Archive for November, 2010


Benedict Speaks to the School Children, Twickenham, UK, September 17th 2010

November 30, 2010

Pope Benedict XVI meets school children at St Mary's University College in Twickenham, in west London September 17, 2010.

George Weigel in reporting on the Pope’s trip to Scotland and the UK this past September included this compelling catechetical message that was delivered to a gathering of students at Twickenham on September 17th; it was linked via television to Catholic schools throughout the country:

It is not often that a pope, or indeed anyone else, has the opportunity to speak to the students of all the Catholics schools of England, Wales, and Scotland. And since I have the chance now, there is something I very much want to say to you. I hope that among those of you listening to me today there are some of the future saints of the twenty-first century. What God wants most of all for each one of you is that you should become holy. He loves you much more than you could ever begin to imagine, and he wants the very best for you. And by far the best thing for you is to grow in holiness. . . .

When I invite you to become saints, I am asking you not to be content with second best. . . . Happiness is something we all want, but one of the great tragedies in this world is that so many people never find it, because they look for it in the wrong places. The key to it is very simple—true happiness is to be found in God. . . .

As you come to know him better, you find you want to reflect something of his infinite goodness in your own life. . . . You want to come to the aid of the poor and the hungry, you want to comfort the sorrowful, you want to be kind and generous. And once these things begin to matter to you, you are well on your way to becoming saints.

I can’t tell  you how deeply this little speech moved me – not even a speech really, but a brief aside to the young people gathered. I recalled G.K. Chesterton’s speaking to the parable of the Lilies of the Field on the Sermon on the Mount: “Merely in a literary sense it would be more of a masterpiece than most of the masterpieces in the libraries; yet it seems to have been uttered almost at random while a man might pull a flower.” This has this same off-the-cuff but deceptively profound feel to it. Only a man who is truly holy could have achieved the effect.

It follows from a line I first read in Peter Kreeft’s commentary on the Pensées. Kreeft attributed it to Charles Peguy: 

Knowledge of physical science will not console me for ignorance of morality in times of affliction, but knowledge of morality will always console me for ignorance of physical science…
Pensées 463

In the end, life offers only one tragedy: not to have been a saint (attributed to Charles Peguy).


Michael Behe and Stephen Barr Debate

November 19, 2010

Steven Barr (on the left) and Michael Behe


 In the video/audio at the following links, you can watch Catholic scientists Michael Behe and Stephen Barr debate whether Intelligent Design should be taught in science classes. Barr is a physicist, and you will recognize his writings in First Things and such books as Modern Physics and Ancient Faith. Behe is a biochemist and a leading voice in ID, writing such books as Darwin’s Black Box and The Edge of Evolution.

 Audio/Video links here:

 The video is 72 minutes but captivating.


Three Poems by Wislawa Szymborska

November 18, 2010

Wislawa Szymborska

Wisława Szymborska (born July 2, 1923, in Prowent, now part of Kórnik, Poland) is a Polish poet, essayist and translator. She was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. In Poland, her books reach sales rivaling prominent prose authors — although she once remarked in a poem entitled “Some like poetry” that no more than two out of a thousand people care for the art.

Her reputation rests on a relatively small body of work: she has not published more than 250 poems to date. She is often described as modest to the point of shyness. She has long been cherished by Polish literary contemporaries (including Czesław Miłosz) and her poetry has been set to music by Zbigniew Preisner. Szymborska became better known internationally after she was awarded the 1996 Nobel Prize.

Szymborska’s work has been translated into many European languages, as well as into Arabic, Hebrew, Japanese and Chinese.
From Wikipedia

I prefer the absurdity of writing poems to the absurdity of not writing poems.
Wislawa Szymborska

The End and the Beginning
After every war
someone has to tidy up.
Things won’t pick
themselves up, after all.

Someone has to shove
the rubble to the roadsides
so the carts loaded with corpses
can get by.

Someone has to trudge
through sludge and ashes,
through the sofa springs,
the shards of glass,
the bloody rags.

Someone has to lug the post
to prop the wall,
someone has to glaze the window,
set the door in its frame.

No sound bites, no photo opportunities,
and it takes years.
All the cameras have gone
to other wars.

The bridges need to be rebuilt,
the railroad stations, too.
Shirtsleeves will be rolled
to shreds.

Someone, broom in hand,
still remembers how it was.
Someone else listens, nodding
his unshattered head.

But others are bound to be bustling nearby
who’ll find all that
a little boring.

From time to time someone still must
dig up a rusted argument
from underneath a bush
and haul it off to the dump.

Those who knew
what this was all about
must make way for those
who know little.
And less than that.
And at last nothing less than nothing.

Someone has to lie there
in the grass that covers up
the causes and effects
with a cornstalk in his teeth,
gawking at clouds.

Nothing has changed.
The body is a reservoir of pain;
it has to eat and breathe the air, and sleep;
it has thin skin and the blood is just beneath it;
it has a good supply of teeth and fingernails;
its bones can be broken; its joints can be stretched.
In tortures, all of this is considered.

Nothing has changed.
The body still trembles as it trembled
before Rome was founded and after,
in the twentieth century before and after Christ.
Tortures are just what they were, only the earth has shrunk
and whatever goes on sounds as if it’s just a room away.

Nothing has changed.
Except there are more people,
and new offenses have sprung up beside the old ones–
real, make-believe, short-lived, and nonexistent.
But the cry with which the body answers for them
was, is, and will be a cry of innocence
in keeping with the age-old scale and pitch.

Nothing has changed.
Except perhaps the manners, ceremonies, dances.  
The gesture of the hands shielding the head
has nonetheless remained the same.
The body writhes, jerks, and tugs,
falls to the ground when shoved, pulls up its knees,
bruises, swells, drools, and bleeds.

Nothing has changed.
Except the run of rivers,
the shapes of forests, shores, deserts, and glaciers.
The little soul roams among these landscapes,
disappears, returns, draws near, moves away,
evasive and a stranger to itself,
now sure, now uncertain of its own existence,
whereas the body is and is and is
and has nowhere to go.

True Love
 True love. Is it normal
 is it serious, is it practical?
 What does the world get from two people
 who exist in a world of their own?

 Placed on the same pedestal for no good reason,
 drawn randomly from millions but convinced
 it had to happen this way – in reward for what?
    For nothing.
 The light descends from nowhere.
 Why on these two and not on others?
 Doesn’t this outrage justice? Yes it does.
 Doesn’t it disrupt our painstakingly erected principles,
 and cast the moral from the peak? Yes on both accounts.

 Look at the happy couple.
 Couldn’t they at least try to hide it,
 fake a little depression for their friends’ sake?
 Listen to them laughing – it’s an insult.
 The language they use – deceptively clear.
 And their little celebrations, rituals,
 the elaborate mutual routines –
 it’s obviously a plot behind the human race’s back!

 It’s hard even to guess how far things might go
 if people start to follow their example.
 What could religion and poetry count on?
 What would be remembered? What renounced?
 Who’d want to stay within bounds?

 True love. Is it really necessary?
 Tact and common sense tell us to pass over it in silence,
 like a scandal in Life’s highest circles.
 Perfectly good children are born without its help.
 It couldn’t populate the planet in a million years,
 it comes along so rarely.

 Let the people who never find true love
 keep saying that there’s no such thing.

 Their faith will make it easier for them to live and die.


Reading Selections from The Problem Of Man Part Three by Nikolai Berdyaev

November 17, 2010

Austria-Golling, At a Bluntautal valley lake, Waldsee


A final mediation on Person, Community the relationship of the human person to history and human creativity.

Community And Society
The human person can realize itself only in community with other persons, in communality (Communautй, Gemeinschaft). Person cannot realize the fullness of its life while locked up within itself. Man is not only a social being and cannot belong entirely to society, but he is also a social being. Person ought to stand up for its uniqueness, its independence, its spiritual freedom, to realize its calling of a vocation within society in particular. It is necessary to make a distinction between communality (communautй) and society. Community (communality) is always personalistic, it is always an encounter of person with person, the “I” with the “thou” in a “we”. 

In authentic communality there are no objects, for the person another person is never an object, but is always a “thou”. Society is an abstraction, it is an objectification, and in it the person vanishes. Communality however is concrete and existential, it is outside of objectification. In society there is a conforming oneself into the state, and man enters into the sphere of objectification, he becomes abstracted from himself, he undergoes as it were an alienation from his proper nature.

Marx on Alienation
About this there was many an interesting thought from the young Marx.  Marx discerns this alienation of human nature in the economics of the Capitalist order. But in essence this alienation of human nature occurs in every society and state. Both existentially and humanly, the only community is the “I” with the “thou” in the “we”.

Society, I grant, is in its form the objectification into the state, and it is an alienation, a falling-away from the existential sphere. Man is transformed into an abstract being, into one of the objects, set amidst other objects. This poses the question about the nature of the Church in the existential meaning of the word, i.e. as an authentic community, of the communality or Sobornost’ of the “I” and the “thou” in the “we”, in a Divine-human body, in the Body of Christ.

The Church Is Communality
The Church is likewise a social institution, acting within history, and in this sense it is objectivized and is a society. The Church was transformed into an idol, as is everything in the world. But the Church, in an existential and non-objectivized sense, is communality (communautй), is Sobornost. Sobornost is the existential “we”. Sobornost rationally is not expressible in concept, is not subject to objectivisation. The objectivisation of Sobornost’ transforms it into a society, likens it to a state. Thereupon the person is transformed into an object, as found in the relation of the state towards its subjects, i.e. the very reverse of the Gospel words: “you know, that the princes of the nations rule over them and as mighty ones lord it over them, but amidst ye let it not be such”.

Existential communality is communion, a true communism, distinct from the material communism, which is based upon an admixture of existential communality with an objectified society, coercively organized into the state. The society at the foundation of which would be posited personalism, the avowal of the supreme value of every person and of the existential relationship of person to person, such a society would be transformed into communality, into communautй, into true communism.

But communality is unattainable by way of the compulsive organization of society, and by this way may be created a more just order, but not the brotherhood of people. Communality, Sobornost (vocab:  “The sum total of all Christians of all ages, past and present, comprise one indivisible, eternal living assembly of the faithful, held together just as much by the unity of consciousness as through the communion of prayer”. The term in general means the unity, togetherness that is the church, based on individual like-minded interest.) is a society that is spiritual, which is hidden away for an externalized and objectivized society. In communality, the “I” with the “thou” in the “we” imperceptibly passes over into the Kingdom of God. It is not identical with the Church in the historical and social sense of the word. In the sphere, to which society belongs, there would most correspond to a Christian anthropological avowal of a system, that which I would term a personalist socialism. This system presupposes a just socialization of the economic order, the surmounting of economic atomism and individualism, set amidst the acknowledgement of the supreme value of the human person and its right to the realization of the fullness of life.

But a personalist socialism itself and of itself does not however create communality, the brotherhood of people, for this remains a spiritual task. Christian anthropology is embedded in the problem of a Christian sociology. But the problem of man takes primacy over the problem of society. Man is not a creation of society in its image and likeness, man is a creation of God in His image and likeness. Man possesses within himself an element independent of society, he realizes himself within society, but he is not wholly dependent upon it. Sociology ought to be grounded upon anthropology, and not the reverse.

The Problem Of The Relationship Of The Human Person To History
The final, the ultimate problem, upon which philosophic and religious anthropology devolves is the problem of the relationship of man, of the human person to history. This is an eschatological problem. History is the fated-destiny of man. It is a  tragic fate. Man is not only a social being, but is also an historical being. The point of the fate of history coincides together with my own human fate. And I cannot throw off from myself the burden of history.

History is a creation of man, he consents to go the way of history. But together with this, history is indifferent towards man, it pursues as it were not human aims, and it is interested not by the human, but by the state, by the nation, by civilization; it is inspired by power and expansion, and it makes common cause first of all with the average man, with the masses.

The human person is trampled down by history. There exists a most profound conflict between history and the human person, between the ways of history and human ways. Man is drawn into history, he becomes subject to its fate and together with this he finds himself in conflict with it, he opposes to history the value of person, its inner life and individual destiny. Within the bounds of history this conflict is irresolvable. History in its religious meaning is movement towards the Kingdom of God. And this religious meaning is realized only when there is a breaching through of history by the meta-historical.

Vladimir Solov’ev’s Lectures On God-Manhood
But it is impossible for there to be situated within history a continuous Divine-human process, as for example Vladimir Solov’ev sought to find, in his “Lectures on God-manhood.” History is not sacralized, the sacralization of history is a false symbolization, the sacral within history possesses a conditional-symbolic, and not a real sense. History in a certain sense is a non-succeeding to the Kingdom of God, it is a prolonging wherein the Kingdom of God is not realized, is not come. The Kingdom of God comes unperceived, outside the bombast and glitter of history.

The transgression of history in tormenting the concrete man means also, that the Kingdom of God is not realized and so there is endured the immanent punishment for this non-realization. Christian history happened only because that the eschatological expectations of the first Christians was not realized. The First and the Second Coming of Christ sundered, between them was formed historical time, which can be prolonged indefinitely.

The task of history is immanently and inwardly unresolved. History does not have a meaning in itself, it possesses meaning only beyond its limits, in the supra-historical. And therefore inevitable is the end of history and a judgment over history. But this end and this judgment occur within history itself. The end is always nigh. There is an inner apocalypse to history. The apocalypse is not only the revelation of the end of history, but likewise revelation of an end and judgment within history. Revolutions are such an end and a judgment. Christian history has never realized true Christian personalism, it has realized the opposite.

Christians were inspired not by sublime preaching, but by the power and glory of the state and nation, by the military will towards expansion. Christians justified oppression and injustice, they were inattentive towards the lot of the earthly concrete man, they did not consider the person to be of utmost value. And therefore Christian history had to end and have begun instead a non-Christian and anti-Christian history. And in this there was a great truth from the Christian point of view. There has been many a revolution within history, which was a judgment over the past, but all the revolutions were infected with the evil of the past. There has never been a personalist revolution, a revolution in the name of the human person, of every human person, in the name of the realization of the fullness of life for it. And therefore the end of history is inevitable, the ultimate revolution.

Anthropology is likewise the philosophy of history. The philosophy of history however is inevitably eschatology. The philosophy of history is not so much a teaching about the meaning of history through progress, as rather the teaching of the meaning of history through the end. Hegel’s philosophy of history is completely unacceptable for us, it is impersonal, and it ignores man. And therefore inevitable was the revolt against Hegel by such people as Kierkegaard, and inevitable was the revolt against the world spirit for having transformed the concrete man into but its own means. Christian anthropology ought to be posited not only in the perspective of the past, i.e. oriented towards Christ Crucified, as up to the present has been done, but also to the perspective of the future, i.e. oriented towards Christ Coming Again, Risen in power and glory. But the appearance of Christ Coming is dependent upon the creative deed of man, it is prepared for by man.

The Defect Of Humanist Anthropology
The insufficiency and defect of humanist anthropology was not at all in that it emphasized man too much, but rather in that it insufficiently affirmed his finality of end. Humanism had Christian sources and at the beginning of the modern period there existed a Christian humanism. But in its ultimate development, humanism assumed the forms of affirming the self-sufficiency of man. At the very moment when they proclaim, that there is nothing higher than man, that for him there is nowhere up to go and that he is sufficient unto himself, man then begins to take on and be subject to the lower nature.

In its furthest development, during the XVIII and XIX Centuries, humanism was forced to acknowledge man as a product of the natural and social mediums. As a being exclusively natural and social, as a creation of society, man is deprived of inner freedom and independence, he is defined exclusively from without, and in him there would be no spiritual principle, which should serve as the source of creativity. The acknowledgement of the self-emphasis and self-sufficiency of man is a source of the negation of man and leads invariably to the inner passivity of man. Man can be raised up only by the awareness, that man is in the image and likeness of God, i.e. is a spiritual being, exalted over the natural and social world and summoned to transfigure it and be master over it. The self-affirmation of man leads to the self-destruction of man. Suchlike is the fatal dialectic of humanism. But we ought not to deny every truth of humanism, as is done by many a reactionary theological tendency, but the rather to affirm a creative Christian humanism, a humanism that is theandric, connected with the revelation about God-manhood.

The Meaning Of Human Creativity
In what is the meaning of human creativity? This meaning is quite more profound than the usual justification of cultural and social creativity. The creative act of man essentially does not demand a justification, and this is an external positing of the question, for it justifies, and is not justified.  The creative act of man, presupposing a freedom external to being, is in answer to God’s call to man and it is needful for the Divine life itself, wherein man possesses not only an anthropogonic, but also a theogonic significance.

The ultimate mystery about man, and which he is able to comprehend only with difficulty, is connected with this, that man and his creative deed have significance for the Divine life itself, they represent a fulfillment for Divine life. The mystery of human creativity remains hidden and unrevealed in the Holy Scripture. In the name of human freedom, God provides man himself the opportunity to uncover the meaning of his creativity.

The idea of self-sufficiency, of the self-unperturbedness (Aseitas) of the Divine life is exoteric and ultimately it is a false idea, and it is substantially contrary to the idea of the God-Man and God-manhood. Through the God-Man Christ human nature is a communicant in the Holy Trinity and in the depths of Divine life. There exists a from-all-eternity humanness within the Trinity and it signifies also the Divine within man. The creative act of man therefore is a self-discovery within the fullness of Divine life.

But not every creative act of man is such, for there can also be an evil and diabolic creativity, but it is always a pseudo-creativity, always oriented towards non-being. The authentic creativity of man is Christological, though this be not evidently perceived. Humanism does not comprehend this depth of the problem of creativity, it remains at the secondary. The Christian consciousness however, bound up with the social everyday ordinary in life, has remained closed off from the creative mystery of man, it was oriented exclusively towards the struggle with sin. And thus it has been up to the present.

But the appearance of a new human self-consciousness within Christianity is possible. Anthropologic investigations ought to prepare for it from various sides. The traditional Christian anthropology, as also the traditional philosophic anthropology, both the idealistic and the naturalistic, ought to be surmounted. The teaching about man, as a creator, is a creative task for modern thought.


Reading Selections from The Problem Of Man (Towards the Construction of a Christian Anthropology) Part Two by Nikolai Berdyaev

November 16, 2010

In this selection Berdyaev deals with the realization of the Person and its relationship with Death. It is an amazing tour de force, one that took me almost completely by surprise. To say that I hadn’t realized the consequences of Life in Christ and realization of personhood is one way of saying I had been staring it in the face for so long that life had numbed me to its significance. These are wonderful thoughts and a bold philosophy to bear.

Person — A Stirring Within The Indefineable And Infinitude
There is within man a sub-conscious elemental basis, connected with cosmic life and with the earth, a cosmic-tellurgic element. The very passions, connected with the natural-elemental basis, would seem to be the material, from which also are created the greatest virtues of the person. The intellectual-moral and rational denying of the natural-elemental within man leads to the desiccation and stoppage of the wellsprings of life. When consciousness chokes off and squeezes out the sub-conscious element, there then occurs a dividing of the human nature and its petrifying and ossification.

The path of the realization of the human person runs from the sub-conscious through the conscious to the supra-conscious. Simultaneously impropitious for the person is both the force of the lower sub-conscious, wherein man is wholly defined by nature, and also the petrifying of the consciousness, the locking off of consciousness, the closing away for man of the whole world, limiting his horizon. Consciousness needs be thought of dynamically, and not statically, it can shrink or it can expand, it can hide away whole worlds or it can reveal them. There is no absolute nor impassable boundary, separating the conscious from the sub-conscious and the supra-conscious.

That which presents itself to this median-norm consciousness, with which is connected the commonly-binding and the measure of law, is but a certain degree of petrification of the consciousness, relative to certain norms of social life and the sociality of mankind. But an egress from this median-norm consciousness is possible and with it is connected all the utmost attainments of man, with it is connected sanctity and genius, contemplation and creativity. Only therein can man be termed as a being which surmounts itself. And in this egress beyond the limits of the median-norm consciousness, of being drawn into the social ordinary, in this egress there is formed and realized the person, before which always there ought to be realised the perspectives of infinitude and eternity.

The importance and the interesting aspect in man is connected with this opening up in him of the path towards the infinite and the eternal, with the possibility of breaking through. It is very mistaken a thing to connect person primarily with the limited, with the finite, with definition obscuring off the indefineable. The person is diversity, it does not permit of getting dissolved and mixed away into the impersonal, but it likewise is a stirring within the indefineable and infinitude. Wherefore only with person is there also a paradoxical conjoining of the finite and the infinite.

Person is a going out from itself, beyond its limits, but not allowing of dissolution and being mixed away. It opens up, it permits within itself whole worlds and goes out into them, whilst remaining itself. Person is not a monad with closed-off doors and windows, as with Leibnitz. But the opened doors and windows never signify a dissolving away of the person into the surrounding world, never the destruction of the ontological core of the person. There is therefore within the person a sub-conscious foundation, there is the conscious and there is the egress to the supra-conscious.

The Relationship Within Man Of The Spirit To The Soul And The Body
Of tremendous significance for anthropology is the question about the relationship within man of the spirit to the soul and the body. It is possible to speak about the triadic makeup of Man. To present himself as man constituted of soul and body, while bereft of spirit, — this is a naturalization of man. There undoubtedly has been suchlike of the naturalistic in theological thought, and it is for example characteristic to Thomism. The spiritual element was as it were alienated from human nature and transferred exclusively to the transcendental sphere.

Man, constituted exclusively of soul and body, is a natural being. The basis for such a naturalization of Christian anthropology appears to be in this, that the spiritual element within man cannot at all be posited alongside and compared with the soul and body element. Spirit cannot at all be set opposite soul and body, it is a reality of another order, it is reality in another sense. The soul and body of man belong to nature, they are realities of the natural world.

But spirit is not nature. The opposition of spirit and nature — is the fundamental opposition, which namely is of spirit and nature, and not of spirit and matter, nor of spirit and body. The spiritual element within man signifies, that man is not only a natural being, but that within him there is a supra-natural element. Man unites himself with God through the spiritual element, through spiritual life. Spirit is not in opposition to soul and body and the triumph of spirit does not at all signify the negation or lessening of soul and body. The soul and body of man, i.e. his natural being, can be in spirit, brought into the spiritual order, spiritualized.

The Integrality Of Human Existence And Spirit Possessed By Soul And Body
The attainment of the integrality or wholeness of human existence also signifies, that spirit is possessed of by soul and body. Quite especially it is, that through the victory of the spiritual element, through spiritualization is realized the person within man, there is realized his integral image. As regards the archaic and very ancient meaning of the word spirit (pneuma, rouakh), it signified breath and breathing, i.e. it had almost a physical meaning, and only later was spirit spiritualized.  But the comprehension of spirit as a breathing also signifies, that it is energy, coming into man as it were from an higher plane, and not from the natural substance of man.

The False Dualism Of Soul And Body
Completely false is that abstract spiritualism, which denies the genuine reality of the human body and its belonging to the integral image of man. It is impossible to defend this dualism of soul and body, or of spirit and body, as sometimes they express it, and which derives from Descartes. This point of view has been abandoned by modern psychology and is inconsistent with the currents of contemporary philosophy. Man presents himself as an integrally whole organism, which includes soul and body. The very body of man is not a mechanism and it cannot be conceived of materialistically.

At present there has occurred a partial return to the Aristotelian teaching about the entelechies (“innate-ends”). The body belongs inalienably to the person, the image of God in man. The spiritual principle vivifies both the soul and the body of man. The body of man can become spiritualized, can become a spiritual body, whilst not ceasing to be a body. The eternal principle within the body is not in its physical-chemical constitution, but its form. Without this form there is no integrally whole image of the person. Flesh and blood do not inherit life eternal, i.e. the materiality of our fallen world does not inherit, but the spiritizing bodily form does inherit.

The body of man in this sense is not only one of the objects of the natural world, it has also an existential meaning, it belongs to an inner, non-objectivized existence, it belongs to the integrative subject. The realization of the form of the body leads to the realization of person. This means precisely the liberation from the a rule of body, having subordinated its spirit. We live in an epoch, when man, and foremost of all his body, seem unsuited for the new technical means, conceived of by man himself. 

Man is fragmented. But person is an integral spirit-soul-body being, in which the soul and the body are subordinated to spirit, spiritized and by this conjoined with the higher, the supra-personal and supra-human being. Suchlike is the inner hierarchy of the human being. The shattering or keeling-over of this hierarchy is a shattering of the integrality of the person and is in this ultimately its destruction. Spirit is not a nature within man, distinct from the nature of soul and body, but rather an immanently acting within it gracious power (breath and breathing), the utmost quality of man. Spirit manifests itself as the genuinely acting and creative in man.

Man Ought To Live, Knowing That He Will Die
Man cannot define himself only afront life, he ought also to define himself afront death, he ought to live, knowing, that he will die. Death is a most important fact of human life, and man cannot worthily live, not having defined his relationship towards death. Whosoever structures his life having closed his eyes to death, that one loses at playing the deed of life, even if his life were to be a success. The attainment of the fullness of life is connected with the victory over death. Modern people are inclined to see a sign of bravery and strength in the forgetting about death, and to them it seems a matter of indifference. In actuality the forgetting about death is not bravery and indifference, but vileness and superficiality. Man ought to surmount the living fear of death, for the dignity of man demands this. But a profound attitude towards life cannot be connected with a transcendent terror afront the mystery of death, as having nothing in common with a living fear. It is vileness to be forgetful about the death of other people, not only about the death of those close to one, but about the death of every living being.

In this forgetting there is a betrayal, since all are responsible for all and all have a common fated lot. “The fated lot of the sons of men and the fated lot of living things — this is the same fated lot: as these die, so also die those”, — says Ecclesiates. The obligation in regards to the dead was most acutely sensed by N. Fedorov, who saw the very essence of Christianity to be in the “common task” of a struggle against death.  Without a decision about the question about death, without the victory over death, person cannot realize itself.

And the attitude towards death cannot be twofold. Death is the greatest extremity of evil, the source of all that is evil, the result of the Fall into sin, in that every being had been created for eternal life. Christ came first of all to conquer death, to remove the sting of death. But death in the fallen world has also a positive sense, since as a negative pathway it serves to witness to the existence of an higher meaning. Endless life in this world would be bereft of meaning. The positive meaning of death is in this, that the fullness of life cannot be realized in time, in not only a finite span of time, but neither in endless time. The fullness of life can be realized only in eternity, only beyond the limits of time, because in time life remains without meaning, if it has not received its meaning from eternity.

The Realization Of The Fullness Of The Life Of The Person
But the egress from time to eternity is a leap across the abyss. In the fallen world this leap across the abyss is termed death. There is another egress from time into eternity — through the depth of the moment, comprising neither a fragmented part of time nor subject to numeric quantity. But this egress is neither final nor integral, and constantly again one falls back into time. The realization of the fullness of the life of the person presupposes the existence of death. Only a dialectical attitude is possible towards death. Christ by His death hath trampled down death, and therefore death has come to have also a positive significance. Death is not only the decomposition and annihilation of man, but also his ennobling, a sundering from the dominion of the ordinary. The metaphysical teaching about the natural immortality of the soul, based on the teaching about the substantiality of the soul, does not resolve the question about death. This teaching detours past the tragedy of death, the falling-apart and fragmentation of the integrally whole human being.

Man is not an immortal being in consequence of his natural constitution. Immortality is attained by virtue of the spiritual principle in man and its connection with God. Immortality is an end-task, the realization of which presupposes a spiritual struggle. This is the realization of the fullness of the life of the person. The immortal is in regard particularly to the person, and not to the soul as a natural substance.

Christianity teaches not about the immortality of the soul, but about the resurrection of the integrally whole human being, of the person, of the resurrection of the body of man also, as belonging to the person. Mere immortality is partialized, it leaves man fragmented, whereas resurrection is integrally whole. Abstract spiritualism affirms only a partialized immortality, an immortality of soul. Abstract idealism affirms only the immortal ideal principles in man, only the ideal values, and not the person. Only the Christian teaching about resurrection affirms immortality as the eternity of the integral wholeness of man, of the person. In a certain sense it can be said, that immortality is a conquest of spiritual creativity, the victory of the spiritual person, endowed with body and soul, over the natural individuum.

ImmortalityIs Divine-Human
The Greeks considered man mortal, whereas the gods were immortal. Immortality at first was affirmed for heroes, demi-gods, the supra-human. But immortality always signified that the Divine principle penetrated into man and was possessed of by him. Immortality — is Divine-human. It is impossible to objectify and render immortality into something natural, it is existential. We ought to get completely beyond the aspects of pessimism and optimism, and affirm the heroic efforts of man to realise his person for eternity, irrespective of the successes and defeats in life. The realization of person for eternal life has moreover a connection with the problem of sex and love. Sex is an halfness, a fragmentedness, a non-fullness of the human person, an anguish of incompleteness. The integrally whole person is bi-sexualized, androgynic. The metaphysical meaning of love is in the attainment of the integral wholeness of person for life eternal. And in this is the spiritual victory over the impersonal and death-bearing process of natural-begetting.


Reading Selections from The Problem Of Man (Towards the Construction of a Christian Anthropology) Part One by Nikolai Berdyaev

November 15, 2010

Nikolai Berdyaev


Introducing Berdyaev
Berdyaev is ranked among the foremost Christian philosophers of the twentieth century. Although his early philosophical leanings were toward Marxist materialism, his mature thought is primarily concerned with the possibilities for human freedom and creativity in a Christian context. Berdyaev viewed history as a manifestation of God’s plan for the ultimate perfection of humanity. He thus interpreted the biblical fall as humanity’s descent into objectification and the end of history as the inauguration of a divine kingdom that would transcend the limitations of objective, material reality. Berdyaev’s concern with individual freedom led to his critiques of Marxism, capitalism, socialism, and other developments in modern history that he considered profane and dehumanizing. His moral system, in addition, is based on the Christian ethic of redemption, in which evil must be overcome and material restrictions surmounted so that a kingdom of God founded on love and compassion might be created.

Berdyaev was born in the town of Lipky, near Kiev, on March 6, 1874. His parents were of noble birth — his mother was a Russian princess and his father a military officer who saw to it that his son joined the Corps of Cadets as a youth. Showing little interest in a military life, Berdyaev later attended the University of Kiev, where he embraced Marxism and became involved with the Social Democrats. In 1898 Berdyaev was expelled for his connection with the Marxist revolutionary movement and two years later was banished to Vologda in northern Russia until 1903. The following year he married Lydia Troucheva and moved with her to St. Petersburg. By this time Berdyaev had broken with the Marxists and embraced Christianity, becoming a lifelong member of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Over the course of the next two decades, Berdyaev undertook an intense study of philosophy and rose to prominence among the intelligentsia in St. Petersburg and Moscow. In 1920, three years after the Bolsheviks had seized power in Russia — and in part due to his youthful socialist leanings — Berdyaev was appointed professor of philosophy at the University of Moscow. In 1922, however, he was again exiled, this time for his public criticism of the new Soviet regime, and in September of that year he left Russia for Berlin, where he founded the Academy of Philosophy and Religion. His stay in Berlin was brief and lasted only until 1924, at which time he moved to Paris to continue his literary activities. That year Berdyaev realized fame in Europe with the publication of Novoe srednevekov’e(The End of Our Time). In 1925 he founded the periodical Put’ (“The Way”), which he edited until 1939. Over the course of these years in Paris his fame grew into international prominence. During World War II his writings stirred some antipathy among the occupying Nazis in France, but he was never arrested. Following the war, Berdyaev was awarded an honorary doctorate from Cambridge University. In 1948 he died of a heart attack in Paris.

The Problem of Man was written in 1936. I was drawn to it by its discussion of person in Christian anthropology.

Quotations Introducing The  Problem  Of  Man
 “In the midst of the world hath I put thee, so that thou might freely look about all sides of the world, to keep hold of as thou art able and might use, as doth please thee. Neither heavenly, nor earthly, not mortal and also not immortal hath I created thee. For thou thyself in accord with thine will and thine honour wilt be thine own creator and fashioner and from the stuff that thou choose to form be thee free, from the lowest stuff of the brute-work to sink. But thou canst also lift thyself up to the highest spheres of the Godhead”
Count Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (24 February 1463 – 17 November 1494), Italian Renaissance philosopher.

“From no religion but the Christian is it known, that man is the most excellent creature and at the same time the most miserable”. 
Blaise Pascal

“Man, see now, how thou be earthly and yet also heavenly in one person put together, and thou bearest the earthly, and also yet the heavenly image in the selfsame person: and then art thou from the grimmest agony and bearest an hellish image on thee, which greeneth in God’s wrath from the agony of Eternity”
Jacob Boehme

The problem of man appears indisputably central for the consciousness of our epoch.  It is aggravated by the terrible danger, which besets man from every side. Surviving with agony, man wants to know, who he is, from whence he came, whither he goeth and to what is he destined. In the second half of the XIX Century there were notable thinkers, who in surviving the agony thus introduced the tragic principle into European culture and who more than others set the stage for the posings of the problem of man, — and these were first of all Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard.

There are two ways of viewing man — from above and from below, from God and the spiritual world or from the unconscious cosmic and tellurgic (vocab: Of or relating to Earth; terrestrial) forces, lodged within man. Of those, who viewed man from below, perhaps the most significant were Marx, Freud and Proust among the writers of the last era. But an integral anthropology was not created, they looked at this or that aspect of man, but not the whole man, in his complexity and unity. I propose to examine the problem of man, as a philosopher, and not as a theologian. Contemporary thought stands afront the task of creating a philosophic anthropology, as a basic philosophic discipline. In this current M. Scheler was active and in this the so-called existential philosophy provides assist.

It is interesting to note, that up until now theology has been quite more attentive to the integral problem of man, than has philosophy. At any rate, theology has an anthropologic part to it. True, theology has always brought into its own sphere a very strong philosophic element, but as it were along a smuggler’s trail and not consciously so. The virtue of theology consisted in this, that it posed the problem of man in general, in its wholeness, and did not investigate man only in pieces, dismembering him, as does science.

A Short History Of Dealing With The Problem Of Man
The German Idealism of the beginning XIX Century, while it needs be acknowledged as one of the most significant manifestations in the history of human consciousness, did not posit distinctly the problem of man.

This is explainable by its monism. Anthropology coincided with gnosseology (the philosophy of knowledge and the human faculties for learning) and ontology, man was as it were a function of the world reason and spirit, which also revealed itself in man. This was inpropitious for the constructing of a teaching about man. For specific problems of man, Bl. Augustine or Pascal are more interesting, than Fichte or Hegel. But the problem of man has become particularly urgent and tortuous for us because that we sense and we feel, in the experience of life and in the experience of thought, the insufficiency and lack of completeness of the Patristic and Scholastic anthropology, and likewise of the Humanistic anthropology, issuing forth from the epoch of the Renaissance.

During the epoch of the Renaissance perhaps closest to the truth were suchlike people as  Paracelsus and Pico della Mirandola (See Quotation above) , who knew about the creative vocation of man.  The Renaissance Christian humanism surmounted the limitations of Patristic-Scholastic anthropology, but it was still connected with religious bases. In any case, it was closer to the truth, than was the anthropology of Luther and Calvin, negating man and denying the truth about the good in mankind. At the basis of the self-consciousness of man there were always two contrary senses — the sense of suppression and oppression and that of the rising up of man against this suppression, the sense of exaltation and power, the capacity to create. And it need be said, that Christianity gives justification both to the one and to the other of man’s sensations about self.

Christianity’s Justifications of Man
On the one hand man is a being sinful and having need for the redemption of his sin, a being basely fallen, from which they demand humility, but on the other hand, man is a being created by God in accord with His image and likeness, God became man and by this raised up human nature, and man was called into a cooperation with God and to eternal life in God. To this corresponds the twofoldness of human nature and the possibility to speak about man in terms that are polar opposites. Christianity indisputably has liberated man from the power of the cosmic forces, from the spirits and demons of nature, making him subject directly to God. Even the opponents of Christianity are obliged to acknowledge, that it was a spiritual power, affirming the worthiness and independence of man, in spite of the great sins of the Christian within history.

Viewing the Riddle
When we stand afront the riddle of man, here then is what we ought first of all to say: man projects himself forth as a rupturing asunder within the natural world and he is inexplicable by the world of nature.  Man is a great marvel, the connection of earth and heaven, says Pico della Mirandola.  Man belongs to the natural world, in him everything is comprised of the natural world, to the extent of being physical-chemical processes, and he is dependent upon the lower stages of nature. But in him there is an element going beyond the natural world. Greek philosophy saw this element in the reason. Aristotle proposed a definition of man, as a rational animal. Scholasticism adopted the definition of Greek philosophy. Enlightenment philosophy drew from this its own conclusions and vulgarized it. But every time, when man has made an act of self-consciousness, he raises himself up over the natural world. The self-consciousness of man was already a surmounting of naturalism within the understanding of man, it is always a self-consciousness of spirit. Man is conscious of himself not only as a natural being, but also as a spiritual being. There is in man a Promethean principle and it is a sign of his God-likeness, for it is not demonic, as sometimes they tend to think. But the self-consciousness of man is twofold, man is conscious of himself as both high and low, as both free and as the slave of necessity, belonging both to eternity and situated within the power of the death-bearing stream of time. Pascal with quite especial insight expressed this twofold aspect of the self-consciousness and self-awareness of man, since he was more dialectical, than is K. Barth.

Another Approach To Man
Man can be perceived, as an object, as one of the objects in a world of objects. And then he can be investigated by the anthropological sciences– by biology, sociology, psychology. Under suchlike an approach to man it is possible to investigate only this or some other side of man, but the integrally whole man, in his depths and in his inner existence, remains elusive. There is another approach to man. Man is conscious of himself likewise as a subject and foremost of all, as a subject. The mysteries about man are revealed within the subject, within the inner human existence. In objectivisation, in the hurling of man out into the objective world the mystery of man is obscured, and he realizes about himself only this, that he is alienated from his inner human existence. Man does not belong wholly to the objective world, he possesses his own personal world, his own world outside the world, his own destiny incommensurate with objective nature. Man, as an integral being, does not belong to the natural hierarchy and cannot be constituted within it. Man, as subject, is act, he is a striving. In the subject is revealed the inwardly transpiring creative activity of man. Both alike mistaken is the anthropology that is optimistic, and the anthropology that is pessimistic. Man is something base and yet high, he is as nothing and yet great. Human nature is polarized. And if something be affirmed in man at the one pole, then this is compensated for by the affirmation of the opposite at the other pole.

The Enigma Of Man
The enigma of man posits not only the problem of an anthropologic philosophy, but also the problem of anthropologism or the anthropocentrism of every philosophy. Philosophy is anthropocentric, but man himself is not anthropocentric. This is a basic truth of existential philosophy in my estimation. I define existential philosophy as the opposite to a philosophy of objectification.  Within the existential subject is revealed the mystery of being. Only within human existence and through human existence is there possible the cognition of being. The cognition of being is impossible through the object, through the general concepts, ascribed to objects. This consciousness is the greatest conquest of philosophy. It might be said paradoxically, that only the subjective is objectively a matter, whereas the objective is subjectively a matter. God created only subjects, objects however are created by the subject. Kant expresses this in regard to his distinction between the thing-in-itself and the appearance, but he uses the poor expression “thing-in-itself”, which renders itself obscure for experience and knowledge. But authentically existential is Kant’s “realm of freedom” in contrast to the “realm of nature”, i.e. objectivization in my terminology.

The Obverse Side Of The Truth “Man Is Created In The Image And Likeness Of God”
Greek philosophy taught, that being is correlative to the laws of reason. The reason can know being, in that being corresponds to it, reason has it hidden within itself. But this is only a partial truth, easily sought out. But there is a truth more profound. Being corresponds to an integral humanness, being — is humanized, God — is humanized.  And only therein is possible the cognition of being, the cognition of God. Without a correspondence to the human, the cognition of the very depths of being would be impossible. This is the obverse side of that truth, that man is created in the image and likeness of God.

In the anthropomorphic representations about God this truth is affirmed often in a crude and unrefined form. Existential philosophy is based upon the humanistic theory of cognition, which ought to be deepened to the extent of being a theory of cognition of the theandric, the God-manly. The human-formliness of being and God is from below an evident truth, which from above reveals itself, as the creation by God of man in His own image and likeness. Man — is a microcosm and a microtheos. God is a microanthropos.

The humanness of God is a specific revelation of Christianity, setting it apart from all other religions. Christianity — is the religion of God-manhood. L. Feuerbach has great significance for anthropology, and he was the greatest atheistic philosopher of Europe. In Feuerbach’s passing over from abstract idealism to anthropologism there was a great deal of truth. It was necessary to pass over from the idealism of Hegel to the concrete actuality.

Feuerbach was a dialectical moment within the development of a concrete existential philosophy. He posited the problem of man at the centre of philosophy and affirmed the humanness of philosophy. He wanted a turnaround to the concrete man. He was searching not for the object, but for the “thou”.  He taught that man created God in accord with his own image and likeness, in accord with the image and likeness of his higher nature. This was the Christian truth turned inside out. To the end there remained in him a Christian theology, almost mystical.

European thought had to pass through Feuerbach, in order to discover an anthropological philosophy, which German Idealism was in no condition to reveal. But it cannot be halted at Feuerbach. The humanness or human-formliness of God is the obverse side of the Divineness or God-formliness of man. On either side of this is however the God-manly truth. But it is denied by the Thomist anthropology and by the Barthian anthropology, and also by the monistic humanist anthropology. Alien to Western Christian thought is the idea of God-manhood (theoandrism), which was given emphasis by the Russian Christian thought of the XIX and XX Centuries. The mystery of God-manhood is simultaneously contrary to both monism and dualism, and in it only can there be rooted the Christian anthropology.

Monism And Dualism
The problem of man can be integrally posited and resolved only in light of the idea of God-manhood. Even within Christianity it is only with difficulty that the fullness of the Divine-human truth is accommodated. Naturalistic pondering has readily tended either towards monism, in which the one nature swallowed up the other, or towards dualism, under which God and man were completely cut off and separated by an abyss. The stifling of man, conscious of himself as a being fallen and sinful, can at the same time assume the form of both monism and dualism.

Calvin was able simultaneously to interpret the limits dualistically and the limits monistically. Humanist anthropology, in acknowledging man as a self-sufficient being, was a naturalist reaction against the stifling of man in the traditional Christian consciousness. Man was debased, as a sinful being. And this has often produced suchlike an impression, that man in general is a degraded being. Not only from the sinfulness of man, but from the very fact of his creatureliness they deduced that the self-consciousness of man should be suppressed and debased.

And from this, that man was created by God and does not possess in himself his own foundation, they made the inference not about the greatness of the creature, but about its nothingness. Not infrequently is it heard, and the conclusion made, from both Christian theologians and simple pious people also, that God does not love man and does not want, that the purely human should be affirmed, He wants instead the abasement of man. And thus man abases himself, reflecting his own fallenness, and periodically he rises up against this suppression and abasement in proud self-exaltation. In both cases he loses the balance and does not attain to an authentic self-consciousness.

In the dominant forms of the Christian consciousness of man, there was acknowledged exclusively a being to be saved, and not a creative being. But the Christian anthropology always taught, that man is created in his image and likeness to God. From the Eastern Teachers of the Church, St. Gregory of Nyssa did the most with anthropology, and he understands man first of all as in the image and likeness of God. This idea was quite less developed in the West. There was the anthropology of  Augustine, and from this anthropology primarily and simultaneously was defined both the Catholic and the Protestant understanding of man, — almost exclusively this was an anthropology of sin and the saving by grace.

The Likeness Of Man To The Creator
From the teaching about the image of God in man, essentially, there was never made the ultimate conclusions. There were attempts to reveal within man features of the image and likeness of God: they discerned these features in the reason and in this they followed upon Greek philosophy, they revealed within the freedom that which moreover was connected with Christianity, they revealed in general these features within the spirituality of man. But never did they reveal the image of God within the creative nature of man, in the likeness of man to the Creator. This signifies a crossover to a completely different self-consciousness, the surmounting of the suppression and degradation. In the Scholastic anthropology, in Thomism, man does not appear as a creator, he is of a second-rate intellect, insignificant.  It is curious, that in the rebirth of Christian Protestant thought in the XX Century, in the dialectical theology of K. Barth, man is rendered a nullity, transformed into nothing, between God and man there opens up an abyss and in actual fact God-manhood becomes incomprehensible. The God-manhood of Christ remains sundered and for naught. But the God-manhood of Christ bears with it also the truth about the God-manness of the human person.

The Creative Act Of Man
Man is a being capable of rising up above himself, and this rising up above himself, this transcending of himself, this going out beyond the encircling limitations of his own self, — is a creative act of man. In creativity especially man surmounts himself, creativity is not a self-affirmation, but rather a self-overcoming, it is ecstatic. I have already mentioned, that man as subject is act. M. Scheler likewise defines the human person, as a concrete unity of acts.  

But the mistake of M. Scheler was in this, that he regarded spirit as passive, and life as active. Actually the reverse is true, spirit is active, and life passive. But the active can only be termed creative act. The very least act of man is creative and in it is created something not formerly existing in the world. Every live and warm relationship of man to man is the creativity of new life. And it is particularly in creativity, that man is in the greatest likeness to the Creator. Every act of love is a creative act. Non-creative activity is however essentially passive. Man can produce the impressions of great activity, he can make very active gestures, he can spread round about him loud motions and together with this all the while be passive, he can find himself in the grip of the powers and passions possessing him. The creative act is always the dominion of spirit over nature and over soul and it presupposes freedom. The creative act cannot be explained from nature, it is explicable but from freedom, it is always accompanied by freedom, which is not determined by any sort of nature, it is not determined by any sort of being. Freedom is prior to being, pre-being, it has its source not in being, but in non-being.  

The Problem Of Person
Creativity is a creativity from out of freedom, i.e. it includes in itself nothing of a determinising element, and it introduces also something new. They sometimes object to the possibility for man to be a creator on this basis, that man is a being that is sick and divided and impaired by sin. This argument does not have any strength to it. First of all, it would be completely correct likewise to say, that this sick, sinful, divided being is incapable not only of creativity, but also of salvation. The possibility of salvation is grounded in the grace sent to man. But for creativity also grace is also sent to man, it is given to him as gifts, genius and talent, and he hearkens herein to the inner calling of God. It might moreover be said, that man creates, especially so, because he is a being sick, divided, and of itself insufficient.

Creativity is similar to the Platonic Eros, it has its own source not only in wealth and abundance, but also in dearth and insufficiency. Creativity is one of the ways of the healing of the sick existence of man. In creativity is surmounted his dividedness. In the creative act man goes out beyond himself, he ceases to be absorbed by himself and to rend at himself. Man cannot define himself only in relation to the world and other people. From suchlike, he would not be able to find in himself the strength to lift himself up over the surrounding world and would be but its slave.

Man ought to define himself first of all in relation to the source of his excelling, in the relationship to God. Only in turning to God does he find his own image, raising him up over the surrounding natural world. And then only does he find in himself the power to be a creator within the world. They might say, that man would be a creator even then, when he has denied God. This is a question of the makeup of his consciousness, sometimes very superficial. The capacity of man to raise himself up over the natural world, and over himself, to be a creator, depends upon facts more deep, than the human faith in God, than the human acknowledgement of God, — it is dependent upon the existence of God. This always it is proper to keep in mind. The fundamental problem of anthropology is the problem of person, to which also I shall move on to.

The Individuum
 If man were only an individual, then he would not raise himself up over the natural world.  The individuum is a naturalistic, and first of all a biological, category. The individuum is indivisible, an atom. All the things of a relatively organized arrangement, distinguishing them from the surrounding world, like a pencil, a chair, a clock, a precious stone, etc, can be termed individuums. The individuum is part of a genera and is subordinate to the genera. Biologically one proceeds from the loins of natural life. The individuum is likewise a sociological category and in this capacity one is subordinate to society, one is part of society, an atom of the social whole.

From the sociological point of view the human person, conceived of as an individuum, is presented as part of society and is indeed a very small part. The individuum retains its own relative autonomy, but all the same it dwells within the loins of the genus and society, it is compelled to consider itself as a part, which though it can revolt against the whole cannot set itself opposite to it, as an whole in itself.

The Person
Person signifies something completely other
. Person is of the category of spirit, and not nature, it is not subordinate either to nature or to society. Person is not at all part of nature or of society, and it cannot be thought of, as a part in relation to some sort of the whole. From the point of view of existential philosophy, from the point of view of man, as existential centre, person is not at all part of society. On the contrary, society is part of the person, merely its social side. Person is likewise not part of the world, of the cosmos; on the contrary, cosmos is part of the person.

The human person is an essence both social and cosmic, i.e. it possesses a social and a cosmic side, a social and a cosmic makeup, but therein particularly it is impossible to think of the human person, as a part in relationship to a social or cosmic whole. Man is a microcosm. Person is a whole, it cannot be a part. This is a basic definition of person, though it be impossible to give any one definition of person, for it is possible to give an whole series of definitions of person from its various sides. The person as whole is not subordinated to any other whole, it is outside the relationships of genus and individual. Person ought to be thought of not as subordination to the genus, but in a correlation and community with other persons, with the world and with God. The person is not at all of nature and to it there can be ascribed no sort of categories, relating to nature.

Person cannot at all be defined as substance. The understanding of person, as of a substance, is a naturalization of person. Person is rooted within the spiritual world, it does not belong to the natural hierarchy and cannot be jumbled in together with it. It is impossible to think of the spiritual world, as part of the hierarchical cosmic system. The teachings of Thomas Aquinas are a clear example of the understanding of the human person, as a step within hierarchical cosmic system.

The human person occupies a middle rung betwixt animals and angels. But this is a naturalistic understanding. It must moreover be said, that Thomism makes a distinction between the person and the individuum.  For existential philosophy, the human person has its own unique extra-natural existence, though in it there is a natural makeup. Person is contrary to thing,  contrary to the world of objects, it is an active subject, an existential centre. And this is only because the human person is non-dependent on the realm of Caesar. It possesses an axiological, a valuative character. To become person is the task of man. To define someone as a person, is a positive evaluation of a man. The person is not begotten of one’s parents, as is the individuum, it is created by God and creates itself and it is God’s idea about every person.

Person Is A Unity Of Destiny
Person can be characterised by an entire series of signs, which between them are connected. Person is the unchanging amidst change. The subject of change remains one and the same person. For the person it is destructive, if it chills down, becomes stunted in its developement, does not grow nor become enriched, does not create new life.

And likewise disastrous for it is, if the change in it is a betrayal, if it ceases to be itself, if it becomes impossible anymore to recognize the human person. This is a theme of Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt”. Person is a unity of destiny. This is its basic definition. Together with this, person is unity in multiplicity. It cannot be comprised of parts. It has a complexly manifold makeup. But the whole in it comes before its parts. The entire spirit-soul-bodily composition of man presents itself as an unique subject. It is essential for person, that it presupposes the existence of the supra-personal, that which surpasses it and to which it raises itself in its realization. Person is not, if there be no being standing higher than it. Then there is only the individuum, subordinate to the genus and to society, and then nature would stand higher than man and he would be but part of it. Person can contain within itself a universal content and only person possesses this capacity. Nothing objective can contain universal content, for it is always partialized.

There must be made a deep-rooted distinction between the universal and the general. The general is an abstraction and does not have an existence. The universal however is concrete and does possess existence. Person accommodates within itself not the general, but the universal, the supra-personal. The general, the abstracted idea, always denotes an intellectual culture of the idol and idolatry, of making person its own tool-implement and means. Such things as statism, nationalism, scientism, communism, etc, are always a transforming of person into a means and a tool.

But this is never done by God. For God the human person is an end, and not a means. The general is an impoverishment, whereas the universal is an enrichment of the life of the person. The definition of man, as a rational being, makes of him an implement-tool of the impersonal reason, it is disadvantageous for person and does not discern its existential centre. Person possesses a propensity of feelings for suffering and for joy.

An Activity Of Spirit
Person can be conceived of only as act, it is contrary to passivity, it always signifies a creative resistance. Act always is creative act, for passivity is not, as has already been said, a creative act. Act cannot be a mere repetition; it always bears within it something new. In the act always there is an excelling of freedom, which also bears forth this something new. Creative act is always connected with the depths of the person. Person is creativity.

And as was already said, on the surface man can produce the impressions of great activity, he can make very active gestures, very loud motions even within, but if, in his depths be passive, he can altogether lose his personness. We often observe this in mass movements, both revolutionary and counter-revolutionary, in the pogroms, in the appearances of fanaticism and zealotry.

Genuine activity, defining the person, is activity of spirit. Without inner freedom, activity is rendered into passiveness of spirit, an inner determinism. Obsession, serving as a medium can produce the impression of activity, but in it there is no genuine act nor person. Person is resistance, resistance to the determinism of society and nature, an heroic struggle for self-definition from within. Person possesses a volitional core, in which every stirring is defined from within, and not from without. Person is contrary to determinism. 

Person is pain. The heroic struggle for the realization of person is painful. It is possible to flee pain, in having forsaken to be a person. And man too often does this. To be a person, to be free is not easy, but is difficult rather, a burden, which man ought to bear. From man ever and again they demand a renouncing of person, a renouncing of freedom, and for this they promise him an alleviating of his life. They demand from him, that he subject himself to the determinism of society and nature. With this is connected the tragedy of life.

No man can consider himself a completed person. Person is not something completed, it has to realize itself, this is the great task put to man, the task to realise the image and likeness of God, to accommodate within oneself in the individual form the universal, the plenitude. Person creates itself throughout the expanse of the whole of human life.

Person is not self-sufficient, it cannot be satisfied with itself. It always presupposes the existence of other persons, the emergence from oneself to the other. Therein exists the opposition between person and egocentrism. Egocentrism, the immersion in one’s own “I” and the beholding of everything exclusively from the point of view of this “I”, the referring of everything to it, destroys the person. The realisation of person presupposes the seeing of other persons. Egocentrism however shatters the function of reality in man. Person presupposes diversity, the setting of a variety of persons, i.e. seeing realities in their true light.

Solipcism, the affirming that nothing exists besides my “I” and that everything only is my “I”, is a denial of person. Person presupposes sacrifice, but it is impossible to sacrifice the person. It is possible to sacrifice one’s life and a man sometimes ought to sacrifice his life, but no one has the right to renounce his own person, everyone ought to in-sacrifice and through-sacrifice remain to the end a person.

To renounce one’s own person is impossible, since this would signify a renouncing of God’s idea about man, in effect the non-realizing of God’s intent. It is not necessary for person to be renounced, as an impersonalism might imagine, in regarding the person as a limitation,  but rather there should be renounced the hardened selfness in stirring the person to unfold itself. In the creative act of man, which is the realization of person, there ought to occur a sacrificial pouring off of selfness, in defining a man from other people, from the world and from God. Man is a being in himself insufficient, dissatisfied but surmounting himself by his life in the most remarkable acts.

Person is forged out in this creative self-definition. It always presupposes the vocation, the singular and unrepeated calling of each one. It follows an inner voice, calling it to realize its own task in life. Man only then is a person, when he follows this inner voice, rather than external influences. Vocation always bears an individual character. And no one other can decide the question about the vocation of a given man.

Person possesses a vocation, in that it is called to creativity. Creativity however is always an individual matter. The realisation of person presupposes ascesis (vocab:  strict self-discipline or self- control, as for religious or meditative purposes). But it is impossible to conceive of ascesis as an end, as something hostile to the world and to life. Ascesis is but a means, a drilled work-out, a concentration of inner powers. Person presupposes ascesis in that it is an intensifying and a resistance, a non-accord to be defined by nature or society. The attainment of an inner self-definition demands ascesis. But ascesis easily degenerates, it becomes transformed into an end-in-itself, so as to embitter the heart of man, and make him ill-disposed towards life. And then it becomes hostile towards man and the person. The needs for ascesis is not in denying the creativity of man, but for this, to realize this creativity.

Person is diverse yet unified, unrepeatable, original, not the same as others. Person is the exception, and not the rule. We stand afront a paradoxical combination of opposites: of the personal and the supra-personal, of the finite and the infinite, of the unchanging and the changing, of freedom and of fate. Ultimately, there is a fundamental antinomy, connected with the person. Person ought the more to realize itself and no one can say of themself, that they are already fully a person. But for person to be able creatively to realize itself, it ought already to be, it must be this active subject, which realizes itself. This creative act moreover is connected with the creative act in general. The creative act realizes the new, something not formerly in the world. But it presupposes the creative subject, in which is given the possibility of self-determination and self-uplifting within creativity of the formerly non-extant. To be a person is difficult, to be free means to take upon oneself a burden. The easiest thing of all would be to renounce the person and to renounce freedom, to live under determinism, under authority.


EAST COKER (No. 2 of ‘Four Quartets’) –T.S. Eliot

November 12, 2010

Claude Monet, Wheat Stacks in Summer, 1890-91

What seems a relentlessly dark poem finds (upon several readings, don’t give up) a doomed quality of darkness opens into Godliness, as the quietness of darkness can also represent silence, not the silence of doom, but the transcendent silence of the still point. At some point in our spiritual lives God shows us the darkness: the darkness of St. John of the Cross, of Mother Teresa, where we wait in a timelessness without hope, without love, for to do otherwise is to place one’s self in time.

Michael Novak has written that Saint Thérèse lived for most of her adult life in utter darkness and dryness and abandonment by her divine Lover. She wrote an autobiography about her experiences and how it led her to interpret the inner heart of Christianity. So powerfully and clearly did she write that Pope John Paul II inscribed her name among the historic handful of “Doctors of the Church”teach so profound and so sweeping in their wisdom that they instruct the whole Catholic people.

 Eliot advises to “wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought.” 

“Waiting without thought means transcending thought, an experience of that lively state of pure potentiality before a thought has formed. Outside of death or the inertia of deep sleep, transcending is the only way the mind can experience thought-less-ness. To become “ready for thought,” the mind must intimately know the source of thought. Until then thinking, when caught in the web of time, will remain superficial and egocentric.”

Is Eliot suggesting that once the source of thought is established on the level of one’s individual consciousness, as we reawaken to ourselves, thinking can become transformed into something more powerful and fulfilling? The poem sings the Transcendent with a series of zen-like koans or conundrums to provoke us to regard the ineffable along with the poet. 

In order for one’s soul to be ready to go far beyond any human contrivance, one must be willing to go out into the desert and the night. Thus we read of the prophet Elijah:

“At that place he came to a cave, and spent the night there. Then the word of the Lord came to him, saying, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” He answered, “I have been very zealous for the Lord, the God of hosts; for the Israelites have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword. I alone am left, and they are seeking my life, to take it away.” He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.”

Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. Then there came a voice to him that said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
 (I Kings 19:9-13)

Thus, also, Job, after he had been stricken with painful boils all over his body, and sat outside where others might mock him, scraping off the scabs, and unable, now, to find the Lord in whom he had placed such utter trust:

“If I go forward, he is not there; or backward, I cannot perceive him; on the left he hides, and I cannot behold him; I turn to the right, but I cannot see him. But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold. My foot has held fast to his steps; I have kept his way and have not turned aside. I have not departed from the commandment of his lips; I have treasured in my bosom the words of his mouth.”
(Job 23:8-12) 


In my beginning is my end. In succession
Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
Houses live and die: there is a time for building
And a time for living and for generation
And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.

    In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
And the deep lane insists on the direction
Into the village, in the electric heat
Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light
Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
Wait for the early owl.

                                    In that open field
If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
Of the weak pipe and the little drum
And see them dancing around the bonfire
The association of man and woman
In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie—
A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
Mirth of those long since under earth
Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
As in their living in the living seasons
The time of the seasons and the constellations
The time of milking and the time of harvest
The time of the coupling of man and woman
And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
Eating and drinking. Dung and death.

    Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.


What is the late November doing
With the disturbance of the spring
And creatures of the summer heat,
And snowdrops writhing under feet
And hollyhocks that aim too high
Red into grey and tumble down
Late roses filled with early snow?
Thunder rolled by the rolling stars
Simulates triumphal cars
Deployed in constellated wars
Scorpion fights against the Sun
Until the Sun and Moon go down
Comets weep and Leonids fly
Hunt the heavens and the plains
Whirled in a vortex that shall bring
The world to that destructive fire
Which burns before the ice-cap reigns.

    That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:
A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,
Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle
With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.
It was not (to start again) what one had expected.
What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,
Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity
And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us
Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,
Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?
The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,
The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets
Useless in the darkness into which they peered
Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,
At best, only a limited value
In the knowledge derived from experience.
The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,
For the pattern is new in every moment
And every moment is a new and shocking
Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived
Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.
In the middle, not only in the middle of the way
But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,
On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,
And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,
Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.

    The houses are all gone under the sea.
    The dancers are all gone under the hill.


O dark dark dark. They all go into the dark,
The vacant interstellar spaces, the vacant into the vacant,
The captains, merchant bankers, eminent men of letters,
The generous patrons of art, the statesmen and the rulers,
Distinguished civil servants, chairmen of many committees,
Industrial lords and petty contractors, all go into the dark,
And dark the Sun and Moon, and the Almanach de Gotha
And the Stock Exchange Gazette, the Directory of Directors,
And cold the sense and lost the motive of action.
And we all go with them, into the silent funeral,
Nobody’s funeral, for there is no one to bury.
I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away—
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing—
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
Whisper of running streams, and winter lightning.
The wild thyme unseen and the wild strawberry,
The laughter in the garden, echoed ecstasy
Not lost, but requiring, pointing to the agony
Of death and birth.

                                    You say I am repeating
Something I have said before. I shall say it again.
Shall I say it again? In order to arrive there,
To arrive where you are, to get from where you are not,
    You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
    You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
    You must go by the way of dispossession.
In order to arrive at what you are not
    You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.


The wounded surgeon plies the steel
That questions the distempered part;
Beneath the bleeding hands we feel
The sharp compassion of the healer’s art
Resolving the enigma of the fever chart.

    Our only health is the disease
If we obey the dying nurse
Whose constant care is not to please
But to remind of our, and Adam’s curse,
And that, to be restored, our sickness must grow worse.

    The whole earth is our hospital
Endowed by the ruined millionaire,
Wherein, if we do well, we shall
Die of the absolute paternal care
That will not leave us, but prevents us everywhere.

    The chill ascends from feet to knees,
The fever sings in mental wires.
If to be warmed, then I must freeze
And quake in frigid purgatorial fires
Of which the flame is roses, and the smoke is briars.

    The dripping blood our only drink,
The bloody flesh our only food:
In spite of which we like to think
That we are sound, substantial flesh and blood—
Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.


So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years—
Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture
Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate
With shabby equipment always deteriorating
In the general mess of imprecision of feeling,
Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer
By strength and submission, has already been discovered
Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope
To emulate—but there is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

    Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Of dead and living. Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
There is a time for the evening under starlight,
A time for the evening under lamplight
(The evening with the photograph album).
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.


Reading Selections from “The Christian Personalism Of Jacques Maritain” by Donald DeMarco

November 11, 2010

Jacques Maritain, circa 1938

I jump all over good essays on Jacques Maritain, particularly the ones that explain his theories of the Person, which I have come to see is the basis of the Church’s teaching on homosexuality and a host of other modern issues. Donald DeMarco is Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Jerome’s College in Ontario, Canada. He received both the M.A. and the Ph.D. degrees from St. John’s University, and has studied at the Gregorian University in Rome. Dr. DeMarco illustrates in this essay how Maritain’s Catholic Faith led him to develop a philosophic personalism based upon the teachings of St. Thomas. This key element in his thought may serve as a counter current to the contemporary world’s exaltation of selfishness.

“We don’t love qualities, we love persons; sometimes by reason of their defects as well as of their qualities.”
Jacques Maritain

Jacques Maritain:A Short Bio
Jacques Maritain was born in Paris on November 18, 1882. He grew up in that city, barely nourished spiritually on the lukewarm Protestantism of his mother. When he entered the Lycée Henri IV, he possessed no particular religious convictions. He enrolled at the Sorbonne in 1901 during France’s rich and corrupt Third Republic, a time when rabid French anti-clericalism had turned the Church into an intellectual ghetto. The school’s rigid empiricism had effectively excluded any respectful discussion of spiritual matters. One day, as Jacques walked hand in hand through a Paris park with his Jewish girl friend, Raissa, the two made a pact that if, within a year, they could not find any meaning to life beyond the material, they would commit suicide.

That despair dissolved when they heard lectures at the Collège de France given by Henri Bergson, whose theories of creative evolution exalted the spirit of man and his ability to discover the intelligibility of things through intuition. In 1905, Jacques and Raissa, now newlyweds, met a passionate Catholic named Leon Bloy (“A Christian of the second century astray in the Third Republic”) who led them into the Catholic faith.

Maritain soon began studying the massive works of St. Thomas Aquinas. As Aquinas had found in Aristotle a philosophical basis for harmonizing human reason with Christian faith, Maritain discovered in Aquinas possibilities for bringing a rejuvenated Thomism into a modern age of skepticism and science. “The disease afflicting the modern world,” he wrote, “is above all a disease of the intellect.” In one of his early works, <The Degrees of Knowledge>, Maritain sought to unify all the sciences and subdivisions of philosophy in the pursuit of reality.

At the height of his fame, in the 1920s and ’30s, Maritain lectured at Oxford, Yale, Notre Dame, and Chicago. He also taught at Paris, Princeton, and Toronto. After World War II, he served three years as France’s ambassador to the Vatican. In 1963 the French government honored him with its National Grand Prize for Letters.

The 50-odd books that Maritain wrote, spanning a period of more than half a century and translated into every major language, earned him the distinction of being “the greatest living Catholic philosopher.”

In his books, articles, and lectures, Maritain repeatedly and passionately called upon the Church to bring its theology and philosophy into contact with present day problems. His liberal thoughts concerning political and social justice issues won him bitter enemies among ultra-conventional Church thinkers. Attempts were even made, though unsuccessful, to have his books condemned by the Vatican.

Pope Paul VI honored Maritain during Vatican II, and in 1967 gave him unprecedented credit for inspiring the Pontiff’s landmark encyclical on economic justice, <Populorum Progressio>. He also considered making Maritain a Cardinal, but the philosopher rejected the suggestion.

When his beloved wife and collaborator Raissa died in 1960, Maritain withdrew to a secluded life of silence and prayer, living in a hut with the Little Brothers of Jesus at Toulouse. When he died there in 1973, Pope Paul VI described him publicly as a “master of the art of thinking, of living, and of praying.”

Maritain once referred to himself as “a man God has turned inside out like a glove.” In a letter to poet Jean Cocteau, he wrote: “I have given my life to St. Thomas, and labor to spread his doctrine. For I, too, want intelligence to be taken from the Devil and returned to God.” Indeed, no modern Catholic thinker has done more in an effort to achieve this end than Jacques Maritain.

The Person and the Individual
In The Person and the Common Good, which is Maritain’s clearest and most sustained treatment of the person, he asks whether the person is simply the self and nothing more. This is an appropriate question to raise in the light of modern culture’s commonplace identification of the two. We find this identification in the various expressions of individualism which maintain that an individual has a right to pursue the objects of his desires apart from any consideration of the effect this pursuit might have on others. Jean-Paul Sartre’s celebrated phrase from his play No Exit — “Hell is other people” — reflects this commonplace lack of concern that selfish people have for others. A brief glance at the list of best-selling self-help books corroborates the point: Winning Through Intimidation; How to Be Your Own Best Friend; Having It All; Own Your Own Life; Creative Divorce; and Getting Divorced from Mother and Dad.

Maritain’s question may have more validity today than ever before, given present society’s inordinate preoccupation with selfism. Numerous critics of contemporary culture have studied this phenomenon in great detail. A few notable works that come to mind are: Culture of Narcissism by Christopher Lasch; Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-worship by Paul Vitz; The Heresy of Self-Love by Paul Zweig; <The Inflated Self> by David Myers; and The Age of Sensation by Herbert Hendin. Popular magazines and virtually all of commercial advertising are based on the notion that a human person is merely a self, a center for the experience of pleasure and the acquisition of material goods. Novelist Thomas Pynchon captures the essence of the consuming self when he speaks of one of his characters as “walking the aisles of a bright, gigantic supermarket, his only function to want.”

Maritain refrains from being moralistic. He does not rail against the evil or narrowness of the self. He advises us not to be hasty in dismissing the self, and points out that no one can become a saint without having a strong sense of self.

He wants to take us more deeply into the issue. It appears on the surface that there is a contradiction. He refers to Pascal who asserts that “the self is detestable.” On the other hand, St. Thomas states that “Person signifies what is most perfect in all nature.” It is abundantly clear that self cannot be equated with person since that which is “detestable” cannot be that which is “most perfect in all nature.” How can this apparent contradiction be resolved?

Maritain avoids a contradiction by making a crucial distinction between individuality and personality. We should note here that what is distinguishable by the mind is not necessarily separable in reality. To take a simple example, we can mentally distinguish the right from the left sides of a piece of paper. Yet if we cut away the right hand side of the paper, we do not succeed in removing it, leaving us with a page that has only a left side. By cutting the right side, we merely have a smaller piece of paper that still has a right side in equal proportion with its left side counterpart. We cannot separate the right from the left in reality even though we can make a very useful and practical distinction between them in the mind.

So too, although we can distinguish individuality from personality, we cannot separate them from each other in the concrete human being. It has been said of Maritain that the motto of his philosophical life was “to distinguish in order to unite.” Philosophy is to distinguish (Philosophiae est distinguere). But its ultimate purpose is not to decompose things into fragments, but to appreciate more profoundly the diversity within unity, the multi-faceted constitution of being, the manner in which the object of philosophical inquiry is integrated. Maritain wants us to understand how individuality and personality (which are principles, rather than independent realities) combine, like body and soul, to form a single, unified human being.

The Distinction Between Individuality And Personality
Pascal’s remark that the “self is detestable” appears in his classic work, The Pensées. The great 16th century scientist, mathematician, philosopher, and religious thinker explains that we hate the self because it can impose itself as the center of everything, an imposition which is in direct opposition to justice.

In short, the self has two qualities: it is unjust because it makes itself the centre of everything; it is disagreeable to other people because it tries to browbeat them; for each <self> is the enemy and would like to be the tyrant of all the others. You remove its unpleasantness, but not its injustice.
Blaise Pascal, Pascal’s Pensées, tr. by Martin Turnell (New York: Harper & Row, 1962), # 141, p. 78

Maritain argues similarly, that the material pole, which is but the “shadow of personality,” tends to draw things to itself. The spiritual pole, contrariwise, which concerns true personality, is what Aquinas has in mind when he speaks of a source of generosity and bountifulness.

The distinction between individuality and personality has roots in the ancient world. The Greeks had two words for life: bios and zoe. The former referred to individual life, the life that was contained within the singular living thing. The latter, however, referred to a transcendent form of life, life that could be shared. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity follows similar lines. Each person in the Blessed Trinity possesses his own individuality. Nonetheless, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have a superabundance of life that they share with each other in so intimate a fashion that the three together constitute a single, unified God.

More recently, Pope John Paul II has re-emphasized how marriage between man and woman is an image of the Trinity and a <communio personarum> (a communion of persons), a two-in-one-flesh union of two individuals who transcend their respective singularities to share their personhood with each other in a unity that is both sacred and profound.
Pope John Paul II, <The Original Unity of Man and Woman> (Boston: Daughters of St. Paul, 1981), p. 76

Psychologist Paul Vitz has explained that the concept of the “person” is the fruit of Jewish and Christian theology. Sundered from this root, the “person” becomes truncated as a “self-actualizing individual who is devoted to the growth of the secular self.” consequently, when Carl Rogers titles his best known work, On Becoming a Person, which is about the cultivation of the self-actualizing, secular self, he is simply wrong. According to Vitz, what Rogers wrote was a book “On Becoming an Individual.”

Maritain alludes to the contribution of existentialist philosopher Nicolas Berdiaeff to the store of personalism. This outstanding Russian thinker wrote passionately and extensively about the “person.” For Berdiaeff, the notion of person captures the twofold, polarized quality of the human being. The following words could have been penned by Maritain himself:

Man is a personality not by nature but by spirit. By nature he is only an individual. Personality is not a monad entering into a hierarchy of monads and subordinate to it. Personality is a microcosm, a complete universe. It is personality alone that can bring together a universal content and be a potential universe in an individual form. . . . The monad is closed, shut up, it has neither windows nor doors. For personality, however, infinity opens out, it enters into infinity, and admits infinity into itself; in its self-revelation it is directed towards an infinite content.
Nikolai Berdyaev, <Slavery and Freedom>, tr. by R. M. French (New York: Scribner’s Sons, 1944), pp. 21-22 

Having resolved the apparent contradiction by distinguishing the material and spiritual polarities, Maritain then goes on to discuss the notion of individuality in some depth.

In a fundamental sense which most people can understand, only individuals exist in the extra-mental world of concrete reality. Ideas and the like do not have real existence, that is to say, they are not capable of exercising the act of existing. Here, Maritain is writing as an existentialist echoing the existentialism of his master, St. Thomas Aquinas. “Existence,” for the Angelic Doctor, is the “perfection of perfections”; it is that by which something becomes truly real. As “the first act” of an essence, existence concretizes an essence in reality.

We must note at this point that it is not the essence that exists (and certainly not existence that exists), but the underlying subject (or “supposit”). It is this “supposit” that exercises the act of existence and allows an essence to make its entrance into the real world. For Maritain and Aquinas, reality is composed of subjects that exercise existence and manifest an essence. This is a crucial point and allows the philosopher to distinguish real entities from those Platonic essences or ideal forms that float in a heaven of abstractions.

Individuality is, therefore, common to all things that exist. Thus, angels and God are individuals. Pure spirits are individuals by virtue of their form. Angels, consequently, differ from each other not as taller or shorter, fatter or thinner, etc., for they have no material dimension. They differ from each other as one species differs from another, as a horse differs from a cow, for example. Spiritual beings are individuals, though they are not “individualized,” that is, “individualized by matter.”

Human persons, because they are material, have their individuality rooted in matter. Matter in itself, however, is a mere potency to receive forms. Its nature is essentially relatable to that which can inform it. In this regard it is roughly analogous to computer hardware that is merely a potentiality for receiving the information contained in the software programming.

Because of this radically parasitic nature of matter, Maritain refers to it as in itself a kind of “non-being.” And because of its essential relatability to form, he speaks of matter as an “avidity for being.” Together, matter and form combine to form a substantial unity. The human person is a single, unified substance, a dynamic whole which is the synthesis of body and soul.

After discussing the individual side of man, Maritain then turns to the more difficult task of expressing the meaning of his personality. He commences his treatment by explaining how love is a movement that directs itself to the center of one’s personality. Love is not concerned with essences, or qualities, or pleasure, but with affirming the metaphysical center of the beloved’s personality. Love does not ignore the qualities of the one who is loved. Indeed, it is one with them. Moreover, the lover is not content to express his love in bestowing gifts which merely symbolize his love. He gives himself as a gift.

At the metaphysical center of personality is a capacity to give oneself as a person and to receive the gift of another person. This could not be possible if the lovers were not subjects capable of a subject-to-subject reciprocal affirmation. Love is sourced in the metaphysics of inter-subjectivity.

What Maritain is leading to here is a notion which has given students so many headaches, the notion of subsistence. This is a critical notion because it is needed in order to establish, philosophically, the reality of the subject (as opposed to the object). The subject, in turn, is important because only a subject can exist as a person.

The existential subject (like existence itself) eludes the powers of conceptualization. It is not an object of thought, something we can grasp intellectually. Hence it tends to be absent from many philosophies, especially those of a rationalistic bent. The intellect knows things as objects. But love moves on a different plane and loves the other as a subject. The nature of the subject is such that it transcends the operation of the intellect. In this regard, the subject is a “super-intelligible.” Nonetheless, it must be posited, for it is not the essence which exists, but the subject. Essence is that which a thing is; the subject is that which has an essence, that which exercises existence and action, that which “subsists.”

Subjectivity marks the frontier which separates philosophy from religion. Philosophy consists in the relation of intelligence to object; whereas religion enters into the relation of subject to subject. Love gives us the opportunity to establish person-to-person relationships. Since God is love, religion becomes a paradigm for this experience of inter-subjectivity.

Subjectivity both receives and gives. It receives through the intellect by super-existing in knowledge. It gives through the will by super-existing in love. But since it is better to give than to receive, it is through love that a person comes to attain the supreme revelation of his personal reality. He discovers at this same time the basic generosity of his existence in which he realizes the very meaning of his being alive.

Love, then, breaks down the barriers that keep people at a distance from each other, causing them to see one another as objects. It makes the being we love another ourself , that is to say, another subjectivity for us, another subjectivity that is ours. Love is perfective of our personalities; it helps us to achieve more completely the very purpose of our existence, which, in Maritain’s words is “self-mastery for the purpose of self-giving.”

The life of personality is not self-preservation or self-aggrandizement as that of the individual, but self-development and self-giving. It presupposes sacrifice, and sacrifice cannot be impersonal. Psychological individualism, so characteristic of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is the very reverse of personalism.

Personality shares its own cultivated life with the lives of others. In the process of developing this personal communion with others, dialogue is required. Nevertheless, as Maritain points out, such communication is rarely possible. Indeed, as another personalist thinker, Martin Buber, has remarked, the fact that people “can no longer carry on authentic dialogue with one another is the most acute symptom of the pathology of our time.”

Hence, alienation — both personal and intellectual — seems more characteristic of modern man than loving, personal union. This unhappy state of affairs is directly tied to the material side of man whose inward gravitational pull draws him away from other people. Only persons can emerge in dialogue, because only persons are capable of participating in a common life. As individuals, people are divided and alienated from one another. As Maritain comments, “evil arises when, in our own action, we give preponderance to the individual aspect of our being.”

The Catholic novelist, Walker Percy, has depicted this alienated state of modern man in his book Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book. Like Maritain, Percy sees the roots of this predicament in the Cartesian isolation of the conscious self from its corporeal link with both its personal wholeness as well as its place in the cosmos. “The Self since the time of Descartes,” he writes, “has been stranded, split off from everything else in the Cosmos, a mind which professes to understand bodies and galaxies but is by the very act of understanding marooned in the Cosmos, with which it has no connection.”

Maritain’s notion of “personality” has profound religious (specifically Christian) implications. Through loving communication with others, the person begins to appreciate the inexhaustible richness of subjectivity. This image of the infinite implies a Source of infinite plenitude. Thus, the person is directly related to the absolute and finds its sufficiency only in an intimate relationship with God. This notion is consistent with the Biblical reference to man being made in the image of God. The “image” to which Scripture refers, is the spiritual image of God in man which makes it possible for him to know and love God and, through grace, to participate in His Life.

As a person, the human being is a whole, a synthesis of body and soul. But, as Maritain remarks elsewhere, he is an “open whole.” This opening allows for additional and higher unifications. The person tends by its very nature to social life and to modes of communion that attain their ultimate fulfillment only in the Godhead. There is a radical generosity inscribed within the very being of the person, a quality which is the essence of spirit. Nothing could be more contradictory for the person than to be alone. By the untransformable nature of its spiritual being, the person wants to know and to love. But more than that, it wants to share that knowledge and love with others. Still more, it wants this sharing to reach a level of perfection that could be realized only with God.



Reading Selections: An Atheist In The Sacristy — Why Does Faith Seek Intelligence? by James V. Schall, S.J.

November 10, 2010



A Soul Brought to Heaven - Adolph William Bouguereau

An article by Fr. James Schall, professor of philosophy at Georgetown University, from the early 90’s that quotes a variety of sources as it attempts to answer an age-old question. Fr. Schall is “one of the few renaissance men still among us”. His most recent book, The Order of Things, is available here 

George MacDonald
Faith seeks intelligence in order that light might meet light. The Scottish divine and writer, George MacDonald, whom C. S. Lewis so much admired, gave a sermon in the latter part of the last century entitled simply “Light.” He suggested that we must first become “fit” for what we are to receive and have, but that our nature will indeed be completed. MacDonald, in a most beautiful passage, reminded us:

There are good things God must delay giving until His child has a pocket to hold them — till he gets His child to make that pocket. He must first make him fit to receive and to have. There is no part of our nature that shall not be satisfied and that not by lessening it, but by enlarging it to embrace an ever-enlarging enough.

Faith seeks intelligence in order to understand and be able to accept that we are given more than we can expect. We must also make ourselves ready for what we are and will receive. One of the good things God delays giving us is precisely Himself. Our individual lives, their narrative history, is the account of what we do with this delay, of what we do to prepare ourselves for the “ever-enlarging enough.”

Evelyn Waugh
In Evelyn Waugh’s autobiography, appropriately named for our purposes, <A Little Learning>, he included a chapter entitled, “A Brief History of My Religious Opinions,” a chapter that hints at just why “a little learning” in its classical statement in precisely “a dangerous thing.” Waugh began by citing a passage of 18 June 1921, from his own diary. He gravely wrote — he was all of eighteen at the time — that “in the last few weeks I have ceased to be a Christian. I have realized that for the last two terms at least I have been an atheist in all except the courage to admit it myself.”2 When he wrote this self-confession, Waugh was in his last year at Lancing, an Anglican prep boarding school in the South of England. He went up Oxford the following year.

In spite of his newly-found school atheism, however — he had gone to Lancing as a rather pious young man — Waugh still enjoyed being a sacristan at the school chapel. He even had a sort of atheist scruple about the impropriety of it all, a scruple prompted by his friend Drieburg who told him frankly that an atheist had no business “handling the altar cloths.”

So Waugh, with some atheist illogic, decided to consult the school chaplain about the matter. When Waugh arrived at his quarters, the chaplain and another master were just sitting down to have a smoke. With some embarrassment, he had to explain his strange perplexity to both chaplain and master. After soberly listening to his curious anguish — “adolescent doubts are very tedious to the mature,” Waugh admitted — the two masters “genially assured” him that “it was quite in order for an atheist to act as a sacristan.”

At the same time, Waugh had belonged to a school debating society called the “Dilettanti.” During his last two years at Lancing, he found himself “eager to dispute the intellectual foundations of Christianity.” The subjects of these school debates, he recalled with some amusement, were such propositions as these: ” ‘Resolved: This House does not believe in the immortality of the soul’; ‘This House believes the age of institutional religion is over’; ‘This House cannot reconcile divine omniscience with human freewill’, and so forth.”3 One wonders, on looking at this list, whether a school system that encourages such debates or one which ignores them is the more unhealthy one.

What is of interest to note about Waugh’s account of his youthful atheism and doubts, however, was the state of soul that resulted from them. He tells us: “I suffered no sense of loss in discarding the creed of my upbringing; still less of exhilaration. My diary is full of pagan gloom and the consideration of suicide.”4 Gloom, boredom, and suicide ironically seem, more often than not in intellectual history, to be the results of losing the joy that Christianity maintains itself ultimately to be. Indeed, it was into a world of gloom, boredom, and suicide that Christianity was first born in the Roman Empire; hence we have the abiding of the importance of Roman stoicism, cynicism, and epicureanism as well as of the insufficiency of their sober virtues.

Our Relation To God And To Truth Is Indeed Intellectual
These classic questions, which it is the function of faith and intelligence to ponder even from the beginning of our intellectual and spiritual lives (even in school debating societies) are, to be sure, ones that can make an atheist out of a Christian, or, equally often, a Christian out of an atheist. This possibility leads us to suspect that our relation to God and to truth is not merely intellectual, however much it is indeed intellectual. The immortality of the soul, after all, was advocated by no one less than Plato, hardly a Christian, except perhaps “naturaliter,” as many of his admirers ancient and modern have held.

Meantime, at least some institutional religion persists in all ages, in spite of all academic predictions or Gates of Hell prevailing to the contrary. Divine omniscience and freewill are questions an Aquinas, for instance, with perhaps a little more perception than the Dilettanti Debating Society in 1921, found non-contradictory and therefore theoretically quite compatible with each other. We could not even think of divine omniscience without its including a freewill that was really free.

The famous “dicta” that “faith seeks understanding” and that “understanding seeks faith” are ideas that go back at least to St. Augustine and St. Anselm, if not to Plato himself. Aristotle, in a remarkably fertile phrase, had said that the human mind has a capacity to know or to “be” all things. All that is. Aristotle had noted that if man were the highest being, politics would be the highest science; but, he added, that man is not the highest being so that he stands to the highest being as a “contemplative,” that is, as someone who must receive or behold what is not his to make or create. This conclusion is ultimately the real source of human freedom.

Aquinas also had argued that since we can in some essential fashion prove that God exists but not what He is like, not what His inner life consists in, we nevertheless continue to seek to know about God in His fullness. However little we can know about this First Being, Aristotle told us at the end of <The Ethics>, it remains worth all our efforts even in comparison to the admittedly important things of this world. We are curious about what this conclusion about God’s existence means. We cannot really let it go and remain consistent with ourselves, with our desire to know <what is>. For it leads our minds to establish the fact that finite being, including our own, whose limits we self-reflectively are aware of, is not and cannot be the cause of itself, even though, as we read in the <Book of Genesis>, we might be tempted to make ourselves, not God, the cause of the distinction of good and evil in the world.

Eric Voegelin and Allan Bloom
Eric Voegelin, in a most provocative lecture he gave in Montreal in 1980, to young university students, told them that they must be open to something beyond themselves because “we all experience our own existence as not existing out of itself but as coming from somewhere even if we don’t know where.”5 We should, furthermore, be aware that such a vital question concerning our own being will in all probability not be formally asked in any university of our immediate acquaintance. This fact is no doubt at the origin of the intellectual malaise and spiritual emptiness many of our friends and acquaintances find in themselves. Even though the pursuit of truth must in some sense depend on those who have been wise before us, and these not always the recognized “great” thinkers, it has almost become a private, not corporate, academic, or even religious enterprise for most of us.

Allan Bloom caused quite a scandal in recent years by suggesting that the unhappiest souls in our society are not those of the ghetto dwellers, or the dope addicts or peddlers, or even of the craftsmen, the businessman, the poet, or politician, if I might hint at the characters in <The Apology of Socrates.> Rather the unhappiest souls belong to those students in the twenty or thirty “best” universities, where they pay twenty-five thousand a year to attend and consequently assume they have entered onto the paths of worldly accomplishments and intellectual glory, only to be taught and too often themselves to believe that everything is quite relative and that there is no truth. The reason these particular souls are the “unhappiest” is the same reason Plato gave, namely, that the potential philosophers both encountered and chose a good that was less than what it is that could satisfy the being they were given. The real drama in each of our lives remains what Plato said it was: which good will we choose in a world where there really are differing goods and definite vices?

In a recent interview, Bloom was asked whether he could really fault the universities for this situation? He replied:

I do partly blame the universities. One of the reasons for students’ not reading seriously is their belief that they can’t learn important things from books. They believe books are just ideologies, mythologies or political tools of different parties. If the peaks of learning offered some shining goal in the distance, it would be very attractive to an awful lot of people — people with very diverse backgrounds. The golden thread of all education is in the first questions: How should I live? What’s the good life? What can I hope for? What must I do? What would be the terrible consequence if we knew the truth?
“A Most Uncommon Scold,” Interview with Allan Bloom, <Time>, October 17, 1988, p. 74

Bloom did not specifically mention, though there is no reason to think he was hostile to it, the question of “whether God has communicated to men anything either to know or to do?” The very fact that we experience ourselves reflectively as receivers of our own limited existences requires that we at least ask the question of the source of our particular being; for we cannot, and still remain authentic to ourselves, close it off as if the answer were not the most significant truth we must know about ourselves.

E. F. Schumacher
E. F. Schumacher, in his wonderful book, <A Guide for the Perplexed,> wrote in a similar vein. In recounting his own university days at Oxford, he discovered there that he was in a similar situation to Moses Maimonides, who wrote the original book entitled “A Guide for the Perplexed.” For the pious Jew or Muslim or Christian of the Middle Ages, intellectual perplexity was caused by the sudden eruption of Plato, Aristotle, and the post-Aristotelians into his seemingly complete religious life and culture. How was it that Plato and Aristotle knew so much compared to Scripture? What was it that Scripture knew that Plato and Aristotle did not? Were at least some of the things found both in the philosophers and the prophets the same? How could this be possible? As Maimonides and Aquinas and Avicenna sorted it all out, they wanted to know what was the relation of the teachings and practices of revelation to the analyses of Plato and Aristotle who stood for them, as they still stand for us, as the best in human wisdom itself?

For Schumacher, however, the perplexity of the modern student arose from another source.

All through school and university I had been given maps of life and knowledge on which there was hardly a trace of many of the things that I most cared about and that seemed to me to be of the greatest possible importance to the conduct of my life. I remembered that for many years my perplexity had been complete; and no interpreter had come along to help me.
E. F. Schumacher, <A Guide for the Perplexed> (New York: Harper Colophon, 1977), p. 1.

He finally began to understand that the very nature of modern science, itself the heart of society and of the university, itself a product of western intellectual history, methodologically excluded the most important questions that concern any human being.

The heart and mind, consequently, will remain empty especially at the highest and best of academic institutions because such education simply will not deal, as it could and should, with what is most important to know and to do. Anyone who completes a modern academic degree thinking he has a full heart will not have any idea about what his own heart is about. As Schumacher realized, to find the truth we must look elsewhere. We must again look at the classics. We must again look at the mystics and the metaphysicians. John Senior wrote in this regard something that is very true which will yet seem so mysterious to most of us:

The greatest contribution to the restoration of order in all human society would be the founding in every city, town, and rural region, of communities of contemplative religious committed to the life of consecrated silence, so that silence would be present to our works and days . . . to judge and measure all our noisy accomplishments.8

The contemplation of our own accomplishments reveals their grandeur but also their limits. We are a generation desperately in need of the freedom of limits.

C. S. Lewis
Not too long ago, I received a letter from a friend who had just arrived at a teaching position on a university campus, in Virginia, in fact. Since a new professor is not easily recognized in such exalted status at least until classes begin, my friend could go about, as she put it, “incognito.” Shades of Waugh at Lancing in 1921, she heard even today, that “religion is the same as superstition.” But what seemed to be the most “amazing” theme was this, that “it is dangerous to have high moral standards because, if you do, then you will impose them on others (and this is dangerous and bad), so, therefore, you ought to have low standards.” However much we are all sinners according to our religious traditions, vice and mediocrity are in the academic air as democratic and intellectually respectable.

Needless to say, for anyone familiar with a C. S. Lewis, such a viewpoint is nothing but a central strand of popular modern social and philosophic theory carried to its logical conclusion on a famous campus in Virginia or anywhere else. The “cause” of corruption, in such a view, is the good. The only truth is that there can be no claim to truth, no claim, that is, that might be spoken to others with authority and with earnestness. Therefore, any good must be subjective. It is impossible to distinguish one good and another. All activities and all thoughts in themselves are of equal weight even if they are contradictory to one another, even if they are dangerous. The low and the high are the same things. It makes no difference what we do just so long as what we do has no influence on any one else. We have all, in a famous phrase from Machiavelli, “lowered our sights” because the good is too good for any of us. The “modern project” in Leo Strauss’s phrase is complete. We allow nothing that has an origin outside of ourselves.

I mentioned C. S. Lewis in this context because however much we might be subject to such views, however much we run across them in books, in classes, in the media, or in our lives, we suspect that they cannot bear final examination. Lewis wrote that there are two points to keep in mind:

First, that human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and cannot really get rid of it. Secondly, that they do not in fact behave in that way. They know the Law of Nature; they break it. These two facts are the foundation of all clear thinking about ourselves and the universe we live in.
C. S. Lewis, <Mere Christianity> (London: Collins, 1961), p. 19

Why does understanding seek faith? Precisely to explain why we try to justify these lowered sights, to think clearly about these things we cannot really get rid of if we reflect on ourselves. Why does faith seek understanding? Because it must know these facts, that there is a law, that we break it.

Dorothy Sayers
In her penetrating essay, “Creed or Chaos,” which she wrote in 1949, Dorothy Sayers spoke of running into a young and intelligent priest. The priest told her that one of the most hopeful signs in the world was the growing pessimism with which many of us viewed human nature. In these days in which even the President has decided that we must actually war against drug czars, not Communist ones, that we may be destroyed by drugs before we are overcome by ideology, these words seem even more pertinent. “There is a great deal of truth in what (the priest) says,” Dorothy Sayers reflected.

The people who are most discouraged and made despondent by the barbarity and stupidity of human behavior at this time are those who think highly of <homo sapiens> as a product of evolution, and who still cling to an optimistic belief in the civilizing influence of progress and enlightenment. To them, the appalling outbursts of bestial ferocity in the totalitarian states, and the obstinate selfishness and stupid greed of capitalist society, are not merely shocking and alarming. For them, these things are the utter negation of everything in which they have believed. It is as though the bottom had dropped out of their universe. The whole thing looks like a denial of all reason, and they feel as if the whole world had gone mad together.
Dorothy L. Sayers, “Creed or Chaos?” in <The Whimsical Christian> (New York: Macmillan, 1978), pp. 44-45

Faith Seeks Understanding Because From Faith We Learn That We Are Somehow Fallen
If it is best that we lower our sights lest we imply that there really is something objectively good for ourselves and for others; if finally the world we thought we wanted turns out to be a world that somehow seems to have gone “mad,” then we must begin to suspect the theories on which this world is built.

Why does understanding seek faith? It is because understanding does not succeed in explaining what it sets out to understand. Things actually happen and take place that do not explain themselves. There seems to be a constant diversity between the theories of modernity, which are based upon the autonomy of the human intellect that admits no knowledge but what proceeds from human will, and the kinds of things that actually happen to which our minds as original sources ought to be open. In other words, the troubled searching but never finding, which is characteristic of modern thought, the fear of finding out that something indeed arises outside of ourselves that we ought to do and hold, something that would require our change of hearts, leave their own empirical records in the lives and thoughts of our kind.

As this record becomes more and more negative, we begin to realize that the conditions of society and of soul are more accurately described by, say, Paul’s <Epistle to the Romans>, or Augustine’s <City of God>, or Plato’s <Laws>, than by what we are taught in the best universities, where we do little study of Paul or Augustine or even Plato because they find in things a right order. We are not academically allowed to suspect that these sources might indeed contain answers to our real problems. And if they do, we must wonder how is it that such a source can know more about ourselves than we, apparently the best of our kind, know about ourselves?

Why does faith seek intelligence? Lucy and Charlie Brown are talking over the stone fence. Charlie is clearly pretty bothered and down-in-the-mouth. Lucy with some uncharacteristic sympathy asks him, “Discouraged again, eh, Charlie Brown?” Charlie brightens up a bit at this show of interest as both he and Lucy gaze distantly over the fence. She continues, “You know what your trouble is? The whole trouble with you is that you’re you!” Immediately, Charlie turns about, somewhat annoyed, to face Lucy, “Well, what in the world can I do about that?” Finally, he simply stares at her when Lucy responds coolly, “I don’t pretend to be able to give advice. . . . I merely point out the trouble.”11

The trouble, in other words, lies somehow not in our institutions, even though they can be better or worse as Aristotle understood, nor in the structure of the world, nor in the skies. The trouble lies in ourselves, in our freedom. No one tells us this except orthodox religion and the philosophy developed in an effort to explain it. In Sigrid Undset’s biography of St. Catherine of Siena, we read: “Catherine’s opinion was that politics are never anything but the product of a person’s religious life.”12 The condition of our souls is anterior to the condition of our polities.

God Ultimately Requires Of Us Is Obedience To His Will
G. K. Chesterton once noticed an invitation in one of the London papers inviting general response to the set question: “What’s wrong with the world?” Chesterton immediately sat down and wrote a letter to the Editor in which he replied quite briefly: “Dear Sir: What’s wrong with the world? I am. Signed, G. K. Chesterton.” One of the main reasons faith seeks understanding is because from faith we learn that we are somehow fallen, that there is some disorder in our lives which we experience and need to account for but for which we have no apparent explanation. That there is something wrong is not merely a proposition of revelation. Aristotle himself often noted that man left to himself was the worst of the animals. No one gives a more graphic description of human corruption than a Plato. These classic philosophers knew that we were fallen, but they did not know of The Fall.

So faith seeks understanding. We have all encountered the young man or young woman, even the old professor, who informs us that he does not believe in God because of well, how could there be a God with all the poverty and pain and evil in the world? If we know of the Book of Job, of course, we are already prepared somewhat for the fact that what God ultimately requires of us is not the elimination of poverty or pain but obedience to his Will. Even those who are poor, even those who suffer, even those who are humiliated can reach that purpose for which each was primarily created. Some indeed think they can do so easier than those who are rich, intelligent, and well-made. The harlots and publicans evidently go first into the kingdom of God, a hard saying for us all. But what about it? Could we not have had a better universe, one in which pain and evil were eliminated? Isn’t God responsible for the mess we are in? Of course, we know that other worlds are quite possible. We know about <Perelandra> and the “Silent Planet.” The question that more directly concerns us, however, is whether we ourselves are possible in other worlds? And if not, do we have any reason for rejoicing in this one?

After all, some strange congruities are before us. In spite of the fact that there is so much disorder in ourselves and in the world against which the enlightened mind rebels as if it were not its own fault or concern, some things do seem to belong together. If it is a mystery about why there is pain or evil, a much more subtle mystery persists over the question of why there is joy than over why there is pain and evil.

Hillarie Belloc
Hillarie Belloc once wrote a perfectly wonderful novel, or perhaps an allegory of himself, called <The Four Men>, about Sussex, the heart of England, of what happened on a walk on Halloween, and All Hallows’ Day, and All Souls’ Day in 1902. On All Saints’ Day, All Hallows’ Day, the Four Men found an old inn “brilliantly lighted,” with small square panes and red curtains. They entered the inn, into a “pleasant bar” which opened out into a large room where about fifteen or twenty men were assembled to drink and sing.

Belloc continued:

Their meal was long done, but we ordered ours, which was of such excellence in the way of eggs and bacon as we had none of us until that moment thought possible upon this side of the grave. The cheese also, of which I have spoken, was put before us, and the new cottage loaves, so that this feast, unlike any other feast that yet was since the beginning of the world, exactly answered to all that the heart had expected of it, and we were contented and were filled.
Hilaire Belloc, <The Four Men> (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984), p. 147

How is it, we wonder, that we are so made that the things that content us are actually found in this world? How are we to understand this? Can it be an accident? Did the eggs and the bacon and the cheese and the inn and the appetite all just happen? Or are we indeed made for these things and are they made for us, even when, like the cheeses, we make them ourselves?

A Promise Of Personal Salvation And A Way To It That Does Not Depend On The Social, Political Or Philosophical
Faith seeks understanding because we are “fit to receive and to have” such things, as George MacDonald implied. Yet, we must make ourselves ready to receive them. How is it that we are content and filled in anything? Must this completion be seen in the light of our experience that we did not cause ourselves either to be or to be human beings? We could never have guessed that things actually fit together. C. S. Lewis, in his usual way, put it well:

Reality, in fact, is always something you couldn’t have guessed. That’s one of the reasons I believe Christianity. It’s a religion you couldn’t have guessed. . . . What is the problem? A universe that contains much that is obviously bad and apparently meaningless, but containing creatures like ourselves who know that it is bad and meaningless. There are only two views that face all the facts. One is the Christian view that this is a good world that has gone wrong, but still retains the memory of what it ought to have been. The other is the view called Dualism. Dualism means the belief that there are two equal and independent powers at the back of everything, one of them good and the other bad, and that this universe is a battlefield in which they fight out an endless war.
C. S. Lewis, <The Case for Christianity> (New York: Macmillan, 1943), pp. 36-37

This universe we could not have guessed, yet it exists. Faith teaches which of these understandings is the correct one, either the good world in which something, something we find in ourselves, has gone wrong, or the endless war of the worlds.

But if something has gone wrong, some way to make it right is to be sought. Yet if there is a way to correct what is wrong, will we recognize it? And will it be the way we expected? Will we be among those who did not believe that any good could come out of Nazareth, because well, where is this Nazareth anyhow? This Incarnation is not the way to repair a world, this baptism, this greater love than this, this body and blood. These ways are, as Paul said of the philosophic Greeks, intellectual scandals. We need something practical, some plan. Yet we still find a Karol Wojtyla calmly telling a group of evidently hesitant bishops, in this case American ones:

We are the guardians of something given, and given to the Church universal, something which is not the result of reflection, however competent, on cultural and social questions of the day, and is not merely the best path among many, but the one and only path to salvation.
John Paul II, “I Confirm You to Truth,” Address to Joint Assembly of the U. S. Archbishops and the Department Heads of the Roman Curia, March 11, 1989, The Pope Speaks, 34 (September/October, 1989), pp. 254-55

At the same time, present in the world is a promise of personal salvation and a way to it that does not depend on anything arising from society, politics, or philosophy.

The Thesis Of Boredom
Samuel Johnson, in his famous trip to the Hebrides in 1774, told of stopping in October at the Island of Ulva, near which was a small adjacent island called Staffa, about which a famous book had been recently written, but concerning which tome no one on the island seemed to know anything. Johnson continued:

When the islanders were reproached for their ignorance, or insensitivity of the wonders of Staffa, they had not much to reply. They had indeed considered it little, because they had always seen it; and none but philosophers, nor they always, are struck with wonder, otherwise than by novelty.16

That we initially are struck by wonder, not need or want, was for Aristotle the foundation of all thought pursued for its own sake. But that we be struck even beyond the ordinary wonder, this was the classic purpose of miracles, of our being called specially to attend to certain events that we might otherwise not notice because, like the islanders on Ulva, we had always seen them.

Why does faith seek understanding? In modern cosmological speculation a fear has been prevalent that we would not find other intelligent life in the universe. We have now explored the last of the Planets of our own solar system. We can see pretty clearly that in this system we are quite alone. Neither radio astronomy nor space exploration has given us any indication that there is anything but us. To be sure, we read statistics showing that there are so many billions of stars in the universe that surely there must be, by the law of averages, other beings like unto ourselves. Other studies, however, hint that the specificity required that human life exist in the universe is so unlikely and rare that is begins to look like the formation of man was the very purpose of the universe.17 The discovery of only ourselves is anything but exhilarating for many, for if we are meant to be in some sense, then we have a purpose that is not entirely a product of our own will or intellect.

No doubt mankind has some mission toward the physical universe. Even on earth, however, there begin to be Hegelian type philosophers who now despair because evidently western liberalism has won the great battles and proved the ideologies designed to reorganize the world to be merely the tyrannies they are. Some find solace in the wars of religion that still rage on the planet, the Middle East, perhaps, because there at least something ultimate still seems at stake. But in essence intellectuals with a this-worldly perspective begin to speak a new kind of despair. <The Wall Street Journal> took pains to note the theories of Francis Fukuyama who has been attracting attention with this “end of history,” thesis, so reminiscent of Nietzsche. Fukuyama “thinks that democratic liberalism has triumphed (a good thing), that ideologies are disappearing (also good, he feels), but that the new order may bring on ‘centuries of boredom’.”18

This thesis of boredom is, after all, not unlike the “gloom” that Waugh on losing his faith experienced as a young man in England after World War I. And indeed it probably stems from the same source. Faith seeks understanding. Let us suppose it is true, for the sake of argument, that the ideologies are dead. Voegelin had already stressed this fact:

Exhausting The Ideologies
We have, since the mid-and late nineteenth century, since Comte, Marx, John Stuart Mill, Bakunin (and so on), no new ideologist. All ideologies belong, in their origin, before that period; there are no new ideologies in the twentieth century.19

If the twentieth century has exhausted the ideologies allowing them to work themselves out in practice so that we can see their results, it does not follow that liberalism itself is not one of these ideologies, one of the successful ones. The fact, if it is a fact, that it has won, does not mean that it is not itself a man-made theoretical construct that is itself reductionist, itself cutting man off from the true ends and issues for which he is made.

In the revelational tradition, the purpose of the world is not some sort of perfect world order, nor is it a kind of unlimited freedom to do whatever we wish, though we may seek both. Rather the world is a place of trial, a vale of tears, if you will. This does not deny that there may indeed be some kind of inner-worldly mission for mankind. But the drama of history and individual being relates directly to the ground of being, to God. The world exists for something other than itself. It exists in order that we might have time and space in which to choose what it is we are about. The drama of existence remains in the human heart; and the configurations of the world, its political and social orders, are merely, as Plato and Aristotle saw, reflections of these choices.

If faith seeks intelligence, as it does, it is to understand how the world might be seen as an arena for the action of God and the actions of men such that the very purpose of the world is achieved in the final actions of men with regard to that insufficiency that defines their very being. St. Thomas asked the question of whether the world was created in justice or mercy. He answered that it was created in mercy because it did not presuppose anything that God “had” to do. The order of the world, its diversities, inequalities, its vastness of time and space, are themselves good. We do not suffer any injustice in our being what we are. If our existence as such is not “unjust,” then it follows that it must come about from a source beyond justice. What is beyond justice is gift and generosity and love. If this is the source of our being, if this is what faith teaches intelligence, then we can begin to understand ourselves in a more lightsome way.

The Doctrine Of Salvation
Josef Pieper, in conclusion, remarked that “Christian doctrine is primarily concerned with the doctrine of salvation, not with interpreting reality or human existence. But it implies as well certain fundamental teachings on specific philosophic matters — the world and existence as such.”20 Faith seeks intelligence because it knows that all things do fit together, that nothing will be “true” and contradict the particular path of our salvation that is founded in faith. It is not just any way, but “the Way,” as the early Christians said of themselves.

When George MacDonald remarked “that there is no part of our nature that shall not be satisfied,” he intended to include our intelligence. St. Thomas insisted, therefore, that the primary locus and act of precisely the beatific vision, of our final receiving of God as our end, was not found in our will by which we loved God but in our intellect in which we knew Him as He is, face to face, to use Paul’s striking phrase.

We should, like the young Waugh, I think, be “eager to dispute the intellectual foundations of Christianity.” If we dispute with that openness to all truth and to all sources which Christianity insists to be required for its intellectual integrity, not reducing our attention by method or prejudice or bad will or corrupt lives, we will discover, much to our astonishment, that there are indeed intellectual foundations to this faith. We will not, for the most part, find these in the universities or in the culture except incidentally, in obscure books and in holy lives, in “consecrated silence,” in our concern about the gloom and boredom into which the culture by its own confession seems to be experiencing.

We will continue to be, like E. F. Schumacher, perplexed that the ultimate questions are never even mentioned or if mentioned, never given a fair hearing. Yet, there is Belloc, the suspicion that there are feasts unlike any other feasts since the beginning of the world that are exactly answers to what our heart might expect. There are strange incongruities that we will encounter that no system will explain to us. Is it, to recall Lewis’ alternative, a good world that has gone wrong or an eternal battlefield in which endless wars are fought in our fields or in our hearts?

When we think of these things are we, unlike the islanders of Staffa whom Johnson encountered, struck with the novelty of it all, struck enough to wonder as philosophers should about that “something that is not the product of human reflection,” something not just the best path but the only path? Let us indeed like Waugh give a “brief history of our own religious opinions” to see what it is we are incited to think because of our faith. We can indeed remain atheists even in the sacristy. Belief is both a gift and a choice. But we all have the experience that our own existence “does not exist out of itself.” We should not be either overly surprised or overly sad about the sad hearts in the best schools. Both the Greeks like Aeschylus and just men of the Old Testament like Job knew that man learns by suffering.

As Lucy told Charlie Brown, “the whole trouble is that you’re you.” Or to recall Chesterton’s answer to the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” — “I am.” This is the location of what is wrong and of what is the whole trouble. This is why Christianity is first a doctrine of salvation, because this is what we know about ourselves, about our finiteness and about our actions. Yet, this is a good world in which something has gone wrong, often something to which we ourselves have contributed. The world was created in mercy, not justice.

There are indeed good things God must delay in giving us because of what we are, beings who know that they did not cause themselves to be. Yet, “there is no part of our nature that shall not be satisfied — and that not by lessening it, but by enlarging it. . . .” If this is what faith teaches us, as it does, even if we be in the best universities in our time, or at Lancing in Waugh’s time, or in Sussex on All Hallows’ Day with Belloc, or in Siena with St. Catherine, or at Paris with St. Thomas, or at Corinth with Paul, we need to know what the world is like in which both faith and intelligence can and do exist. This is why understanding ultimately arrives at something more it wants to hear because of what it has discovered about itself and the world. This is why faith seeks understanding, not merely itself.


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