holiness through love of Christ and fidelity to His teaching- not just for the laity but priests and bishops alike. I finished the book with great hope and certainty that this crisis will eventually bring renewal.” As you sense from the latter comments, Weigel’s comments have a timeless nature to them, which makes the book a precious read.

Overwhelming Majority Of Abuse Cases Was Homosexual Molestation
According to press reports, confirmed by the studies of reputable scholars, the most prominent form of clergy sexual abuse in recent decades has involved homosexual priests abusing teenage boys and young men. It took editors, television personalities, and radio talk-show hosts approximately two and a half months to recognize what print reporters had, in fact, been uncovering for months: namely, that the overwhelming majority of cases of abuse did not involve prepubescent children, but rather teenage boys and young men, often in school or seminary settings. While clinical distinctions (“Fixated ephebophilia,” “regressed” or “stunted” homosexuality) may be helpful for purposes of professional study and therapy, normal English describes such abuse as homosexual molestation.

The Living Instruments Of Christ, The Eternal Priest
Vatican II taught … that ordained priests “are living instruments of Christ the eternal priest.” At his ordination, every priest “assumes the person of Christ.” The Catholic priest, in order words, is not simply a religious functionary, a man licensed to do certain kinds of ecclesiastical business. A Catholic priest is an icon, a living re-presentation, of the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ. He makes Christ present in the Church in a singular way, by acting in persona Christi, “in the person of Christ,” at the altar and in administering the sacraments. 
The Catholic priesthood, in other words, is not just another form of “ministry.” Ordination to the priesthood in the Catholic church radically transforms who a man is, not just what he does.  In fact, in the classic Catholic view, the thins a priest does – the things lay Catholic cannot do, such as celebrate Mass or forgive sins sacramentally in confession as entirely dependent on who he is by the grace of his ordination. The old Baltimore Catechism tried to describe the difference ordination makes by saying that the sacrament of Holy Orders imprinted an “indelible mark” on a man’s soul: Once ordained, a man is a priest forever, because he has been configured to Christ the eternal priest in an irreversible way. A still older philosophy would say that a priest is “ontologically changed” – changed in his deepest personal identity – by his ordination.

Everything Is A Ministry: A Sociological View Of The Church
By the mid-1970’, virtually everything in the Catholic Church was being described as a form of “ministry,” to the point where ushers in churches were habitually described as “ministers of hospitality.” Ideas have consequences and so do words. If everything is a ministry and everyone in the Church is a minister of one sort or another, what if anything is distinctive about the ordained ministry of the priest? Doesn’t it demean the “ministry” of baptized lay Catholics if the Church continues to insist on the unique “ministry of the ordained priest?
These confusions had many ramifications. Not least among them was the claim…that if the Catholic Church insisted that it must be governed by a “hierarchy” composed of ordained bishops and priests (all of whom were men), it ws branding itself an authoritarian, misogynist hang over form the Middle Ages. Many Catholics in the United States wondered why, if the Church was what sociologists aptly described a s a “volunteer organization,” it shouldn’t govern itself like most other voluntary organizations – by majority rule, with “offices” open to all members?

Saints and Disciples
Every Christian is called to be a saint. Indeed “saints” are what every Christian must become if we are to enjoy eternal life with God. It takes a special kind of person to be able to live with God forever—it takes saints. When the Chruch recognizes someone publicly as a “saint”, the Church is bearing witness to the truth that, in this world, a man or woman was so completely configured to Christ that this life of “heroic virtue” is now continued in heaven, in joyful communion within the light and love of God.
Every Christian fails on the road to sanctity. Some of us fail often, and many of us fail grievously. In each case, the failure is one of discipleship. Men and women who have truly encountered the Risen Christ in the transforming experience of conversion – an experience that can take a lifetime – live different kinds of lives: They lead the life of a disciple (lives of deeper fidelity).

Blaming The Crisis Of Sexual Abuse On Celibacy
To blame the crisis of sexual abuse on celibacy is about as plausible as blaming adultery of the marriage vow, or blaming treason on the Pledge of Allegiance. It just doesn’t parse.

The Relationship Of A Spouse To A Beloved Bride: Chaste Celibate Love For The Church
In the Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul describes the relationship of Christ, the eternal high priest, to his Church as the relationship of a spouse to a beloved bride: Christ the redeemer gives himself to his spouse freely, unreservedly, faithfully, and unto death. If a Catholic priest is not a religious bureaucrat who conducts certain kinds of Churchly business, but rather an icon – a living re-presentation—of the eternal priesthood of Jesus Christ, then the priest’s relationship to his bride, the Church, should be like Christ’s – the priest is to give himself to the Church freely, unreservedly, faithfully, and unto death. And he must be seen to be doing so. His commitment to his bride must be visible in his way of life, as well as in his heart and soul.
That is why the Catholic places such a high value on celibacy. Chaste celibate love for the church is another “icon” of Christ’s presence to his people. The Christ whom the priest makes present through his sacramental ministry at the altar and in the confessional is acting not simply in the name of Christ but in the person of Christ. According to ancient Catholic usage, he is another Christ, alter Christus, whose complete gift of self to the Church is an integral part of his priestly persona. Celibacy is thus not “extrinsic” to the Catholic priesthood, a mere matter of ecclesiastical discipline. There is an intimate, personal, iconic relationship between celibacy and priesthood.

The Form Of The Catholic Church
The Catholic Church believes that it has a “form” or structure given to it by Christ. The structure is composed in part of truths: truths about God, truths about human beings, truths about our relationship to God and God’s relationship to us…Doctrine is not a matter of papal or episcopal whim or willfulness. Popes and bishops are the servants, not the masters of the tradition – the truths – that make the church what it is today. … Moreover the Catholic Church believes that the truths it has been given by Christ free us as well as bind us. They are liberating truths. To accept the Church’s teaching as authoritative and binding is only a “restriction” on my freedom if I imagine freedom to be the unbridled exercise of my imagination and will.

The Shorthand Of “Pedophilia Crisis”
Pedophile priests – in the classic sense of men who habitually abuse prepubescent children – are not the majority of cleric sexual abusers; they are, in fact, a small minority of malfeasant clergy, although they are arguably the most loathsome form of the clerical sexual predator. That the shorthand of “pedophilia crisis” was being used …months after even gay activists were conceding that the overwhelming majority of the abuses reported involved homosexual men molesting teenage boys or young males suggested that the moniker “pedophilia crisis” served agendas other than factual accuracy. Were the crisis of clerical sexual abuse to be described accurately – as a crisis whose principle manifestation was homosexual molestation – other questions about gay culture might well be raised.

Betrayal has been part of the Church’s reality – and part of the reality of the priesthood and episcopate – from the beginning. Betrayal is not the last world in the Church’s story, however. The men who fled Gethsemane in a panic of fear were transformed by the Risen Christ and the Holy Spirit into men on fire, men who could not do anything else but witness to the truth of God’s salvation in Christ, even when it cost them their lives. God can, does, and always will always bring good out of evil, even an evil so great as the treacherous betrayal of God’s Son.

Vatican II: The Church “Opens Its Windows To The Modern World.”
One of the most important things that many U.S. Catholic priests, bishops, nuns, theologians and lay activists took away form Vatican II was that the Church had “opened its windows to the modern world.” What these Catholic leaders failed to notice at the time – and what some Catholic leaders refuse to acknowledge today — is that the Catholic church opened its windows just as the modern western world was barreling into a dark tunnel full of poisonous fumes…there were all sorts of toxins in the air. In high culture, and especially in intellectual life, the bright hopes of “modernity” were being dashed on the rocks of irrationality, self-indulgence, fashionable despair, and contempt for traditional authority. The mid century’s two premier philosophers – Martin Heidegger and Jean-Paul Sartre – had it turned out, been supporters of the two great butchers in a century of slaughter: Hitler for Heidegger and Stalin for Sartre….the late 1960’s were a very difficult time for a two-way conversation between an ancient religious tradition build on the foundation of what it understood to be truths –with consequences for all humanity, and an intellectual world deeply skeptical that there was, in fact, any such thing as “truth”

Encounter With Modernity
In the 1960’s the Church met an old enemy tarted up in modern guise: Gnosticism, the ancient heresy which denied that the material world really counts for anything. For almost two millennia, the Catholic Church has insisted that stuff counts – that bread and waster, oil and salt, and sexual love within the bond of marital fidelity could be transformed into sacramental encounters with God himself. Why? Because the ordinary stuff of this world is never as ordinary as it seems; it always points itself to the extraordinary love of God for his creation. How could this kind of Church teach its message in a world that, or all its luxuriant materiality, seemed not to take the material world seriously, treating material things (including the human body) as mere toys for manipulation in an endless quest for self-expression and pleasure. Then there was the modern quest for freedom. How could a Church committed to the idea that freedom has everything to do with truth and goodness make its case in a culture in which freedom was broadly understood as license – “I did it my way.”

A Subtle, Interior, Invisible Schism
There was no overt schism in the Catholic Church in the United States of the sort Pope Paul VI evidently feared. But there was a subtle, interior, invisible schism. It is one thing for a Catholic – layman or laywoman, seminarian, priest, nun or bishop – to say of authoritative teaching, “I don not understand. Perhaps the teaching authority can make the matter clearer; perhaps we need to think about this truth in a more refined way.” It is quite another thing for a Catholic—and especially a Catholic who teaches, administers the sacraments, and governs the Catholic people in the name of the Church – to say, “The highest teaching authority of the Catholic Church is teaching falsehoods and leading the Church into error.”
The Catholic who says “I do not understand,” concedes that, in the Catholic scheme of things, the Church’s’ teaching authority is just that, an instrument of authoritative teaching. The Catholic who says, “The teaching authority is leading the Church into error,” is declaring himself or herself out of full communion with the Church. …too many seminarians and priests…fell out of full communion with the Church, whether the issue at hand was contraception, abortion, homosexuality, or the possible ordination of women to the priesthood.
If a priest is sincerely convinced that the Church is teaching falsely on these or other matters, or if he is simply lazy and absorbs the culture of dissent by osmosis, his conscience is deadened. And having allowed his conscience to become moribund on these questions, he is more likely to quiet, and perhaps finally kill his conscience on matters relating to his own behavior, including his sexual behavior. When the incident of such deadened consciences reaches critical mass in a diocese, a seminary, or a religious order, corruption – intellectual, spiritual and administrative –sets in, as the culture of dissent seeks to bend that institution to its ends.

Pedophile John Geoghan
Perhaps the most mind boggling document to be released publicly…was the last clinical evaluation of pedophile John Geoghan from the St. Luke’s Institute, a prominent therapeutic center in Silver Spring, Maryland, founded to deal with troubled clergy …The conclusion of the evaluation’s “spiritual assessment” by a priest who once headed St. Luke’s, was at first dumbfounding, and then chilling: Father Canice Connors notes that “there are no particular recommendations concerning (Father Geoghan’s) spiritual life since he is involved in spiritual direction and seems to have a good prayer life. The critical question for Father Geoghan seems to be whether he has ever integrated his psychological experience with his spiritual values.”


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