The life of virtue does not lead to salvation, it is a result of salvation.
1. Initial Trust
2. Spiritual Curiosity
3. Spiritual Openness
4. Spiritual Seeking
5. Intentional Discipleship
Quoting from the book, Forming Intentional Disciples by Sherry Weddell:
Where do we start when seeking to make disciples of unevangelized Catholics? Let us get a common assumption out of the way first. With most twenty-first century people (there are always exceptions), we can’t start with catechesis. They aren’t ready for it yet, and if they aren’t ready, it will just roll off like water off a duck’s back. In any case, catechesis is designed to foster the maturation of disciples, not the initial conversion of thos who aren’t yet disciples.
“The aim of catechesis is to be the teaching and maturation stage … the period in which the Christian, having accepted by faith the person of Jesus Christ as the one Lord and having given Him complete adherence by sincere conversion of the heart, endeavors to know better this Jesus to whom he has entrusted himself.” – Pope John Paul II
The National Directory for Catechesis outlines two critical steps that should precede catechesis: pre-evangelization and initial proclamation of the basic kerygma, or the Great Story of Jesus Christ. Both are necessary to awaken initial Christian faith, and as we have seen, Christian faith is necessary for catechesis to be fruitful.
Here is an article that relates to the above point:
Why do you suppose Blessed John Paul II talked about the “new evangelization” and not the “new catechesis”?
Until recently, I was the director of evangelization and catechesis at a large parish here in Denver. And in that time, it became clear to me that (1) there is a significant difference in meaning between those two terms and that (2) most parishes don’t fully understand that difference, and that hurts our ability to reach the people in the pews.
To put it simply, “evangelization” is the process of introducing someone to Jesus Christ. It is about sharing His good news with them, and inspiring them to make the radical decision to follow Him. It is the fundamental turning of the heart toward God, the reorientation of one’s entire life to live not primarily for self, but for Him. Evangelization is the “why.” Why do I renounce this world for the next? Why do I follow Christ?
“Catechesis,” which happens after evangelization, is the nuts and bolts of instruction — the “how.” It is where we learn in a systematic way what we need to do in order to follow Christ, how to live as a Christian, how to grow in faith and love and grace.
Catechesis, then, presupposes evangelization. It would make no sense to teach people how to live a certain way if they don’t understand why they would want to live that way. It would be like giving someone a road map to a place they have no interest in going. They’d have no use for the map. They’d be more likely to use it to line the bird cage than they would be to actually follow it.
And here is where I see the disconnect in most parishes.
Most churches operate on a presupposition. They assume that their congregations consist of the “faithful” — people who have been evangelized, who have made the decision to follow Jesus Christ, who desire to become “new creations” in Him. They are gathered together to pray, to worship and to learn how to deepen that relationship. The church’s catechesis exists to help those people, who have already made the decision to follow Christ, to follow Him more closely.
Only, in many cases, that presupposition is wrong.
It may have been true, in previous generations, that a majority of the people in the pews on Sunday mornings were fully evangelized, committed Christians who had given their lives to following Jesus Christ. That may still be the case in some evangelical congregations. But it is not the situation in the average Catholic parish here at the dawn of the 21st century.
I believe that there are a lot of people in those pews who have never been evangelized. They’re probably sincere people, for the most part. They’re there. They want to be “good.” They want to meet nice people, maybe please the grandparents, maybe fulfill some kind of obligation. But they don’t get it. They don’t understand the power of Christ to transform their lives. They don’t see the need for the radical, life-altering transformation that He offers.
It’s no wonder our catechesis doesn’t seem to be getting us too far. We’re offering them a road map to a place they have no interest in going.
And hence, the primary need in the average Catholic church is not for catechesis. It’s for evangelization. As Blessed John Paul II said in “Novo Millennio Inuente,” “Even in countries evangelized many centuries ago, the reality of a ‘Christian Society’ which, amid all of the frailties which have always market human life, measured itself explicitly on Gospel values, is now gone.” Our mission fields are no longer in far-off lands. They are right here, in our own cities, amongst the people who gather with us for Mass on Sunday mornings. Those are the people we need to introduce, or reintroduce, to the truth about salvation in Jesus Christ.
Hence the need for the “new evangelization.” There’s nothing really “new” about it, in the sense of new information. As John Paul II himself said, “The new evangelization does not consist of a ‘new gospel.’ … Neither does it involve removing from the Gospel whatever seems difficult for the modern mentality to accept.” What we need to do is to restore the ancient truths, in all of their splendor, and release them from the extremes of sterile question-and-answer catechesis on one side and “Kumbaya and felt banners” emotionalism on the other. We need to speak those ancient truths in ways that are relevant to our modern culture, without watering them down or losing what is essential in them.
How do we do that? Unfortunately, there is no road map for that. It isn’t just a matter of purchasing the right curriculum or scheduling the right programs. It is a matter, first of all, of allowing ourselves to be transformed in Christ. It is about becoming witnesses — showing them what transformation in Christ looks like, and inviting them to pursue the same through the power of our example.
To quote John Paul II one final time: “The new evangelization is not a matter of merely passing on doctrine, but rather of a personal and profound meeting with the Savior.” The first goal of parish ministries should be just that — to facilitate a “personal and profound” meeting between worshippers and the object of their worship, Jesus Christ. We shouldn’t assume they’ve already met Him personally, or that they even know much about Him. Because I’m betting that, in many cases, they haven’t.
But I’m thinking that, if they got to know Him, they’d probably really like Him.
Bonacci is a syndicated columnist based in Denver and the author of We’re On a Mission from God and Real Love.
“It is no great thing to associate with the good and gentle, for such association is naturally pleasing. Everyone enjoys a peaceful life and prefers persons of congenial habits. But to be able to live at peace with harsh and perverse men, or with the undisciplined and those who irritate us, is a great grace, a praiseworthy and manly thing.” – Imitation of Christ
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Lord, thank you for those who irritate.
A moment in the fire with them
strengthens my patience
and teaches me more about myself
than many hours
of peaceful meditation.
Lord, teach me to live at peace in turmoil
and among undisciplined men.
By this may your glory be evangelized
and known even among the harsh and perverse.
People often speak of reason as if it is a mathematics, and rightly so; but like the mathematical function, reason often allows more than one solution, and so in these matters that concern us most deeply we can plainly see that reason is not enough. For even as you make reason your master and follow her dutifully along, as with an equation that unfolds before you, nevertheless you will soon find that you are presented with a choice which reason itself has put before you and which reason alone cannot answer. It is precisely in this moment when you are confronted with a question: “Who are you?” Only when you have answered this question can you know how to make your choice. After all, it is your choice, not reason’s.
As I go over chapter IV more thoroughly, so many avenues of philosophical inquiry open up and I know these would be distractions but I still have to make note of them as I work my way through my “mental furniture.”
To mention just one, at the very end of his section on Profession as notional assent Newman goes into a digression that touches on group theory, the ontological nature of God, the distinction between notions and the “things themselves” – each of which open up enormous vistas of philosophical discourse – quite a digression!
To touch on just one of these, in the last sentence of the section on “Profession”, just before the section on “Credence” he reminds us of what he demonstrated in an earlier chapter where he shows how an assertion can be converted to an assent by making the assertion the subject of a proposition, and predicating of the proposition that it is true. Once I read him say it this way, I recalled that this is exactly what Frank Ramsey denies in his redundancy theory of truth (“Facts and Propositions” 1927, which is a very fruitful theory in mathematics according to what I have gathered of it).
Ramsey says that adding “is true” to a proposition is equivalent to asserting the proposition itself. Ramsey asserts that it is a “linguistic muddle” to treat “is true” and words like “truth” and “fact” as separate from the assertions they are attached to and denies that the word “truth” corresponds to a “thing” in reality, but is merely a convenient way of speaking. “‘The snow is white’ is true” is the same as saying “The snow is white” is an example frequently given.
We have now entered the realm of group theory and puzzlers like “This sentence is false” (which is false if true and true if false) and other paradoxes dealt with by Russel and Godel and soon we find ourselves faced with dealing with the entire thrust of the Vienna Circle, suddenly realizing that this digression has become quite serious and quite perplexing enough that men have spent their lives here.
These are just the sorts of discussions in which one begins to feel as if caught in a very deep and dangerous quicksand. It was just these sorts of problems which can leave the student of philosophy (this one at least) at a loss, and wondering, if ever a conclusion can be reached, who could follow it? For just as Newman puts forth his idea of converting an assertion into an assent with the predication of “is true,” so have men have put forth great tracts disputing this, and men disputing them back in turn and so on, and on and on.
And so one begins to wonder: how, if truth be this arduous to find, will anyone ever make their way to it? And if we were once and for all able to convince the world and solve these puzzles, what exactly would we have gained? For once we have come to some conclusion, if we are able to do so, what is that we have won? Imagining ourselves at this endpoint, having fought our way through Vienna and all the logical positivists who gather against us, I have to wonder if we would have at last satisfied the yearning that originally sent us on our quest? Imagining ourselves here, victorious in truth, what now of the mystery that originally captured our minds and our hearts?
Again, I imagine Job and his philosopher/theologian friends going back and forth and round and round these paradoxes and puzzles until they have developed a highly symbolic, rigorous system of logic that has stripped away all equivocation from propositions, seeking to avoid all the contradictions brought forth by the metaphors of our common language, only to end up with the “Incompleteness Theorem” which says nothing less than that the crystal palace they sought to construct (which I like to refer to as the Tower of Babel) can in fact never be built.
But again, even if it could be built, even if we could build a bridge to total and complete understanding and knowledge, would this satisfy? If we were able to construct a machine that could compute any answer, or if we were so brilliant as to be able to solve all the puzzles and mysteries ourselves, would we be satisfied at last? In short, is it really answers that we seek, after all?
I think the book of Job has much to say about this. And I sometimes think of philosophy as a tool, perhaps for sharpening the mind, but perhaps not for finding answers or resolving disputes. Like many tools, it can be used for and against the same purpose. Whether as an aid to finding God, or as an aid in losing God, perhaps it is the philosopher, not philosophy, which determines which of these paths is ventured. I like this thought because it corresponds to the gift of our human freedom. If philosophy had the power to resolve these questions in the way that mathematics has the power to resolve an equation, where would that put man’s relation to God vis-a-vis his human freedom? There would be no more room left for making a commitment, for keeping a covenant, or for love.
I used to think that what I sought was answers and that the mystery of life was about solving some puzzle, but I have come to believe that the mystery of life is not about solving, but rather about choosing. I have adopted the motto, “There are no answers, only choices.” Perhaps this goes too far, but I like the idea that some questions have not (and will not) be solved because some questions involve me so deeply as a person that the last thing I want is for those things to be resolved by some clever algorithm that has nothing to do with me as a person. The last thing I want for myself and my life is to be solvable. No. I do not want a solution for my life, I want a commitment. I want to choose. I want to exercise the fullness of my freedom and experience all the anguish and joy that comes with making a choice; with making a promise, and keeping it.
As Pope Benedict XVI says in “Introduction to Christianity” – “There is no escape from the dilemma of being human.” I am thankful that there is no escape, because what would it mean to escape this dilemma? It would mean the loss of my freedom as a person to choose, and more to the point it would mean the loss of my freedom to choose Christ, for if this were truly “solved” then I would have no more choice in the matter of Christ than I do in the matter of some maths equation. This is why faith is faith and not mathematics. It is at this point in the “digression,” when I see philosophy wanting to become a mathematics, that I have to realize that I am very far from what I seek.
And so, in the end, the consolation of philosophy is for me the acceptance that while I may make use of it for my ends, I do not feel the urgency of finding within it some solution that will resolve the problems of my life, or answer the quest I am on. Only whether I am able to make the choice that is before me, and keep it, will determine this.
“To the child who is learning how to swim we explain that because of natural laws there is no reason to be afraid, and if he will only make a few simple movements he will be able to swim. But the child is perhaps still afraid. He shrinks back, and does not seem to believe us. But finally the moment comes when he experiences for himself that what he was told is really possible, after all. He believes, and now he is able to swim.”
-Claude Tresmontant in “Toward the Knowledge of God”
— — –
Lord, you have challenged us to believe in you;
You have invited us into the water
and assured us we will not sink;
Listening to your word
now we prepare to leave our familiar shores.
Now we cry out, now we reach for you
like babes with arms outstretched
as we make our way to you,
Lord, teach us to swim.
The structure of color: another example of physics as geometry.
“Meditation is above all a quest. The mind seeks to understand the why and how of the Christian life, in order to adhere and respond to what the Lord is asking.” (CCC 2705)
~~~ ~~~ ~~~
Prayer is where the ultimate awareness of self occurs, for it is in prayer where we become most aware of our dependence on Another and therefore it is in prayer where we admit the lie of our self-sufficiency.
In prayer we enter into a relationship (I-Thou) that corresponds with our deepest, truest self. Otherwise it is nothing. Either we are true and we enter into a relationship, or we are false and are alone with our thoughts.
In prayer we are aware of the foundation from which our life, our being, springs. We are aware that we have not created ourselves, and that our creation is not in our past, but rather, it is in our present; it is in this moment, right now. And as our creation is present in every moment, it is present in every action, every breathe, which leads to the question, can our entire life become prayer?
Lord, teach me to pray
so that I may know you;
Lord, teach me to pray
so that I might be true.
Lord, teach me to pray
that I might know myself;
Lord, teach me to pray
that I might know you.
Lord, teach me to pray
with my every breath,
with my every word,
with my every action.
Lord, teach me to pray
so wherever I go
I can say, ”He is with me,
and has not left me alone.”
The king hath brought me into his chambers;
[...] He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.
The most profound insight of the Desert Fathers is that entering into the heart is entering into the kingdom of God. In other words, the way to God is through the heart. Isaac the Syrian writes: “Try to enter the treasure chamber … that is within you and then you will discover the treasure chamber of heaven.” [more...]
— — — —
Lord, call me to your chamber.
When I am distracted and confused;
When I am far from you and lost.
Call to me with the glance of another
so I may know I am not alone.
Call me to your chamber
that I may see your face.
Call to me in the gentle breeze
that speaks of your peace
so that I may feel your presence.
Call to me in the silence
so that I may hear you.
Call to me in the candle flame
that flickers in the darkness
so that I may see your light.
Lord, call to me
so that I may follow you
and know your love.
Lord, call to me
so that I may know
how to love.
They said, “We see plainly the Lord has been with you.
[...] So he made them a feast, and they ate and drank.”
May the Lord be plain to see in our lives.
Some therefore think religion is unreasonable, but is this true?
Religious knowledge cannot be imparted like other information, simply by scanning the sacred page. And so it is said that religious experience transcends reason, not in the sense of being unreasonable, but that such experience is not a product of reason.
Just as reason does not produce love, reason does not produce religious experience. Rather, reason merely seeks to understand something it did not generate. Grace does moves through scripture, but this is despite reason, not because of reason. Scanning the sacred page may or may not be followed by the religious experience, but it is not mere apprehension of the text that separates one from the other.
To say this does no damage to reason, nor does it dismiss reason, for surely it is necessary to seek an understanding of experiences. Love without reason would not be enough for the covenant of marriage. I must base my commitment fully upon my reason or else my promise becomes too fragile to hold and survive. Just as I must use reason to enter into a covenant with my lover, I must use my reason to respond to religious experience, though it was not my reason that produced it.
These are my notes from reading Churchill’s “History of English Speaking Peoples” and other histories of “Brettaniai” as the Greek merchant and explorer Pytheas named the island when he landed in 325 BC. I will be coming back to this page to fill in the gaps and flush out my learning, but for now I am tracing bloodlines…
Emma (985 – 1052)
Emma was the daughter of Richard, Duke of Normandy. She was also the second wife to Aethelred, Saxon King of England, who was in turn the son of King Edgar of the House of Wessex, from the bloodlines of Alfred the Great, the first Saxon king of England. Despite the great victory Alfred had won against the Viking siege of the English island in the 9th century, Emma’s husband, Aethelred, king of England, now pays tribute to the Danish king, Olaf Tryggvason, a Viking.
Olaf the Viking was a baptized Christian and was confirmed in 994 with Aethelred (who was baptized by St. Augustine) as his sponsor. Olaf takes an oath of peace with the king of England, (thus the tribute) but the subsequent king of Denmark, Sweyn Forkbeard would take the throne from Aethlered in 1013, likely in retaliation of his sister’s murder in a massacre ordered by Aethelred against the Danes in 1002.
After Forkbeard’s death in 1014, Aethelred returned to the crown (the Vikings ruled England for but one year) but Aethelred had to sign a pact with the noblemen of England, agreeing to bring reforms and to forgive all that had been said and done against him in his previous reign. This is the first time a pact is recorded between a king of England and his subjects.
The Danish raids of the Vikings continued under the rule of Sweyn Forkbeard’s son, Canute, who defeated Aethelred’s son, Edmund Ironside, who had actually rebelled against his father before reuniting with him before his death.
The Viking Canute conqured most of England and became king in 1016. He is the one who famously could not rule the waves and testified to the limits of the power of kings. He married Aethelred’s widow, Emma.
Emma, daughter of the Duke of Normandy and second wife to a Saxon king of England, now becomes the second wife of the king of England for the second time, this time to the Viking Canute of Denmark. Her Norman blood is mixed with Saxon blood, and Viking blood through her children.
The history of Emma is therefore the history of bloodlines mixing, which is the history of the island. She is a high-born Norman woman who is wife to two kings of England and mother to two kings of England. She sits at the crossroads of Norman, Saxon, and Viking rule. Two of her stepsons will also become king, as will her great-nephew, William the Conquerer, Duke of Normandy.
Matilda of Flanders, daughter of the Count of Flanders, was married to William the Conquerer (William the bastard), who becomes the first Norman king of England. Legend says Matilda originally refused his proposal, considering herself too high-born for a bastard. But this bastard fathered a Norman dynasty that changed England forever, supplanting the Saxon bloodline which had ruled England for nearly 500 years and would itself last nearly 100 years.
William the Conquerer and Matilda of Flanders produced Henry I, who married Edith, who renamed herself Matilda after her mother in law. Edith, wife of Henry I, known as Matilda of Scotland and Queen Matilda, was the daughter of the sister of Edgar the Aethling, the uncrowned king of England after King Harold and was related to Edmund Ironside of the House of Wessex. She therefore carried the line of Anglo Saxon blood. This is a significant detail. The families of the Normans were descended from Vikings (like the Danes) and their bloodlines continue to mix with the Saxon blood which has ruled the lands of England since the fall of Rome.
Henry I and Queen Matilda in turn had a daughter named Matilda. While she was still a child, Matilda, daughter of Queen Matilda and Henry I of England, was betrothed to Henry V, Holy Roman Emperor of the Salian dynasty of the four German Kings, also known as the Frankish dynasty. The Emperor died, ending the Salian dynasty, when “Empress Matilda” was 22 and still childless.
Henry I of England subsequently had his daughter, Matilda, married to the Count of Anjou (an enemy of England) for diplomatic reasons. This became a controversy after her brother, William Aethling (or Adelin) tragically died at sea, and Anjou, enemy of England, is now married to the heir in succession to the throne, Empress Matilda, daughter of Henry.
When Henry I falls ill and dies in 1135, Stephen, Matilda’s cousin, immediately seizes the throne despite having sworn not one but two oaths to Henry agreeing to accept Matilda as ruler after he died. Stephen’s rule is troubled and he soon loses control of the barons who begin minting their own coins. This is the first and last time a king of England loses control of the coin.
In 1137 Matilda takes seige of Western England and civil war breaks out. England is divided East and West. In 1141 Matilda defeats her cousin at the Battle of Lincoln and imprisons him. She arrives in London to be crowned, “Lady of the English” but she refuses the noblemen’s requests to halve their taxes. Matilda flees London as civil war returns to England. Stephen is released from prison and restored to the crown. For the first time in thier history, the people had a say in who was allowed to be king of England.
In 1147, Matilda and her first son returned to England with an invasion force, but she failed. Henry was enboldened, however. He was only 14 but he was convinced of his mother’s right to rule, and so his own.
Stephen dies in 1154. He is the last in the line of the Norman kings to rule in England; the last of the dynasty that began when his grandfather, William the Conquerer, defeated King Harold at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.
Empress Matilda’s son becomes King Henry II. The Saxon blood had returned to the crown. This new dynasty born of Henry II, the Plantagenet dynasty, will last 300 years.
Eleanor of Aquitaine (1122-1204)
Eleanor of Aquitaine was one of the wealthiest and most powerful women in Western Europe during the high Middle Ages. She was married twice, to enemy kings; first to the King of France, then to Henry II, King of England. She produced many children, including Richard I (Richard the Lionheart) and his brother John, both of whom would become king.
Eleanor’s husband, Henry II was one of the most powerful, charismatic of the English kings. Born in Anjou, Henry is only half English but rules Anjou, Normandy, Aquitain (France), and England all at the same time. During this period, the barons tried to grab power by building “illegal castles” and setting up baronial states which Henry ordered destroyed, establishing his dominance. Henry II is known for his legal innovations and for bringing his lands together under a “common law.”
Henry has 4 sons and in 1169 decides to divide his lands amongs them. His son, Henry gets England, Normandy and Anjou; Richard gets Aquitain; Jeffery gets Brittany; John is just a baby and gets nothing. However, Henry plans to conquer Ireland; a gift to give to his youngest. This division of his land was disasterous, only whetting his sons’ appetite for power; the seeds of discord and war.
This period is also a time of clashes with the Catholic Church over the authority of courts, taxes, lands, appointments of bishops, and so on. So Henry II sends his best and most loyal friend, Thomas Beckett, to Rome to become Archbishop of Cantebury to influence Rome and the Pope in the kings favor. But having given himself to a higher power, Thomas Beckett’s loyalty goes to the Catholic Church instead, shocking Henry. Thomas Beckett disputes his friend Henry over whether bishops are to be subject to the king’s laws and courts. The disputes came to a sharp point regarding clergy who had committed secular crimes. Thomas Beckett, Archbishop of Cantebury was protective of his flock and would not hand over a bishop charged with rape to be tried in the king’s court, maintaining the only the Catholic Church could try clergy.
In January of 1164, Henry passed the Constitutions of Clarendon, composed of 16 articles restricting ecclesiastical privelages and curbing the power of the Church courts and Papal authority in England, which had been extended under the weak rule of Stephen.
In December of 1170 Thomas Beckett excommunicated three bishops who were loyal to Henry over the Church. Enraged, the king publicly cursed his court for allowing Beckett to continue to thwart him. Taking the king’s word as a veiled order, four of the king’s knights went to Canterbury to arrest Beckett during a Mass. Refusing to be interrupted, Beckett proceded with the Mass and the four knights hacked him to death in front of the altar. Henry plunged into a deep grief. Outrage quickly spreads. People begin to claim the Henry II, King of England is worse even than Nero; worse evan than Judas. In 1173 Henry’s own sons lead a rebellion against him.
Henry responds by walking barefoot to the shrine of Thomas Beckett and submits himself to a public scourging by the clergy. He lay prostrate all day and night before the shrine of his best friend, Thomas Beckett, Archbiship of Canterbury. The next morning news spread that the rebellion had been thwarted.
Henry II dies in Anjou in 1189 after fighting against his sons who had allied with his enemy, the King of France.
After Henry’s death, Richard the Lionheart rules for 10 years, almost entirely from Jerusalem while fighting in the Crusades. He died on his way home. John, the youngest of Henry’s sons was not a mighty warrior. He was paranoid and obsessive, however, and as a result he focused on the administration of government and record keeping. His high level of documentation resulted in more and more taxes. Soon John loses the loyalty of his people and loses a third of his land to the king of France, Phillip Augustus.
By 1204 John had lost Normandy, Brittany, Maine, Anjou, and Toraine, holding only Aquitaine, his mother’s domain; Eleanor’s homeland. John struggles with Pope Innocent III who placed England under an interdict whereby Masses and sacraments were stopped. Pope Innocent III also deposes John and offers England to Phillip. John conceded everything to the Pope in order to keep the crown, paying Rome compensation for everything John’s army had seized from the Church after the interdict. Plus, John acknowledges the Pope as his overlord and offers to pay an annual cash tribute to Rome.
The Pope now has ultimate authority over England, which is leased out to the crown. John is humiliated as king and man. In 1214 he attempts to re-conquer his lands in France but loses in battle with Phillip. The people of England and especially the barons are enraged. They develop a list of demands to deliver to the king. In 1215 they meet the king in a field called Runnymeade. (This is re-enacted in the movie, “Robin Hood” with Russel Crowe)
John signs the Magna Carta which lays out the rights and duties of king and people. In rough outline these rights and duties are established as:
1) The church in England shall be free from royal interference.
2) The king’s rights are limited.
3) The people’s rights are expanded.
Once again in the history of England we see the English people, mostly barons and noblemen, playing a role in determining the nature of their rule.
John quickly appeals to Pope Innocent III to have Magna Carta declared null and void. Open war breaks out between the barons and King John. The barons even invite Louis, son of the King of France, to take the crown and rule them. For the first time since the earliest days of Saxon kings men had decided to be ruled by a foreign, hopefully disinterested power. Louis invades and seizes most of southern England, including London. John dies suddenly in 1216. His son, 9 years old, is quickly crowned. The barons surround the boy as his regents, hoping to raise and influence their king. Henry III is crowned and Magna Carta is re-issued by the baron regents.
Henry III is the builder of West Minster Abbey – the most ambitious building project Europe had ever seen. Henry III is influenced by French culture and royal style. The friction between the barons and the crown returns. Under the leadership of Simon de Montfort the barons conspire to develop a new constitution in Oxford, known as the Provisions of Oxford, which redefines the nature of the monarchy, making the king in name only, subject to parliament. The King of England was now a puppet, a mere figurehead. In 1258 the barons ruled at last.
In the following years the country became more and more polarized and Henry and his son, Prince Edward fought back. In 1262 Henry received a Papal bull exempting him from his oath and both sides began to raise armies. Civil war, known as the Second Baron’s War, breaks out. In May of 1264 Henry and his son Edward are defeated and captured.
In 1265, parliament expands to a wider class of the community, including shopkeepers and other community leaders. 15 months later Henry and his son Edward escape prison and regain control. Edward is crowned king, Simon de Montfort’s grave is defaced, but the ideas of parliament had taken root and it would be would be Simon de Montfort’s legacy that would be decisive in the future history of England.
Hammer of the Scots
Edward I saw the results of a weak king, his father John. He never forgot the lesson of the rebel barons and aligns himself with the common man, as against their baron overlords and promises “equal justice” to all his subjects. The memory of his father’s defeats made him wary of competing powers and he demands submission from the prince of Wales. After three refusals Edward declares war on Wales in 1273. He charges the prince with treason, the new high crime.
Egward also desired the king of Scotland to be subjected under his sovereignty and of the courts of England. When Edward calls the king of Scotland to an English court of justice at Westminster Abbey the Scots are provoked into rebellion. Edward seiges Edinburg and Scotland falls. Edward subsequently removes the stone of destiny upon which the Scottish kings had been crowned for 400 years. It would remain in English possesion in Westminster for the next 700 years.
In the movie Braveheart, it is Edward that William Wallace opposes, and some say that the legend of Robin Hood is actually based on William Wallace. Edward calls on parliament to get permission to levy taxes for his Scottish invasion. To get their support he promises to re-issue Magna Carta. Edward is buried at Westminster where it is written on his tomb, “Hammer of the Scots.”
The Murdered King
Edward II was very different from his father. He did not care for princely things, but liked rowing and common livelihoods. He was very conciliatory and agreed to rule with the consent of the nobles. But he had an open homosexual relationship that upset the nobles. They sent the king’s lover away in exile and eventually had him killed and it was known that the king could not save the one he loved most.
The Scots take advantage of a weak king in England, defeating him in battle and further damaging his reputation. Rumors began to spread that Edward II was not really the king’s son. In further embarassment Edward’s wife, Isabella, flees to France with her lover, Mortimer. Isabella and Mortimor invaded England with French soldiers in 1326. Isabella lands in England and claims the crown for her son, Edward III. To depose Edward II, Isabella and Mortimer accuse him of a series of high crimes against England. The king of England is imprisoned and murdered. To hide the murder, they inserted a hollow tube into his rear and ran a searing hot poker into his bowels. This was his final punishment for being a homosexual. English citizens killed their king.
The Chivalrous King
Edward III personified the values and virtues of the age. He was an excellent gamesman, great at the joust, a warrior king besting the best of his knights. But he was not an authoritarian. He was a family man, charming and affable while sporting, brave and most of all, popular. Edward III works with the nobles as was his pleasure and his duty. He tries to restore the order of Christian chivalry and strives to be another Arthur.
War was the highest sport of the day and it was a political necessity; the English loved their king only insomuch as he was victorious in war. In this Edward III did not disappoint. A master of the long bow, he conquers Scotland at the age of 21. Parliament finances his wars with France, as always negotiating victories along the way. As Edward III is victorious his people share in the plunder and nationalism begins to have a heightened significance in the politics of England.
These wars are very successful and actually remake England. Dominant, with abundant plenitude, wars now become supported only if they serve the “national interest.”
Philosophy, he writes, “is not a theory but an activity.” It strives, not after scientific truth, but after conceptual clarity.
How does one demonstrate an understanding of a piece of music? Well, perhaps by playing it expressively, or by using the right sort of metaphors to describe it. And how does one explain what “expressive playing” is? What is needed, Wittgenstein says, is “a culture”: “If someone is brought up in a particular culture-and then reacts to music in such-and-such a way, you can teach him the use of the phrase ‘expressive playing.’” What is required for this kind of understanding is a form of life, a set of communally shared practices, together with the ability to hear and see the connections made by the practitioners of this form of life.
“Understanding a sentence,” Wittgenstein says in Philosophical Investigations, “is more akin to understanding a theme in music than one may think.” Understanding a sentence, too, requires participation in the form of life, the “language-game,” to which it belongs. The reason computers have no understanding of the sentences they process is not that they lack sufficient neuronal complexity, but that they are not, and cannot be, participants in the culture to which the sentences belong. A sentence does not acquire meaning through the correlation, one to one, of its words with objects in the world; it acquires meaning through the use that is made of it in the communal life of human beings.
All this may sound trivially true. Wittgenstein himself described his work as a “synopsis of trivialities.” But when we are thinking philosophically we are apt to forget these trivialities and thus end up in confusion, imagining, for example, that we will understand ourselves better if we study the quantum behaviour of the sub-atomic particles inside our brains, a belief analogous to the conviction that a study of acoustics will help us understand Beethoven’s music. Why do we need reminding of trivialities? Because we are bewitched into thinking that if we lack a scientific theory of something, we lack any understanding of it.
One of the crucial differences between the method of science and the non-theoretical understanding that is exemplified in music, art, philosophy and ordinary life, is that science aims at a level of generality which necessarily eludes these other forms of understanding. This is why the understanding of people can never be a science. To understand a person is to be able to tell, for example, whether he means what he says or not, whether his expressions of feeling are genuine or feigned. And how does one acquire this sort of understanding? Wittgenstein raises this question at the end of Philosophical Investigations. “Is there,” he asks, “such a thing as ‘expert judgment’ about the genuineness of expressions of feeling?” Yes, he answers, there is.
When Wittgenstein was once discussing his favourite novel, The Brothers Karamazov, with Maurice Drury, Drury said that he found the character of Father Zossima impressive. Of Zossima, Dostoevsky writes: “It was said that… he had absorbed so many secrets, sorrows, and avowals into his soul that in the end he had acquired so fine a perception that he could tell at the first glance from the face of a stranger what he had come for, what he wanted and what kind of torment racked his conscience.” “Yes,” said Wittgenstein, “there really have been people like that, who could see directly into the souls of other people and advise them.”
“An inner process stands in need of outward criteria,” runs one of the most often quoted aphorisms of Philosophical Investigations. It is less often realised what emphasis Wittgenstein placed on the need for sensitive perception of those “outward criteria” in all their imponderability. And where does one find such acute sensitivity? Not, typically, in the works of psychologists, but in those of the great artists, musicians and novelists. “People nowadays,” Wittgenstein writes in Culture and Value, “think that scientists exist to instruct them, poets, musicians, etc. to give them pleasure. The idea that these have something to teach them-that does not occur to them.”
At a time like this, when the humanities are institutionally obliged to pretend to be sciences, we need more than ever the lessons about understanding that Wittgenstein-and the arts-have to teach us.
What is it in us that seeks the truth? Why do we seek the truth? How do we find the truth? What is the truth?
What? Why? How?
I have heard many esteemed positivists who are far more educated and intelligent than I am proclaim that most “why” questions that we ask are really “how” questions and that we would do ourselves a great service in the name of progress and enlightenment to put aside questions of why as into the dustbin of of our evolutionary history, along with our prehensile tails.
For example, they say that when we ask, “Why is the sky blue?” what we are really asking is not for the meaning or purpose of the blue sky, but rather, how is it blue, what causes it to be blue, for which chemistry and physics hold the answer. Positivists like to point this out because the how questions of the material world around us succumb well to the development of physics – so well, that some would desire to see that everything succumb to physics.
But is this a reasonable position to take? Is it even possible? Of all the matters most dear and most important to humanity, and to the heart of each individual, can physics really provide the ultimate answers and consolations we seek?
In short, is positivism enough?
I will quote someone with better credentials on this matter than I: It was William J Broad after all, the 2-time Pulitzer Prize winning science writer of the NYTimes who rightly says, “The scientific process is unable to answer the most important questions in life.”
And so to the positivists, we present a counter proposition and hold that the deepest yearnings of the human heart – that ethereal predicate for which we refer to when we use words like “humanity” – are never satisfied with the answers that the “how” provides.
The Teacher of Israel
Nicodemus makes the exact opposite mistake our positivist friends have accused us of when he comes to Jesus and asks him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter into his mother’s womb and be born?” (Jn 3:4). Nicodemus asks “how” but for what Jesus is describing there can be no how. When Nicodemus repeats his question, “How can these things be” (Jn 3:9) Jesus responds, “Are you the teacher of Israel and you do not understand these things?”
In this reference to Israel Jesus indicates that he is describing something more than “earthly things” (physics), something that transcends the physical. Just as you cannot ask “why” of love, you cannot ask “how” of the supernatural. You can deny love, and you can deny the supernatural (“heavenly things”), but you cannot ask these questions of them. The positivist is simply one who denies the reality of all things not bound to his question.
“We speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony.” (Jn 3:11)
Philosophy, Science, and Religion
Philosophy wants to know the “what” of the world. Religion wants to know the “why” of the world. Science wants to know the “how” of the world.
- What is it: philosophy
- Why is it: religion
- How does it work: science
Of these, is the God question a what, a why or a how? Is God a truth (a what) that you find, or is God why you look for truth in the first place?
According to the Catholic Church, the search for truth - the desire for truth, beauty, justice - is the very presence of God and this desire is what connects man to God and the things of this world to heaven.
According to the Catholic church, the world is both ordered and mysterious. It is both comprehensible and incomprehensible. It is both of these at once. Just as we are to ourselves. No amount of knowledge of how will ever answer why. Science will never discover God. This discredits neither science nor God. It merely states facts as they are. We can and cannot understand at the same time.
“The Summer Day”
by Mary Oliver
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean—
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down—
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
How far would you go? Would you sacrifice everything? Would you go all in?
Chapter 1: The Mass On The World
Since once again, Lord — though this time not in the forests of the Aisne but in the steppes of Asia — I have neither bread, nor wine, nor altar, I will raise myself beyond these symbols, up to the pure majesty of the real itself; I, your priest, will make the whole earth my altar and on it will offer you all the labours and sufferings of the world.
Over there, on the horizon, the sun has just touched with light the outermost fringe of the eastern sky. Once again, beneath this moving sheet of fire, the living surface of the earth wakes and trembles, and once again begins its fearful travail. I will place on my paten, O God, the harvest to be won by this renewal of labour. Into my chalice I shall pour all the sap which is to be pressed out this day from the earth’s fruits.
My paten and my chalice are the depths of a soul laid widely open to all the forces which in a moment will rise up from every corner of the earth and converge upon the Spirit. Grant me the remembrance and the mystic presence of all those whom the light is now awakening to the new day.
One by one, Lord, I see and I love all those whom you have given me to sustain and charm my life. One by one also I number all those who make up that other beloved family which has gradually surrounded me, its unity fashioned out of the most disparate elements, with affinities of the heart, of scientific research and of thought. And again one by one — more vaguely it is true, yet all-inclusively — I call before me the whole vast anonymous army of living humanity; those who surround me and support me though I do not know them; those who come, and those who go; above all, those who in office, laboratory and factory, through their vision of truth or despite their error, truly believe in the progress of earthly reality and who today will take up again their impassioned pursuit of the light.
This restless multitude, confused or orderly, the immensity of which terrifies us; this ocean of humanity whose slow, monotonous wave-flows trouble the hearts even of those whose faith is most firm: it is to this deep that I thus desire all the fibres of my being should respond. All the things in the world to which this day will bring increase; all those that will diminish; all those too that will die: all of them, Lord, I try to gather into my arms, so as to hold them out to you in offering. This is the material of my sacrifice; the only material you desire.
Once upon a time men took into your temple the first fruits of their harvests, the flower of their flocks. But the offering you really want, the offering you mysteriously need every day to appease your hunger, to slake your thirst is nothing less than the growth of the world borne ever onwards in the stream of universal becoming.
Receive, O Lord, this all-embracing host which your whole creation, moved by your magnetism, offers you at this dawn of a new day.
This bread, our toil, is of itself, I know, but an immense fragmentation; this wine, our pain, is no more, I know, than a draught that dissolves. Yet in the very depths of this formless mass you have implanted — and this I am sure of, for I sense it — a desire, irresistible, hallowing, which makes us cry out, believer and unbeliever alike:
‘Lord, make us one.’
Because, my God, though I lack the soul-zeal and the sublime integrity of your saints, I yet have received from you an overwhelming sympathy for all that stirs within the dark mass of matter; because I know myself to be irremediably less a child of heaven than a son of earth; therefore I will this morning climb up in spirit to the high places, bearing with me the hopes and the miseries of my mother; and there — empowered by that priesthood which you alone (as I firmly believe) have bestowed on me — upon all that in the world of human flesh is now about to be born or to die beneath the rising sun I will call down the Fire.
FIRE OVER THE EARTH
Fire, the source of being: we cling so tenaciously to the illusion that fire comes forth from the depths of the earth and that its flames grow progressively brighter as it pours along the radiant furrows of life’s tillage. Lord, in your mercy you gave me to see that this idea is false, and that I must overthrow it if I were ever to have sight of you.
In the beginning was Power, intelligent, loving, energizing. In the beginning was the Word, supremely capable of mastering and moulding whatever might come into being in the world of matter. In the beginning there were not coldness and darkness: there was the Fire. This is the truth.
So, far from light emerging gradually out of the womb of our darkness, it is the Light, existing before all else was made which, patiently, surely, eliminates our darkness. As for us creatures, of ourselves we are but emptiness and obscurity. But you, my God, are the inmost depths, the stability of that eternal milieu, without duration or space, in which our cosmos emerges gradually into being and grows gradually to its final completeness, as it loses those boundaries which to our eyes seem so immense. Everything is being; everywhere there is being and nothing but being, save in the fragmentation of creatures and the clash of their atoms.
Blazing Spirit, Fire, personal, super-substantial, the consummation of a union so immeasurably more lovely and more desirable than that destructive fusion of which all the pantheists dream: be pleased yet once again to come down and breathe a soul into the newly formed, fragile film of matter with which this day the world is to be freshly clothed.
I know we cannot forestall, still less dictate to you, even the smallest of your actions; from you alone comes all initiative — and this applies in the first place to my prayer.
Radiant Word, blazing Power, you who mould the manifold so as to breathe your life into it; I pray you, lay on us those your hands — powerful, considerate, omnipresent, those hands which do not (like our human hands) touch now here, now there, but which plunge into the depths and the totality, present and past, of things so as to reach us simultaneously through all that is most immense and most inward within us and around us.
May the might of those invincible hands direct and transfigure for the great world you have in mind that earthly travail which I have gathered into my heart and now offer you in its entirety. Remould it, rectify it, recast it down to the depths from whence it springs. You know how your creatures can come into being only, like shoot from stem, as part of an endlessly renewed process of evolution.
Do you now therefore, speaking through my lips, pronounce over this earthly travail your twofold efficacious word: the word without which all that our wisdom and our experience have built up must totter and crumble — the word through which all our most far-reaching speculations and our encounter with the universe are come together into a unity. Over every living thing which is to spring up, to grow, to flower, to ripen during this day say again the words: This is my Body. And over every death-force which waits in readiness to corrode, to wither, to cut down, speak again your commanding words which express the supreme mystery of faith: This is my Blood.1
FIRE IN THE EARTH
It is done.
Once again the Fire has penetrated the earth.
Not with sudden crash of thunderbolt, riving the mountain-tops: does the Master break down doors to enter his own home? Without earthquake, or thunderclap: the flame has lit up the whole world from within. All things individually and collectively are penetrated and flooded by it, from the inmost core of the tiniest atom to the mighty sweep of the most universal laws of being: so naturally has it flooded every element, every energy, every connecting-link in the unity of our cosmos; that one might suppose the cosmos to have burst spontaneously into flame.
In the new humanity which is begotten today the Word prolongs the unending act of his own birth; and by virtue of his immersion in the world’s womb the great waters of the kingdom of matter have, without even a ripple, been endued with life. No visible tremor marks this inexpressible transformation; and yet, mysteriously and in very truth, at the touch of the supersubstantial Word the immense host which is the universe is made flesh. Through your own incarnation, my God, all matter is henceforth incarnate.
Through our thoughts and our human experiences, we long ago became aware of the strange properties which make the universe so like our flesh:
like the flesh it attracts us by the charm which lies in the mystery of its curves and folds and in the depths of its eyes;
like the flesh it disintegrates and eludes us when submitted to our analyses or to our failings off and in the process of its own perdurance;
as with the flesh, it can only be embraced in the endless reaching out to attain what lies beyond the confines of what has been given to us.
All of us, Lord, from the moment we are born feel within us this disturbing mixture of remoteness and nearness; and in our heritage of sorrow and hope, passed down to us though the ages, there is no yearning more desolate than that which makes us weep with vexation and desire as we stand in the midst of the Presence which hovers about us nameless and impalpable and is indwelling in all things. Si forte attrectent eum.2
Now, Lord, though the consecration of the world the luminosity and fragrance which suffuse the universe take on for me the lineaments of a body and a face — in you. What my mind glimpsed through its hesitant explorations, what my heart craved with so little expectation of fulfilment, you now magnificently unfold for me: the fact that your creatures are not merely so linked together in solidarity that none can exist unless all the rest surround it, but that all are so dependent on a single central reality that a true life, borne in common by them all, gives them ultimately their consistence and their unity.
Shatter, my God, though the daring of your revelation the childishly timid outlook that can conceive of nothing greater or more vital in the world than the pitiable perfection of our human organism. On the road to a bolder comprehension of the universe the children of this world day by day outdistance the masters of Israel; but do you, Lord Jesus, ‘in whom all things subsist’, show yourself to those who love you as the higher Soul and the physical centre of your creation. Are you not well aware that for us this is a question of life or death? As for me, if I could not believe that your real Presence animates and makes tractable and endless even the very least of the energies which invade me or brush past me, would I not die of cold?
I thank you, my God, for having in a thousand different ways led my eyes to discover the immense simplicity of things. Little by little, though the irresistible development of those yearnings you implanted in me as a child, through the influence of gifted friends who entered my life at certain moments to bring light and strength to my mind, and through the awakenings of spirit I owe to the successive initiations, gentle and terrible, which you caused me to undergo: through all these I have been brought to the point where I can no longer see anything, nor any longer breathe, outside that milieu in which all is made one.
At this moment when your life has just poured with superabundant vigour into the sacrament of the world, I shall savour with heightened consciousness the intense yet tranquil rapture of a vision whose coherence and harmonies I can never exhaust.
What I experience as I stand in face of — and in the very depths of — this world which your flesh has assimilated, this world which has become your flesh, my God, is not the absorption of the monist who yearns to be dissolved into the unity of things, nor the emotion felt by the pagan as he lies prostrate before a tangible divinity, nor yet the passive self-abandonment of the quietist tossed hither and thither at the mercy of mystical impulsions. From each of these modes of thought I take something of their motive force while avoiding their pitfalls: the approach determined for me by your omnipresence is a wonderful synthesis wherein three of the most formidable passions that can unlock the human heart rectify each other as they mingle: like the monist I plunge into the all-inclusive One; but the One is so perfect that as it receives me and I lose myself in it I can find in it the ultimate perfection of my own individuality;
like the pagan I worship a God who can be touched; and I do indeed touch him — this God — over the whole surface and in the depths of that world of matter which confines me: but to take hold of him as I would wish (simply in order not to stop touching him), I must go always on and on through and beyond each undertaking, unable to rest in anything, borne onwards at each moment by creatures and at each moment going beyond them, in a continuing welcoming of them and a continuing detachment from them; like the quietist I allow myself with delight to be cradled in the divine fantasy: but at the same time I know that the divine will, will only be revealed to me at each moment if I exert myself to the utmost: I shall only touch God in the world of matter, when, like Jacob, I have been vanquished by him.
Thus, because the ultimate objective, the totality to which my nature is attuned has been made manifest to me, the powers of my being begin spontaneously to vibrate in accord with a single note of incredible richness wherein I can distinguish the most discordant tendencies effortlessly resolved: the excitement of action and the delight of passivity: the joy of possessing and the thrill of reaching out beyond what one possesses; the pride in growing and the happiness of being lost in what is greater than oneself.
Rich with the sap of the world, I rise up towards the Spirit whose vesture is the magnificence of the material universe but who smiles at me from far beyond all victories; and, lost in the mystery of the flesh of God, I cannot tell which is the more radiant bliss: to have found the Word and so be able to achieve the mastery of matter, or to have mastered matter and so be able to attain and submit to the light of God.
Grant, Lord, that your descent into the universal Species may not be for me just something loved and cherished, like the fruit of some philosophical speculation, but may become for me truly a real Presence. Whether we like it or not by power and by right you are incarnate in the world, and we are all of us dependent upon you. But in fact you are far, and how far, from being equally close to us all. We are all of us together carried in the one world-womb; yet each of us is our own little microcosm in which the Incarnation is wrought independently with degrees of intensity, and shades that are incommunicable. And that is why, in our prayer at the altar, we ask that the consecration may be brought about for us: Ut nobis Corpus et Sanguis fiat. . .3 If I firmly believe that everything around me is the body and blood of the Word,4 then for me (and in one sense for me alone) is brought about that marvellous ‘diaphany’ which causes the luminous warmth of a single life to be objectively discernible in and to shine forth from the depths of every event, every element: whereas if, unhappily, my faith should flag, at once the light is quenched and everything becomes darkened, everything disintegrates.
You have come down, Lord, into this day which is now beginning. But alas, how infinitely different in degree is your presence for one and another of us in the events which are now preparing and which all of us together will experience! In the very same circumstances which are soon to surround me and my fellow-men you may be present in small measure, in great measure, more and more or not at all.
Therefore, Lord, that no poison may harm me this day, no death destroy me, no wine befuddle me, that in every creature I may discover and sense you, I beg you: give me faith.
If the Fire has come down into the heart of the world it is, in the last resort, to lay hold on me and to absorb me. Henceforth I cannot be content simply to contemplate it or, by my steadfast faith, to intensify its ardency more and more in the world around me. What I must do, when I have taken part with all my energies in the consecration which causes its flames to leap forth, is to consent to the communion which will enable it to find in me the food it has come in the last resort to seek.
So, my God, I prostrate myself before your presence in the universe which has now become living flame: beneath the lineaments of all that I shall encounter this day, all that happens to me, all that I achieve, it is you I desire, you I await.
It is a terrifying thing to have been born: I mean, to find oneself, without having willed it, swept irrevocably along on a torrent of fearful energy which seems as though it wished to destroy everything it carries with it.
What I want, my God, is that by a reversal of forces which you alone can bring about, my terror in face of the nameless changes destined to renew my being may be turned into an overflowing joy at being transformed into you.
First of all I shall stretch out my hand unhesitatingly towards the fiery bread which you set before me. This bread, in which you have planted the seed of all that is to develop in the future, I recognize as containing the source and the secret of that destiny you have chosen for me. To take it is, I know, to surrender myself to forces which will tear me away painfully from myself in order to drive me into danger, into laborious undertakings, into a constant renewal of ideas, into an austere detachment where my affections are concerned. To eat it is to acquire a taste and an affinity for that which in everything is above everything — a taste and an affinity which will henceforward make impossible for me all the joys by which my life has been warmed. Lord Jesus, I am willing to be possessed by you, to be bound to your body and led by its inexpressible power towards those solitary heights which by myself I should never dare to climb. Instinctively, like all mankind, I would rather set up my tent here below on some hill-top of my own choosing. I am afraid, too, like all my fellow-men, of the future too heavy with mystery and too wholly new, towards which time is driving me. Then like these men I wonder anxiously where life is leading me . . . May this communion of bread with the Christ clothed in the powers which dilate the world free me from my timidities and my heedlessness! In the whirlpool of conflicts and energies out of which must develop my power to apprehend and experience your holy presence, I throw myself, my God, on your word. The man who is filled with an impassioned love of Jesus hidden in the forces which bring increase to the earth, him the earth will lift tip, like a mother, in the immensity of her arms, and will enable him to contemplate the face of God.
If your kingdom, my God, were of this world, I could possess you simply by surrendering myself to the forces which cause us, through suffering and dying, to grow visibly in stature — us or that which is dearer to us than ourselves. But because the term towards which the earth is moving lies not merely beyond each individual thing but beyond the totality of things; because the world travails, not to bring forth from within itself some supreme reality, but to find its consummation through a union with a pre-existent Being; it follows that man can never reach the blazing centre of the universe simply by living more and more for himself nor even by spending his life in the service of some earthly cause however great. The world can never be definitively united with you, Lord, save by a sort of reversal, a turning about, an excentration, which must involve the temporary collapse not merely of all individual achievements but even of everything that looks like an advancement for humanity. If my being is ever to be decisively attached to yours, there must first die in me not merely the monad ego but also the world: in other words I must first pass through an agonizing phase of diminution for which no tangible compensation will be given me. That is why, pouring into my chalice the bitterness of all separations, of all limitations, and of all sterile failings away, you then hold it out to me. ‘Drink ye all of this.’
How could I refuse this chalice, Lord, now that through the bread you have given me there has crept into the marrow of my being an inextinguishable longing to be united with you beyond life; through death? The consecration of the world would have remained incomplete, a moment ago, had you not with special love vitalized for those who believe, not only the life-bringing forces, but also those which bring death. My communion would be incomplete — would, quite simply, not be
Christian — if, together with the gains which this new day brings me, I did not also accept, in my own name and in the name of the world as the most immediate sharing in your own being, those processes, hidden or manifest, of enfeeblement, of ageing, of death, which unceasingly consume the universe, to its salvation or its condemnation. My God, I deliver myself up with utter abandon to those fearful forces of dissolution which, I blindly believe, will this day cause my narrow ego to be replaced by your divine presence. The man who is filled with an impassioned love for Jesus hidden in the forces which bring death to the earth, him the earth will clasp in the immensity of her arms as her strength fails, and with her he will awaken in the bosom of God.
Lord Jesus, now that beneath those world-forces you have become truly and physically everything for me, everything about me, everything within me, I shall gather into a single prayer both my delight in what I have and my thirst for what I lack; and following the lead of your great servant I shall repeat those enflamed words in which, I firmly believe, the Christianity of tomorrow will find its increasingly clear portrayal:
‘Lord, lock me up in the deepest depths of your heart; and then, holding me there, burn me, purify me, set me on fire, sublimate me, till I become utterly what you would have me be, though the utter annihilation of my ego.’5
Tu autem, Domine mi, include me in imis visceribus Cordis tui. Atque ibi me detine, excoque, expurga, accende, ignifac, sublima, ad purissimum Cordis tui gustum atque placitum, ad puram annihilationem meam.6
‘Lord.’ Yes, at last, though the twofold mystery of this universal consecration and communion I have found one to whom I can wholeheartedly give this name. As long as I could see — or dared see — in you, Lord Jesus, only the man who lived two thousand years ago, the sublime moral teacher, the Friend, the Brother, my love remained timid and constrained. Friends, brothers, wise men: have we not many of these around us, great souls, chosen souls, and much closer to us? And then can man ever give himself utterly to a nature which is purely human? Always from the very first it was the world, greater than all the elements which make up the world, that I was in love with; and never before was there anyone before whom I could in honesty bow down. And so for a long time, even though I believed, I strayed, not knowing what it was I loved. But now, Master, today, when though the manifestation of those superhuman powers with which your resurrection endowed you you shine forth from within all the forces of the earth and so become visible to me, now I recognize you as my Sovereign, and with delight I surrender myself to you.
How strange, my God, are the processes your Spirit initiates! When, two centuries ago, your Church began to feel the particular power of your heart, it might have seemed that what was captivating men’s souls was the fact of their finding in you an element even more determinate, more circumscribed, than your humanity as a whole. But now on the contrary a swift reversal is making us aware that your main purpose in this revealing to us of your heart was to enable our love to escape from the constrictions of the too narrow, too precise, too limited image of you which we had fashioned for ourselves. What I discern in your breast is simply a furnace of fire; and the more I fix my gaze on its ardency the more it seems to me that all around it the contours of your body melt away and become enlarged beyond all measure, till the only features I can distinguish in you are those of the face of a world which has burst into flame.
Glorious Lord Christ: the divine influence secretly diffused and active in the depths of matter, and the dazzling centre where all the innumerable fibres of the manifold meet; power as implacable as the world and as warm as life; you whose forehead is of the whiteness of snow, whose eyes are of fire, and whose feet are brighter than molten gold; you whose hands imprison the stars; you who are the first and the last, the living and the dead and the risen again; you who gather into your exuberant unity every beauty, every affinity, every energy, every mode of existence; it is you to whom my being cried out with a desire as vast as the universe, ‘In truth you are my Lord and my God.’
‘Lord, lock me up within you’: yes indeed I believe — and this belief is so strong that it has become one of the supports of nay inner life — that an ‘exterior darkness’ which was wholly outside you would be pure nothingness. Nothing, Lord Jesus, can subsist outside of your flesh; so that even those who have been cast out from your love are still, unhappily for them, the beneficiaries of your presence upholding them in existence. All of us, inescapably, exist in you, the universal milieu in which and through which all things live and have their being. But precisely because we are not self-contained ready-made entities which can be conceived equally well as being near to you or remote from you; precisely because in us the self-subsistent individual who is united to you grows only insofar as the union itself grows, that union whereby we are given more and more completely to you: I beg you, Lord, in the name of all that is most vital in my being, to hearken to the desire of this thing that I dare to call my soul even though I realize more and more every day how much greater it is than myself, and, to slake my thirst for life, draw me — through the successive zones of your deepest substance — into the secret recesses of your inmost heart.
The deeper the level at which one encounters you, Master, the more one realizes the universality of your influence. This is the criterion by which I can judge at each moment how far I have progressed within you. When all the things around me, while preserving their own individual contours, their own special savours, nevertheless appear to me as animated by a single secret spirit and therefore as diffused and intermingled within a single element, infinitely close, infinitely remote; and when, locked within the jealous intimacy of a divine sanctuary, I yet feel myself to be wandering at large in the empyrean of all created beings: then I shall know that I am approaching that central point where the heart of the world is caught in the descending radiance of the heart of God.
And then, Lord, at that point where all things are set ablaze, do you act upon me though the united flames of all those internal and external influences which, were I less close to you, would be neutral or ambivalent or hostile, but which when animated by an Energy quae possit sibi omnia subjicere7 become, in the physical depths of your heart, the angels of your triumphant activity. Though a marvellous combination of your divine magnetism with the charm and the inadequacy of creatures, with their sweetness and their malice, their disappointing weakness and their terrifying power, do you fill my heart alternately with exaltation and with distaste; teach it the true meaning of purity: not a debilitating separation from all created reality but an impulse carrying one though all forms of created beauty; show it the true nature of charity: not a sterile fear of doing wrong but a vigorous determination that all of us together shall break open the doors of life; and give it finally — give it above all — though an ever-increasing awareness of your omnipresence, a blessed desire to go on advancing, discovering, fashioning and experiencing the world so as to penetrate ever further and further into yourself.
For me, my God, all joy and all achievement, the very purpose of my being and all my love of life, all depend on this one basic vision of the union between yourself and the universe. Let others, fulfilling a function more august than mine, proclaim your splendours as pure Spirit; as for me, dominated as I am by a vocation which springs from the inmost fibres of my being, I have no desire, I have no ability, to proclaim anything except the innumerable prolongations of your incarnate Being in the world of matter; I can preach only the mystery of your flesh, you the Soul shining forth though all that surrounds us.
It is to your body in this its fullest extension — that is, to the world become through your power and my faith the glorious living crucible in which everything melts away in order to be born anew; it is to this that I dedicate myself with all the resources which your creative magnetism has brought forth in me: with the all too feeble resources of my scientific knowledge, with my religious vows, with my priesthood, and (most dear to me) with my deepest human convictions. It is in this dedication, Lord Jesus, I desire to live, in this I desire to die.
“The glory of God is the human being fully alive.” St Irenaeus
The late Irish poet and philosopher, John O’Donohue, is beloved for his book Anam Ċara, Gaelic for “soul friend,” and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. In one of his last interviews before his death in 2008, he articulated a Celtic imagination about how the material and the spiritual, the visible and the invisible worlds intertwine in human experience.
“In the Celtic tradition, there is a beautiful understanding of love and friendship. One of the fascinating ideas here is the idea of soul-love; the old Gaelic term for this is anam c.ara. Anam is the Gaelic word for soul and c.ara is the word for friend. So anam c.ara in the Celtic world was the “soul friend.” In the early Celtic church, a person who acted as a teacher, companion, or spiritual guide was called an anam c.ara. It originally referred to someone to whom you confessed, revealing the hidden intimacies of your life. With the anam c.ara you could share your innermost self, your mind and your heart. This friendship was an act of recognition and belonging. When you had an anam c.ara, your friendship cut across all convention, morality, and category. You were joined in an ancient and eternal way with the “friend of your soul.
…In this love, you are understood as you are without mask or pretension. The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home. Understanding nourishes belonging. When you really feel understood, you feel free to release yourself into the trust and shelter of the other person’s soul.”
I thought of him there, felt his spirit, and was differently attuned to the meaning and working of beauty … and that a defining quality of beauty is that we feel more alive in its presence. I have spent time since pondering a wonderful statement he made, so true for me right now, that beauty isn’t all about “nice, loveliness like” but a “kind of homecoming for the enriched memory of your unfolding life.”
“It is strange to be here. The mystery never leaves you alone. Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you. No one else can bring you news of this inner world.”
In his book Beauty: The Invisible Embrace, John O’Donohue writes,
“In Greek the word for ‘the beautiful’ is to kalon. It is related to the word kalein which includes the notion of ‘call’. When we experience beauty, we feel called. The Beautiful stirs passion and urgency in us and calls us forth from aloneness into the warmth and wonder if an eternal embrace. It unites us again with the neglected and forgotten grandeur of life.”
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“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one….Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket–safe, dark, motionless, airless–it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
The New York Encounter is a cultural festival that takes place for two days and one night on Martin Luther King weekend in New York City. This year marked the third edition of the festival. It’s eclectic—there are science lectures, art exhibits, panel discussions on John Paul II. It’s full of people—13 guests, 180 volunteers, 5 folk dancing groups; 2 chamber orchestras; 3 children’s groups for kids’ show and approximately 2,000 attendees per day. It’s free of charge. What is it all about?
Having completed his presentation on the question, “What is Christianity?” to an audience of hundreds at the New York Encounter, the curtain fell before him and Fr. Julian Carron turned around to find his way off the stage. He found his path immediately blocked by a camera crew from the TV channel of the Brooklyn Archdiocese. Would he be available for a brief interview? They spoke to him in Spanish—they worked on a TV show catering to the Spanish-speaking population of the diocese and they knew Fr. Carron is a Spaniard. Of course! A brief one, but yes, of course.
After a few perfunctory questions, the crew asks Fr. Carron a question that most modern-day professional philosophers will never deign to ask: “What is the relationship between faith and reason?” This being television, the answer had to be expressed in ten seconds or less.
Fr. Carron didn’t need that much time. He said: “It’s an encounter.”
Show, Don’t Tell
Fr. Carron has a degree in theology from the Universidad Pontificia Comillas in Madrid, so he was perfectly capable of giving the type of textbook answer that would satisfy someone who is dissatisfied by the simple reply, “It’s an encounter.” But at that place and time a long answer would have been a moot point. The New York Encounter is meant to be a stage upon which the answer to the TV reporter’s question could be seen. Reason is what we use to understand the world. If faith is somehow reasonable, then it should help us to understand the world better—with visible results.
One way to look at the New York Encounter is as a showcase of those visible results. This is why there were, in the 2012 Edition (January 13-25), events on politics (Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon spoke about the vocation of politics), science (Massimo Roberto of the Space Telescope Science Institute of Baltimore spoke about star formation), art (Jane Milosch on the painter William Congdon), education (Ross Douthat, Matthew Kaminski, and Chris Bacich on secondary education and the meaning of life) and concerts of dance and music—in short, virtually every realm of human endeavor.
The Encounter was not all about lectures and panel discussions, however. There was food and drink and, most importantly, music. A concert on the last evening of the Encounter—Sunday night—became the concluding spectacle of the festival. It was called “Pure American Juice” and it was a celebration of American musical traditions, from jazz to rock.
Saxophonist and composer “Blue” Lou Marini (of Blues Brothers fame), songwriter and singer Vaneese Thomas headlined; they were backed up by a band who could play everything from blues to rock and roll. The lead guitar was played by a very young music student named Phil Faconti; at one point, he got so into a Beatles tune that he lifted his guitar to his mouth and played a few notes with his teeth, a la Hendrix. The program was MC’d by Joey Reynolds, host of the Joey Reynolds Show, and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—a legendary disc jockey, his show was the highest-rated rock and roll program of all time.
So the Encounter is what happens when a group of people who experience life as Christians and pursue widely diverging interests and proclivities put their heads (and time, and strength) together, and launch a cultural festival. The cultural festival takes place in a building called the Manhattan Center near Penn Station. It is inspired by the Rimini Meeting, co-sponsored by Crossroads Cultural Center, and born out of the charism of Communion and Liberation.
These last few lines approach a question that the reporters did not have time to ask: Why put together an Encounter in the first place?
The Encounter is possible only because of a series of smaller encounters, which take place in many places around the world. Someone somewhere at some point in time and space met Ambassador Mary Ann Glendon, struck up a friendship, learned that she was writing a book about political vocation—The Forum and the Tower—and eventually asked her to give the keynote address of the NYE. The NYE does not count on the cultural cache of the Aspen Festival of Ideas or the money of the Venice Biennal, but even if it had both of those things, it would rely on the individual encounters between people and the actual, real-existing relationships that make exchange possible. “Encounter” is, through and through, part of the festival on every level.
But why do it? Angelo Sala, one of the founding members of both Crossroads Cultural Center and the New York Encounter, gave a speech in which he attempted to describe the reasons for doing what he does. The speech refers to Crossroads but—he tells us himself—it could be instantly applied to the NYE as well:
The main activity of Crossroads is the organization and promotion of public events on any topic that fascinates us. This was true at the beginning and it is still true today. It is a very important point for us: we choose our topics and speakers because of the way we’re struck by reality, not based on an ideology or a pre-determined agenda. When we started Crossroads, we had no intention of focusing on a predetermined subset of issues, people or ideas that fall under the “Catholic” label. On the contrary, for us, being a Catholic cultural center means precisely the opposite, that is, to be interested in everything, in the entire spectrum of reality. It means to have the ability – or at least the desire – to encounter people from all walks of life, and to look for and give value to everything that is true, good and worthy in various expressions of human life.
Here we can see, from another angle, how adequately the word “encounter” answers the TV reporter’s questions.
But more importantly, we can also see the beginnings of a new model—now, on the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council—of Catholic cultural engagement.
I have been reading Sherry Weddell’s book, Forming Intentional Disciples and one section that caught my attention is called “Living Curiously”:
“The Catholic life is to be a “sign of contradiction” in this world. That doesn’t mean we are to be nay-saying curmudgeons. Rather, it means we are to live lives of such inexplicable joy, love, faith and peace (even in trial) that all the normal categories by which non believers try to classify us won’t work.”
Earlier in the book she uses a quote from Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard from “Priest Among Men”:
“To be a witness does not consist in engaging in propaganda, nor even in stirring people up, but in being a living mystery. It means to live in such a way that one’s life would not make sense if God did not exist.”
“Living curiously means more than being ‘nice.’ It means that we think and act in Kingdom-oriented and countercultural ways in our daily lives. For instance, forgiving and asking forgiveness of those who have betrayed and abused us are perhaps the most countercultural things we can do – far more difficult and far more radically wonder-evoking than the moral teachings concerning sexuality that the media assumes are the most difficult aspects of the Catholic faith.”
Now, this caught my attention because I have met people who were living mysteries, people who attracted me for that reason, and then only later did I find our that they were devout Christians. In the cases I am thinking of, these people were not preachy and did not give sermons but neither would they shy away from their beliefs. They were not trying to convert anyone, which is why people were able to trust them. They were not preaching to anyone, which is why people were able to listen to them. It was their behavior, the way they carried themselves, the way they responded to situations, the way they treated others, in short it was their very being that made them mysterious.
Of one friend and colleague, I can remember wondering, “how does he do it?” I was intrigued by him and wanted to learn his secrets. And then I discovered the secret. He was with God. And it was just as Emmanuel Cardinal Suhard put it: once I realized that he was a man of strong faith in Jesus, the mystery became clear and simple. Faith in God was the only explanation that fit. Faith in God made this person make sense to me. This was a profound revelation for me – so much so that at times when I have considered changing jobs, the loss of daily contact with this person has given me serious pause. What could I possibly gain in career or money to offset such a loss?
I don’t know that I would describe this person as “intense” or “passionate.” But full of joy, love, faith, and peace? Definitely.
And so that is the model I use. If I am so full of joy, love, faith and peace that someone wants to know my secret I have no fear in telling them. But if I tell them my secret and I have no joy, love, faith, and peace to show then what value will they place on such a secret?
And then it really will be, a good day
This article (by a biologist) does a good job of rejecting the popular notion (known as scientism) that science can replace philosophy.
Scientism wrong on metaphysics:
The main fault of these arguments lies in their failure to distinguish between necessary and contingent being. A contingent being is one that might or might not exist, and thus might or might not have certain properties. In the context of modern quantum physics, or population genetics, one might even assign probability values to the existence or non-existence of some contingent being. But a necessary being is one that must exist, and whose properties could not be other than they are.
Multiverse theorists are simply saying that our universe and its laws have merely contingent being, and that other universes are conceivable and so also may exist, albeit contingently. The idea of the contingent nature of our universe may cut against the grain of modern materialism, and so seem novel to many physicists and philosophers, but it is not in fact new. Thomas Aquinas, for example, began the third of his famous five proofs of the existence of God (a being “necessary in itself”) with the observation of contingent being (“we find among things certain ones that might or might not be”). Whether or not one is convinced by Aquinas, it should be clear that the “discovery” that our universe is a contingent event among other contingent events is perfectly consistent with his argument.
Writers like Hawking, Mlodinow, and Smolin, however, use the contingent nature of our universe and its laws to argue for a very different conclusion from that of Aquinas — namely, that some contingent universe (whether or not it turned out to be our own) must have come into being, without the existence of any necessary being. Here again probability is essential to the argument: While any universe with a particular set of laws may be very improbable, with enough universes out there it becomes highly probable. This is the same principle behind the fact that, when I toss a coin, even though there is some probability that I will get heads and some probability that I will get tails, it is certain that I will get heads or tails. Similarly, modern theorists imply, the multiverse has necessary being even though any given universe does not.
The problem with this argument is that certainty in the sense of probability is not the same thing as necessary being: If I toss a coin, it is certain that I will get heads or tails, but that outcome depends on my tossing the coin, which I may not necessarily do. Likewise, any particular universe may follow from the existence of a multiverse, but the existence of the multiverse remains to be explained. In particular, the universe-generating process assumed by some multiverse theories is itself contingent because it depends on the action of laws assumed by the theory. The latter might be called meta-laws, since they form the basis for the origin of the individual universes, each with its own individual set of laws. So what determines the meta-laws? Either we must introduce meta-meta-laws, and so on in infinite regression, or we must hold that the meta-laws themselves are necessary — and so we have in effect just changed our understanding of what the fundamental universe is to one that contains many universes. In that case, we are still left without ultimate explanations as to why that universe exists or has the characteristics it does.
When it comes to such metaphysical questions, science and scientific speculation may offer much in fleshing out details, but they have so far failed to offer any explanations that are fundamentally novel to philosophy — much less have they supplanted it entirely.
Scientism wrong on Epistemology:
Natural selection can explain much about why species are the way they are, but it does not necessarily offer a specific explanation for human intellectual powers, much less any sort of basis for confidence in the reliability of science.
What van Fraassen, Quine, and these other thinkers are appealing to is a kind of popularized and misapplied Darwinism that bears little relationship to how evolution really operates, yet that appears in popular writings of all sorts — and even, as I have discovered in my own work as an evolutionary biologist, in the peer-reviewed literature. To speak of a “Darwinian” process of selection among culturally transmitted ideas, whether scientific theories or memes, is at best only a loose analogy with highly misleading implications. It easily becomes an interpretive blank check, permitting speculation that seems to explain any describable human trait. Moreover, even in the strongest possible interpretation of these arguments, at best they help a little in explaining why we human beings are capable of comprehending the universe — but they still say nothing about why the universe itself is comprehensible.
Scientism wrong on ethics:
Under Harris’s ethical framework, the central criteria for judging if a behavior is moral is whether or not it contributes to the “well-being of conscious creatures.” Harris’s ideas have all of the problems that have plagued utilitarian philosophy from the beginning. As utilitarians have for some time, Harris purports to challenge the fact-value distinction, or rather, to sidestep the tricky question of values entirely by just focusing on facts. But, as has also been true of utilitarians for some time, this move ends up being a way to advance certain values over others without arguing for them, and to leave large questions about those values unresolved.
Harris does not, for example, address the time-bound nature of such evaluations: Do we consider only the well-being of creatures that are conscious at the precise moment of our analysis? If yes, why should we accept such a bias? What of creatures that are going to possess consciousness in the near future — or would without human intervention — such as human embryos, whose destruction Harris staunchly advocates for the purposes of stem cell research? What of comatose patients, whose consciousness, and prospects for future consciousness, are uncertain? Harris might respond that he is only concerned with the well-being of creatures now experiencing consciousness, not any potentially future conscious creatures. But if so, should he not, for example, advocate expending all of the earth’s nonrenewable resources in one big here-and-now blowout, enhancing the physical well-being of those now living, and let future generations be damned? Yet Harris claims to be a conservationist. Surely the best justification for resource conservation on the basis of his ethics would be that it enhances the well-being of future generations of conscious creatures. If those potential future creatures merit our consideration, why should we not extend the same consideration to creatures already in existence, whose potential future involves consciousness?
Moreover, the factual analysis Harris touts cannot nearly bear the weight of the ethical inquiry he claims it does. Harris argues that the question of what factors contribute to the “well-being of conscious creatures” is a factual one, and furthermore that science can provide insights into these factors, and someday perhaps even give definitive accounts of them. Harris himself has been involved in research that examines the brain states of human subjects engaged in a variety of tasks. Although there has been much overhyping of brain imaging, the limitations of this sort of research are becoming increasingly obvious. Even on their own terms, these studies at best provide evidence of correlation, not of causation, and of correlations mixed in with the unfathomably complex interplay of cause and effect that are the brain and the mind. These studies inherently claim to get around the problems of understanding subjective consciousness by examining the brain, but the basic unlikeness of first-person qualitative experience and third-person events that can be examined by anyone places fundamental limits on the usual reductive techniques of empirical science.
We might still grant Harris’s assumption that neuroscience will someday reveal, in great biochemical and physiological detail, a set of factors highly associated with a sense of well-being. Even so, there would be limitations on how much this knowledge would advance human happiness. For comparison, we know a quite a lot about the physiology of digestion, and we are able to describe in great detail the physiological differences between the digestive system of a person who is starving and that of a person who has just eaten a satisfying and nutritionally balanced meal. But this knowledge contributes little to solving world hunger. This is because the factor that makes the difference — that is, the meal — comes from outside the person. Unless the factors causing our well-being come primarily from within, and are totally independent of what happens in our environment, Harris’s project will not be the key to achieving universal well-being.
The persistence of philosophy
The positivist tradition in philosophy gave scientism a strong impetus by denying validity to any area of human knowledge outside of natural science. More recent advocates of scientism have taken the ironic but logical next step of denying any useful role for philosophy whatsoever, even the subservient philosophy of the positivist sort. But the last laugh, it seems, remains with the philosophers — for the advocates of scientism reveal conceptual confusions that are obvious upon philosophical reflection. Rather than rendering philosophy obsolete, scientism is setting the stage for its much-needed revival.
Advocates of scientism today claim the sole mantle of rationality, frequently equating science with reason itself. Yet it seems the very antithesis of reason to insist that science can do what it cannot, or even that it has done what it demonstrably has not. As a scientist, I would never deny that scientific discoveries can have important implications for metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics, and that everyone interested in these topics needs to be scientifically literate. But the claim that science and science alone can answer longstanding questions in these fields gives rise to countless problems.
In contrast to reason, a defining characteristic of superstition is the stubborn insistence that something — a fetish, an amulet, a pack of Tarot cards — has powers which no evidence supports. From this perspective, scientism appears to have as much in common with superstition as it does with properly conducted scientific research. Scientism claims that science has already resolved questions that are inherently beyond its ability to answer.
…One longs for a new Enlightenment to puncture the pretensions of this latest superstition.
“Whoever is near me is near the fire.” The Christian must not be lukewarm. The Book of Revelation tells us that this is the greatest danger for a Christian: not that he may say no, but that he may say a very lukewarm yes. This being lukewarm is what discredits Christianity. Faith must become in us flame of love, flame that really fires up my being, becomes the great passion of my being, and so it fires also my neighbor. This is the way of evangelization: “Accéndat ardor proximos,” that truth may become in me charity and charity may lit up also the other. Only in this lighting up the other through the flame of our charity, evangelization really grows, the presence of the Gospel, which is no longer just word, but a lived reality.
St. Luke tells us that at Pentecost, in this foundation of the Church of God, the Holy Spirit was the fire that has transformed the world, but fire in the form of tongues, that is, fire which is however reasonable, that is spirit, which is also understanding , fire that is joined to the thought, to the “mens.” And this intelligent fire, this “sobria ebrietas,” is characteristic of Christianity. We know that fire is at the beginning of human culture, fire is light, heat, power to transform. Human culture begins when man has the power to create fire: with fire it can destroy, but with fire it can transform and renew. The fire of God is transforming fire, the fire of passion – certainly – that destroys also so much in us, that leads to God, but fire especially that transforms, renews and creates a novelty in man, which becomes light in God.
On the universal religious sense, by Pope Benedict XVI
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
Today I would like to continue reflecting on how prayer and the religious sense have been a part of mankind throughout history.
We live in an age in which the signs of secularism are evident. It seems that God has disappeared from the horizon of many persons or that he has become a reality before which one remains indifferent. However, at the same time we see many signs that indicate to us an awakening of the religious sense, a rediscovery of the importance of God for man’s life, a need of spirituality, of surmounting a purely horizontal, material vision of human life. Analyzing recent history, the prediction has failed of those who in the age of the Enlightenment proclaimed the disappearance of religions and exalted absolute reason, separated from faith, a reason that would have dispelled the darkness of religious dogmas and dissolved “the world of the sacred,” restoring to man his liberty, his dignity and his autonomy from God. The experience of the last century, with the two tragic World Wars, put in crisis that progress that autonomous reason, man without God, seemed to be able to guarantee.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church affirms: “In the act of creation, God calls every being from nothingness into existence. [...] Even after losing through his sin his likeness to God, man remains an image of his Creator, and retains the desire for the one who calls him into existence. All religions bear witness to men’s essential search for God” (No. 2566). We could say — as I showed in the previous catechesis — that there has been no great civilization, from the most ancient times up to our days, which has not been religious.
Man is religious by nature, he is homo religiosus as he is homo sapiens and homo faber. “The desire for God,” the Catechism also affirms, “is written in the human heart, because man is created by God and for God” (No. 27). The image of the Creator is imprinted in his being and he feels the need to find a light to give an answer to the questions that have to do with the profound meaning of reality; an answer that he cannot find in himself, in progress, in empirical science. Homo religiosus does not emerge only from the ancient world, but he crosses the whole history of humanity.
To this end, the rich terrain of human experience has witnessed the emergence of different forms of religiosity, in the attempt to respond to the desire for plenitude and happiness, to the need of salvation, to the search for meaning. “Digital” man and the caveman alike seek in religious experience the ways to overcome his finitude and to ensure his precarious earthly adventure. Moreover, life without a transcendent horizon would not have complete meaning, and the happiness to which we tend, is projected toward a future, toward a tomorrow that is yet to be attained.
In the declaration “Nostra Aetate,” the Second Vatican Council stressed it synthetically. It states: Men expect from the various religions answers to the unsolved riddles of the human condition, which today, even as in former times, deeply stir the hearts of men: What is man? What is the meaning, the aim of our life? What is moral good, what sin? Whence suffering and what purpose does it serve? Which is the road to true happiness? What are death, judgment and retribution after death? What, finally, is that ultimate inexpressible mystery which encompasses our existence: whence do we come, and where are we going?” (No. 1). Man knows that he cannot answer on his own his fundamental need to understand. Even if he is deluded and still believes that he is self-sufficient, he has the experience that he is not sufficient unto himself. He needs to open himself to the other, to something or someone, which can give him what he lacks, he must come out of himself toward the One who can fill the extent and profundity of his desire.
Man bears within himself a thirst for the infinite, a nostalgia for eternity, a search for beauty, a desire for love, a need for light and truth, which drive him toward the Absolute; man bears within himself the desire for God. And man knows, in some way, that he can address himself to God, that he can pray to him. St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the greatest theologians of history, defines prayer as the “expression of man’s desire for God.” This attraction toward God, which God himself has placed in man, is the soul of prayer, which is cloaked in many forms and modalities according to the history, time, moment, grace and finally the sin of each one of those who pray. In fact, man’s history has known varied forms of prayer, because he has developed different modalities of openness toward the on High and toward the Beyond, so much so that we can recognize prayer as an experience present in every religion and culture.
In fact, dear brothers and sisters, as we saw last Wednesday, prayer is not linked to a particular context, but is found inscribed in every person’s heart and in every civilization.
Of course, when we speak of prayer as man’s experience in as much as man, of the homo orans, it is necessary to keep in mind that this is an interior attitude, rather than a series of practices and formulas, a way of being before God, rather than carrying out acts of worship or pronouncing words. Prayer has its center and founds its roots in the most profound being of the person; that is why it is not easily decipherable and for the same reason, it can be subject to misunderstandings and mystifications. Also in this sense we can understand the expression: it is difficult to pray. In fact, prayer is the place par excellence of gratuitousness, of the tension towards the Invisible, the Unexpected, the Ineffable. Because of this, the experience of prayer is a challenge for everyone, a “grace” to be invoked, a gift of the One whom we address.
In all the periods of history, in prayer man considers himself and his situation before God, from God and in regard to God, and he experiences himself as being a creature in need of help, incapable of achieving by himself the fulfillment of his existence and his hope. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein reminded that “to pray means to feel that the meaning of the world is outside the world.” In the dynamic of this relationship with the One who gives meaning to existence, with God, prayer has one of its typical expressions in the gesture of kneeling. It is a gesture that bears in itself a radical ambivalence: in fact, I can be obliged to kneel — condition of indigence and slavery — or I can kneel spontaneously, confessing my limit and, hence, my need for the Other. To Him I confess that I am weak, needy, a “sinner.”
In the experience of prayer, the human creature expresses all his awareness of himself, all that he is able to understand of his existence and, at the same time, he addresses himself wholly to the Being before whom he is, he orients his soul to that Mystery from which he awaits the fulfillment of his most profound desires and help to surmount the indigence of his life. In this looking at the Other, in this addressing “the beyond” is the essence of prayer, as experience of a reality that surpasses the sentient and the contingent.
However, the full realization of man’s search is found only in the God who reveals himself. Prayer, which is the opening and raising of the heart to God, becomes a personal relationship with Him. And even if man forgets his Creator, the living and true God does not fail to call man to the mysterious encounter of prayer. As the Catechism affirms: “In prayer, the faithful God’s initiative of love always comes first; our own first step is always a response. As God gradually reveals himself and reveals man to himself, prayer appears as a reciprocal call, a covenant drama. Through words and actions, this drama engages the heart. It unfolds throughout the whole history of salvation” (No. 2567).
Dear brothers and sisters, let us learn to spend more time before God, let us learn to recognize in silence the God who has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, to recognize in the depth of ourselves his voice that calls us and leads us back to the profundity of our existence, to the fount of life, to the source of salvation, to make us go beyond the limits of our life and to open ourselves to the measure of God, to the relationship with Him who is Infinite Love. Thank you!
A few days ago I was listening to the Crossing the Threshold of Hope CD and JPII was explaining one big divergence between the classicist view and the modern. I brought this up with some friends because we recently got into a discussion about “paradigms” and it was Thomas Kuhn who first laid out a philosophy of science that brought in the importance of this idea of paradigm shifts in knowledge. Rather than a steady march forward where science gains knowledge and eliminates error through a process of disproving theory by means of empirical evidence, Kuhn argued that something very different actually occurs. His work on the notion of “paradigm shifts” was revolutionary in the philosophy of science and became a household concept.
What JPII was explaining was the basic ways that the modern “paradigm” (to use that word, which he didn’t) is different after Descartes – that instead of ipsum esse subsistens, or the absolute transcendent being, we now think in terms of absolute transcendent knowledge. Thought, rather than existence, has become primary in the modern paradigm. Reason itself, instead of a tool, becomes the very ground from which the tower of babel must be built, as I like to say. “I think therefore I am” reverses the order of things in a way. Existence must be measured and judged against the ultimate ground of thought. And if there is a God, this paradigm suggests, then that God is not absolute transcendent love but absolute transcendent mind.
I would actually trace the origins of this aspect of the Cartesian revolution (which ultimately set off the Enlightenment) back to Plato and Aristotle where the essence/existence split seems to originate – but the important point is that as result of this paradigm shift toward “pure thought” we begin to ask different questions, or perhaps old questions in new ways, because the framework of our worldview has different assumptions built into it. For example, we assume that “our ways,” or the ways of “reason” must be the ultimate measure of all things, including God. And so when God does not do things in a way that “makes sense” to us, it is very difficult for the modern mind to make it all add up. Dostoevsky asks, “Can a cultured man, a European of our day, believe, really believe in the divinity of Christ, the Son of God?”
It is the rationalist (now positivist) assumptions built into the modern paradigm that raises this question in this way. But therein is the point. It is the very assumption that everything must add up according to our way that causes this difficulty. Why is God hiding? Why is there suffering? Why is salvation history so complicated? These questions have always been with us (Job asks some pretty good ones), but the modern paradigm makes them especially difficult and pronounced. Would a modern man accept the answer Job was given? After all, Job was not given “an answer.” He was in fact an innocent man and his suffering was indeed “unjust.” No discourse can reconcile the conflict; no philosophy can provide the answer Job desires. But he received something much greater than “an answer,” something much greater than just another discourse to top the discourses of his friends. He received instead, God. He met God and this satisfied him in a way that no discourse, or “answer” ever could.
But for the modern man, discourse and theory is everything because thought, not existence, is the ultimate ground of the paradigm. The modern man, standing in Job’s place, rejects God when He appears, and goes on seeking a discourse. Why? Because modern man assumes that discourse is the ultimate ground from which everything arises and as such modern man finds himself utterly lost in the quest his heart has sent him on. But this is not entirely new, not really. We remember that when given the choice, the people chose Barabas, not Jesus. They wanted, not God, but political power. Then as now, man has his ideas about what he wants and there is that part of his nature to reject what God has offered. In this, nothing much has changed. Then, as now, man thinks he knows better than God.
A QUIET REVOLUTION may have taken place over the last three decades in our understanding of the history of Western philosophy. So quiet, in fact, that few have noticed it. Three recent books give us a sense of the significance and extent of this paradigm shift: Examined Lives: From Socrates to Nietzsche, by James Miller; How to Live: Or A Life of Montaigne in One Question and Twenty Attempts at an Answer, by Sarah Bakewell; and The Hemlock Cup: Socrates, Athens and the Search for the Good Life, by Bettany Hughes. What has this revolution brought forth? The realization that some of the most influential Western philosophers (primarily the ancient philosophers, but also Montaigne, Rousseau, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and others) intended their philosophy to be not just a body of doctrines, of pure intellectual content, but to be above all an “art of living.” It is immediately obvious that, like most revolutions, this one, too, is about how we relate to the past.
At the heart of the notion of philosophy as a “way of life” there lies the idea of a radical transformation. In Theses on Feuerbach (1845) Karl Marx famously challenged the way philosophy had been conceived of in the West: “Philosophers have sought to understand the world; the point, however, is to change it.” Yet, understanding philosophy as an “art of living” means not to change the world, but the philosopher herself. In a way, “changing the world” is a touch too easy, because nobody exactly knows what it means. Revolutionaries and spin doctors alike never stop talking about “changing the world,” which results in a social anesthetization of sorts; too much revolutionary talk is the best way to kill a revolution before it even starts. Soon enough we feel no discomfort living in a world that, in spite of all appearances, does not really change. Plus ça change… On the other hand, should one be unlucky enough to be visited by it, one will find it very hard to get rid of the relentless feeling that one has to change oneself. Rilke’s admonition, which Peter Sloterdijk borrowed for the title of one of his recent books, sounds now harsher than ever: Du mußt dein Leben ändern (“You must change your life”).
In this understanding of the Western tradition, the chief reason for studying philosophy is not a desire to know more about the world, but a profound sense of dissatisfaction with the state in which one finds oneself at a given moment. One day you suddenly, painfully realize that something important is missing in your life, that there is a gap between what you currently are and the sense of what you could be. And before you know it, this emptiness starts eating at you. In a way, you don’t even exist yet. (It must have been in this sense that Socrates used the term “midwifery” for what he was doing; by subjecting those around him to the rigors of his philosophy, he was bringing them into existence properly.) Philosophy thus presupposes a certain degree of self-detestation. It may well be that philosophizing begins in shame. If you are a bit too comfortable with yourself, if there is nothing you are ashamed of, you don’t need philosophy; you are fine as you are.