This entry is an experimental, preliminary one that will change. At
the suggestion of Richard Rabatin, I have begun with his help to collect
and organize alphabetically a collection or ordering of various citations
from various published essays and books over the years. Each listing gives
a reference, the whole of which is found at the end of the quotation entry.
These citations are usually relatively brief and cover a wide range of
James V. Schall, S. J.
The Holy and the Secular both are often defeated in this world. Waltham Abbey (England) is to me this kind of a monument, a beautiful living ruins, a reminder of defeated things, wild bells that "call" not just to this life and its uncertain victories. The record of mankind is also one of defeat and loss. It is well to have such a lovely place in which to be reminded of that truth which is part of our human reality.
Your editorial on the Supreme Court's abortion decision (July 4) displays a remarkable range of pejorative adjectives, nouns, verbs, and adverbs. Your opponents show "little respect," make "cold" decisions, are "raucous," "fiercely" attack, denounce "viciously," argue "irrationally," "assault," increase "ugliness," and are, worst of all, insensitive! All of this in an editorial that claims it is appealing to "reasoned debate." Justice Harry Blackmun, on the other hand, on your own reasoned side, is the only "eloquent" voice, but even he decries. Nowhere do you acknowledge that life begins at conception, the whole basis of the Missouri law and public concern, except to maintain it has "little significance in the abortion context." One wonders what you think abortion does? If abortion means anything, it is that human life is of great significance. You merely acknowledge "potential life." ...Though you title your editorial "A Woman's Right, Barely Viable" -- and thereby transfer viability from the fetus, where it belongs, to an abstract right, where it does not -- you never hint at the one overriding issue, namely, that every exercise of the "right" to abortion results in the death of a begun (not potential) human life. The "state's interest" does reach to actual human life. This is why our Republic was founded. For all your misplaced adverbs, nouns, adjectives, and verbs, you give no hint of any sorrow or sadness at the record of killing actually begun human life that followed Roe v. Wade and has caused so much horror -- a word you did not use -- to those who recognize the sacredness of every human life.
Lord Acton (1834-1902) was without doubt one of the most interesting personalities of the nineteenth century. His grandfather had been the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Naples, his step-father the Prime Minister of England. He was legitimately English and legitimately German on his mother's side, with an enormous erudition in French, Italian, and general European culture. Everyone knows what Acton said about power corrupting. He was especially known for his loyalty to the Catholic Church, yet famous for his opposition to the Declaration of Infallibility of Vatican I, and perplexed many as a correspondent of Robert E. Lee, whose cause Acton thought was the more just.... Acton fought for liberty not because he was against religion but because he was for it. He was not afraid to record calmly any sordid act of a cleric or a politician, because he held, in a way, that the very purpose of his historiography was to redeem the evil acts of men in the very effort to write accurately about them. ... Acton was willing to face the question of why men do not proceed in the full truth. The vice of the classic state, he thought, was "that it was both Church and State one." As great as his respect for Plato and Aristotle was, Acton held that human reason by itself could not persist in coming to the truth, or would not if it could.
Part of our being created equal is the realization that we are all sinners. The reason why the young cannot study politics so easily is that they do not as yet know this (sinfulness) also includes themselves. Later, if they be honest, they know. This (realization) is why the distance between the adult and the adolescent is always and fundamentally a sort of humility.
-- UMLTC, 41.
The philosophy of the goodness of finite things -- "every couple dancing seemed a separate romance" (Chesterton) -- is at the root of St. Thomas Aquinas. The world is composed of an infinite multitude of separate adventures. They do not merge or substitute for each other, but each retains its autonomy and its property and its store of finite things.
ALCOHOL AND WAR
Now it is quite true that alcohol, ... that is, for those who choose to use it wrongly, causes more damage, financial, moral, and psychic, than dope or war or most other crimes and misdemeanors. Probably the only thing that causes more damage than alcohol is government or, I guess I should say, misgovernment. But for the sake of argument, suppose we accepted the truth of these two statements about (the dire consequences) of alcohol and government. We still must be careful how we state the blame or responsibility for the damage they cause. If we should maintain that by abolishing alcohol, we will abolish the evil of alcohol or by abolishing government we will abolish the evil of government, we would no doubt be correct. If no alcohol existed, no one would be drunk because of it. Thus, it seems like the simplest and noblest of all logic to eliminate the problem by eliminating the cause. And yet there is this nagging Chestertonian worry that something is quite wrong with this logic. Obviously, this very question takes us back to the notion of original sin or the Fall, to the idea that all things as such, including alcohol, are good, that even things like wars are bad not because they are wars but because, and only because, they also manifest spiritual pride and cowardice. Some things need defending at the risk of denying that anything is worthwhile. It is by no means clear that a world without war as such would not be the most tyrannical of regimes.
-- MCN, August, 1990.
ALBERT THE GREAT
The ... significance ... of Albert (the Great, d. 1280) remains. He was the first great Christian thinker to realize the relationship between immortality and the proper life of man on earth in a context which gave adequate place to this, the political life, and to the next. Albert ... realized the wonderful paradox that the human and political life, to remain human and political, somehow must recognize the place of the contemplative order, that politics without metaphysics and theology, in its own fashion, becomes itself a metaphysics and a theology, becomes an attempt to create what is, but by criteria other than the what is of primary being. It is for this reason, as Albert saw, that the Christian emphasis on immortality, as seen through the doctrine of resurrection as particularly addressed to philosophy, is the real basis of political theory, because, at the same time, it accounts for the uniqueness of the individual person, his concreteness, and insists that politics can only attain a limited good in this life.
ALL SOULS' DAY
The day following All Saints' Day is All Souls' Day (November 2). Traditionally, the Church dedicates the whole month of November to prayers for the souls in Purgatory. All Souls' is the day on which we remember the dead, our dead. Christianity is not, strictly speaking a "soul" philosophy or religion. We love Plato, but we are not Platonists. The immortality of the soul is not a Christian doctrine but a Greek philosophical conclusion, no less valid for all that. All Souls' Day, furthermore, is not about the Greek philosophical doctrine, which is most useful in Christianity, but it is about those of our dead who are not yet with God. In recent times there has been something of a shadow cast on All Souls' Day by the way Masses for the Dead are celebrated, as if all the trappings of heaven are immediately and definitely acquired at any death. But Christianity at its best takes the power of evil much more seriously than a kind of automatic resolving of our problems and the dubious record of our deeds at death. Christianity, perhaps I should say Catholicism, thinks that the power of choice is so fundamental, so dangerous if you will, that it somehow can reach beyond death. Those who would take away Purgatory and All Souls' Day are those who would make the power of our choice to be flabby and inconsequential.
I was in New Zealand not so long ago. Historically, in these islands, only wingless birds existed because they had no natural predators. This lack of other animals seems to have been due to certain deficiencies in the soil. When rabbit and deer were introduced, along with fertilizer and farm animals, they (rabbit and deer) became pests -- by human standards. So these animals had to be severely controlled. Some stories even tell of romantics who wanted to introduce the lion and tiger into those distant islands. Their famous rainbow trout were imported also into New Zealand streams. So this is the first thing I should like to insist upon in the context of animal liberation: the right relation between man and beast cannot be one that is based upon the questioning of the primacy of man in nature. We may well need to change our relation to the animals. But the reason for this is not that we cannot find a difference between animals and men. The balanced diet of our pets is not more important than that of our old or that of people in other lands. My point, however, is not that I think that the reason why the old or the hungrier peoples are in the state they are is because we feed our pets with good meat. Indeed, Herman Kahn rightly suggested that it is because we raise great amounts of grain for animals and pets that the world has a constant reserve for times of crisis. More and more, there is room for both men and animals in a balanced system. Thus the whole world will be soon enough exactly like New Zealand, deciding what and how many animals it desires. But it is about the human condition that any such decision should be made, with recognition of the real value and worth of animals for what it is.
ANIMALS AND MANNERS
To place myself firmly in the context of human manners ... I am frankly biased about animals -- unfavorably biased. .... I am not amused by friends' furry spaniels or their slinky cats jumping all over me in what is wildly called "enthusiastic greeting", when I am invited into their homes. "Love me, love my dog", I definitely consider an immoral principle. In my jaundiced view, it must either be, "Love me, contain your pooch", or "Love your poodles, look for a new friend". When Aristotle said that man was a "rational animal", he at least meant that the worst of us is better than the best of them. ... But no way are you going to catch me munching caterpillars, night-crawlers, hornets or ants -- even if the Japanese do cover them with chocolate. ... I do like baby chickens, ducklings, calves, lambs, and even an occasional hound. I can well enough understand the Parable of the Lost Sheep. ... Also, I like tropical fish aquariums, all lit up in a dark room, that is, provided I do not have to clean them. I could never shoot a horse through the head with a rifle after it broke its leg, as my uncle on the farm did. Even at the time, I sensed this meant that he knew about animals and cared for them, while I did not. I was only worried about my feelings, not the horse's.
AQUINAS ON ARISTOTLE
In current and often laudable efforts to reintroduce him, St. Thomas Aquinas is praised because he "saved" Aristotle. No doubt, we read Aristotle in large part today because of St. Thomas. Yet, St. Thomas himself was not about "saving" Aristotle for anybody. St. Thomas was about the truth and found truth in Aristotle. When he did not find truth in Aristotle, as was sometimes the case, Aquinas disagreed with Aristotle. What Chesterton says of St. Thomas on Aristotle is simple and correct: "St. Thomas did not reconcile Christ to Aristotle; he reconciled Aristotle to Christ." Aristotle is not the criterion of Christ; yet with Aristotle, we can understand the proper meaning of Christ in a way that we might not otherwise have seen Him.
Time always passed rapidly on returning to Rome. Suddenly, I would find it was April. Rome seemed familiar again. One morning, I arose early and walked out into the dawn streets yet quiet. I climbed the long steps into the Church of the Ara Coeli (on the Capitoline Hill). The light was just right for seeing Pinturicchio's magnificent "Glory and Death of Saint Bernadine of Siena", in the back corner chapel. It was in fact a few hours after the death of Georges Pompidou, then President of France, so the painting seemed somehow appropriate. The death of a public figure necessarily bids us pause for a moment. In the painting, the people of Siena seemed to stand still in their city, struck in thought. Four monks carried Bernadine, a passingness, yet a beauty too.
As the classical authors from Aristotle on understood, art is precisely where we are confronted in a most graphic manner by those horrible and heroic things, by both birth and death. Through art, we are most desirous and capable of having an "inner world" worthy to project out on the one that is. Only when art itself becomes an inner metaphysics, immune from the risk of the horror and heroism of common things like birth and death, does the projection of the artist politician or metaphysician seek to replace that of the world we "did not make," the world onto which all our "mental doors open outwards."
... We must reject that which leaves us only with ourselves, with the exalted loneliness of the Nietzschean superman .... Any world we choose exclusively for ourselves is its own punishment.
Behind all modern atheism, whatever its varieties, there is the effort of the human intellect to find some substitute for God as the cause and center of order and intelligibility. And atheism in its highest form is inevitably the effort to replace God by man himself. For the fierce and abiding commitment of the atheist must always be to the world and to man. The suspicion that the world and man are somehow not necessary fills the atheist with horror and scandal.... For any atheist the affirmation that God is sufficient without the world strikes at the very heart of his belief and commitment, since it denies to man any possibility of grasping all reality by himself alone....
The young Augustine, the brilliant young potential philosopher, from his nineteenth to his thirty-third year, who looked continually for books and teachers, who taught and who was taught, is of interest to us. For perhaps better than in any other instance in the history of philosophy do we have a single-minded young man who in his own soul, yet in a soul he revealed openly to us, had to go through all the passions, all the heresies, and all the philosophies in order to arrive at truth. As he worked his way through the great moral and intellectual problems that confront any intelligent young man or woman, we can sense how he can touch the soul of anyone who "chances" to read him. He wrote his Confessions for the ages. He wrote it consciously for posterity, it seems, because he realized that this life, which he "confessed" to us, accurately described him; and in describing himself, he revealed our own souls to us.
Book VII, Chapter 7 of St. Augustine's Confessions is entitled: He Deplores His Wretchedness That Having Been Born Thirty-Two Years, He Had Not Yet Found Out The Truth. In a culture whose public (oftentimes even ecclesiastical) doctrine, is theoretical "pluralism" -- that is, that there is no "truth" but one's own private feelings -- the utter seriousness of Augustine's lament seems, well, silly, doesn't it? Yet, our society is filled with many bright young men and women -- I have met some of them -- not far from Augustine's age then of thirty-two, who now know they are but victims of this intellectually relativistic climate, that insists on seeing truth as absolutism, doubt as truth, and freedom as what the culture (or the faith) will come to believe. Augustine was right, however, when he, who had lived through all the alternatives in a way perhaps no one else ever had, described the resultant condition of unlimited freedom and doubt as "wretchedness".
Except for a few years in the Maryknoll (Order), my Aunt Esther lived in the Midwest. She never was well and had to leave the convent for health reasons, a kind of infection she contracted ironically on her journey to the Novitiate in New York. After she died, my Aunt Fran sent me these lines from Aunt Esther:
Why does one have to suffer? Why one so much more than another? All week I have been so very miserable. Yet, what is really wrong with me? I know God isn't cruel. He has been exceptionally lenient with me, and I am very grateful to Him. I am not complaining now, only wondering the why of it all? I am grateful for the long days and nights that He passed by, for time didn't seem to exist. I was hardly conscious that I was living so that years went by as a dream. I wasn't conscious of pain or weariness, only of His great love and understanding. I had everything that I wanted. I needed nothing, like a child. Maybe my life was not meant to be exactly like others. I am ill for a purpose, and I must use it to the best of my ability. I am still a small child. I love God and He loves me. Nothing more is wanted. Nothing more is needed.
This aunt was a part of my childhood. And I saw her fairly often in my travels back and forth across the world before she died. And I have seldom seen the Christian meaning of pain better put, undoubtedly because she did know what it meant, while most of the rest of us only speculate about it.
BACON AND EGGS
The four men finally find an old inn "brilliantly lighted".... The four men heard singing from within. They knocked and were let into the inn. They found a pleasant bar with a large room in which fifteen or twenty men were drinking and singing. All were hearty and some old. These men had finished their meal, but the four men ordered theirs,
which was of such excellence in the way of eggs and bacon, as we had none of us until that morning thought possible upon this side of the grave. The cheese also ... was put before us, and the new cottage loaves, so that this feast, unlike any other feast that yet was since the beginning of the world, exactly answered to all that the heart had expected of a it, and we were contented and were filled (The Four Men, 147)..
The four then called for their pipes and drink, Belloc for the black current port (not that Portuguese concoction that is "but elderberry liquorice and boiled wine"), Grizzlebeard for brandy, the Poet, at "the Sailor's expense", for beer, and the Sailor for claret.
-- IR, 228.
On Palm Sunday some years ago now, a friend wrote a letter that I received a month later -- such is the cosmic time it took to travel two kilometers through the annual, all-too-human Italian postal strike. The letter ended: "Did you know that (former Mayor John) Lindsay has referred to New York's "fiscal crunch" so many times that several reporters are considering asking him for the recipe? I love bad jokes...." Sometimes, I feel, this is the ultimate freedom -- that of loving bad jokes since, in a way, this is what we all are, rather bad jokes in search of being loved. This is the real; terror that the comic sees, around which he dances for us all to laugh. What our faith is really about is very simple -- that there is in truth someone to laugh with us, that the bad jokes we really are, really are loved. This is why, in a sense, comedy is more profound than tragedy.
-- PSOB, 116-17.
One morning out off the inner harbor about a kilometer from the railing, about ten fishing boats were out in the choppy sea. These men would soon be selling their morning catch on the wharf and all over the old city of Bari in its narrow streets. Ladies were already rushing up the fishermen already in, knowing exactly what they were looking for, how much they would pay in the bargaining. The very thought of what marvelous dishes these women could make, would soon make, caused excruciating hunger. Were it not for hunger, we should discover little of the world or the sea.
BEARDS AND THOUGHT
And yet, Chesterton's reasons for taking orthodoxy seriously ... were not based on the doctrine of the Trinity or Incarnation, but on the simple doctrine of responsibility, on watching professional determinists turn around and actually urge the validity of their positions, a simple act that revealed that they were not in fact determinists. Not by their doctrines but by their beards ye shall know them. That is, thought is almost left entirely to itself with regard to why most people hold what they hold. And yet, for Chesterton, this remained the essential issue. "The Intelligentsia of the artistic and vaguely anarchic clubs was indeed a very strange world. And the strangest thing about it, I fancy, was that, while it thought a great deal about thinking, it did not think." The "crime" of orthodoxy was to think not about thought, but just to think. In other words, just because we do sport the same style in beards, we still know nothing of what sort of world we live in until we find out also how we think, if we do indeed think.
On most corners, occupied during the busy hours, almost always sits the same man, now black, now white, never oriental, and rarely Latino. He is diligently there day after day, week after week, almost as if there is a "turf" here, the result of unseen battles for profitable spots.... I suppose there is some rotation. (These beggars) work diligently at their trade of not working.... The begging industry has come close to corrupting any proper motivation for giving at all.
As the four days ended and the hour men were about to part to their own ways, they decided to have a farewell feast, to celebrate, as men should, their chance days together. On the 29th of October (in Belloc's Four Men), Belloc had found himself drinking port before a fire in the "George" pub in Robertsbridge, with thoughts "through which at last came floating a vision of the woods of home and of another place -- the lake where the Arun rises". So musing, Belloc was determined to see his native country again, on foot, as the only things we love should be seen. The passingness of things is most poignant at the end of October, the days grew much shorter, especially in England. You have crossed land and sea, going about many different duties, "but all the while your life runs past you like a river, and the things that are of moment to men you do not know at all" -- these are the words that are difficult to forget: "the things that are of moment to men." We can pass through our lives and forget to deal with the things that are important. Is there a sadness greater than this?
(This is) a passage I have thought about often, cited many times, read even more -- indeed, Belloc's essays are best appreciated when they are read to our friends, aloud. This (passage) is from Belloc's essay "A Remaining Christmas", in J. B. Morton's -- Morton was at Belloc's deathbed -- collection:
Man has a body as well as a soul, and the whole of man, soul and body, is nourished sanely by a multiplicity of observed traditional things. Moreover, there is this great quality in the unchanging practice of Holy Seasons, that it makes explicable, tolerable and normal what is otherwise a shocking and intolerable and even in the fullest sense, abnormal thing. I mean, the mortality of immortal men.
No wonder Belloc celebrated a traditional Christmas at King's Land, no wonder, as his friend G. K. Chesterton said, we are homesick even at home. ... What is remarkable about Belloc himself is not his genius, prejudice, laughter, wit, hatred, song, wisdom, or loneliness. It is rather that all these things belong to one human being, to the mortality of immortal men, for whom nothing in this vale of tears suffices, however lovely it is.
Belloc ... stands as a figure who refused to believe that what exists in our public life is what "ought" to be. He knew that the changes of value and religion in the past affect what we must live in and with. Belloc wrote at times almost as if he thought history to be determined, yet he knew that it is not. He knew that the task of anticipating and accounting for what happens and for what might happen is the domain of the political philosopher and the historian. Yet, he also knew that what happens in our public orders and lives cannot be fully accounted for by such disciplines. Just as the faith changed Europe in a most unanticipated, liberating way, so it can do again. For Belloc this was where the real issues were fought out. (Belloc's book) The Servile State ... will remain as a monument to the truth of this fundamentally Christian insight about faith, an insight which could not "guarantee" that we would exactly know our future, but which could only remind us that it was not entirely in our own hands, however much it is indeed in our own hands.
I like bells, especially ones that ring in the distance. Bells, particularly church bells, have been mostly silenced, for pragmatic reasons, as we all have watches, or for cultural reasons, as we all want to sleep unmolested on Sunday or any other morning, even though motorcycles can go full blast through our cities at 3 A.M. But in Rome, in the early spring evening, before Pentecost, the bells called us to something else. The whole culture historically agreed that there was something else to be called to, to prayer, to reflection. Sound itself can be beautiful. That is why we make bells, I suppose. Even silence, in a way, needs bells so that we can hear it.
(Chesterton) wrote at the time of the Lambeth Conference (1931) when the Anglican Church, first among the Christian churches, approved the practice of birth prevention. This was a move that Chesterton said was enough in itself to have caused him to reject its claim on truth -- "one of the crises, which would in any case have driven me in the way I have gone already (to Catholicism), was the shilly-shallying and sham liberality of the famous Lambeth Report on what is quaintly called Birth Control." Chesterton clearly detested eugenics. His words for birth control were, perhaps unexpectedly, even more blunt. It is, he remarked, "a scheme for preventing birth in order to escape control." Chesterton looked upon this Anglican ecclesiastical approval for birth control as a kind of "final surrender" in a long series of efforts on the topic of sex by the church. Chesterton recalled that his own parents would have "regarded Birth-Prevention exactly as they would have regarded Infanticide." ... (Chesterton) was especially annoyed, as he was in the case of divorce, at the abuse of the word and idea. Birth control, he held, "does not control any birth. It only makes sure that there shall never be any birth to control."
In Leo Strauss' essay, "What Is Liberal Education?", he noted that the "greatest minds ... are extremely rare. We are not likely to meet any of them anywhere. It is a piece of good luck if there is a single one in one's own time." The only way we can met such original thinkers is through their books, through carefully reading what they said to us. Books cannot substitute for philosophy, but philosophy can be found also with the guidance of books.
Boredom seems ridiculous to me. But I am fortunate in friends and places. Yet, I wonder if it can be reduced to this (external factor). I believe all the essential drama of our existence is played out whenever two or three are gathered together. And we are given so much more than just the bare, essential drama. The great mystery is not why we are given so little, but why we are given so much.
-- UMLTC, 15.
Belloc was the "born-Catholic" of the two (Chesterton), so, as he remarks, "it is with diffidence that anyone born into the Faith can approach the tremendous subject of Conversion." The convert always has the aura of choice, the born-Catholic of tradition, of not having had to change anything, only fulfill the promise already his. As I was born the year following the publication of this book (Chesterton's The Catholic Church and Conversion, 1927), also a "born-Catholic", I find both of these essays, that of the born-Catholic and that of the convert, to be of considerable interest. I have always found Belloc's remark in The Path to Rome, I think, that "it is a good thing never to have to return to the Faith", to be a comforting one. Both to have the Faith and not to have lost it, to be sure, are graces. We should not be so foolish as to attribute too much to our own powers. And yet, there can be no doubt that being born into the Faith enables us to live in a much more ordered and, yes, delightful universe than we might otherwise have known. Born-Catholics, to be sure, often do not show that angst or earnestness about what they hold to be true as do converts, but this is only because they are more aware of and comfortable with the fact that things really do fit together, that ultimate quests are not merely proddings in our souls. They know that these quests are not in vain.
BOSWELL AND THE FRENCH JESUIT
Pere Monier inquired if (James) Boswell were a Catholic. Boswell replied negatively, adding that "I hope that I shall not be damned for that." He asked Monier, somewhat wickedly, if he thought that he (Boswell) would be so damned. The French Jesuit replied, "Sir, it is hard, but it is absolutely necessary for me to believe it. You have not the excuse of a poor peasant. You are enlightened." To this comment, in a passage I dearly love, Boswell, in the beginning of the Aufklarung itself, added, "I smiled modestly." Boswell then explained that he was "of no sect", but he believed in Jesus and "endeavored to adore God with fervency." Boswell in fact enjoyed worshiping in the "Romish church", while his own notions of God made him not fear him "as cruel". In reply, the French Jesuit remarked that he was indeed sorry that Boswell was not a Catholic. Boswell, in his turn, noted that the Jesuit was "so agreeable" that he almost regretted that he could not please him. Finally, taking leave in the garden of the Jesuit college in Mannheim, Boswell said to Monier: "Sir, I shall have the pleasure of meeting you in heaven."
-- IR, 161.
So I asked Mr. (Marcus) Cohn, "Why, do you have a 'theory' about bow ties?" He seemed to me enormously pleased at this, to me, curious question. He promptly reached into his briefcase and handed me a copy of his recent article in the Washingtonian called, you guessed it, "The Bow Tie Gang." ... A bow tie, like liberty, may be one of those things whose right to wear we just might have to defend unto the death. Mr. Cohn, the proud owner of 268 bow ties, a man capable to boot of explaining exactly how to make one of the darned things from scratch, holds that the bow tie wearer is a special breed, standing out from the normal clod. Only a select few like Daniel Boorstin, the Librarian of Congress, Art Buchwald, FDR, Abe Lincoln, or Patrick Moynihan (but the latter only on Sundays) wear bow ties. Some fool fashion critic had written in Dress for Success that no one takes a bow tie wearer seriously. Mr. Cohn, of course, thought this view laughable. The bow tie is, in fact, the tie for the man who rejects the crowd. Its morning selection is the only creative act a really free man has each day.
-- C, January, 1986, 34.
The Roman Catholic Church is ... shrewder than we might give it credit for. In these days when no one will do anything unless it is not obligatory, the Church came up with a four volume Divine Office (Breviary) that is so good, so generally satisfying, that anyone, clergy or layperson, would be foolish to neglect it. These four volumes (to be read not at a sitting but throughout the year) are so refreshing, so surprising, that it is only with a sense of concrete loss that we fail to read a day a year, or even an hour in the day. No treasury is quite so marvelous. It is indeed something broader than Christianity itself, almost the very best way to discover what it is that Christians believe in, how they look at God and the world and one another. I say this with some astonishment, since I would prefer to believe the Divine Office, or The Liturgy of the Hours, as it is now officially called, to be still a "burden", something onerous I could neglect rather than something profound and delightful that I simply miss if I do not pray it. But I find the new Liturgy of the Hours to be a complete pleasure and am reluctant to admit it even to myself.
(Belloc) wrote a poem in 1923, "the Ballade of Unsuccessful Men," which concluded, "Prince, may I venture (since it's only you) / To speak discreetly of The Crucifixion? / He was extremely unsuccessful too...." It is not easy, in recounting Christ's trial before the Judgment Seat, which was so clearly unjust, to judge who is responsible, who is not. Christianity, however, does not allow us, even now, to sit by and watch. For we were there, and our Good Friday liturgy enables us to behold ourselves there somehow, somewhere amidst the crowds and principal participants. ... When we look clearly at the Calvary scene of Good Friday, of course, we cannot but be startled that disappointment should have been allowed to mar the enterprise of God. Unless we think it all some kind of play-acting -- that Jesus really was not there or that he was some kind of ethereal spirit -- we know all this ought not to have happened. Yet, what are we to conclude in our silent watching -- the fallibility of God, the intractability of men? How could Christ have been so unsuccessful? God must be a little less than omnipotent, perhaps? ... As we watch, we know the Christian tradition does not think him unsuccessful. When he cried out at the end that it was consummated, we know he did the will of his Father, that will which chose to redeem us only after the fashion of our freedom. We watch Pilate on his Judgment Seat being told that he would have no authority to execute anybody were it not given him by the Father. We recall the Supper of the evening before when Jesus told his disciples he was going to his Father. There seems to have been a plan here, a rationale. We each are to be defined by what we think of this Crucifixion.... The unsuccessful man ... did succeed. But another "Day" is needed for this. On Good Friday in about AD 29, a few minor Roman and Jewish officials put to death one Jesus of Nazareth, a carpenter's son, so it was said, though others claimed he was a king. On that day, nothing could be seen except his lack of success.
Recall that Camus had asked, "But if those believers I see do believe, what is the object of their faith?" In the end, the object of his own faith was everything that God wanted of us except God. Unlike Chesterton, Camus remained the "heretic" who did not choose the only "heresy" capable of justifying and rejoicing in limits -- orthodoxy itself. He (Camus) wrote, "Heretics ... are men who want to go faster than God." He concluded that "method does not try to convince people immediately. That is the task of grace." No doubt he was right. We do end up with the "only Christ we deserve" because we have in our theories no place for the actual Christ who dwelt among us during the reign of Augustus Caesar when the whole world was at peace, who died during the time of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor in Palestine. Ultimately, we are not deprived of grace. We are indeed given a Christ we do not deserve. This is what God is like.
-- WIGL, 100.
CARTER, PRESIDENT JIMMY
When Mr. Carter went to Wiesbaden, he was evidently "surprised" that the hostages were so ill-treated by the Iranians. We no longer need to take the ex-president so seriously, I suppose, except in so far has he might reveal something dangerous about our whole culture. The very idea that the president of the United States could really be so taken aback by what happened to Americans in such a hostile captivity manifests a naivete that has serious import. Indeed, I believe it is indicative of an intellectual disorder of our society, particularly in many of its elite organs like churches, universities and even newspapers. ... I heard a radio talk show recently on which an irate caller blamed the whole situation on Mr. Carter's "turn the other cheek" mentality -- in other words, on an aspect of his Christianity. ... The Washington Star published a short letter from a 13 year-old girl ... which I think rather revealing in this context. The young lady noted the wars going on. She wondered why people cannot get along. She continued: "You would think that after all the time people have been on this earth, we would know how to get along with each other. But apparently not. I think if everyone tried real hard, we could finally have peace on earth, good will to men." Alas, Christian words, but Pelagian theology. Augustine, where are you when we truly need you? The 13 year-old's "try harder" suggestion for ending world disorder and Mr. Carter's surprises suggest a version of Christianity powerfully, silently at work among us -- one that has renounced any understanding of evil and sin. Classical Christianity at least taught us about the darker side of the human condition. With this (classic Christianity) in our background, we do not easily go forth into the world incapable of comprehending what often goes on in it.
Of the great English Cathedrals, I have seen a few -- St. Paul's and Westminster Abbey, Chichester, Waltham Abbey, St. Alban's and Coventry. I have caught brief glimpses of York, Edinburgh and King's Chapel, have been enchanted by the smaller churches such as those of Mullion or St. Hilary's in Cornwall or Marylebone or the place where Burke is commemorated in Beaconsfield. On the continent, I have seen Notre Dame, Sainte Chapelle, Rheims, Rouen, Mont Saint-Michel, Cologne, Freiburg, Salzburg, Toledo, Milano, St. Mark's, St. Nicholas in Bari, the various edifices of Florence, Palermo, Genoa, Naples, and Rome. Each of these extraordinary structures, built somehow in a way I do not wholly understand by ages far poorer than our own, incited me strangely in the thoroughly unexpected way that something which need not exist at all surprises and awakens us when, contrary to our private illusions and expectations, we suddenly discover that it exists and that it is lovely. Indeed, I prefer to know little or even nothing about such structures before I see them for the first time. I would just as soon never have heard of Notre Dame or St. Mark's at the moment I first entered them. The photographs and education itself, alas, makes this delightful sort of ignorance quite impossible. Yet, I literally knew nothing of Durham or Waltham Abbey or Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari or the baroque churches of Salzburg or Würzburg before I suddenly one day discovered them floating before me. The shock and glory of unexpectedly finding such buildings touches almost the peak of human experience. The very foundations of our existence, then, are grounded in this startling realization that we do not already grasp all of reality, especially things of such exalted beauty. We cannot but be humbled by the immediate revelation of how much we have missed. And yet we are glad that, so humbled, we can now inherit what the Earth has borne to us. For we stand to all reality as we do to Durham and to Freiburg and to Litchfield when we behold them for the first time, when we are given something by the ages that we could not create or even imagine by ourselves.
-- PSOB, 22-23.
(Today) ... the clarity of the Church's doctrine is itself obscured by Catholics, particularly by intellectual Catholics.
Indeed, the example of politicians and judges who seem in practice to compromise on many, if not most, identifiably Catholic points has led many a non-Catholic observer to conclude that only those Catholics who in some form do not practice or intellectually accept the Catholic faith as it defines itself are fit to rule. At a more fundamental level, not a few have come to the conclusion that the philosophical principles embodied in particular in the evolution of the recent Casey decision -- a decision written by a Catholic judge about a case involving a Catholic governor -- means that there is no longer a basis for any limitation of the state by anything other than its own definition of itself. When spelled out, this indicates that those who hold some sort of ethical or natural law basis for human and political order can no longer accept the American Constitution, as so interpreted, as itself moral and valid. The primary question for religious people of any integrity, of course, is not "Is my religion compatible with this or that political system?" Rather it is "Is this or that political system compatible with my religion?" Politics, however important, is not itself the ultimate judge of religion. The discourse about the right order man's life and of his worship of God comes before and after the right ordering of the state. Otherwise, the state is, in principle, itself a claim to be an ultimate power, a god, if you will.
One ... and for me, final reason that Chesterton gave for being a Catholic was that the Church was "the only thing that frees a man from being the degrading slavery of being a child of his age." This freedom lies at the heart of the newness of Catholicism.... The remarkable thing about Catholicism is not that it has nothing new to say, but that its startling newness is not seen in its really genuine radicalness.
CENTRAL AND LATIN AMERICA
Why this fascination with Marxism and Marxist analysis at a time when ... no one in Marxist countries believes in Marxism's validity.... The "moral" answer probably lies in Father Gustavo Gutierrez's remark that "we came to a radical questioning of the prevailing social order. The poverty and injustice experienced in Latin America are too deeply rooted to allow for half-measures." "Half-measures" -- obviously meaning gradual and democratic reform such as El Salvador is attempting to achieve, the mode of change constantly preferred in Church documents -- are rejected and their inadequacy used to justify an "option for socialism", (though socialism's actual record is never mentioned) and violence itself. Father Camilo Torres, the Colombian priest-guerrilla, is probably the best known exponent of this latter (violent) position. The Document of the 13 Religious Groups from El Salvador ... has this remarkable passage: "We pray, therefore, as Christians, that the uprising be as human as possible and that it not degenerate into a dynamic that is destructive." What is even more curious in all of this (controversy) is the fact, largely ignored, that as much criticism of Latin American economic and religious structures is grounded in conservative philosophy as in Marxism. Marxism, after all, has something of a stake in the status quo, which is why it will not allow that some other mode of development might be better for Latin America, that some other mode in fact is taking place.
Often today, intellectuals themselves perform this operation (of censorship) better than governments.
-- ASL, 60.
Rush Limbaugh insists that the main thing about public life is "character" or lack of it. While I was visiting my sister in Medford, Oregon, I read the following passage in an Editorial in the local newspaper. I take it as a kind of typical voice of small city America: "If marital fidelity were the primary qualification for national office, Ozzie Nelson might have been president. But the reality is that Bill Clinton was elected with the full knowledge of the voters that he wasn't -- and didn't claim to be -- a perfect husband." If I read this position correctly, it means that the American voters, even in small town America, do not think that character is a major factor in rule over them. What sort of a man one is, in this view, has little to do with what sort of a president we elect. We do not deny the actions, or even whether they are wrong. We just say they mean nothing.
"Do you know how to play checkers?" I asked (Joan, in third grade). "Yes." "Well, if you and I were playing checkers and I let you win, would the game be any fun?" "No," she replied, "you have to try to win." "But what if I cheat and thus try to win and nobody knows it, is that all right?" At this point her little brother who is about seven interrupted to tell me in no uncertain terms that cheating "gets you mad!" He then proceeded to tell me how mad he was because some other little boy in first grade cheated. Joan also said that it was not all right to cheat. "So is there something else you learn when you play besides how to play the game?" "Yes," she told me.
-- PO, 29.
CHESTERTON, GILBERT KEITH
When Chesterton really did convince his critics that he did believe in classical "orthodoxy" as it is found in the Creeds and in Aquinas, he became a real "heretic". That is, he was no longer accepted as a part of the public realm of intelligence. He was not executed, like Socrates, but he was isolated, even by Christians embarrassed that their truth was really what it claimed to be. In this sense, Chesterton continued to be a sort of sign of contradiction, since he stands for a Christianity
that changes the world by not changing its own Creed over against a neomodernism that would save the faith by changing its dogmas to conform to the ever-changing doctrines of the world.
-- ASL, 98.
He is like Scripture; he ought to be taken straight.
-- WIGL, 123.
For Christmas, I received from John Peterson a copy of Loyola University Press' 1986 "Sampler" from G. K.'s Weekly. ... The last issue included in the volume, that of June 18, 1936, is the one that announces and recalls the death of Gilbert Chesterton. In it are brief remarks by the Archbishop of Westminster, by Chesterton's old school friend, E. C. Bentley, by Robert Lynd, with longer commentaries by Mrs. Cecil Chesterton, Father Vincent McNabb, O. P., W. R. Titterton, and finally Hilaire Belloc.... Belloc ... did not praise Chesterton for discovering his, that is, Chesterton's own truth. Rather he remarked that Chesterton spoke of the things that the English "most needed to know." Such things were present even before there was an England.... Belloc was not concerned so much with the truths Chesterton taught, which were not his, but with the fact that they only became alive when "heard." Chesterton was a "journalist, the chief of that trade," that is, someone who thought that telling the truth to anyone who could read was itself the most worthwhile of enterprises. ... Belloc called his obituary simply "Gilbert". He was one of the few who could call him this, I think. The rest of us still call him simply "Chesterton". He remains even yet the best of the guides to "those things we most need to know." Of Chesterton, we might all say, as Belloc did in his obituary, "I have known him, and still know him" because we have continually lived, in spite of our times, in the expression of his thought which has guided us. And we are glad of it.
Western people have understood the value of many differing polities within a broad cultural agreement of principle. Mainland China has looked upon successful small, independent political units as detrimental to its own progress. The fact seems to be, however, that the very claim to be able to order such a mass as China into one system is itself the problem, so that China really needs a political theory that will allow it to admit that more than one free political unit is possible within China. In other words, the sort of "reform" that led to Tiananmen Square is endemic to the concepts that led the Chinese people there in the first place. There can be a Chinese culture and many Chinese republics. Until there are, it seems, there will be many long marches, many cultural revolutions, many Tiananmen Squares.
The way the world appears to us is much more the result of the choices we make, the graces we receive, the kind of persons we might be, than anything that the world outside of us itself contains. Or, perhaps it is wiser to suggest, that we are unable to (receive) so much that is given because we do not choose to receive it. In this sense, we really are unequal. I believe that we do not know what we lack. Perhaps this too is a grace....
-- UMLTC, 130.
What finally makes a man Christian is that he can perform this seemingly impossible balancing act, between the belief in God's existence and the recognition of the sin and evil in the world, because the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us, because God's plan for us did not involve taking us out of the actual world in which we find ourselves. The Christian approach to the world must finally be based on the quiet words with which John begins the narrative of the Last Supper: "He had always loved those who were his in the world..." (John, 13:1). Those who were his were weak; they were sinners; they were ordinary. All sanity begins with recalling this.
The severest and least attended to crisis in the Christian Church in general and in the Roman Church in particular is not (lack of) service to the poor, nor the quality of spiritual life, liturgy, scriptural or historical studies, not is it the loss of vocations or the capacities of episcopal and papal leadership. Neither is it the virtual self-destruction of many female religious orders, nor even less any weakening of faith. Such are indeed problems of particular import, but behind each of these (issues) lies something deeper, the erosion of Christian intelligence.
-- DC, 35.
Contemporary religion is in dire need of discovering the nature of an economy that is based on productivity, not merely statist "redistribution." The Christian advocacy of "socialism" as a means to aid the poor is largely ignorant both of the continual failures of actual socialisms and of the new studies and experiences of democratic capitalism, showing how to aid the poor to aid themselves. Christians must learn again about the distinction between religion and politics, priest and citizen. Not only would this reestablish religion's testimony as witness to a reality that is not merely political; it would restore our capacity to see politics and economics apart from ideology. The religious "passion" concerning El Salvador must be seen in the context of religion promoting and justifying ideological power moves. It may constitute the greatest public crisis religion in America has faced. Its essence will be whether the "clergy" will seek to reclaim their "citizenship" in order to promote "human rights" and "aid to the poor" -- noble ideas, no doubt -- in an ideological setting that can, objectively, only beget totalitarianism.
The only real objection against Christianity was, as I believe Chesterton said, that it is too good to be true. The modern world has forgiven Christianity everything except its claim to be true. And this (claim) is the only thing about it that cannot be forgiven.
CHRISTIANITY AND LIFE
If all ... criticisms of the Catholic positions (on life) are true, the Declaration of Independence should be rewritten to read:
We do not hold as self-evident or otherwise that human life has any right to life because of what it is in itself. Only those human lives are to be protected by the law which scientists and politicians define by majority vote. Those who hold that human life is sacred from conception, even if there is scientific evidence that this is when human life begins, are fanatics and enemies of this new genetic polity.
Such a declaration would at least have the honesty to be based on what we do and hold.
Christ became man in a rather obscure town, of quite unknown parents, in an odd corner of the Roman Empire. He was born in Bethlehem because Caesar Augustus, the Emperor of the far-off Romans, who ruled the place, ordered a census to be taken. Everyone ... was to return to his town of origin to register. This unlikely census applied to Joseph and Mary. Christ was thus not born in the palaces of the Caesars. He was not even born among the High Priests of the Jews nor among the Magi. And yet, it is of His birth that we sing "joy to the world
CHURCH AND REGIME
The Church has also been forced to explain how it was not itself a state, even though it must live and work in the world. It must explain how civil societies are natural institutions that ought to exist among men even though it is not itself a political institution. The establishment of so-called modern states since Machiavelli, the English Monarchy, the French Monarchy, then the French Revolution and the American founding, all have forced the Church to articulate to herself the reasons for civil society, reasons found largely not in Scripture but in philosophy. But this same experience has also required the Church to explicate to herself the reasons for differing kinds of civil society in the light of her own purposes. The Church is aware of a long theological discussion beginning at least with Plato and continuing through Aristotle, Cicero, Augustine, Aquinas, to explain not merely the nature of the best regime but also of the nature of regimes less than the best. It has been the teaching of the Church that salvation could be achieved in both the highest and worst actual regimes. The Church's martyrs were found both in the best regimes and the worst. However, the Church in agreement with the philosophers has not doubted that some regimes are better than others. In general, the Chruch has argued that it could peacefully give to a given people the task of organizing its own constitutional structure. Provided the Church was free to preach and give the sacraments, the Church had little to say about the differing regimes. Indeed, a wide variety of regimes was thought natural and even desirable, an indication of real freedom.
-- Gregorianum, #3, 1994, 485.
In his treatise, On Duties, long a staple, seminal book in Western civilization, Cicero wrote, "To everyone who proposes to have a good career, moral philosophy is indispensable." To be sure, there is some evidence that this Roman emphasis on moral philosophy over metaphysics in the Aristotelian sense was the beginning of (the) ideological movement of the modern era. But the great Roman orator went on, writing to his wayward son, Marcus, at college in Athens, to suggest that there can be no real conflict between what is right and what is to our own advantage, that, by virtue of our common human bond, we should all do the right things in economics, commerce, war, and politics, never compromising ourselves. Cicero ... managed to put at the heart of our culture the idea that, in each instance of our practical lives, there was some right action we ought to discover and put into existence as coming precisely out of ourselves. To fail in this -- and humans do fail; this, too, needs accounting for -- would violate our personal integrity and, simultaneously, corrupt the common order upon which we all depend. This (lesson of Cicero), then, is one of the things we should have learned and carried with us when we left our university studies, this sense of a higher order of rightness implicit in each of our actions.
(THE) CLOSING OF THE AMERICAN MIND
The Closing of the American Mind (Allan Bloom) addressed itself to the things that were not being taught or learned in the university, more specifically to the most important things about life and destiny that no longer found a hallowed place in university curriculum. This much-publicized book, issued in 1987, seems almost an ancient, even forgotten, book by now. But for Catholics in particular, it is well worth a second look. The academy, no doubt, has pretty well weathered The Closing's "stormy" criticism of itself to continue on its way pretty much unscathed, untouched, and untroubled. No state legislature or Board of Regents, we can be quite sure, is going to cut off any funds or demand any change because of Bloom's charges. Some years after the publication of The Closing of the American Mind, however, Allan Bloom would have absolutely no reason to change a word of his famous first sentence: "There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative." And Bloom might now legitimately add, that except rarely, the same student leaves the same university believing the exact same thing he entered thinking, because he was never confronted in any serious manner with the ironic question of truth of dogmatic relativism. The fear that the academic relativism upon which the modern university is based might not be true is the real reason, of course, why Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, and Aquinas are not studied as anything other than examples of Greek or medieval thought, that is, as men hemmed in by cultural relativism. They are not avenues for a consideration of truth as such independent of all cultures, which is what these men thought themselves to be dealing with.
Man is a very comic creature, and most of the things he does are comic -- eating, for instance. And the most comic things of all are exactly the things that are most worth doing -- such as making love. A man running after his hat is not half so ridiculous as a man running after his wife. "The things that are worth doing," Chesterton has said somewhere, in What's Wrong with the World, I think, "are worth doing badly." ... I suppose that when Chesterton said that man is a comic creature he meant exactly that the normal, basic things of life, the things worth doing even if we do them badly -- in addition to chasing wives and eating, Chesterton mentioned, dancing and following golf balls -- fill our sight and our lives with surprise and pleasure.
-- MCN, February, 1991.
In a very real and paradoxical al sense, the human race can be convinced that it is incapable of meeting the population crisis in time. There is no automatic mechanism to prevent this kind of failure in intelligence and will. To be sure, forced by the unexpected productivity both of agriculture and technology, most professional population theorists, most professional population theorists who insist on a reduction of world population have been forced to shift their arguments in recent years from he question of "possibility" to that of "time":, that is, we cannot achieve our reductionist goals "son enough", therefore, famines, plagues, and crises.... We must remember, however, that human enterprise and human genius are, at bottom, products of nerve, of belief in man's capacities. In a very fundamental way, they cannot even be expected, in the normal sense of that term. That is, what man can do cannot be "predicted". This means that we probably do not yet know all the inventions and developments that can be and will be which will aid us. But it also means that we cannot act simply on the fact that because we do not know now, therefore, nothing will come about to assist man.... It is, then, more than anything else, confidence in the capacities of the human mind and of human birth itself that enables mankind to succeed at all. The terrestrial destiny of man is, for this reason, always much greater than any given generation of men can suppose, bound as it is to its own intellectual and technical levels.
-- HDHN, 192-93.
... The sense of the transcendent at the core of political thought is still the basic question because the ultimate check on all politics is precisely the validity of the contemplative order.... Man already is a special being of some wholly improbable sort in the universe. Tolkien put it well: "...It is man who is, in contrast to fairies, supernatural (and often of diminutive stature); whereas they are natural, far more natural than he. Such is their doom." What Tolkien realized is that the metaphysical status of man is ... in a category apart because man is a creature in the universe directly invited to contemplate the divine. Christianity means precisely the invitation to share the proper internal life of the trinitarian God. There is no worldly political substitute for this, nor can there be. This is why the one essential thing the totalitarian or secular mind must suppress is the contemplative.
-- PSOB, 158.
These Creeds (of the Church) are the foundation of our dignity, and our dignity is undermined somehow every time we seek to change one iota of their content. Indeed, the very effort to change them is itself an instrument in the process of weaving or fashioning another sort of man from the one the Creeds describe. Ultimately, to change the man, you must first change the Creeds. This is why thinking is such a perilous occupation, for in changing your mind, you may well end up changing the world. We can be murdered for our beliefs, but we can more easily be destroyed by our doctrines.
... The cultivation of disgust. What the ordinary people are now asked to do is to deny that any difference exists between one form of conduct and another. We are asked to endure what is in fact most disgusting and call it culture. What began as sympathy for the abnormal ended up as hatred for the normal.
The culture that produced the very idea of general science ... is also the one that has doubts about high culture, its own above all else. As a result, (this same culture) is now hesitating to teach and preach its own traditions, in the name of the truth that different cultures are simply entitled to their own (separate) truths. The extreme backlash of this (position) is that the culture that claims universality also is the culture suffused with guilt for not letting the world establish the Kingdom of God, which, presumably, each particular culture would have done, were it not for the fact that it came in contact with the culture claiming universality as part of its own cultural truths. The high culture, the culture of philosophy in the classical contemplative sense, understood that the world was not composed of merely a number of differing, interesting opinions about what is, about the soul, about God, truth, and order. The high culture existed in "dialogue", that is, in the constant need to judge the validity, yes, the truth of the existing cultures. Thus, it made a difference, often a radical difference, in what the differing opinions consisted. The classical philosopher, for this reason, was not so quick to talk about a world without war, or a world in which reason alone ruled. For he understood in what exactly differing "interesting" opinions consisted.
We have seen the notion of culture in our time turn into the notion of private rights. We are not asked to endure or pardon the faults and disorders of others. We are asked to approve them and adjust our lives to them, no matter what they do, lest we be unsympathetic. The culture wars are about those descriptions of human lives that are in some sense unnatural that we are politically required to acknowledge as "normal". Hatred is what the new "rights" promoters vent on those who are simply ordinary. We are to be sensitive to all sorts of disorders and we are even required to praise them lest we be accused of "verbal harassment". This means simply that we must keep the exterior form of politeness apart from any consideration of the moral basis on which it is to be rightly founded.
What is at issue in the culture wars of today is the philosophic argument that no source of the distinction between good and bad within the human culture exists except on the basis of what humans choose for themselves. If what we choose for ourselves is the criterion of what is good and bad, then whatever we choose is simply good. The essential question of the universal culture must not be ... whether what we choose is what we choose, but whether what we choose is good. Ultimately, the culture wars are about this question arising in every culture and set before the universal culture. Culture wars are a sign of health before a theory that reduces everything to insignificance. And the universal culture can be itself corrupted when it does not recognize the standard of the human that is derived not from the human will but from the what is that causes man to be man, to be a being open to a reality, including himself, that he did not make.
What, then, you ask is the proper use of cuss-words? Well, this whole search began with a letter a friend of mine in San Francisco sent to me.... This is a lady with three lively little boys of grammar school vintage, the very period of life, if I recall, during which little boys especially begin to experiment with cussing. This is the record of a conversation with a mother and her boys.... I suspect it is a scene to which most mothers of boys could easily relate:
I must watch myself. Grant (middle boy, maybe seven) said to me, "Mom, how come you swear?" (No he didn't say swear, he said, "use so many bad words when you get mad?") At first I decided to cover my maternal image and replied, that "bad words released tensions, they come quickly to one's mind in the heat of anger...." And as his eyes glazed over and he stifled a yawn at my explanation, I added, "The truth is, Grant, it keeps me from slugging you guys." "Oh", he answered, quite attentive again. Of course, one seldom gets angry with Grant. Brendan (slightly older brother) did tell me Sunday that he "preferred to have me mad at him, not Daddy."
That last remark suddenly brought back scenes from my own youth in Iowa when my brothers and I suddenly froze when our good father had had it, and he reached for his belt with the words, "Damn it...!"
-- IR, 86-87.
DAMNATION AND GLORY
The fact that damnation is a real possibility for us is merely the reverse side of the risk of glory, so that we can thank our neighbor for a cup of water because he need not give it to us. The structure of the cosmos is such that we have both the water and the cup along with the power to give it where we need not, or to refuse to give it where we ought. If damnation were not possible in little things, there would be no great ones. This (truth) is why ordinary lives are, before God, as important as heroic ones.
DIETING AND FASTING
The first question ... is this: Is a Dieter a Faster? Are they equally ways to holiness and health? .... In abstaining or fasting, a dieter need not have the slightest spiritually valid motive. It might be pure vanity or even heresy. A young friend of mine recently told me ... that he thought of giving up meat because it was wrong to kill animals. "Bugs eat bugs," I responded. But "bugs are not animals," I was informed, "besides, animals do not attack and kill each other like humans." As I feared such logic would eventually lead to approving cannibalism, I dropped the subject. ... Dieting, while it may be spiritual, is generally not thought of as abstaining from killing, a life theory. We do not give up meat because it is "wrong" to eat it. This is the great difference between Hindu and Christian fasting. And dieters abstain from meats, steaks, chops, and things, because of a health or weight problem. The religious idea of fasting and abstaining is not one of avoiding what is evil or bad for us, but rather of avoiding what is quite good and legitimate and desirable. Fasting and abstaining in the Christian tradition are not health-oriented, as they were in the Old Testament often, nor are they designed to make us less rotund. Should they have this odd result, well and good, but fat people are quite as Christian and loved by God as the rest of us. Indeed, they often seem a rather happy, out-going lot. Moreover, the Church never exempted naturally skinny people from fasting. Fasting and abstaining in Lent is rather a sign of our relation to God and to ourselves. For the most part, people are not starving and poor because others are rich and dieting. Fasting and abstinence are God-oriented acts, signs of the spirit alive within us, signs of our sense that God alone is our destiny.
The history of dogma is a history of a thousand reasons why mistakes are mistakes and why truth is truth. The alternative to this, it seems, is not merely error, a single error held in contentment because it contained a single truth, but the "destruction of all tests of truth."
The question is ... the obligation of society to enforce its own laws, if they are to have any meaning at all. No one denies that some civil societies can and do enact immoral laws. But surely the effort of a nation simply to be prepared to defend itself, if needs be, cannot be considered either illegal or immoral. Likewise, service to the country is not something we can pick and choose about. Sasway's "right" not to register places an unfair burden upon the 93 percent of his own age group who did register. How is he any more moral than they? Indeed, they appear to be more so, since they bear his burden. He is rather like a hirer of a mercenary to take his place, only this time the scrip is not cash, but presumed moral rectitude. G. K. Chesterton wrote in 1908, "Nobody wants to beg or anybody to fight. But when promise after promise of universal peace is broken, and conference after conference abandons the task of establishing international justice, is it so very odd that some people should still want something to defend national justice, in the sense of justice to their own nation?" Nations that can demand no service form their citizens do not last long against those that can. The Chronicle, therefore, set the right tone in defusing the erroneous "idealism" of this draft resistance, which is, no doubt, smoky rhetoric. Britain's young princes, it is interesting to note, served in their military, as if to suggest that those who would rule also must first serve. Such ought to be one of the first things political science students learn; it was, I believe, already in Plato.
DRAMA OF EXISTENCE
In the revelational tradition, the purpose of the world is not some sort of perfect world order, nor is it a kind of unlimited freedom to do whatever we wish, though we may seek both. Rather the world is a place of trial, a vale of tears, if you will. This understanding does not deny that there may indeed be some kind of inner-worldly mission for mankind. But the drama of history and individual being relates directly to the ground of being, to God. The world exists for something other than itself. It exists in order that we might have time and space in which to choose what it is we are about. the drama of existence remains in the human heart; and the configurations of the world, its political and social orders, are merely, as Plato and Aristotle saw, reflections of these choices.
The unseriousness of human affairs is ... the consequence of understanding the primacy of God. Real things are not less because other real things are more. We speak paradoxically. We are serious about our own theories only if we are concerned about their truth. In the highest things we are free. Therefore, we can reject even God in the name of our own theories, in the name of ourselves. If the whole of what we do, if the whole world is merely "child's play", as Plato intimated, it is not because there is no drama among us. Rather it is that we are already included in a drama of infinitely greater grandeur than anything we could possibly imagine by ourselves. Each of us, kings and common soldiers, have our own drama before God. God leads us to his own end, both monks and soldiers, kings and paupers, the happy and the sad. In this sense, we are all equal.
DUNEDIN IN NEW ZEALAND
On a Saturday afternoon in Dunedin, I was invited to a rugby game. In the stadium, men relaxed. There was a piper band from Green Island, the opposing team. Here, almost at the end of the world, men attended the game, were taken out of themselves, the eternal wonder of who will win and who will lose. Dunedin has a hillside cemetery that overlooks the long finger of its inner bay, which almost reaches back to the sea through its hilly streets. Dunedin -- Edinburgh -- the town of Eden. Scotland was everywhere, yet so far away. Did the stern ancestors of the last century come here to establish again the Kingdom? They founded in fact a quiet town that ceases weekday activity on Friday night. South of their lovely home, there is only the vast, cold of Antarctica and its surrounding oceans.
-- UMLTC, 75.
I could not help but feel that the concerned, "mercy" cleansing of those hapless birds (from the Santa Barbara oil spill) by current missionary-to-nature types was somehow symptomatic of a new religion that is spreading in America, one that is likewise somehow in its broader implications connected with the killing of babies.... This washing seemed to me -- and I am a cynic in this, I know -- to be a sort of new entrance rite that was meant consciously or unconsciously, by its fervent practitioners, to cast a challenge at those faiths concerned primarily with man and with the earth through him. In the old religion, men were killed by floods and earthquakes and tidal waves and fires; in the new, as the former Interior Secretary (Udal) seems to suggest, "the floods and fires ... are environmental disasters, people-caused." So different is this new faith, I suspect, that the old-line revolutionaries of the Second and Third Worlds, who are firmly fixed on the Christian dogmas of the dignity of man, are quickly parting company with the new American ecological heresy that would, if embraced, deflate the revolutionary's whole claim to renew the face of the earth for man.... Ecology, as we are seeing it develop as a public issue, is more and more anti-revolutionary, against "people", anti-technological. Indeed, it is essentially anti-city, against the very institution -- the polis, the civitas -- out of which our civilization grew and in which it lives "most freely".
Who is our enemy? Someone in the New Testament, a lawyer, I believe, did once inquire, "But who then is my neighbor?" His neighbor turned out to be, in the Samaritan parable, the man most in need, whom we help. The man beaten by robbers, presumably, did have enemies, namely, the robbers. But he was not the enemy of the Levite or Pharisee or the Samaritan himself. Evidently, no one ever asked, "Who is my enemy?", because this was considered to be obvious. In the New Testament, moreover, the world is never conceived to be populated only with friends and neighbors, of only those who love us. Indeed, the world of only those who love us, of the publicans and sinners, seems rather a dangerous one. The doctrine of the love of enemies is not construed to mean that no enemies exist, that they are an illusion that merely requires some sort of mental therapy to set our vision straight. The New Testament is inexplicable on the grounds that Christ had no enemies, that no one hated him. If there were no real enemies, the admonition to love them would be senseless, devoid of object. Christ's last words, "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do", were not intended to exonerate his executioners but precisely to forgive them. If they really did not know in any sense what they did, they would, of course, have had no need of forgiveness. Forgiveness is only operative where there is freedom and violation and knowledge.
-- PSOB, 104-05.
Why is it that I love my own enthusiasms, but cannot bare those of others?
EVERYTHING AND NOTHINGNESS
Christianity holds that even the most insignificant life is infinitely worthwhile. Indeed, this remains the most optimistic and positive belief about ordinary man in our time. The major reason for disbelief in Christian doctrine today is that it exalts the world and man too much, gives him too great a glory. All of our secular philosophies allow us to be content with too little. To expect as much from life and death as the Christian does is held to be "irrational" and absurd. To wipe out such "illusions" is said to be the essence of wisdom. Festivity, however, means that we can accept the whole history comprehended in the dates of birth and death as not being finally a defeat or a nothingness but as the beginning of a glory and a greater glory. This makes everything as a result meaningful. Everything defies nothingness.
No examined life ... is worth living unless it includes an account of evil as part of its own history, beginning with itself and extending to the cosmos. Yet evil remains a mystery, a maddening one, however careful we are to clarify its core, an endeavor, as Plato reminded us, which is itself, philosophically, good. Even if we should know of "evil" by our own doing of it, we should still "know" it even by intelligent reflection on our own deeds or those of others. The cost of misconceiving evil, moreover, is heavy. When we minimize its presence, surely the temptation of philosophic modernity ..., we end up by trivializing human (and divine) actions and standards so that nothing makes any difference anyhow: Bergen-Belsen differs from Mother Teresa's Calcutta simply by virtue of subjective preference or mere external power. When we hypostatize evil, however, in the noble hope of ridding ourselves of it forever, we tend to identify evil with specific persons, nations, classes, or even angelic beings, to justify their eradication in order eliminate evil completely, so that our own lives may be pure. The classic doctrine that evil was rather a "privation" than a substance was designed, in part, to prevent this dangerous result.
-- ASL, 112-13.
The locus of evil ... is not primarily in finitude. Beings less than God are precisely "good". The force of evil is to be discovered, in a Christian view, in the power of the will within all rational creatures. This (position) means that real evil need not exist. Perhaps a cosmos without it is conceivable. When evil does appear, however, it is chosen. This (chosenness) is what gives the true dramatic, both tragic and comic, noble and ordinary qualities to existence. And to this corresponds the gradation of good and evil in the objective order. Since evil is chosen, then, it can likewise be "unchosen", except to the degree free choice can permanently fix itself in its own selected world, a world discussed under the scriptural rubric of hell....
Part of loving the good is hating the evil. And there is no compromise with this. Forgiving evil does not mean ignoring it or calling it good. "Good, as it ripens, becomes continually more different not only from evil but from good", C. S. Lewis wrote in The Great Divorce. "I do not think that all who choose the wrong road perish; but their rescue consists in being put back on the right road.... Evil can be undone, but it cannot 'develop' into good". So there is no escape, not only from the need to hate evil but from the knowledge of what precisely it is.
The liberal-Enlightenment thesis (is) that evil is essentially an historical, political product. In fact, (modern) evil has a two-fold root, one in the notion from, evidently Socrates, that evil is ignorance, the other in a secularized Christian idea of the divine economy within a salvation history (in which evil would be removed by human effort). In a sense, both of these approaches were united when the modern notion of scientific knowledge came to be looked upon as an instrument to achieve a secularized, ideal human goal in which evil would no longer exist (because it had been removed by human political or economic means).
-- PHH, 109.*
EVIL AND THE RULES OF THE GAME
E. L. Mascall remarked that the problem of evil and its redemption is rather like the rower on the Cambridge team whose sufferings and strain do not matter because they are forgotten in his "getting to Mortlake Brewery before the Oxford boat". It is easy for us to see, he told us, how such sufferings can be forgotten, but how about the great human tragedies, Belsen and Dachau? How can even God forgive them? How can we? The answer lies in the direction of seeing that God's reasons, his field of play, is so much larger than ours; that we exclude possibility for lack of imagination and vision. We do not remember the strain when the victory is won or even when we lose. It may be that the game we play in life is a greater one than we suspect. And this is my ninth proposition: When we substitute our rules for God's in the game of life, we always make a less interesting game in the world." The challenge that God gives us across the ages is simply this: You really will enjoy my game more, for its stakes are infinitely higher and the possibility of winning infinitely greater than any game you might devise for yourself.
-- PSOB, 134-35.
The paradox of our era seems to be the reappearance of a thirst for universal excellence, but within a political system that sees all particular excellence as bias or injustice and an intellectual system that lacks any criterion for distinguishing truth in things human.
-- ASL, 241.*
The marvel of existence is as much present in the least of things as in the greatest. Nowhere perhaps can we come closer to what God is like than by considering the what is, the inexpressible value of the existence of small and apparently insignificant things.
-- WIGL, 122.*
... While the martyr ought to know for what it is he dies, the rest of us ought all the more to know what it is for which we live.
-- ASL, 95.*
FAITH AND INTELLIGENCE
Faith seeks intelligence in order that light might meet light. The Scottish divine and writer, George MacDonald ... gave a sermon in the latter part of the nineteenth century entitled simply "Light". He suggested that we must first become "fit" for what we are to receive and have, but that our nature will indeed be completed.... Faith seeks intelligence in order to understand and be able to accept that we are given more than we can expect. We must also make ourselves ready for what we are and will receive. One of the good things God delays giving us is precisely Himself. Our individual lives, their narrative history, is the account of what we do with this delay, of what we do to prepare ourselves, to use MacDonald's happy phrase, for the "ever-enlarging enough".
... The School of Medicine at the University of Iowa held a conference on "when human life begins" ... (and) a man from the University of Texas wanted couples to "conceive new life specifically for the purposes of obtaining fetal tissues or donating the organs to help others." Logically, this view holds that human beings have no intrinsic dignity or purpose of their own, but their flesh and blood, precisely because it is human -- why else would one use it? -- can be used, like animals, for other human beings. This position, of course, carries the notion of "living our lives for others" to its absurdity."
The philosophy of the goodness of finite things -- "every couple dancing seemed a separate romance" -- is at the root of St. Thomas Aquinas. The world is composed of an infinite multitude of separate adventures. They do not merge into or substitute for each other, but each retains its autonomy and its property and its store of finite things.
In Indian Harbor Beach (Florida), (my cousin) Walt said, "Let's get George (another cousin) and we'll show you how we spend our evenings. We can go fishing just down the road on the bridge." So after dinner we found some poles and some bait, walked over to the bridge, had a few bites, no fish. But it was quiet, a few small boats came under the bridge, the special smell of the river and the tide. Walt was right; he had found a wonderful place (to live).
-- PO, 53.
There was a heavy fog over Frank's Tract, a large submerged acreage of land along the Sacramento River Delta. Many boats were floating at anchor with us. My brother and I were fishing, catching nothing, but with a few bites to make it interesting. Fishing is a symbol of unexpectedness. Something might just happen at any moment; then again, it may not. Either way, we cruised home, refreshed, having learned again to expect, to be content with catching nothing.
On a Tuesday morning at 7:45, my brother, whom I had been visiting in Reno, let me off at the bus station at Harrah's to return to San Francisco on the 8:10 Greyhound. ... On one of the benches, a strong-looking, rather elderly black man with a baseball hat was sound asleep in the hot sun.... A well-dressed black lady in a neat purple suit, gold earrings shaped like a cross, arrived to sit in the other seat where I had left my bag.... Suddenly, out of the casino came a rather stocky white lady, followed by a lady police attendant, who was just sort of looking on. The white lady rushed up to the sleeping black man and in about the most piercing voice I have ever heard, yelled, "Honey, wake up, I need you." She shook him violently, as she carried two of the plastic cartons the casino gives you to carry winning coins in. "Honey, Honey," she repeated, shaking him, "Those men you introduced me to have stolen my money. I won $300 and they took it. Wake Up!" Well, everyone sort of gathered around this scene and backed away a bit. "Honey" was not about to wake up either, but finally he slowly came to as the lady with stolen winnings yelled about his friends and led him into the casino. I must say, "Honey" was eloquent with things to say, once he got going. Meantime, the nice black lady with the gold cross earrings came over to stand by me, as we both watched this unbelievable drama at 8 A.M. in Reno. Finally, she turned to me in one of those wonderful, deep black-lady voices and said, "No matter where you go, you always run into fools." Well, naturally, I could hardly contain myself with amusement and wonderment too.
-- C., October 1985, 39-40.
The late Hannah Arendt held that forgiveness is the public virtue of Christianity, not its weakness as Nietzsche held. Love itself, either of friend or foe, is a private thing that transcends the
human world. But forgiveness is the one reality that allows peace to settle amidst those people that do have a cause for hatred.
The incarnation means that the Word was made flesh and dwelt amongst us. Christ became man as a child. When Herod sought to kill this child, he sought to kill the human being in its most frail condition. Frailty was a significant theme in the thought of Hannah Arendt. The word "frailty" recalls those early twentieth century novels describing wan and delicate health, often the result of tuberculosis. I think especially of Thomas Mann. The astonishing weakness of the human condition itself has ... seemed evident to most people in most eras. We are aware that one generation awaits its turn to replace another, that we can stay in this world too long. We are to die. Yet the ancients, Plato and Cicero especially, reminded us that old age should be the climax of our wisdom, not its defeat. Socrates said that death is not the worst evil. We ought not avoid it at all costs. Something may be worse. The existence of God stands for the truth that something indeed can be worse than death.
The risk of freedom is not contrary to the existence of freedom. The use of freedom, however, is to be governed not by the intellect creating its own order but by the discovery of an order already given to it. All God's gifts should freely lead to his glory.
We often talk of "making new friends". This is precisely what we do not do. We discover others already "there", already "made", as it were, not products of our own fashioning, even though we influence our friends and they us. But this "influence" or "love" we bear to our friends ought to make them what they are, not more what we are or want them to be. Friends are in the nature of gifts, not artifacts. Friends are the highest realization of the notion that to us all things are gifts. The concept of gift, the donum, stands close to the essence of the highest things.
-- WIGL, 143.*
Aquinas, when he came to define what was meant by charity in revelation, did nothing more than return to Aristotle's discussion of friendship. "Caritas amicitia quaedam est hominis ad Deum" ("Charity is a certain friendship of man with God"). For anyone familiar with the philosophic tradition, this clearly was an answer to the position of Aristotle that God and human beings could not be friends. Aquinas did not suggest that Aristotle had been wrong in his argument on the basis of the evidence he had in philosophy. What remained beyond Aristotle's powers of analysis was how the issue could be resolved. Aquinas agreed with the point of Aristotle's suspicion that the difference could not be resolved on the basis of reason alone. The credibility of revelation was, however, related to the peculiar questions that did arise in the philosophical experience. The doctrines of a Trinity within the Godhead, the incarnation of one of the Persons of this Trinity, the resurrection of the body, the definition of the life of God as a friendship -- each of these positions is directly consequent to Aristotle's own dilemmas about the friendship and its limitations.
The exclusiveness and intensity of friendship with one or two throughout a lifetime, precisely to have friendship at all, leave open the wonder, at least, about our relation to all other human beings who exist either in our lives, in our time, or in the whole history of the world. Surely, there is something sadly ironical about the fact that we are limited here, yet we recognize that without this very limit, we would have no friends at all. This very fact ... does, nevertheless, on its own principles, foster the question as to whether or not ultimate friendship with everyone who is good can be effected. If not, the universe is incomplete in principle, and Aristotle constantly states that nature never made anything in vain. This question leads to the question of friendship with God. Aristotle held that we could not be friends with someone who is too exalted over us. Aristotle's denial of a friendship with God is rooted in a kind of pious understanding of the nature of the First Mover (his God), whom Aristotle likewise recognized to move by love and desire. However, Aristotle was uneasy here as it seems that if friendship is in fact the highest perfection of the rational creature, then it makes the First Mover something less exalted if it cannot have this perfection. Aristotle simply left the question unresolved, thinking the problem to be insoluble.
FRIENDSHIP WITH GOD
We live our lives as if these friendships were mere incidents or side issues to the main problems of existence. But the reality is quite otherwise. We live our lives for our friendships; they are the goals, not the means. Sometimes, it seems as if the only modern man who really saw this truth as it is was G. K. Chesterton.... Indeed, Chesterton's book on Charles Dickens is perhaps the best societal analysis ever written. The concluding lines summarize the meaning and perfection of friendship in human life.
The hour of absinthe is over. We shall not be much further troubled with the little artists who found Dickens too sane for their sorrows and too clean for their delights. But we have a long way to travel before we get back to what Dickens meant: and the passage is along a rambling English road, a twisting road such as Mr. Pickwick travelled. But this at least in part of what he meant; that comradeship and serious joy are not interludes in our travel; but that rather our travels are interludes in comradeship and joy, which through God shall endure for ever. The inn does not point to the road; the road points to the inn. And all roads point at last to an ultimate inn, where we shall meet Dickens and all his characters, and when we drink again it shall be from the great flagons in the tavern at the end of the world.
And again we see that the vision of Christianity has not been wrong in proclaiming that the friendships of men are the very means to the friendship with our God -- he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. So too, when Christ Our Lord wished to show his Apostles his deep love for them, He could only say to them, "I shall not call you servants any more ... I call your friends, because I have made known to you everything I have learnt from my Father" (John 15:15). And here we have it! God sharing his ideas and ideals with men -- this is indeed the highest and most perfect act of friendship possible to us, his creatures.
FUNDAMENTALISM AND THE END OF THE WORLD
Policy Review is to be commended for publishing the informative essay by Ed Dobson and Ed Hindson on the beliefs of fundamentalists about the "end of the world." One of the great weaknesses of the liberal idea -- that the main enemy of democracy is religious fundamentalism -- is the remarkable liberal ignorance of what fundamentalists actually believe. Conspicuously, Dobson and Hindson make no mention of any Catholic input to this topic. They are perfectly right, for even though the present number one attraction in the Catholic pilgrimage world is to the apparitions in Yugoslavia, apparitions that apparently have a good deal to do with the "end of the world," the Catholic hierarchy in America is practically silent on this topic, hesitant even to attempt the kind of analysis provided by Dobson and Hindson. Busy with social activism and such things, the flock is left practically leaderless on these topics which are so urgently presented to them by other Christians. Second, what is most important in examining an essay such as this, from the viewpoint of the completely secular academic social science, is the curious relevance that revelation has to issues, especially issues of decadence, which the social sciences themselves think they ought to look at but about which they evidently have no proper tools with which to examine them. In this sense, the fundamentalists serve to shock the rationalist mind out of it own lethargy and incompleteness.
GARDENS AND PARKS
I am a big fan of gardens and parks, Golden Gate Park (in San Francisco) in particular. Parks and gardens are our way of saying how we think nature ought to look.... Parks ought to be two things -- beautiful and safe. You can have your own garden, but you cannot have your own park. A park somehow needs to be a place where everyone can go, but only on terms of quiet civilization. A park is a park, a place where certain things are particularly set aside when you go into it. And a park needs to be big enough to have quiet places and corners to get lost in. Parks, I think, remind us of Eden -- places where man and natura are at harmony, or at as much so as is possible for us mortals. Yet weeds grow there too, even if the flowers of one continent are the weeds of another. Parks need constantly to battle the elements and man just to keep themselves what they are designed to be. Without meticulous, constant care, a garden or a park is soon a weed-patch or a desert or a jungle, or, even a sand dune. Probably, there is nothing more forlorn than an unkept park, a symbol, in its way, of The Fall.
At (the bus stop in) Hagerstown, Maryland, I bought the local newspaper ..., a policy I always recommend when traveling. ... In (this) Hagerstown paper, whose name I cannot recall, I could not help but notice a headline which read: "CAN'T KNEEL, BISHOP SUES." Fearing perhaps yet another pastoral, I decided I had better read it. It turns our that the Episcopal bishop of Central Florida was suing nothing less than the U.S. Government for $200,000 because a knee injury he suffered on nearby U.S. Navy tennis courts prevented him from genuflecting before the altar. "At least somebody still genuflects," I sighed to myself, unexpectedly. What caused this theological accident was not some fast smash at the net, but slippery algae which some poor swabbie had not cleaned up on the tennis courts. The bishop claimed he should have been warned, because genuflecting is part of his normal occupation. The Navy, in turn, not to be out done and with considerable courage of its own, put in a counter-suit, which charged that the bishop had been trespassing all along on Navy property and, in fact, owed the Navy $5,200 for use of the said courts over a five year period. The bishop was cited, in conclusion, as affirming that "it took a lot of thought, prayers, and consultation" to sue the government. And here I had thought that P. G. Wodehouse made up all those fantastic stories about the clergy in The World of the Wodehouse Clergy!
I asked the class, for no special reason except that the topic was somehow on geopolitics, "Why is Cincinnati, Ohio, a seaport?" A dear young girl responded, quizzically, "Because there are boats there?" It really made it a better day, even if it was not exactly the answer I had in mind.
The greatest gifts are the givers.
-- UMLTC, 65.*
... The greatest gifts we have been given are the gifts we shall never know.
-- PSOB, 114.*
GIVING AND SHARING
As to "sharing", I have always held the unorthodox view that it is more difficult to receive than to give. Scripture sometimes seems to say the opposite, sort of. It says it is more "blessed".... Pride, the ultimate deformity, means essentially that we cannot receive anything from anybody, that the only world we will live in is our own. In Hell, they share, but they don't give or take. This is why prideful people are so boring. They cannot admire new stars or new babies, because they did not make them. "I greatly prefer the pleasure of giving and receiving," Chesterton wrote. "Giving is not the same as sharing: giving is the opposite of sharing. Sharing is based on the idea that there is no property, or at least no personal property. But giving a thing to another man is as much based on personal property as keeping it to yourself." ... The world is made up of givers and receivers, while those who merely share, I suspect, remain locked up in a very little cosmos in which everything belongs to everyone else and nothing to each. In the world God created, however, the mystical world of our particular existence, everything is intended to belong to me, including God. This is the substance of the Christian revelation. And when you give away something that really belongs to you, you begin to discover that even you do not belong to you. You belong to Him who gave you you.
"Man", Arthur Miller wrote ... "is a social animal or a son of a bitch, as God and the prophets have warned since the beginning." God and the prophets have, more accurately, warned that man is a social animal and a son of a bitch -- at least, that is my interpretation and experience. Very seldom do we find anyone who is exclusively one or the other. God and the prophets have said that all men have sinned. They have also said that all men are called to glory. It was raining on a Monday night in Rome. It was the middle of Winter. A friend had told me the Messiah was being performed by the Academia di Santa Caecilia Orchestra and Choir that evening. I had never heard the Messiah completely as a performance before. Handel wrote it in twenty-four days in the late Summer of 1741. It was first performed in Dublin.... Yet, I thought as I watched and listened to the Messiah that this is precisely the kind of thing our age seeks -- not only "The Messiah" in the traditional sense, but Glory in its very presentation, something that is not a means to go somewhere else, because we are already there where we want to go.
-- PSOB, 19.
We ... are the beings in existence, because of our spiritual souls, who can see why this existence of finite and fallible beings is truly a "glory". Charlie Brown is standing looking slightly quizzical as Lucy, looking at the sky, observes, "I doubt if any other color would have worked at all." Charlie turns around with a kind of blank face as Lucy continues with a smile, "I've been thinking about it a lot lately, and I'm convinced that making the sky blue was a good idea...." Charlie just looks up at the sky in confusion as Lucy solemnly walks away. Finally, Charlie in exasperation shouts after her, "WE'RE GLAD YOU APPROVE!" Knowledge -- and approval -- of what is on the part of some creatures, at least, is necessary for the highest purpose and completion of creation itself. Again the very seeing of this purpose, of this glory is why we are given minds.
The faith never admitted that the world itself and God's redemptive action in it was evil or separated from the world in some radical way. Quite the contrary. The Incarnation and the Redemption guaranteed the goodness and hence reality of the world. Moreover, the salvation of man was for all men by faith, a faith that retained contact with historical events.... But faith demands that the structure of the world is not man's to form. Gnosis (Greek for knowledge) is just the opposite, for it implies that the world is wholly open to man's intellect -- that is, the world that counts, the gnosis that saves. The result of the theory, in every form, is the reconstruction of a mythological world based on a projection of man's own views. Man no longer, therefore, stands to the absolute as receiver but as maker; he becomes, as Genesis tells us, like god.
... The first heresy (gnosticism) ... does represent a permanent tendency in the human mind which the Church, in one way or another, confronts in every age.
... True goodness and true holiness in many cities or in many times can survive only because neither goodness nor holiness is recognized for what it is.
GOOD AND EVIL
I often tell the class that when it comes to the knowledge of good and evil, there is no essential difference between St. Thomas and St. Augustine. The difference has to do with their actual lives. St. Augustine did most of the things that qualify as intellectual or moral evil or disorder. St. Thomas thought about them but did not do them. This is why The Confessions of St. Augustine are more fascinating than treatises in the Summa on evil or sin, at least at first sight. Nevertheless, I would be hard pressed to say of either St. Thomas or Chesterton that he "did not really know what evil was." Somehow the notion has gotten about that we need to "know" evil by doing it, lest we understand it not. I would not claim that anyone, even St. Thomas or Chesterton, or St. Augustine, for that matter, "knew" all there was to know about evil. Both St. Thomas and Chesterton thought that the more we about it the better off we were. Thus, I would claim that an intellectual saint like St. Thomas and a philosophic essayist like Chesterton did "know". Something about the human experience and intelligence can penetrate to the mystery of evil without going through the trouble of doing it, or of putting the actions in which it exists into the world through our disordered wills. This very issue may be, as both St. Thomas and Chesterton seemed to have understood, more of a problem with angelic than human intelligence, however much it also exists in human intelligence.
-- MCN, April, 1992.
A grade ... is a judgment, an informed judgment that a professor must give. It is what Aristotle called precisely an act of discrimination, something whose very function is to acknowledge that no things are exactly alike among us humans, however much we may be alike in our natures. A practical judgment is, unavoidably, fallible. It is one of those things that might be otherwise. Yet it is what we have to do, what we must do in academia; and it can be quite adequate within its limits. For myself, I think a professor needs to know how a student writes, how he reads, how he speaks, how he responds on his feet, as it were. The professor needs to know about the student's diligence and thoroughness. This takes some time; it is a human thing. ... Grades to be worth something -- imagine a university where all students get "A's" no matter what -- need to be measured against the "competition" of other students: those in the actual class, those myriads of students a professor has had in previous years, and those in other universities. Theoretically, by this standard of comparison to other standards than the class at hand, everyone in a given class could legitimately be given A's or F's, though laws of probability militate against it. But grades also need to be measured against the discipline itself, no matter what the competition does. Something ought to be there to be learned, beyond learning just how you did in comparison with the cute co-ed in the seat next to you in Chemistry 1A.
-- ASL, 40-41.
Modernity ... is the mentality that would place all norms under the human will, with no criteria from nature. All natural "authority" is said to be illegitimate. Religion ... is merely a way to control the masses who do not "understand" as the intellectual classes do. The intellectual classes are subject to nothing but themselves. Thus, if the intellectuals want to "create" a new morality and impose it politically on the population, there is nothing in principle to prevent them from doing so. There is no "nature" or "natural law", let alone divinity, that might stand to protect the permanent things.... At first sight, the "Greens", the environmentalists, might seem to be different. After all, are they not "conforming" to nature? Of course, what they are doing is reversing the relationship between man and nature as described in Genesis. The word stewardship has become the religious route to modern ideology as expressed in environmentalism. The result is the same. Human beings are subject to control through ideas of nature or natural capacity which certain intellectual classes develop. While socialism erred in terms of expecting too much of man, the "Greens" err in expecting too little.... The 1990's will, I suspect, be the working out of the implications of the next candidate for the mantle of modernity -- namely, the "Greens", those who will want to rule us through ruling nature. In retrospect, I wonder whether the "Reds" will seem rather benevolent by comparison.
There is a growing suspicion that all the revolutions in which
we have placed our sequential hopes are failing us. Few wish to acknowledge
this (failure) because it implies a questioning of the very premise that
"men can make men happy", the premise upon which the modern world was largely
based. Classical Christianity had taught that men could not make
themselves happy, of course, and was rejected by the modern mind for this
reason. What we now see is the rejection of this rejec5tion, as it
were, which results not in a return to Christianity so much as a dryness
of spiritual energy which sees no place further to go.
-- PSOB, 64-65.
We are to be known, ultimately, as much by what we hate as by
what we love.
-- PSOB, 88.
Hatred in our time has almost ceased to be personal -- which
is probably its main horror. It is technological and designed often
to solve a social issue.
-- PSOB, 106-07.*
HEARTH AND HOME
If we are interested in a thing or a person only if it is reformed,
we will never notice it in the first place. The only thing worth
reforming is the thing we love before it is perfected. The hearth
and home are full of imperfect beings, including those who founded them.
These imperfect beings will only come to be, will only continue to be,
if they are first loved even with their imperfections. And yet, in
the fact of hearth and home, in the intense interest we give to those good,
bad, and indifferent people we find everywhere in our homes, if we have
homes, we can make some reform of ourselves. ... The first lines
of Chesterton's "Introduction" to (Dickens') Old Curiosity Shop are these:
"Nothing is important except the fate of the soul." The fate of souls
begins, and no doubt ends, in hearth and home.
-- MCN, July, 1990.
At this point, the problem of hell enters modern political thought.
For the effort to establish an absolute happiness by political means is
still very prevalent.... Its consequence is always the need to eliminate
the causes of evil as such, so that its embodiment does not lie in a human
will but in a group or class with no reference to individual choice or
moral status. This is why modern revolutionary violence pays relatively
little attention to personal guilt, but justifies itself in terms of variously
disguised forms of "collective guilt", various "social sins". No
one is "innocent" who falls under the ideological definition of the cause
of evil. Again the old theological issue of original sin becomes
re-enacted in a perverse manner within a political context. And in
a perfectionist political theory, be it noted, when ultimate happiness
is promised to arrive within the movement down the ages, the elimination
from this life through terror of any opposition is equivalent to hell,
to the absolute destruction of what supposedly opposed the good.
-- PH, 92-93.
Heresy ... is the exaggeration of a part of man's true being to
the exclusion of all others. But it is an exaggeration which claims
-- and this is why it is heresy -- to include all reality in its
exclusive context. ... Let us not forget Augustine's warning:
All heresy does begin in being too holy.
-- Homiletic and Pastoral Review, November, 1971, 60, 66.
Most of the truly great things that men have ever done go unrecorded.
We should not delude ourselves that the storehouse of goodness is exhausted
by what little we know.
-- UMLTC, 52.
HOLINESS AND INTELLIGENCE
For Flannery O'Connor ... the task of intelligence was to spell
out carefully what a world without freedom, grace, God, sin, and redemption
looked like. Nietzsche's challenge ought not to be left as something
unable to be analyzed. It is a part of holiness to know why alternative
mysticisms are attractive and why they deviate from the given good to which
the intellect is ordered. Holiness cannot neglect intellect.
But intellect (for its own part) can seek to put its own world (construct)
into being since it can imagine something other than what is. We
must be "singled" out from the imprisonment of our own independent intellectual
systems by what is not formed by our own intelligence itself. God
it is who frees us from our own self-constructed theoretical systems.
-- WIGL, 203.
The story is told in the Old South of a certain black gentleman
farmer who was asked whether "his neighbors were honest." "Yes,
Sir, they are," he replied. "But you keep a loaded shotgun in your
hen coop," the neighbor observed. "Yes, Sir," the farmer replied,
"that is to keep them honest."
-- Vital Speeches, July 1, 1994, 574.
Horace, no doubt, was the most delightful and witty of the Latin
poets. He wrote epodes, odes, satires, and letters, all in verse.
Horace studied in Athens and was caught in the civil war that resulted
from the murder of Julius Caesar. Indeed, he joined the forces of
Brutus in the Battle of Phillipi. He later became a friend of Augustus
Caesar, and indeed was invited to become his general secretary, something
he refused to do. The fact that he could reject this appointment
and get by with it is looked upon by most authors as a remarkable act of
courage on Horace's part and a sign of Octavian's esteem for him....
What struck me most about Horace was the poignancy that we find in him
about a civilization and its disorders, those that arise from disorders
of our own souls and manners.... The more we cease to study the classics,
the less we are able to understand even ourselves, even with the aid of
Christianity.... In the last of the twentieth century, from Horace
himself, we can ponder what he wrote to the Romans (Odes, III, 6):
"Foecunda culpae secula nuptias / Primum inquinavere, et genus, et domus,
/ Hoc fonte derivata clades / In patriam populumque fluxit." ("This age,
full of vice, has first polluted marriage, then families, then homes:
from this source came the corruption of our land and our people.")
Two thousand years after his death, as we increasingly reject revelation,
Horace, it seems, becomes ever more pertinent.
-- Crisis, February, 1994, 61-62.
The great riddles of life were asked (between Chesterton and Belloc),
answers were forged. This sense of actual answers to riddles, as
Chesterton showed in Orthodoxy, is especially characteristic of Christian
friendship; (that is,) the realization that answers are there when the
proper questions are asked. The nobility of the human condition is
not merely that it can ask questions, but that it can know when its questions
-- MCN, October, 1992.
God's reality and action in the world are its heart. The
almost maddening thing about human reality is that what it is, what is
best for it, is something "given" to it, so that the primary "act" of humanity,
of each of us in ourselves, is our capacity to admit that the world is
made for us, but not by us.
-- C, September, 1986, 51.
Since its publication over a decade ago now (July 25, 1968), I
have always had something of an "intellectual" problem with Humanae Vitae.
During all this period, when I was living partly in Rome and partly in
San Francisco, it was, in many circles at least, practically forbidden
to think anything good about this much-controverted document. Many
still persist in considering it the watershed that has freed Catholics
from dependence on ecclesiastical authority and non-Catholics from serious
consideration of anything Christian. But I have always been a little
leery of fashionable orthodoxies. And, needless to say, classical
orthodoxy has not been popular. Consequently, as I read and reread
Humanae Vitae, from my own academic and experiential background, it did
seem to make a rather large amount of unexpected sense.... I quickly
discovered to my astonishment that many earnest and often learned objectors
to Humanae Vitae, arguing ostensibly on the basis of the dignity of sex,
sooner or later ended up denying the very kind of sex that seemed most
sane and meaningful. I began to find it rather amusing even that
an elderly pope in far-off (or near-by, depending on where I was) Rome
was the only one really defying the modern world in the glorious name of
romance itself. I felt that the war with the gnostics was still on
in a modern guise, that a small, frail Italian gentleman was the principal
person insisting that babies were not evil, that the process by which they
came to be was itself sacred and was what most people really wanted to
safeguard anyhow. No doubt John Paul I and John Paul II are to be
seen in great part in the light of their relation to Paul VI in this area.
-- CL, 35-37.
... What was frightening about Humanae Vitae was not how wrong
it was, but how right. We have seen in these past years laws and
mores evolve pretty much as (Pope) Paul had predicted. When the period
began, the doctor who induced abortion was acting illegally. When
the period ended, the doctor who did not was more and more held to be violating
a woman's "rights".
-- DC, 29.
Our culture set out to be human and seems to be ending up by sympathizing
with all the disorders of our kind and calling them "rights." We
are not to be in the slightest (concerned) with the normalcy of mankind
who saw such things simply as what they were, trash. The callousness
of unconventional people has set the tone of our time wherein we have,
neglecting grace and logic itself, become (as Chesterton put it), "inhuman
out of sheer humanitarianism."
-- MCN, March, 1993.
That humor is more metaphysical than tragedy, I have never had
any doubt. Those are not perceptive who bitterly complain against
the existence of a Deity on the grounds that He allows sorrows and evil
in the world. The real problem, as Jack Point (in Gilbert and Sullivan's
Yeoman of the Guard) hinted, is that He allows laughter. And the
proper word is, indeed, "allows", every bit as much as "allow" in the case
of evil and sorrow. For laughter, if it be not ours, cannot be at
all. It is a commonplace that few great philosophers have ever treated
the topic of laughter well. Bergson had something on it, I believe,
and, of course, Aristotle defined us as beings who "laugh" -- or
maybe, he meant, beings who are funny. How often, in fact, have we
been where something is funny and nobody laughed? However, Jack Point,
in the Yeoman of the Guard, actually said that the "truest philosophy"
was not so much humor, as that philosophy which teaches us to find it.
-- IR, 98-99.
Just why things are funny has kept philosophers and Bob Hope busy
for generations. Is it possible ... to imagine a world in which nothing
is funny. We all know that there is a relationship between being
funny and being joyful. Indeed, it seems proper to suggest that our
most joyful moments are not necessarily "funny". The Resurrection,
for example, was obviously a joyful occasion, likewise the Nativity, but
we would not necessarily call these events "funny". We would be looked
upon as rather "funny" ourselves if we did. ... Most of us
realize that humor is not easy to analyze. The moment we try to explain
why something is funny ..., it is no longer funny. Yet, the world
was constructed so that there was humor in it. What does this imply
about the world? Is humor a defiance of its Creator? Or is
it a sign of His nature? ... To laugh, Aristotle already remarked,
we need to have reason. Indeed, Aristotle suggested that our intelligence
was related to our ability to see humor. One of the signs that we
were dealing with a rational creature was that it could laugh. In
order to laugh, we have to see relations, connections. ... There
is an oft-discussed minor topic in the Bible of why Jesus is never recorded
as having laughed, while he is recorded as having wept. Chesterton
again says that this is because, even though God is joy, we could not really
bear the joy that is destined for us now, so Christ appeared as having
borne our burdens so that they will not distract us from the joy that is
promised to us. Why are things funny, then? I think so that
we will not despair our final destiny, so that we will know how things
-- The Monitor, San Francisco, November 17, 1983.
The great modern sin, they say, is to act differently from what
you profess. It does not matter much what you profess, but do not
act otherwise. Nevertheless, it is easy to ignore the fact that hypocrisy
is a virtue when our profession is nonsense (or wrong). There is
no way to escape abstract justice or check on our own profession of virtue
unless there is something greater than justice. And justice is very
-- UMLTC, 51.
During Christmas, I began to read this powerful, strange novel
(Dostoyevsky) everywhere I went -- at mother's, on the Muni, on BART,
on Greyhound, at my brother's in Aptos. At a quiet moment on Christmas
Day, my brother, who does not pass up without comment such occasions, especially
those involving his older, clerical brother, asked me what I was reading
so intently. I told him. He laughed. "It figures," he
quipped, "my brother is reading The Idiot on Christmas Day."
-- C, May, 1986, 56.
INDIAN SOCIALISM AND WESTERN HUMANITIES
The thesis of your reporter on Indian education seems to be that
the (Western) "humanities" imposed by the British cause underdevelopment,
while socialism prevents innovation, and established bureaucracy prevents
everything else. Yet, since these same "humanities" did not prevent
growth elsewhere, and other Far Eastern societies are growing by leaps
and bounds, may it not be best to focus on socialism and bureaucracy, which
seem to have a penchant for stagnation whenever embraced as a cure for
a society's problems? ... Most Indians seem to be very productive
when they are outside of India. Perhaps we should look at the religious
and philosophical backgrounds in which these same "humanities" were received
in India. My own suspicions are that while not much of anything will
ever happen under socialist bureaucracies except expansion of offices designed
to control the people, the root cause lies in the philosophical and religious
outlook not of Western humanities but of Oriental religions, in the ways
they look at the cosmos, man, and nature. We have become so "ecumenical"
in recent years we have forgotten that religious ideas are quire different
and that even religious ideas have consequences. I suspect that the
problem is not in the "humanities" as such but in humanities with a religious
and philosophical background very different from the Gad-Christian one.
-- Letter in The Wall Street Journal, May 19, 1982.
In a real sense, therefore, the world has something inexhaustible
about it. Man is confronted with a double inexhaustibility, as it
were, that of the world and that of God, the first because of the second.
The central fertility and vitality of the internal life of God ground all
newness and mystery in the world. Our initial experience must begin
with watching and listening. This is also our end. The beginning
and the end are in receptivity. When a game is over, the best that
can be said about it is, "It was a nice game. I was glad to have
seen it." The final freedom is not that we become gods but rather
that we behold God. For the highest things, we neither reap nor sow.
-- FTEP, 67.
Openness to truth remains the hallmark of the human intellect,
even when this truth is not "created out of man's own imagination."
-- Modern Age, Fall, 1989, 234.
Virtue and vice are not functions of comparative I.Q.'s.
All walks of life are hazardous because human life as such is a risk.
No way of life, however, is more dangerous than that of intellectuals,
particularly if they choose as their way of life the pursuit of their own
-- WIGL, 196-97.
... The political doctrine of hell in our century and civilization
... has been replaced by a pseudo-political doctrine of a substitute hell
-- the Gulags, the terrorists, the concentration camps. These latter
were theoretically justifiable because they purported to remove and punish
the causes of injustice in a world wherein no transcendence over history
limited what was possible, what could be done. Thus, what is perhaps
the distinguishing mark of the 20th Century, in which perhaps 100,000,000
people, not counting the pre-born, have been eliminated for ideological
purposes, has been the utter logic of it all once we grant the premises
in which it could occur. These were, ultimately, the premises of
intellectuals ... not madmen on a rampage ... but thinkers and doers, out
to improve the world by destroying what they could define as evil and therefore
punishable. The ultimate wars remain and are fought in the obscure
cells of our minds.
-- "Transcendence, Friendship, Civilization" (Lecture), 31.
... Intellect can seek to put its own world into being since it
can imagine something other than what is. We must be "singled" out
from the imprisonment of our own independent intellectual systems by what
is not formed by our own intelligence itself. God it is who
frees us from our own self-constructed theoretical systems.
-- WIGL, 203.
The pursuit of intelligence to understand the way of reality often
results in a "theory" to explain why no human life is at ultimate risk,
why, as Nietzsche claimed, there are no sins, no freedoms, no choices.
The outcome of (such) intelligence is the erection of a duller world than
the world in which risk exists, ultimate risk, even for the most humble.
The elimination of sin and choice implies the removal of any real drama
or story in human life. Holiness, like sinfulness, since it requires
choice, is an aspect of human freedom. The alienated intellectual
replaces the accurate description of the world which contains the choice
of God or ourselves by his ... own understanding of the world which leaves
out the transcendent meaning of God's creation.
-- WIGL, 197.
The function of Christian intelligence is first that it remains
identifiably itself, and this precisely so that it can remain capable of
judging what is not of its spirit.
-- DC, 39.
INTELLIGENCE AND FAITH
The relation of intelligence and faith is ... a perplexing one.
The philosopher seeks to know the whole by what powers he has been given
in his being, (powers) he does not himself cause to be. Yet the philosopher
is not the whole, however much his intellect is open to all being, to what
is. Already in St. Paul, we are familiar with the conflicts of the
folly of wisdom and the unsettling challenges of faith. St. Paul
did not hesitate to accuse the philosophers of irresponsibility and even
moral fault if they did not see that God exists. And, to compound
matters, the theologian who seeks to "know" with his own mind finds that
most often the holy are the simple, not the philosophers. Sanctity
and prestige of intellect are rarely coterminous, though, again, sometimes
they are, as in the case of Aquinas himself.
-- ASL, 261.
The crisis of faith is largely the crisis of a particular intellectual
class of Christians who are cut off from the body of the living faithful.
That this is an unhealthy situation, there is no doubt. But it is
time ... to assign the responsibility to where it belongs. And this
is not with the broad masses of the faithful. Only if we begin to
see the matter in its proper light can we begin again to grasp the vibrant
pertinence of Christianity today. The faith has a future because
it is from God addressed to us in our day. This is still the most
difficult thing the intellectual of any persuasion is asked to accept.
Paul seems to suggest to Timothy that in the latter times the main problems
for Christians will come from their intellectual classes. ... We
should not be overly surprised if much of our difficulty comes from ourselves.
We have no lasting city and faith remains a gift against the world's probabilities.
-- HPR, April, 1973, 18.
JAKI, STANLEY L.
By this time, it seems quite clear, that no other scholar in the
modern world has done the hard and careful work in the area of science
and religion that Father Jaki has done. He has been recognized for
his work, sometimes begrudgingly, outside Catholic circles more than within
them, as the Gifford, Templeton, and Fremantle Lectures attest. Catholics,
beset on all sides by the various cultural pressures of modernism and postmodernism
in their various forms, have been unaware of the strength of the classical
Catholic positions on the existence of God, on moderate realism, on the
possibility of science. Ironically, the supposedly strongest argument
against religion has been science. Father Jaki ... ha pretty much
shown that science is not an enemy of Catholicism but in fact one of its
strongest supporters in the very doctrines of Creation, Incarnation, Resurrection,
and Original Sin against which science has been used.
-- Homiletic and Pastoral Review, May, 1994, 73.
Normally speaking, I suppose, anyone speeding from Tokyo to Kyoto
for the first time on the justly famous Bullet train would have enough
to do just watching the marvelous Mt. Fuji in the winter sunlight, followed
by innumerable little valleys creeping up the hillsides with their gardens,
frail houses, and clipped trees, beautiful almost beyond telling.
But someone had given me Shusaku Endo's novel Silence, so I could not quite
make up my mind about which side of Japanese life at the moment fascinated
me more -- the mountain or the book. Probably it does not matter
too much. Reading and watching are by no means contradictory occupations.
Besides, people kept telling me, Orientals do not believe in the principle
of contradiction. They may have a point.
-- Asian Report, Manila, December 15, 1972, 23.
History gives a bad name to the words "Jesuit" and "Jesuitical".
Jesuits have been accused of pride and laxity in almost equal proportions.
Cause for both accusations no doubt exists.... Jesuits are not another
"branch" of Christianity.... They7 are Roman Catholics first, but
they recognize that there is, legitimately, a wide variety of spirit among
Catholics even when there is a persuasive case to be made for Catholicism's
own understanding of itself..... The first Jesuits did not exactly
know what they were doing, but they had a sense of divine presence and
purpose even while they dealt in the most mundane of affairs. This
combination of action and contemplation is what made the Order different
-- The Washington Times, January 9, 1994.
JEWS AND CHRISTIANS
God is faithful. Israel will live with the choices of its
leaders and be led to further choices. Christians will imitate the
world and be weak in their faith, so weak that men will seek to establish
the Kingdom of God not through Israel nor through the cross, but on earth
through their own efforts, efforts that specifically deny not merely Israel
and Christianity, but Aristotle and Plato. The "mystery" of the mystery
of Israel is not merely that Jews, and not the Hittites, are still here,
contrary to all the lessons of modern social science. It is how the
existence of Israel, of the Jewish people, i their universalism and in
their particularism, serve to focus our attention on reason and revelation,
on Jerusalem and Athens, on Islam and the justice that is so desired by
all people, on eternal life itself.
-- "The 'Mystery' of the Mystery of Israel," JMJ, 70.
JIM SCHALL AND GOD
I once had a little friend of five. Her great-aunt and uncle
were visiting her. At lunch one day, she told her aunt that she loved
her very much. Then, according to her mother, (the five-year old)
proceeded to list in order of importance her favorite people. Here
is the list: "Jim Schall, Aunt Marion, God, Aunt Gail, Grandmother,
Uncle Ted, and my parents." Her mother continued, "We all laughed
so hard, and then she said, "Well, sorry, that's the way it is."
There is something rather special about outranking God and Aunt Marion
in a little girl's affection when she was five. One of the things
I believe about both God and Aunt Marion is that they do not mind.
-- UMLTC, 7.
JOHN PAUL II
The social thought of John Paul II is itself grounded in revelation
and in the impetus to intelligence and action this (grounding) gives to
us. The careful, quiet insistence of John Paul II is that there are
truths that Christianity does hold, that it is the genuine right of ordinary
Christians to hear them and live them in peace, that all men have a need
to be presented with them if they are to understand themselves and their
condition. God deals with men freely after the manner of their created
natures. He thus deals with them under the circumstances of their
own conditions. It seems, no doubt, improbable in itself that the
truth of God still remains visible and viable because of and through a
Church in which there is a man who sees himself, for reasons he does not
fully understand, as he told the French students, to be Pope, to be responsible
for the teaching of Christianity as it has been handed down to us.
There is no other truth. For John Paul II, this is an invitation,
a test of our integrity, an openness to see how all things are bound together
in the Father, through the Son and Spirit, as the tradition has taught
him and us to pray.
-- CSSJPII, 148-49.
Why would this intellectual brilliance (of John Paul II) annoy
anyone? Why would it surprise anyone that the pope can explain the
coherence and truth of the faith with its intellectual presuppositions
in a logical, clear, and convincing manner? Though I, myself, cannot
answer for certain, I would propose that it has something to do with pride.
I tend to think that many critics of the Holy Father, to put it bluntly,
have no souls. They choose not to be moved by the good when it strikes
them in the face. What is wrong with the Holy Father is that he is
a supremely good man. What is infuriating about the Holy Father is
that he is an extremely smart, intelligent, eloquent, and gentle man, with
a greater depth of reading, reflection, and analysis than those who satisfy
their contrary souls by calling him a "conservative" or a "Polish cleric",
rather than confront the depth of his ideas. What angers feminist
critics about the Holy Father is that he knows and loves women, their children,
their material, intellectual, and spiritual needs -- real women know
-- C., February, 1995, 61.
JOHN PAUL II ON UNIVERSITIES
John Paul II ... does not "apologize" for the truth of Christianity.
He is not embarrassed to be a Christian in a university, any university.
He knows that any serious pursuit of truth must include the challenge of
the truth of Christ, that men have thought long and hard about the relation
between God and the world, reason and revelation, so that to be deprived
of such reflections is also to be uneducated. The Pope is quite concerned
that religious truth be part of the pursuit of the truth found in any discipline
or faculty. He challenges directly any university's claim to authenticity
that, in principle, reduces the scope of truth to something less than all
truth. He knows that here are many, many saints without B.A.'s or
Ph..D.'s, and many a sinner with them. Yet, he does not minimize
the central place of this very important institution.
-- "Introduction," WTAM, 5-6.
Chesterton understood that someone had to pay attention to ideas,
for it was on the validity of these ideas that kingdoms and empires ultimately
rose and fell, that men and women lived humanly happy or unhappy lives.
"The ideas of logical and dogmatic men (especially the skeptics, those
very dogmatic men)," he mused, "are disputable, and I always wanted to
dispute about them." ... The university or the parliament or the
Church was most often too limited as an arena in which to confront the
myriads of controversial ideas that actually surge forth from a people.
These ideas had to be met on their own grounds, on the grounds in which
they initially appeared, which was usually in the newspaper. Chesterton's
preference for journalism then was, if you will, both a political and a
metaphysical preference. He was really concerned that the common
man could come to the truth within the myriads of swirling theoretical
views that engulfed him. This concrete situation was the reason why,
in his view, it was more worthwhile to write weekly columns than to write
metaphysical books. Indeed, Chesterton did both, but the latter,
the metaphysics, proceeded from the former, from the context of daily opinion.
-- The Chesterton Review, February, 1994, 57.
No joy is more welcome than that discovered at the end of a confused,
solitary journey across various frontiers and languages, on sighting friends
there waiting. Solitude is not only discovered when others are absent.
I do not believe people we love are ever fully absent. Yet, there
is in us a need to see them again. This may, indeed, be the deepest
need we have, the one that comes closest to a human proof of the need for
-- UMLTC, 106.
Joy is ours because joyful things are already there. Joy
-- can you create it? No, you can only discover and accept it
-- it is given to you.
-- PO, 93.
JUS GENTIUM (LAW OF NATIONS)
If we ask what is the significance of ... the difference in how
JUS gentium and jus civile are "derived" from the natural law, it becomes
clear that St. Thomas s saying that certain particular reasons are binding
beyond our civil boundaries. We are obliged by them even if we are
not citizens of the other polity. One can ask the question, for example,
"In Los Angeles would it be all right for an Englishman to drive on the
left hand side of the road because that is the way they do it in England?"
The answer is clearly in the negative not merely because of California
civil law, but because that civil law in such a case contains the law of
nations principle as it relates to the natural law principle of acting
reasonably. In spite of the fact that the jurisdiction
the Englishman is visiting clearly might be a tyranny, he must, by virtue
of the law of nations, still obey the laws of the local polity, even if
in his own polity driving on the left-hand side of the road is a legitimate
habit. Was he free, therefore, because "lex tyrannica non est lex?"
It is obvious that he remains bound by the natural law and the law of nations
to what is reasonable. While he might be justified in killing the
tyrant, he is not free to kill anyone by the way he drives his car, even
in a tyranny. Thus, the local laws of driving bind him by virtue
of the law of nations. What binds the Englishman in this case in
principle then seems to be jus gentium, the notion that reasonable ways
of acting are clear to anyone who sets his mind to it.
-- Fordham International Law Journal, #4, 1991-92, 1021-22.
"Justice," I tell my classes, "is the harshest of virtues.
It is blind and relentless and in its own way, inhuman." If the world
were built on justice alone, or even perhaps on justice at all, it would
be a terrible place. The world is built on mercy.... Already
inbuilt into the world is something that transcends justice ... that renders
justice even possible. Most of the ideologies of modern times, and
there are not a few, build the world on justice. "Faith and Justice"
and "Justice and Peace" have somehow become the religious couplets.
No combinations have proved more unsettling and unfulfilling. Somehow
we need to be saved even from justice.
-- C, July/August, 1991, 43.
You cannot explain kindness. It just happens to you.
-- UMLTC, 42.
KNOWLEDGE AND ECONOMIC GROWTH
Knowledge is a category that permeates everything else.
It is not enough to express concern for the neighbor. We must direct
and channel this concern in such a manner that our activities and those
of others really do help. Bloodletting, for example, may have been
subjectively an act of charity, but it was not the right thing to do; it
was not the answer to the problem. Good will, however basic, is not
enough. The principle of knowledge ... has its principal application
(for) the question of poverty in the (dubious) belief that the real reason
why the poor have too few things is because the rich have too many.
All that is needed to correct the situation (it is said) is a change in
the will on the part of the rich to induce them to give up their superfluity
to the poor. Then all will be well.... This view, however,
falls down in the face of the realities. A physical redistribution
on an equal basis would not result in the poor being permanently helped,
but in the immediate consumption of all excess goods and the subsequent
reduction of all to poverty. It is true that there is a wide area
for the operation of social charity in which the rich and not-so-rich (give)
this abundance (to) others. But the very scope of the problem suggests
that this is not the fundamental answer. What is required is not
so much or primarily a physical redistribution of produced goods, but the
existence of a strong, growing, and efficient economic society. What
is needed is a working economy, capable of growth according to growing
needs and by free innovation, an economy which can meet new demands and
encourage men to use their intelligence to develop new methods for coping
with human problems.
-- World Justice, Louvain, December, 1963, 204-05.
Laetare Sunday (Third Sunday of Lent) is traditionally called
a respite. The great Pope Innocent III in the thirteenth century,
for example, explained it in this way. It also makes us begin to
feel the nearness of the Passion and the Resurrection, with a reminder
that even amid the Lenten fast and the pending recall of the Crucifixion,
we are not to forget that Christianity is a religion of joy. Paul
and Luke tell us to rejoice, and indeed to rejoice always. Christianity
is called the most worldly of the religions. I suspect it is also
the happiest since it knows this world is not all there is, but is something
that gives us enough room to relax in, if we don't expect of it more than
it can give, or if we don't see it for what it is not.
-- JTL, 15.
... There is a kind of visionary radicalism fervently preached
today in many quarters, a radicalism unwilling to tolerate the imperfect
world of men, a revolutionary spirit which passes quickly from peace to
violence, and violence to peace, all in the name of the new and more perfect
end said to be beginning. "The world is hateful." In other
words, then, rapid passage from violence to peace and back again, all of
an afternoon, is perfectly logical when we have bypassed our frailties
and our absurdities, when we have forgotten that men are themselves somehow
bad jokes, loved and laughed at from generation to generation. The
enemy of laughter has always been a kind of utopia -- be it the utopia
of mystic radicals or of the secret police. I believe in God mainly
because His revelation has rejected both.... The bad joke is the
-- PSOB, 118-19.
The United Press reported the parting words of a Mr. Eugene Locke,
... head of the Afro-Americas for Black Liberation, when he ended the "non-violent"
demonstration at the University of Houston: "Be available Monday
morning. Something's coming. We're going to be up on those
buildings killing honkies if you don't give us our rights." In this
surely insane atmosphere, we could wish that All Capp's famous interview
with a student from the University of Kentucky were the final word:
Student: "Do you think the opinions of 18-year-olds are valuable?" Capp: "Certainly. But only on subjects they know something about, such as puberty and hubcaps." Student: "But Mr. Capp, only a few weeks ago, on this very platform, a politician told us that he considered 18-year-old students just as smart as he is." Capp: "Any man over 40 who thinks 18-year-olds are just as smart as he is, is probably right."
It would ... be more hopeful if, instead of pondering ... the shootings
of honkies, we could just laugh at them both. Probably it would even
be more effective politics, for if you shoot even at such a dull character
as a honkie, he just might, eventually, learn to shoot back. But
if you laugh at him, he is merely helpless.
-- The Month, London, December, 1969, 21.
Ultimately, teaching is an act of humility, as is learning.
It is a realization that the highest things, of which we possess but the
beginnings, are to be known, can be known by each of us in our own selves,
and none of us is the less in the learning.
-- ASL, 37.
I think, frankly, that a teacher ... outside of class, owes some
kind of explanation to ... students about what he is doing, in the sense
that you're not talking under the constraint of teaching. Rather,
you're talking with the freedom to tell them what you think they ought
to be doing, which they either (may or may) not listen to, but it's out
there.... You can go through college without getting an education.
That is to say, you got ... a degree; you got what the professors taught
you, but you haven't read anything that's true or whimsical or lyrical
that puts things together in a different way. Maybe, if you're lucky
you have, but very often you haven't. And I don't mean reading the
great books; what I mean is reading books like the Schumacher book (A Guide
for the Perplexed) which put things together in an original way.
They don't ask you what Plato says, but they ask you what is true?
What is beautiful? ... I have ... despaired of ever saying that you're
going to discover these things by reforming the core curriculum.
In the meantime, you've got actual students out here and my actual experience.
My thesis is that there's got to be another way, another sort of learning.
That other sort of learning, in some sense, does have to do with books,
so I'm always preaching this thing about the importance of used books stores,
the importance of our own library, and the importance of things you've
actually read. There's got to be some sense of your way to discover
these things apart from the educational institution itself.
-- Interview, The Voice, Georgetown University, October 19, 1989.
Frankly, I am a fan of a good lecture, and I love to be invited
to give a formal lecture, if given the time to compose it at my leisure,
(to give) to a curious audience, and for an "occasion". It does not
have to be a "big" occasion either, but it has to be an occasion,
nonetheless. Thus, a lecturer needs to have a topic, a purpose for
pursuing something, some idea or course of thought, for no other immediate
reason than itself -- something which, to an audience, will be out
of the ordinary, unexpected, yet with enough earnestness, even with its
humor, to claim, at least to seek, the truth. Lecturers, too, ought
to give memorable, intriguing, or lofty titles to their efforts, like the
one Marion Montgomery told me he was going to give to his upcoming Lamar
Lectures: "Possum and Other Receits for the Recovery of 'Southern
Being'." Who could possibly not want to hear such a lecture...?
-- ASL, 187-88.
No doubt, a "lecture" is not the best way to teach or learn regularly.
As I think, a lecture ought to be mainly an occasion. Yet we should
have them. We need the opportunity to be addressed, to be spoken
to. Likewise, we need the chance to set forth, in public, seriously,
yet as effectively as we know how, what it is we hold. But I am the
last to believe that our public lives exhaust the essence of what we are.
In fact, the origin of what we can say in public must lie somewhere in
the depths of our private lives and loves. The lecture ..., unlike
debate, unlike conversation, is something some one of us writes down considerately
to tell us. We need to hear of the highest things, so there is a
certain seriousness of purpose, of topic, to our speaking formally to one
another. But, such is the mystery of the relation between joy and
sadness, between tragedy and comedy, that I am not so sure that the more
profound lectures are not rather those full of humor and delight, though
I am grateful for both kinds.
-- ASL, 194.
LENIN AND HITLER
It is a strange philosophy of freedom to chide Lenin that his
fault was his "arrogance of the intellect". We should always be hesitant
to locate the origins of our evil in the intellect, rather than in the
will, as Augustine taught us. Lenin, you say, is a throw-back to
the eighteenth century, which "believed that scientific certainty could
be applied to everything, even politics." Your instincts are right,
of course, to maintain that "it cannot" -- that is, cannot be applied
to everything. But it can be applied to some things and ought so
to be. What possible meaning can your own leader have if nothing
is certain? We do not disagree with a Hitler or a Lenin because of
our own "compassion" or "humility". Humility ought to be located
in the will, not in the intellect, as Chesterton saw. Without some
firmness of intellect, our compassion will eventually justify anything
and our intellect will be able to remain firm against nothing. Hitler
and Lenin are to be opposed, not because we have a philosophical doubt,
but because we know, including your leader writers, that they were wrong,
and we can explain why.
-- Letter in The Economist, London, May 25, 1985.
The "letter" somehow transcends our formality, transcends it to
reach that "correspondence" between two persons in their very particularity,
in that inner place where they most are. That Christianity
is a "word" faith is no accident, so we should be attentive to those words
that pass between us when we are apart. The letter presupposes, however,
both intimacy and distance -- even though we can also write quite
nasty little notes to our next door neighbor. Soldiers at war write
endlessly, but suddenly become almost illiterate when they return to their
loved ones.... Letters, consequently, depend on a certain apartness.
They are the stuff of the metaphysics of distance.
-- DC, 273.
"Liberation theology" is no ordinary theology. In its very
foundation, there are ancient overtones and heavy political baggage.
At bottom, it implies either that theology needs to be "freed" from something
which, presumably, imprisons it, or that real political consequences flow
directly from theology implying radical changes in the social order.
Religious dogmas, it is contended, have structural political consequences.
Caesar and God are rather closer together than the classical tradition
intimated. "Salvation", the traditional word in theology for what
it is that religion does to mankind, had to do with our immediate and abiding
relationship with God as human persons, whatever the social order in which
we might find ourselves. Salvation directly referred to what God
effected in order to bring this about, so that each might reach his transcendent
end, together with human cooperation in this divine initiative. "Liberation",
on the other hand, has more Enlightenment connotations, the feeling that
we can achieve the City of God mostly here on earth, largely by our own
efforts. We might even argue, then, that "liberation theology, as
a cultural phenomenon in Western society, ought to be juxtaposed to religion
as "the opium of the people", since liberation theology seems implicitly
designed to deny what was popularly implied in Marx's biting phrase, namely,
that religion so absorbs human energies that it prevents men from achieving
their complete fulfillment on earth. Only atheism is humanism in
this sense. Destroy religion, it was hinted, and we get not despair
but prosperity. Indeed, destroy religion and we get mankind.
Liberation theology, from this angle, seems to suggest that we can get
the sort of thing Marx proposed by using, not opposing, religion, that
Marx's description of what the earthly society ought to look like was correct.
This makes religion, paradoxically, the key to world order. The cleric
reassumes his "rightful" place as a guide for politics, rather than a preacher
of different realities and destinies, as in the more traditional view.
-- Social Survey, Melbourne, September, 1982, 229-30.
The key to the religious hesitation with liberation theology is
undoubtedly the latter's tendency to use religion as a modernization force
for a kind of civil improvement. This goes against most of what the
West has learned about religion and its delicate autonomy in the world.
The tendency to make worship and faith depend on a largely political and
economic purpose contains clear dangers. In this sense, too, there
is a danger in taking away from the poor themselves the one thing all men
in all societies -- good or bad -- need most, a sense
of their personal destiny which transcends every social order. Making
liberation a kind of unified program between this world and the next only
confuses this issue. The other side of the objection to liberation
theology, and probably in a way the more important one as it argues on
the ground upon which liberation thought itself has chosen to take its
stand, is precisely on the worldly, empirical side. This kind of
theology translated into action evidently cannot deliver what it proposes....
The position here is that the alleviation of poverty lies best in the direction
of freedom, freedom with constitutional restraints and order, but with
each person's potential clearly at work for and within his own dignity.
-- LT, 125-26.
Liberty includes more than Montesquieu's "... ability to do what
one ought to desire and in not being forced to do what one ought not to
desire...." This is the first step, the most fundamental one.
Yet liberty is more than the right to do what is fitting. It is also
the right of doing what is beautiful, what is fine, what is just ordinary.
Liberty is the realm in which there is no external compulsion, the area
where a man can act by free, rational choice according to his own designs.
Liberty, of course, is not to be confused with license. A man is
not "at liberty" to break the moral law or the commandments. Such
laws (prohibiting wrong doing) place positive restraints on the sphere
on a man's free choice. But liberty does mean the fullest possible
choice for every man in those vast areas in which he can legitimately act.
In a very real sense, then, liberty is the right to be different, or, if
you will, the right to be perfect.
-- Social Order, December, 1953, 442-43.
Every generation, every life, no matter what its circumstances,
is given enough for glory or damnation. We must reject out of hand
the oft repeated slogan that some life is not worth living because of its
poverty or its oppression or its dullness or its deformity. The rediscovery
of the image of God in each man and woman (every person born into the world
is an absolute who transcends the world in spite of all the statistics
to the contrary), the denial that we are evil, even though we are free
to do evil, this is the task that Christianity is more and more called
upon to perform. No one else can do it, for no one else really believes
-- PSOB, 87-88.
Why is it that the me\an reflected in our literature with all
its honesty and frankness can pass, through rebellion and degradation,
in the recognition of his need of active love and of his inability to save
himself, yet, with all this somehow present in his literary experience,
be left not knowing where to turn?
-- RT, 28.
LITURGY AND ABUNDANCE
The liturgy, however, is not something that really has a "purpose".
Nor is its meaning strictly "moral". ... Liturgy (can be interpreted)
... after the manner of play. ... In this way, the intrinsic dynamism
of ritual could best be seen and preserved. ... While many things
might have some vital purpose, such as leaves on a tree, there was in addition
a vast abundance and superfluity in nature itself that could not be reduced
to mere "purpose". Reality has a richness and even wastefulness that
seems to be founded on the almost maddening largess of an infinitely higher
reality. Consequently, we must beware of those grim people who feel
that everything should be meager, loaned with strict, spare purpose.
Scientific, economic, and ecological minds are often incapable of appreciating
such apparent meaninglessness. To be outside of a means-end system,
however, does not mean that something is without meaning. We have
already seen this in respect to games. Things can literally be their
own meaning. We must say of nature finally that it is simply because
it is. Its reality is the fruit of a freedom, a largess.
-- FTEP, 89.
Christianity is also a "city-oriented" religion. Hostility
to the city, so deep in part of our tradition and often in our contemporary
sociological and development theories, easily makes us forget that Socrates
barely ever left Athens. The city is the place of the great gathering,
where a Roman law was hammer out from a bewildering number of individual
conflicts and standards. And it is a place of solitude too.
"Sir, if you wish to have a just notion of the magnitude of this city,"
Samuel Johnson said, in 1763, of one of our civilization's universal, most
particular cities (London), "you must not be satisfied with seeing its
great streets and squares, but must survey the innumerable little lanes
and courts. It is not in the showy evolutions of buildings, but in
the multiplicity of human habitations which are crowded together, that
this wonderful immensity of London consists." Every man thinks of
London in different ways, Johnson went on, the politician, the glazier,
the mercantile man, the dramatic enthusiast, even "a man of pleasure" sees
" it "as an assemblage of taverns, and a great emporium for ladies of easy
virtue." But there is more for the intellectual man. London
strikes him symbolically "as comprehending the whole of human life in all
its variety, the contemplation of which is inexhaustible." The city
is the approach to the whole of life's variety, of its inexhaustible contemplation.
-- ASL, 171-72.
Loneliness is an intrinsic aspect of healthy personality.
There is and must be in all of us somewhere an interior, deep loneliness.
We cannot escape this. Small groups, deep loves, comradeship, companionship,
activity, all of these good and necessary though they be, will never erase
the basic loneliness that is also about us. Loneliness, then, is
the sign that we are never satisfied with any earthly love or work, a sign
of the dignity of our creation. This too is why we must be somewhat
skeptical about all enthusiasms and friendships that are conceived in terms
of removing this fundamental loneliness. Should they succeed, they
can only end up by making our lives more shallow. We are made for
something else, yet this too.
-- UMLTC, 35.
Each man contains an inexhaustible creativity rooted in the love
with which God created him. In this sense, persons are themselves
unique mysteries in search of who they are through their restlessness,
their friendships, their silences and their solitudes. This ... is
why we are never completely happy even when we are completely happy
-- which is normally during moments of friendship, love, creativity, and
service. It is because we are made for a friendship, a happiness
that does include the persons we know and love in this life as deeply as
we are capable, all of this within the context of being infinite persons
whose loves can never be fully satisfied by anything in creation or by
all of creation itself. Never to be lonely, therefore, is, ultimately,
never to be. For (never to be lonely) means that we are not yet aware
of what we lack.
-- PSOB, 95-96.
... For most moderns, love is too often an abstraction.
-- RT, 25.
Before she died (1973), my cousin Monica sent me a book.
It was a copy of King Lear. (unexpectedly found), which had belonged to
my own mother (d. 1937).... In the list of characters in the play,
there were two left-handed check marks ( ), one before
Edmund, one before Goneril. Edmund says, "This is the excellent foppery
of the world, that, when we are sick in fortune -- often of the surfeit
of our own behavior -- we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the
moon, and the stars: as if we were villains on necessity, fools by
heavenly compulsion...." An eerie feeling this -- that one's
own mother, who died when you were nine, must have been left-handed, that
she too read Shakespeare, once upon a time, that by checking Edmund, that
she reminded her son many years later of our foibles and pretenses, of
his own, even. The left-handed check is, I think, the only thing
I possess indicating my mother's mind. Photos, of which I have a
few, do not do this. No letters, no words survive. Those who
loved us disappear silently.
-- UMLTC, 5-6.
The problem of evil is, no doubt, one of the central themes that
mankind has agonized about over the ages. Civilizations will differ
pretty much because of what they believe about evil. (Jeffrey Burton)
Russell (in his Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages) did us an
inestimable service in tracing this record of how evil has been looked
upon in our tradition. But I think that Chesterton's Wesleyan grandfather
was closer to the heart of things when he was willing to thank God for
existence even where he a lost soul. The concern that I have for
Russell's worthy study of evil, then, is that by concentrating on "suffering"
instead of evil, he has made suffering into an accusation against God,
only to have lost the real question of evil which a "Lucifer" originally
brought up -- that is, the possibility of a free creature choosing
itself over a higher good, a choice with its own necessary consequences
not only for itself in spiritual and physical suffering, but for the whole
-- ASL, 124.
Luther's suspicion ... was that man by himself wanted to be God,
that his inner self was cut off from all metaphysics, theology, ecclesial
jurisdiction, and culture because of the primacy of God. But this
turned out to be the other side of the modern enterprise which wanted to
refashion completely the world and man as part of it, to eradicate its
"evil", while presupposing no dependence on history or nature or God, so
that all evil would be removed by man's political project. Luther
himself sought to exalt God by his meditations on justification through
faith. Yet, ironically, it was but a small step, intellectually,
however monstrous in another sense, from Luther's exaltation of God to
the modern projects of completely autonomous man, in the "genus" of man,
in whom this exaltation came to reside when early modern individualism
eventually led to a collectivism that sought to command all the "human".
"Man is by nature unable to want God to be God." By taking this Lutheran
aphorism seriously, modern political theory has come to be a covert metaphysics,
as it were, where in God was not God.
-- Faith & Reason, Summer, 1982, 26.
In an old Mad Magazine paperback (Signet, 1959) featuring (on
the cover) Alfred E. Neuman in a basketball shirt, I came across a feature
providentially called "The Way Off-Side Department", about what was called
"Grandstand Football". Since my ambition here is eventually to move
us painlessly back to Plato, Aristotle, and Paul, if not to Creation itself,
to the viewpoint of the watcher of games, to fans who care, who later go
home and read about what they just witnessed, knowing that they could not
comprehend it all, let me recall a few of Mad's "All Time Grandstand Football
Greats". This is a subject most appropriate for events such as Super
Bowl and Orange Bowl games. The first "great" evidently graduated
from the University of Nebraska in 1951. His Mad name was "Delbert
(Biff) Smeed", whose claim to football immortality was that "on the night
preceding the Kansas-Nebraska Game, he slept outside Nebraska Stadium waiting
for the ticket both to open, only to discover the next morning that the
game was being played in Kansas." A second great was one Barclay
Brisk, Notre Dame '24. Barclay became a Mad Great Fan by attending
nearly one hundred Notre Dame games without ever once yelling, "We want
a touchdown." Finally, there was Barney (Rah-Rah) Windlass, from
Iowa '55. Rah-Rah became a Grandstand Great by being banned from
all scheduled Hawkeye games because he burned the Coach in Effigy
-- which Effigy turned out to be, according to the Mad account, "a small
town just outside of Iowa City."
-- ASL, 221-22.
"MAN" ..., "HE"
In the English language, the word "man" or the generic pronoun
"he" can refer to two different concepts. First, it can refer to
the general concept of human beings as such, prescinding from their individual
peculiarities, including the distinction of male and female. Just
because all existing human beings are either male or female does not mean
that we cannot have a concept (which includes only what all human beings
have in common) to which we give the word "man". Likewise, the word
"man" can refer to the male of the species as opposed to the female.
In this case, again clear from the context, the word "man" refers to what
all males have in common, just as "womankind" refers to what all females
have in common. The great grammarians and logicians, as far as I
can see, would be quite surprised to learn that the use of the words "man"
"men", or "he" to refer to the first concept -- human beings as distinct
from other begins -- is a "sexist" act, especially when its very
meaning is to prescind from the sexual attributes of the subject matter.
They wold suspect that the propagators of the new commandment had very
narrow, univocal minds.... The only thing "sexist" about the usage
of the word "man" to refer to the generic concept of human beings ... seems
to be the indication that some minds are so stuck in the idea that one
concept can only have one word referring to it that they are unable to
imagine how one and the same word can be used for different objective concepts.
Thus, if we are subject to any tyranny in this matter, it seems to come
from those who impose their "sexist" terminology on the democratic language
that is quite capable of making the proper distinctions, that does not
see sex where none exists.
-- The Hillsdale Review, Winter, 1985, 78-79.
The temptation to blame physical things for our problems is almost
irresistible in the modern world. Or to put it another way, we are
so reluctant to blame ourselves for anything that is wrong in us or in
the world, we have such spiritual cowardice, that we are almost incapable
of attributing anything to ourselves, even that we have a self to which
we can attribute anything in the first place. And we hesitate to
blame someone else for fear of violating his "rights", rights that allow
us to become anything we "choose" to be. That leaves us with things
to blame. We become Manicheans (who claimed that matter was evil)
simply by adhering to the prevailing mores.
-- MCN, August, 1990.
Maritain thus returns to his theme that an objective standard
of justice must motivate all political life if man's ethical depth is to
be maintained. Yet, justice as such is insufficient. "We know
that the flesh is weak. It would be nonsense to require perfection
and impeccability from anyone who seeks justice." Because of this
weakness, Maritain cited Bergson's notion that democratic philosophy "has
its deepest roots in the Gospel." Indeed, for Maritain, "democracy
can only live on Gospel inspiration." At first sight, this would
seem to suggest that grace ought to replace the political enterprise of
justice. But that would logically involve a denial of the natural
legitimacy of politics, which is certainly not Maritain's intention.
Rather what Maritain meant was that man is a much richer and deeper reality
than politics alone could comprehend, such that even the attainment of
justice in actuality may require for most men and most societies something
more than justice.
-- Political Science Reviewer, Fall, 1981, 11.
Raïssa Maritain was ... very conscious that the dated events
of every human life are within the providence of God.... I was given
Raissa's Journal for Christmas, 1987. I had known of these
journals but had never read them. The preface of this volume is by
Abbe Rene Voillaume, who was the Prior of the Little Brothers of Jesus,
the Order that Jacques joined after Raissa's death. In this Preface,
Voillaume cited a letter of Raissa, dated March 7, 1924, the Feast of St.
Thomas Aquinas. Raissa remarked that "Christ, with all his merits
and the merits of all the saints, will do his work deep down below the
surface of the waters.
And everything that can be saved will be saved." This remark hints that there may be things that cannot be saved because they will (choose) not to be (saved).
-- WIGL, 48-49.
MARRIAGE AND FRIENDSHIP
Aristotle does not deny that there is a difference between man
and woman, but acknowledges it and argues rather that the differing gifts
are intended for a common good. What is to be noted is that a marriage
can also be between virtuous individuals in a couple, which he acknowledges
as delightful; but like any other relation, he presupposes the content
of virtue and truth to be in each of the partners. Marriage ... is
one sort of union, capable of the highest forms of friendship, but in some
fundamental respect quite unique because its mode of normal communication
deals with the practical life of the family and its demands. The
diversity of man and woman is good in itself and not to be jeopardized.
No friendship of virtue except marriage will really have certain sorts
of good in common, and the good that is truly existent in such a relationship
will be (the) subject of (the) exchanges of friendship.
-- The Classical Bulletin, #4 & 5, 1989, 86.
With the collapse of Marxism ... surely itself a considerable
problem for the integrity of modern social science, since no social science
"predicted" such a collapse, we can ask whether the priority of political
philosophy to other social sciences does not become rather more pressing?
Is there not, as (Leo) Strauss often suggested, something disordered in
the modern social sciences themselves, in how they conceive themselves
and their purposes? Strauss seems justified in worrying about the
intrinsic disorder in the social sciences themselves. Marxism ...
presented itself as a "scientific" view of the world. But it was
itself the product or result of movements and ideas that were not original
to it. It was related to Epicurus, about whom Marx wrote his dissertation,
and to Machiavelli's "founding" of modernity, and to Hegel's effort to
explain all things in one ssystem In one sense, Marxism was an effort
to answer the question of the highest good within a philosophical system
that excluded any transcendence at the origin of what is. Marxism
was an effort to substitute human collective intelligence for divine intelligence
as the explanation of order in human affairs and through them, of order
-- Angelicum, Rome, 1993, 493-94.
A friend of mine went to Mass last fall at a University chapel
on the campus of one of Virginia's several state universities. Or
at least he assumed it was a Catholic church when he went in. Looking
about, he found no tabernacle, no crucifix, no statues, kneelers, or other
usual signs of Catholic presence. After the priest got into his show
... my friend quietly and abashedly asked the lady next to him, "Is this
a Catholic church?" The lady replied, "I think so." I myself
prefer not to concelebrate Mass with a priest who more or less makes up
his own liturgy as he goes along, and I do not much like Masses with only
minor violations. ... A priest, including myself, will often say
something like, "I have not yet had a chance to say 'my' Mass today."
Or, "I said 'my' Mass at 6:30 before breakfast." This sort of talk
is a perfectly acceptable and proper way of describing a priest's relationship
to his daily Mass. And yet, for any priest, the last thing in the
world the Mass is, is "my" Mass. The priest should never give the
impression that somehow his Mass is "his", that he just sort of made up
most of the important prayers and gestures, even his own explanation of
what he is doing. He should not appear to be so independent of the
pope and the bishops and the general rules in what he does at the altar
that he seems to be a sort of private revelation in himself. The
Mass is such an "awe-some", holy thing that, unless it falls within the
meaning and structure given to it by Our Lord from the beginning through
the Church, it would be simply madness to hint that what goes on there
is of one's own making.
C, July/August, 1990, 36-37.
MCCOY, CHARLES N. R.
From the very beginning ... it is of some importance to recognize
the great admiration McCoy had for the philosophers with whom he disagreed
-- in particular Marx, in whom he saw a first-class mind quite perceptive
of the meaning of Western theology and philosophy. McCoy was conscious
of a famous sentence from Aristotle, often cited by Aquinas, that a small
error in the beginning led to a large error in the end. The studies
of Charles McCoy were designed to elucidate these lines of intellectual
discourse with great sympathy because he quite understood how it was possible
to think erroneously and yet think with a certain basis in truth, which
St. Thomas said was the case with all error. Whether he be treating
Marsilius, or Locke, or Hume, or Kant, what is quite striking in McCoy
is the almost visible delight he seems to have in defining and clarifying
just why it was "reasonable" that tremendous errors were made in the first
place. The other side of this "reasonableness" of error, of course,
was his awareness, that the difficult intellectual "work" required to figure
out just why such positions were taken, also provided a way to correct
-- Thomist, January, 1993, 78-79.
MERCY AND JUSTICE
Mercy is more profound than justice because we have no right to
it. After we read together from John Rawls' A Theory of Justice,
which tried to outline a system of perfect justice, I said to my class,
"A society of perfect justice would be a hell." They looked at me.
-- UMLTC, 10-11.
Mercy is, obviously, a theological concept. Essentially
it implies that the consequences of violations of justice in the real order
will not necessarily be requited, either in politics or in everlastingness,
provided this (mercy) does not imply a redefinition of the evil as good.
Mercy ... already "corrupted" the natural political order not so much by
denying its givenness in nature, but by deepening the seriousness of its
actions and aberrations. This (seriousness) is seen, not by an abstract
law, but before the inner life of the Godhead. Mercy and forgiveness
were thus the only things that could ultimately confront the power of evil
(with) a just response to it in the public order.
-- PHH, 270.
METAPHYSICS AND ART
The distinction between art, prudence, and metaphysics goes back
at least to Aristotle. And it is quite true that the decline of metaphysics
in modernity has often itself been one of the causes for the rise of a
kind of artistic mentality that draws nothing from reality but projects
its own ideas onto the world. Descartes and Kant in particular are
the origins of the separation of metaphysics and art, the result of which
sees, not only in art, but especially in politics and economics, the actual
world to be merely a projection of what exists in the human mind.
The human mind encounters, in this sense, only what it itself has made
by its own powers, subject to no correction from what is. In so far
as modern humanism is atheist or secular, it is rooted in this background.
-- MCN, May, 1990.
One morning, as I came out of the Cathedral on the great Square
in the Zocolo, I walked by the Great Governmental Place, down a small side
street. People were just sitting up their stands selling every which
thing, especially newspapers. About fifty yards down the street,
I noticed a very old man coming along towards me with a very pretty young
girl, maybe six or seven, in a long skirt, probably his granddaughter,
walking beside him. The old man had silver white hair against his
bronzed, handsome face. Over his shoulder he was carrying a suitcase
attached to an ordinary rope. About the time they neared me, the
old man wanted to switch the heavy suitcase to his other shoulder.
The little girl was very almost "motherly" toward the old man. As
he was struggling to loosen the rope, she got under the suitcase with her
shoulder to hold it up so her grandfather could shift the weight.
I thought of helping them, but I realized that this is how they get along.
The little girl knew already how to help her grandfather. You could
almost see in her eyes that soon she would take care of him. I do
not know when I have been so touched by some passing incident. I
walked on down the street and went into a chapel where Mass was going on.
I kept thinking that this is really what Christianity is about, what the
little six-year old Mexican girl did right in front of me.
-- IR, 177-78.
The fact that the mind can know both what is and imagine an "infinity
of nonsense" is a reflection on the power of the kind of being we are.
"The mind of man is divine, even in the unfathomable nature of its darkness.
Men can think anything seriously, however absurd it is. Men can believe
anything even the truth." We will never read more insightful sentences
than these. The mind is divine, even in its darkness. What
might this mean? Of course, the mind begins by knowing nothing.
It is a tabula rasa, a power with nothing yet in it, a light with nothing
to shine on. We seen to fill it with reality. But the
reality we fill it with itself causes us to wonder about other realities
that might be. We can come up with many explanations, some we take
seriously, some we know are nonsense. We can think absurd things
precisely because the mind has the capacity to check the absurdity, even
the capacity to believe the absurdity. But this praise of the extensive
power of the human mind, the divine faculty as even Aristotle called it,
leads Chesterton to the brilliant paradox, that "men can believe anything,
even the truth." The atheist who doubted God's existence, doubted
his own existence. If men can believe absurdities, they can also
believe the truth which bears all the marks of wonder that can be found
in any imagination, with the added touch, that what we can know is likewise
true. For those of us who are not divine, reality has all the earmarks
of an uncanny absurdity that we cannot figure out because we did not make
-- MCN, January, 1995.
An original mind, I think, is one that sees truth as it exists
in all things. To be sure, we must affirm what we see to make it
ours and therefore fulfill in some sense the higher purpose of things that
are not ourselves. But books and philosophies and discourses ought
not to stand between ourselves and what is. We know too that most
often what we come to understand depends on our ability to let ourselves
see what is there, not what we want to be there, or what we intend to do
with what is there.
--MCN, March, 1990.
The mind is not to be so at liberty that it can decide nothing.
Rather it is to decide what is and what is not true. The only dangerous
doctrine is the doctrine that "liberty" means that we cannot decide among
doctrines, therefore away with the entire enterprise of formulating them.
Against such "liberty" we cannot protect ourselves.
-- MCN, January, 1991.
Leo Strauss noted that the characteristic of classical political
theory was that "it is free from all fanaticism because it knows that evil
cannot be eradicated and therefore that one's expectations from politics
must be moderate. The spirit which animates it may be described as
serenity or sublime sobriety." This appreciation of the abidingness
of evil as a practical reality does not ... obviate the task of political
theory to inquire about the good and the kind of regime in which it can
appear in its most positive form. Moderation in expectation ... has
theoretical justifications. ... Built into classical political theory
... is ... a tension between the best men can do with their public order
given the presence of an inevitable degree of evil among them and the desire
for an order in which these tendencies towards corruption are eliminated.
For this reason too, as Eric Voegelin has remarked, the problem of the
divine and the contemplative stands at the heart of political thought.
Thomas Aquinas ... held that there were two communities to which men were
ordered. The human law was directed to the mortal community while
the divine law fashioned men into "a certain community or republic of men
under God." The human law had a radically different purpose from
the divine law, even though they are connected teleologically. The
end of the human law is the temporal tranquillity of the city, to which
goal the law achieves its purpose sufficiently by prohibiting exterior
acts insofar as such acts can disturb the peaceful status of the community.
The purpose of the divine law ... is to lead men to eternal happiness.
These two communities were not unrelated ... but they certainly were not
the same thing. For Aquinas, the duality in man was the basis for
an invitation to a community into which man could not properly enter of
his own accord. Thus, the efforts to achieve the essential effects
or conditions of the divine republic through the earthly peace were not
only impossible of achievement but blasphemous. Politics ... retained
its moderation for an even more profound reason than man's ontological
status between the gods and the beasts. The invitation to man to
share the inner life of God -- the essence of the Christian doctrine
-- transcended any political possibility.
-- Laval Théologique et Philosophique, Quebec, Février, 1975, 25-26.
The modern project then was constructed by the unaided powers
of intellect, though of an intellect influenced by both (Old and New Testament)
revelations, to eliminate Christianity in its authentic roots from Western
culture. As writers such as Gilson and Maritain understood, this
result was ultimately to jeopardize not only Greek rationalism and Jewish
revelation but the human condition itself.... On the other hand,
not to recognize within the undergrounds of Christianity a tendency to
embrace precisely that side of the modern project that would militate against
the "moderation" that (Leo) Strauss and (Eric) Voegelin stressed as being
so significant for political philosophy, is to be blind to the brilliant
Modernist effort to substitute autonomous man for revelation as the complete
embracing of all being. The location of the best possible state in
theory, a theme beloved of Augustine, currently finds its major enthusiasm
not among the Jews, who are moderated by the exigencies of a real, temporal
polity, nor even within a weary rationalism, but among so many Christians.
It is too often they, in their cosmopolitanism, who use Church organizations
to preach a typically utopian doctrine that sees the state as the primary
locus for the elimination of evil. Evil has come to be defined in
primarily political terms, not in personal terms which relate to the natural
limits of man as seen in Aristotelian metaphysics, ethics, and politics,
as well as in the Genesis account of the consequences of the Fall.
-- RWP, 97-98.
MODERNITY, PREMISES OF
The premises of modernity, just to put them on the table, maintain
... that man is the cause of his own being. Freedom is autonomy.
There is no natural order in which man is subject. Freedom (means)
creating one's own life, family, polity, world, on the basis (solely) of
one's own choices, themselves presupposed to nothing but themselves.
Man is to take total control of what he is and makes. If there are
some so-called "limits" in nature, these restrictions merely serve, in
the ecological wing of the position, to justify the subsumption of man
into the on-going process either of state or of nature. No individual
purpose exists beyond this life that would question man's ability to refashion
and reconstruct himself against any so-called natural standards or norms
that would prescribe or guide him in his normal activities to the purpose
of his existence. Any effort to claim that the human being cannot
will what he wants is looked upon as fanatical. There are no norms
to democracy or to human nature other than those that man gives himself.
-- Social Justice Review, September, 1991, 144.
MODERNITY AND CHRISTIANITY
... The idea that modern science judges Christianity is still
about with a considerable following, so that the mission many Christians
mistakenly set for themselves is that of adjusting the tenets and practices
of the faith so that they "agree" with the varying trends and fads prevalent
in the physical, social, and biological sciences.... In this context,
however, there is a case to be made for the reasons and causes why Christianity
is not like anything else. Moreover, this distinction is quite the
best thing about it. This is not ... an arrogance ... but merely
a fact.... Much of the modern intellect can accept everything about
Christianity except its essential doctrines, Incarnation and Trinity.
What is unfortunate is that these exceptions are precisely what makes Christianity
worthwhile and believable to men in the world....
-- DC, 9-10.
Chesterton again sensed the great danger in modernity. He
called it "the blasphemous belief." And what is this belief?
It is the belief that we are not meant for a real joy, a joy that we begin
to experience in such things that we find in the endless conversations
of the Pickwick Club. He found those intellectual moderns too weak
ever to have souls that can bear what is promised to them. The great
objection to Christianity is not that it deals with suffering and evil,
which it does. No, the great objection is that we cannot believe
that we are promised so much. "We are too weak to desire undying
vigor. We believe that you can have too much of a good thing
-- a blasphemous belief, which at one blow wrecks all the heavens that
men have hoped for." Chesterton took the oft-repeated "You can have
too much of a good thing" and turned it around. A really good thing
is precisely what we cannot have too much of; this is why we are given
eternal life. In destroying our heavens, we destroy our best stories.
-- MCN. September, 1990.
A monastery is essentially a place to pray and worship.
In Western tradition, formal political speculation, that is, thought about
the city, began with the search for a thinker, a philosopher king who could
truly know the absolute good and thereby share it with all men in the polis.
The Christian monastery, as conceived by the early Benedictines, believed
that the worship of God and the fraternity of the brothers were prerequisites
to knowledge. For the Greeks, action led to contemplation.
For the Christians, thought was the natural overflow of prayer and worship.
Credo ut intelligam -- I believe in order to understand. But
for both, the pursuit of knowledge could not be divorced from ultimate
questions. Thus I have the impression today that the simultaneous
socialization of academic and cultural life along with a feeling that intellectual
integrity often requires a fleeing from this very world is somewhat a consequence
9f our refusal to acknowledge that worship is an essential element in the
pursuit of truth. What has been missing has been precisely sense
of the whole. The politicization of literature, science, and knowledge
is really the creation of a substitute whole, the denial that there is
any fundamental distinction between religion and politics. What has
in fact happened has been the working out of the idea that man, not God,
is the highest being, that a kind of politics is all there is. Yet
the specter of Augustine's "Our hearts are restless until they rest in
Thee" still hangs over our culture in spite of all our efforts to exorcise
it. The monastery again begins to cast its shadow on the world though
the building itself is perhaps nowhere yet to be seen.
-- PSOB, 154-55.
Muggeridge had remarked to the Times (London): "I have always
looked forward to death ... it would be a terrible prospect, wouldn't it,
to just go on and on and on? Everything is bearable because we die."
A friend of mine, to whom I read the passage, told me that Muggeridge had
just died.... My friend went on to reflect that such a remark was
one of the "most counter-cultural comments" we could conceive....
A couple of days later, I tried to go through recent stacks of The Washington
Post to see if I could find their obituary on Muggeridge. After some
digging about in a huge stack of old papers ... I found the obituary.
I tore out the rather long column together, by chance, with three other
brief obituaries that surrounded Muggeridge's (in the Post). (One)
deceased man, utterly unknown to me, was fifty-two and had died of AIDS.
The gentleman had run a clothing store, had served in the army in Ethiopia,
was a Mason, was divorced. He had no survivors. Curiously,
I looked at the second death notice. This man was 31 years old, had
attended a Jesuit prep school, and was a network news researcher.
He left a male "companion" and a blood brother and had worked for a musical
group, for the Child Welfare League of America; he, too, had died of AIDS.
The third man was a lawyer, 71, who died at George Washington University
Hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest at a Harvard Club Luncheon at
the National Press Press Club. He was a trustee and usher at the
Unitarian Church in Washington. He was also a member of the "Sufi
Order in the West, a religious organization." The man was divorced
and also "left no immediate survivors." Somehow these three obituaries
in the most famous newspaper in the nation's capital were placed immediately
following that of Malcolm Muggeridge, that delightful and incisive British
journalist, writer, and apologist. This juxtaposition seemed symbolic
to me both of the kind of civilization we live in and of the sterility
that Muggeridge saw in so much of the Western world. Muggeridge,
who so delighted in being grandfather of seven, was surrounded in his death
notice by three unknown men who had no issue at all.
-- C, January, 1991, 42.
Multiculturalism is not a respect for cultures, each claiming
to be true (but) with the possibility of judging whether this claim is
valid. In this sense, the world cultures are not themselves "multicultural"
since they claim, in their own view of themselves, to be true, and (they)
are willing to defend the truth of their positions. The struggle
of the world cultures and religions with each other is not, it should be
noticed, itself based on relativism. Multiculturalism is itself rather
a by-product of the universal culture, a product of its own philosophy
and only understood within its intellectual terms. Multiculturalism
is itself an inability or unwillingness to resolve the relation of the
universal culture, the culture that claims to be true, (over against) the
existing cultures, each of which claims to be true.
-- Journal of Texas Catholic History and Culture, 1994, 20.
The people I ran across in Nashville (Tennessee) charmed, simple
people. There was a lady in the curio shop across from the famous
Tootsie's Orchid Bar (I wonder if it is still standing?), who told us of
the Opry, the crowds, how she did not like Jesus people. One young
man came into her shop, she related, and grabbed the somewhat lurid trick
joke packets she had (on sale). "The Lord told me to take these away,"
he told her. She snatched them back, "Well, the boss tells you to
leave them alone." At a sandwich shop called "Mary's", a very dear
black lady, partly crippled, I think, showed us to a place. "What'll
you all have now?" "Have you any good sandwiches?" I asked.
"What kind do you want?" I decided on a ham and cheese. When
she returned with it, she said with a warm smile, "I think you're gonna
like that." After but one delicious bite, I told her, "It is already
the best sandwich I have ever had." And it was. When we left,
she said, "Now you'all come back again real soon, hear?" The elderly
lady at the cash register at an International House of Pancakes, where
we had gone only for a cup of coffee, was also quite memorable. The
coffee was served in huge cups, big enough for two or three normal cups.
She was awkward and pleasantly apologetic. We had to leave after
the first sip to get to the recording studios. As I paid the bill,
she said, "You mean you're gonna leave us so soon? Why, I thought
we were gonna have the pleasure of yur company for a real long time, three
or four cups." I had never heard time measured by cups of coffee
before. The world seemed better that day.
-- UMLTC, 111-12.
The Second Reading for the Midnight Mass of Christmas is taken
from St. Paul's Epistle to Titus. We go along in our ways.
Suddenly we read or hear something at Midnight Mass where we never expected
to be this year. We are struck by such words for they say something
to us that we had not considered before. "For the grace of God has
dawned upon the world with healing for all mankind." We know in the
quiet of Mass that such words are meant for us.... Yet something
about Christmas distinguishes humanity into members of the City of God
and the City of Man, as St. Augustine would have it. Only at Christmas
do Christians themselves hint most openly to their cautions friends that
joy does have a cause that does not originate in ourselves. Christmas
is such a happy, warm time. It is, as Chesterton said, the time for
our families, for the ceremonies of the Nativity of the Lord. Last
Christmas, when I was rather sidelined with my eye operation, I did not
travel home to California to be with my mother, with my brothers, sisters,
and their families, as is my usual happy wont. The dear family that
invited me to spend Christmas morning with them did not rush opening their
presents. Everyone had to be ready. Nothing worthwhile is not
waited for. Gifts must be surprises, especially the ultimate gift
of one another, of God Himself. The Incarnation happened only in
the fullness of time. To know what we have, we need to realize what
we do not have. We live in time for this reason, I think.
-- C, December, 1990, 42.
The Holy Family at the Birth of Christ have been painted as if
they were found in almost any climate or architecture, in any economic,
geographic, racial, or cultural setting. Yet, we know that the whole
romance of Christmas is that it happened but once, like all the times in
which any of us lives. Christ's birth did not happen just any place,
but in some place, in Bethlehem, under the reign of Caesar Augustus, when
the whole world was at peace.... Christ came in the fullness of time.
Yet, we suspect that the omnipotent power of God that made it possible
for Christ to come at all would not have prevented Him from being sent
in any time or any place. And this was Chesterton's point.
The sunny colonnades of Italy and the snow-laden cottages in Sussex are
likewise human places under the same power of God that manifested itself
in the stable at Bethlehem. ... The child furled in swaddling clothes
is the Son of God who was born homeless in this world. Chesterton
believed that Christmas was the feast of the home.... We can ironically
be really homesick only if we have a home. Unless we understand this
longing that we are not where we want to be, even when we are where we
want to be, we shall never understand why we are, in our very metaphysical
condition, homesick at home, even in this world. Inns, homes., stables
that could be anywhere even when they were in fact somewhere leave one
final point that Chesterton insisted on about Christmas. Christmas
was a reality, not a "spirit".
-- MCN, December, 1989.
NATURAL HOME OF HUMAN SPIRIT
Belloc remarked that "the Church is the natural home of the Human
Spirit." This is a striking phrase, for the Church is not supposed
to be the "natural" home of anything, unless, of course, our spirit is
made for something that is not merely natural. Belloc found that
these myriads of reasons for entering the Church converged because the
reality to which they pointed to was one. "It is in this convergence
of witnesses that we have one out of the innumerable proofs upon which
the rational basis of our religion rests." The supernatural religion
rests on a solid natural foundation."
-- Social Survey, Melbourne, September, 1994, 230.
... Natural law concerns the problem indicated by Cicero, about
whether the positive law of states is subject to anything beyond itself.
The most forceful modern cause for a reconsideration of natural law was
the Nuremburg Trials, which raised the question of whether the actions
of the Nazi leaders, which were mostly legitimate according to the positive
law of their state, could be condemned because of some higher law.
This question is not merely one of international law, treaties, or customs,
but, even in lieu of these formal arrangements, whether there was some
basis, some promulgation of law, that would enable us to condemn certain
actions no matter what the civil law might propose to the contrary....
What is at stake here, of course, is not merely the integrity of civil
societies in their diversity, but a judgment on this diversity, whether
it, too, is limited because all civil states are designed even within their
own confines to a basic purpose that they cannot themselves overturn.
No doubt the greatest danger in modern times is the world state devoted
to evil with the power to impose its will on all lesser entities.
On the other hand, we witness civil societies lapsing into barbarism and
defending their right to do so with principles of political sovereignty,
principles that are products of modern natural right theory. The
theoretical issue was already addressed by St. Thomas, following St. Augustine,
in the position that an unjust law was not a law.
-- The American Journal of Jurisprudence, 1993, 99-100.
Natural law ... embodies this whole living system of human life
and action. It should not exclusively be identified with abstract
generalizations alone. Natural law in its fullness reveals the living,
free, judging person positing concrete acts that are means to attain in
a prudent way external objects that fulfill experienced tendencies.
The particular action itself ... passes swiftly so that natural law goes
beyond it to affirm that the totality of concrete acts of man are paths
to the attainment of that "other" that ultimately satisfies the "given"
tendency to find some existential object that satisfies all. Practical
activity always refers beyond itself to this object. Natural law
theory ... combines generalization and concrete activity in the unity of
the living person in a world that presents him with objects really proportioned
to his real tendencies. This unity of the world is proportioned to
these experienced tendencies. And ultimately, this proportion is
found only in the experience of living, not in abstract thought.
This is the most profound meaning of natural law.
-- Archiv fur Rechts- und Sozialphilosophie, #2, 1959, 192.
NATURAL LAW, CHRISTIAN STATEMENT OF
A Christian statement of the natural law ... ought indeed to enable
us to reason better; but at the same time, it will be a statement addressed
mostly to the ordinary and the "fallen," to use ancient theological realism
that teaches us to beware of trusting too much in ourselves. Christianity
is a theory of personal redemption and salvation, not directly a theory
of human nobility. Men are not in Christianity encouraged to become
Greek gods to stand against the ages in perfect form, but they are urged
to save their souls, as it is put, in whatever society they might find
themselves, worst as well as best. When it analyzes things of the
world, of politics, Christianity proceeds from nature to grace, as if the
proper way to reach the latter is to begin with the former. Yet,
in the order of actual living, Christianity begins with grace, with faith
to do the actually taught, revealed commands. In doing (what is commanded),
it learns about reason. This is why the unity of reason and revelation
-- usually stated as "faith cannot contradict reason" -- remains
the central operative thesis of any specifically Christian reflection on
natural law. Failing to understand this (relationship), most of modern
political theory has not known how to take account of "Christian natural
-- CP, 238-39.
We are said to live in a world that has no need of God.
When we hear this sort of a thing we should not forget that this is a "proposition",
not at all established or proved. In such a proposition of not needing
God, we end up with a world that has no "need" of much of anything because
in order for something to be truly "needed", it must somehow have a transcendent
purpose about it, even if it be the most finite of finite things.
-- C, November, 1992, 44.
Reinhold Niebuhr ... represents a generally wholesome influence
on American political thought. He is a theologian, a Christian who
cannot be overlooked by even the more rabid secularist. Nor can he
be ignored by Catholicism. Political theory formulated according
to Protestant theology did not die with John Calvin's Institutes of the
Christian Religion. Neither is it the naive defenseless attitude
toward statism implicit in so much of early Protestantism. Niebuhr
fears the ravages of sinful man, yet he also recognizes the virtues of
democratic practices. Faced with the sincerity and intellectual depth of
a man like Niebuhr, it is only just to look sincerely, sympathetically,
and honestly at what is held to be true by the Protestant mind.
-- Thought, Spring, 1958, 80.
NINTEEN NINETY-TWO PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS
The election is about Clinton and Bush, about the awful record
of the Congress, and, yes, about the aborted deaths legislated in the courts,
allowed by the people, that we have not had the courage to stop or understand.
But essentially it is an election of the people in which the citizens,
often pictured as a reservoir of virtue and dignity, are judging themselves.
This election is not really about the candidates. The election brings
up the question, I hesitate to say it, of a corrupt or disordered electorate,
of the souls of each of us. It forces us to wonder whether the civil
disorders we see are not really caused because the people have refused
to act wisely in their voting and their living. Will they now have
in place politicians and attitudes that are, in terms of western civility,
apocalyptic, portending disorders of personal and corporate soul as dire
as Dostoevski pictured? We do not want to think of these things.
We want jobs. We want to think all is well, that our policies about
life and death are merely that, necessary but prudent policies, revealing
only troubled virtue. ... Do we want a man to win, no matter how
he stands to standards of virtue and vice, no matter how we (ourselves)
stand to standards of virtue and vice?
-- C, October, 1992, 45.
Somewhere in Belloc's Hills and the Sea (1906) ... I recall reading
a remark about November -- that it was "the loneliest month"....
At the time I read it, it struck me somehow with great poignancy, as Belloc
often does. Perhaps because of Thanksgiving, and of the friends with
whom I usually celebrate it, I have never quite felt this way about November,
when the days do dwindle down, as the song goes. Even though Belloc
had an American wife, he probably would not have known Thanksgiving.
Although its origins in a sense are from our English Pilgrim Fathers, Englishmen
like Belloc would not have contrasted our Thanksgiving homeyness with his
loneliest month. As I see it, a certain coziness hovers about November.
We of the Northern Hemisphere are near to Winter : days are short;
evenings begin early; the shortest day yet is in December. We live
in a fortunate place on this revolving planet where seasons distinctly
change and days noticeably lengthen or shorten.... Certain months
or days, I suppose, do cause us to describe them as lonely or happy or
unending or sad. Loneliness has the sense of missing human, and perhaps
even more, divine, company when it is wanted.
-- C., November, 1994, 59.
Your editorial commending the French Catholic bishops' remarkably
sane statement on nuclear deterrence and its positive relation to keeping
peace is most welcome. Along with the longer, but no less incisive
statement of the German Catholic bishops (April 18) and the letter of Basil
Cardinal Hume, the British Primate, (November 17), civil and military leaders
in the West, along with ordinary citizens often confused in this area,
now have a reasoned and clear religious statement about their right and
duty to defend themselves. You are likewise correct in noting that
"either unilateral disarmament or failure to maintain a credible nuclear
deterrence is an invitation to disaster." What should, perhaps, be
added is that the French and German bishops have understood the political
context in which weapons exit. They were not caught up in the sterile
position that weapons by themselves were somehow the cause of war or its
threat. By emphasizing the nature and politics of the only real enemy
who thinks such weapons might be useful politically for "blackmail," as
they put it, or other purposes, the European bishops suggested how to prevent
the use of weapons and, more importantly, to preserve freedom What
seems to me to be the most important aspect of the French bishops' statement
in particular, a statement which will, I think, become the norm for all
informed thinking on this issue, is its recognition that peace at any price
is a religious and philosophical position that ultimately denies any value
-- Letter in The San Francisco Examiner, January 2, 1984.
Julius Nyerere's thesis about the ways to solve the "poverty"
problems of the South begin, again, with the dubious notion that it is
all somebody else's fault, that poverty is a sort of giant conspiracy against
innocent peoples and their competent leadership.... However, if Nyerere's
thesis were itself correct, as it surely is not, then to impose it on the
world would only make things worse, especially for the poor. The
causes of poverty are primarily ideological, what ideas and concepts a
man or nation chooses by which to interpret the world. The poverty
of the "South" or the "Third World" ... is due to certain ideas about work,
profit, order, the state's voluntary organizations, value, and innovation
which, when lacking, make the generati9on and distribution of wealth impossible.
What needs to be explained really is not why the poor are poor, but rather
why not everyone is poor. And the answer is not exploitation or some
conspiracy via the international economic order. The production of
wealth is not something that makes others actually poor., It is just
the opposite; it gives them the hope of going and doing likewise.
... Justice will only come for the mythical South when we stop thinking
as Mr. Nyerere's Prize Speech suggests. Otherwise, we will go on
forever blaming others and remaining poor, pretty much the ate, it seems,
of Mr. Nyerere's own country (Tanzania), which could have been so rich
had he (Nyerere) not selected the ideology he did to explain why
it is poor."
-- Letter in South, June, 1982, 3.
Obscurity is often a curse, but sometimes it can be rather desirable.
Marcus Aurelius (the Roman Philosopher-Emperor) always seemed to have borne
his rule with reluctance, with the realization that the public affairs
he had to indulge in were what kept him from real contentment and wisdom.
But obscurity is something else. We should bear the burdens of our
kind if we must. Yet, fame is itself always seen as something of
a temptation and a distraction, a burden. Obscurity is a kind of
-- UMLTC, 135.
I drank a very cold orange juice, which I squeezed myself.
We should like what is to be liked. We forget that in our pleasures
there is also added a kind of implicit challenge about how we accept the
world, a sort of sly mocking of our solemnities. Why should there
be ... anything at all that really pleases us and gives us pleasure?
Why are there things that not merely keep us alive but satisfy us, make
us really say, "That was good!" The point here is not that "the best
things in life are free" -- which they may not be -- but rather
that what gives us pleasure, the very faculties and actions in which we
experience it most intensely, are already there, for our enjoyment.
We are to grow oranges, and squeezed orange juice is good. We already
have such a capacity to enjoy it; no one invented it for us, though we
did invent the squeezer.
-- UMLTC, 62-63.
Chesterton saw that it was the function of the ordinary man to
say that he did know certain things.
-- MCN, October, 1989.
An original mind, I think, is one that sees truth as it exists
in all things. ... We must affirm what we see to make it ours and
therefore fulfill in some sense the higher purpose of things that are not
ourselves. But books and philosophies and discourses ought not to
stand between ourselves and what is. We know too that most often
what we come to understand depends on our ability to let ourselves see
what is there, not what we want to be there, or what we intend to do with
-- MCN, March, 1990.
ORIGINAL SIN (THE FALL)
Both C. S. Lewis and G. K. Chesterton had remarked that original
sin was the chief theological doctrine needed to support democracy, for
it was the one doctrine that taught us not to trust too much any human
being, especially a politician. If such is the conclusion (about
original sin), that is no doubt a popular dogma in any era! A healthy
political system thus owes much to the imperfectibility of man. John
Paul II himself suggests that this doctrine of original sin teaches us
not to place in too radical an opposition our personal interests over against
the interests of society as a whole. If we try to suppress self-interest
too much, we will tend to replace it with a "burdensome system of bureaucratic
control" that will "dry up the wellsprings of initiative and creativity."
And these well-springs are some of the very things this Encyclical (Centesimus
Annus #25) especially wishes to recognize. .... Those who think
that they have a formula for a "perfect social organization which makes
evil impossible," will likely go on to think that they can use any means,
"including violence and deceit" to achieve such a lofty goal.
-- Vital Speeches, January 15, 1992, 215.
... The doctrine of original sin needs little more proof than
a walk in the streets.
-- ASL, 95.
On what doctrine does civilization most depend? On all of
them, no doubt. But ironically no doctrine is more a foundation of
our civilization -- or any civilization that purports to be such
-- than the doctrine of "the Fall". ... The Fall is indeed
a dogma. People who have never thought about it are uncomfortable
with it. But people who have thought about it are quite uncomfortable
with anything else. The Fall is the one doctrine that is designed
to make us uncomfortable especially when we are most comfortable....
The Fall holds that "we have misused a good world, and not merely been
entrapped into a bad one." The heart of the teaching of The Fall
refers "evil back to the wrong use of the will, and thus declares that
it can eventually be righted by the right use of the will." The other
doctrines that seek to explain what evil means are really a surrender to
-- MCN, January, 1991.
ORIGINS OF SCIENCE
The origins of science do require a (particular) view of God and
of the world, in the absence of which, science will not begin or prosper.
If God is conceived as pure will and the secondary causes in nature to
possess no stability because of the arbitrary powers of the divinity, then
it appears that there will be no science. Moreover, science requires
a view of the world that maintains that matter exists and is good.
Its laws need to be discovered, not merely projected from the human mind
onto a chaotic world with no intrinsic order to it, even if that order
cannot be located in the world itself as to (the cause of) its own
existence. Science does deal with objective reality. Its "laws"
-- Angelicum, Rome, 1993, 500-01.
So we cannot leave mere men standing around staring at each other
as if that is all there were to them and to the world. They would
merely grow "weary". Men need to look out on something beyond themselves
even to see themselves. The sun that shines "upon the evil and the
good" is seen by each of us looking out on what it is we have done and
what it is we are for. What really "exhilarates" us is what possesses
the vitality of the real that did not cause itself, and therefore it reaches
through our very ordinariness to our "Divine model". We human beings
will be like Gods only if we choose not to be ourselves Gods. Only
in that way can we be free to love one another as we are, as ordinary folks,
"sacred beings of equal value in the sight of God."
-- MCN, January, 1990.
PAUL OF TARSUS
Saint Paul was born in Tarsus and so had Roman citizenship by
birth. He did not hesitate to use his citizenship when he had need
of it. I have always liked that about him. When he suspected
that he might be treated improperly by Jewish courts, he chose a Roman
court where he thought he would be tried more fairly (Acts, c. 25).
Paul made his appeal to Festus, the local Roman governor in Caesarea.
Festus wanted to appease the Jews and send him to Jerusalem, but Paul would
have none of it. "I am standing before the tribunal of Caesar and
this is where I should be tried," Paul admonished Festus. "I have
done the Jews no wrong, as you very well know. If I am guilty of
committing any capital crime, I do not ask to be spared the death penalty.
But if there is no substance to the accusation against me, no one has a
right to surrender me to them. I appeal to Caesar." Festus,
for his part, seemed only too glad to get Paul out of his jurisdiction.
"You appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go." Festus obviously
knew that he had a very tough man on his hands. Paul, however, did
not just tell Festus that he was innocent; he went on to explain the principles
of law to him. Paul in effect said to Festus, "Look, Governor, if
I am guilty, kill me. But follow the law, your law. Show the
accusation. You, Festus, have no right to violate your own rules
of procedure. I don't trust you. Send me to the Roman courts."
-- C., January, 1995.
The Crab Nebula ... about which ... Walker Percy quipped, "you
can learn more in ten minutes ... than you presently know about yourself,
even thought you've been stuck with yourself all your life." For
someone who but recently received his Social Security Card, this is sobering
news indeed. Percy thought that man was a far more mysterious enigma
than the cosmos itself in which he -- man, not Percy -- was
lost. I believe Einstein was of a similar opinion.
-- C, April, 19993, 47.
The world is created through the Word, as the Gospel of John tells
us. The rocks piercing out of the sand (in the Ryoanji Temple Garden
in Kyoto, Japan) somehow astound us and leave us both at peace and intrigued.
They just happened this way, and yet ... they have an order somehow.
The same is true of the human persons we encounter. They all and
each are mysteries within a greater mystery. The fact that we cannot
create or consume them is a sign, a guarantee that the world is not only
ours, that our (own) personhood is already something beyond us. Both
Moses on the Mountain and Christ in the Garden of Olives witness to the
fact that personhood is first a relation with God, from whom it draws vigor
and life. The constant discovery of only the human and the human-made
is the bold description of despair, an alienation transcended only by the
perception of spirit, the sense of the word calling us through nature and
-- PSOB, 97-98.
PERSON, CENTRALITY OF
These two tendencies in literature today -- the one denying
the potential of science and political growth, the other denying that the
basic personal and historical stature of man is normative for man's own
good -- are the core contemporary contradictions that give rise in
a startling fashion to the pertinence of the basic Christian view of sex,
technology, nature, and man's potential. Neither the pessimistic
alternative of the ecologist, the revolutionary alternative of the Marxist,
nor the genetic control model of the experimental biologist leads to a
solution which preserves the centrality of the human person with those
elements of his freedom and biological autonomy which make his life worthwhile
and unique in the universe. The Judaeo-Christian tradition begins
with the autonomy and sacred uniqueness of each human person. "Before
I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated
you" are not just words addressed to Jeremiah but constitute the very basis
upon which value in man, each man, resides (Jeremiah, I:5). The alternatives
presented to us today are fundamental ones and need to be spelled out.
Either we must change completely the physical structure of man and take
away from him his reproductive potential, or grant that the growth and
expansion of the earth through man's mind and techniques are possible precisely
to preserve man's physical heritage and to expand his potential
-- as man -- into something far beyond what we think possible when
we base our thinking on models of the 1950's or 1960's or even the 1970's.
We are confronted with a certain crisis of growth. What is curious
is that too many of the advanced theories either from ecology or from experimental
genetics do not start out with and base themselves on the centrality of
the person, on which all social policy and experiment must be based.
-- W#4. x-xi.
The fool and the philosopher can look pretty much alike.
-- WIGL, 198.
Chesterton's thesis about Dickens (is) that he could invent character
after character, almost that there would be a never-ending series of events
and characters whose drama and delight would take forever in the telling.
This seems to be why The Pickwick Papers were chosen for the desert isle....
There is something right about Chesterton choosing for our leisurely sojourn
on a desert isle a book of such delight. The Pickwick Papers is a
story that does not end, even though it has a final page. Chesterton
contrasted this book he refused to call a novel, good or bad, with mythology.
Novels, Chesterton thought, were produced "by a small educated section
of the society." Then he added, in a famous passage,
"Fiction means the common things as seen by the uncommon people.
Fairy tales mean the uncommon things as seen by the common people."
... In the end, to take The Pickwick Papers to our desert isle is to take
with us the intimations of what we are, of our immortality before the admittedly
"awful instances of the instability of human greatness" that we can find
with so little difficulty and so much delight at the "Marquis of Granby"
in Dorking or at "The George and Vulture Tavern and Hotel, George Yard,
-- MCN, July, 1993.
Chesterton discovered in Dickens, in Pickwick, intimations of
our lot. There was a certain "wildness of souls" found here that
revealed what they are. Chesterton again sensed the great danger
in modernity. He called it "the blasphemous belief". And what
is this belief? It is the belief that we are not meant for a real
joy, a joy that we begin to experience in such things that we find in the
endless conversations of the Pickwick Club. He finds these intellectual
moderns too weak ever to have souls that can bear what is promised them.
The great objection to Christianity is not that it deals with suffering
and evil, which it does. No, the great objection is that we cannot
believe that we are promised so much.... Chesterton took the oft-repeated
"You can have too much of a good thing" and turned it around. A really
good thing is precisely what we cannot have too much of; this is why we
are given eternal life. In destroying our heavens, we destroy our
-- MCN, September, 1990.
Those who know Pieper's reflections on leisure and festivity will
rejoice at the passages in this collection (Josef Pieper -- An Anthology,
Ignatius, 1989) on the relation between worship, work, and the Deity.
Christians, I think, rarely grasp the wonder of their own faith and its
centrality to the right ordering of mind, life, and the world. Pieper
is especially conscious of the way in which modern "action" and "political"
theologies have deformed faith itself. We are literally made for
God. The disorder that comes with any theory -- even that of
the most notable theologian -- that does not grasp this truth is
the most subtle and dangerous threat to faith in the modern world.
No one explains this truth better than Pieper. The great modern problem
is of course not how is faith possible, but how are faith and reason possible.
The classic Christian position is that both are given and that if both
are not taken into account, both will suffer among those who try to think
their way through reality itself. Pieper is unique in that he does
not think all revelations are equal, regardless of whether the supposed
equality is urged on philosophic or on religious grounds. In fact,
philosophical reflection on the congruence of the doctrines of Creation
and the Incarnation clarify perplexities that have long puzzled and discouraged
philosophers who lack the resources of revelation or who must rely upon
different religious concepts. In other words, it does make a difference
what you think belief is.
-- C, September, 1989, 55.
Suppose the Pope (Pius XII) had made such a choice (to issue a
ringing condemnation of Nazis, release Catholics from loyalty to state,
excommunication) ... at any time after his election (in 1939). Would
this act have been able to inspire German Christians to rise and overthrow,
or at least to mitigate, the actions of Hitler? Would it have shown
to the Allies clearly what kind of an enemy they were up against?
What results would have come from this position? At what cost?
Would the Gestapo then have initiated Hitler's plan to rid himself of unwanted
Christians as well as undesirable Jews? Or, perhaps, would it have
worked, would Hitler have hesitated? Our answers to these questions
have to do with alternative predictions in the past. Yet, there seems
no prudent judgment that would allow us to hope that such a papal action
would not have caused at least as great, if not greater evil than the policy
of silence -- at least if we mean by that greater loss of human life.
Further, the protest undoubtedly would have wrecked the little the Church
could have done in the face of a modern totalitarian state -- whose
awesome power is something we surely tend to forget today, though it is
one of the great social realities of our time. ... Let us suppose
the Pope did issue such a ringing condemnation and suppose he managed to
have it published in Germany. There can be little doubt that retaliations
of the greatest proportions would have been undertaken on everyone, Christians
and Jews alike. In such a case, it is not difficult to imagine a
slightly different Rolf Hockhnuth (author of a play castigating Pius XII's
silence) now accusing the Pope of responsibility for the deaths of millions
precisely because he did not keep silence. We can easily imagine
other scholars studying captured Nazi archives proving that the silence
of the Pope would have saved many lives since protest in public was what
incited the Nazis to even greater atrocities.
-- Studies, Dublin, Summer, 1968, 119-20.
The first task of the professor ... is not to stand in the way,
not to be an obstacle to this crucial function ... of insisting, encouraging,
wanting Plato to be read, carefully, slowly, completely, by each student,
preferably each year. "If you read Plato only once, you have failed
Plato. And if you have failed Plato, you have failed yourself."
Salvador de Madariaga once said that our culture should give to each man
and woman, when each reaches the age of voting, a sturdy, elegant book
containing an account of the death of Socrates and the death of Christ,
the two men in the ancient world who never wrote a book, the two who were
killed by the state. And so once again in class you point out that
Plato already asked the question of what would happen to the good man if
he appeared in any existing state. Glaucon spoke for us all:
"They will tell you that the just man who is thought unjust will be scourged,
tacked, bound -- will have his eyes burnt out, and, at last, after
suffering every kind of evil, he will be impaled...." The class is
again silent. By this second reading all are aware that Socrates
was talking not just about ancient Athenians, not about someone else, but
about ourselves, the readers, about our own principles, our own control,
our own blindnesses.
-- ASL, 60-61.
Pleasure is not simply pleasure even when it is pleasure.
All pleasure, as Aristotle had already known, arises within the act in
which it is, an act that is aimed to its own end. To separate the
pleasure from the end is not to know the pleasure. This is why hedonists
are always frustrated by the very pleasure they seek. In making pleasure
the highest good ... we isolate it, forbid it from leading us to
its fullness. High living, that is, celebrating a feast as it should
be, makes us realize that material things are not merely material even
when they are material and full of pleasure.
-- MCN, March, 1995.
In the pursuit of political philosophy, the serious student, like
the aging professor, will find that the discipline is surely one way to
reach the truth of things if he is willing to allow the subject matter
to carry him to its own ending. Not without reason did Aristotle
note that the first question in political philosophy is: "What is
happiness?" When in Book Six of The Republic, Socrates stopped speaking
of justice and began to speak of "the good", he set political philosophy
in pursuit of the highest things. This pursuit continues in the hearts
of all who read these things, especially those, like the young Augustine,
who are both charmed and perplexed by these questions. As young philosophers
grow older, they may suspect, if they are fortunate, that the proper answers
are more joyful and more realistic than even the learned texts had intimated.
Political philosophy, at its best, I think, still passes from The Republic
to the City of God. This position, at least for those who wonder
about what I might hold, is the heart of the matter. The journey
to arrive at it passes through the cell where Socrates spent his last days
and the Cross on which Christ hung. It also passes through the experience
of modernity. That is, political philosophy is aware, in its highest
reaches, of the deeds of the states that kill philosophers and teachers.
The charm of political philosophy is also a sober charm., But we
would be foolish to miss it.
-- Perspectives on Political Science, Winter, 1991, 9.
The intellectual wars of our era are fought primarily in the area
of political philosophy.
-- R, 12.
POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, MEDIEVAL
Both Christ and Socrates were killed in the best cities of their
era. Both of these cities were not the best city in speech, though
both witnessed to an order of the world and its relation to what is.
Modernity in its autonomous sense sought to solve the question of God by
solving the question of politics. Medieval political philosophy,
at its best, sought to solve the question of God, and thereby found that
that solution solved the question of politics.... Medieval political
philosophy is nothing less than the articulation of this proposition among
-- Faith & Reason, Spring, 1990, 62.
POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY, MODERN
Political philosophy in the modern era has believed it could be
sufficient unto itself so that it was not even open to a hint of any intelligence
not reduced to exclusively rationalist confines. The result was
-- since religion continued to be and even in many ways increased being
a major factor in human affairs, in the lives of most men, in most places,
and in most eras -- an incapacity of political philosophy and those
formally trained in it to account for the way men really act and why.
Political philosophy ... tried to explain human action in categories drawn
exclusively from an understanding of man as abstracted from transcendent
realities and considerations. This position ironically resulted in
a view of religion that described its motivations and institutions as "political"
and thereby prevented any adequate comprehension of why men really act
as they do in major areas of their lives. Reality was "reduced" to
the methods used to discover it.
-- ASL, 82-83.
POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY AND RELIGION
What political philosophy has to tell religion ... is the grounded
estimate, based on judgment, experience, and law, of what can be expected
in terms of virtue and practice from the generality of mankind as each
person exists in a given culture. Ironically, this is what religion
used to tell politics, before religion began to claim for itself the advocacy
of the ideal human good, as it has tended to do more and more in conformity
with modern revolutionary utopias, especially Marxism. To deny that
men can always be "better" is, therefore as "un-Christian" as to expect
them actually to produce the Kingdom of God on earth.... Only if
all men and women are sinners can we realize that our governments, composed
as they likewise are of these same men and women, must be designed to prevent
these same people who actually rule us, even with our own advice and consent,
from also abusing us.
-- (C, 96-97??)
Political philosophy is important to Catholicism and Catholicism
to political philosophy This mutual interrelation is not recognized
to exist because political philosophy does not have in its own legitimate
(limited) area of reflection. Christianity, as Catholicism sees it,
does meet certain enigmas, most poignantly those found in Aristotle's treatise
on friendship, but not neglecting death and suffering. A complete
human life includes both practical and theoretical worlds, both reason
and faith, seen not in opposition to each other but as resulting from some
coherent whole that lies at the origin of each.
--Louvain Studies, 1993, 69.
... Whenever a serious political or cultural crisis exists, there
will be those who argue that religion is its cause.... Still others
would argue that since religion deflects man from improving his world,
it must either be destroyed or, more recently, be converted into a worldly
political movement with the same ethos as various ideologies.
-- DC, 54.
POLITICS AND THE CROSS
The doctrine of the Cross, the fact that Jesus was executed by
a political process, means not so much that we can reform every worldly
regime, so that no killing of a Man-God could ever take place, but that
God is present even where men are at their worst, even where His crucifixion
did take place. There is more to life than politics even in politics.
-- CP, 13.
Popcorn was a sort of ceremony in our home in Iowa and remains
so in the homes of my brothers and sisters. There were certain rules
our dear grandmother, who brought us up, insisted on: 1) If you make
it, you clean up the mess. (We sometimes did.) 2) Spread newspapers
everywhere so you do not ruin the rugs. (We did, but I noticed that
you were likely to find popcorn kernels under the sofas or beds or chairs,
in the strangest places, come clean-up time.) 3) Eat what you make.
4) Don't use all the butter. (We did.) Well, in any case, you
probably cannot make enough popcorn, at least the right way, as my friend
or brothers make it in the natural order, with butter and salt (and you
have to have lots of water too and not intend to eat anything else for
at least twelve hours afterward.) ... When it comes to popcorn ...
the Aristotelian rules of moderation do not apply. If there is not
a huge supply upcoming, don't even begin. The stuff is a drug that
makes cocaine look harmless. Once you start, you not only cannot
stop; if it has butter and salt, of course, you ought not to stop.
Good things need sometimes to be savored in their abundance. This
is the natural law. The encyclopedias claim that popcorn was found
in the graves of pre-Columbian Indians. Bless them.
-- IR, 174-75.
POPE PAUL VI
The very first thing to be noted about Paul VI -- and this
is a direct challenge that he makes in and by his person -- is that
he firmly believes himself to be Pope of Rome and the Successor to Peter.
He believes that his main task is to make sure that the essential core
of the faith is clearly understood in his time and passed on intact
to the next generation. Paul knows that he is merely a human being,
fallible and finite in so far as he is Giovanni Montini. He makes
no pretense to be worthy of the office, and there is little doubt that
this sentiment is genuine. But neither does he think that particularly
-- SP, 131.
The population problem ... is not merely the private-public issue
about means and respect for conscience. Fifteen years ago books could
be written with little or no mention of population. This is no longer
the case. Population lies behind political institutions, religious
practices, economic development, unemployment, (and) welfare concepts.
On the other hand, entirely too much is being written and discussed as
if population were an isolated statistic, somehow invariable, apart from
everything else in the modern world. ... Little appreciation of the
destiny and goal of mankind on this planet seems evident. Sometimes
we get the impression that our destiny is little more than to produce a
cozy, comfortable living for some few billion people, just as Malthus felt
that our destiny was to produce a comfortable life for some few hundreds
of millions. Yet, a definite correlation of a causal nature
does seem to exist between population growth and the total development
of mankind. Without population growth, mankind would simply have
remained at a most primitive stage of development. And do we really
know how primitive we might be right now compared to what we might be?
-- World Justice, Louvain, #3, 1966-67, 319-20.
In the Vatican's view, next week's (September, 1994) United Nations
population conference in Cairo presents itself as a crucial challenge to
Christianity's most fundamental doctrine on the sanctity of life as it
is to come to be and exist in the family. The Holy Father (John Paul
II) is not merely defending a sort of odd Catholic view about life and
family. He is in fact pointing to the key issue on which future humanity
must make a choice. This issue of human life and population undergirds
all others. A false step here leads to a general disorder of civilization
itself. A small error in the beginning leads to a large error in
the end, as Aristotle said. This error is precisely what is at issue.
-- Christian Order, London, December, 1994, 585.
Modern theorizing about ... population often paradoxically treats,
in relation to the present, questions that Aquinas saw must be treated
in relation to the Parousia: the ultimate destiny of sex and reproduction,
the relation of human intellect to knowing all corporeal things, the number
of human beings, the purpose of human creation. In the Prologue to
his Commentary on Book III of the Sentences is the famous passage:
"For man is a sort of horizon and frontier of the spiritual and the corporeal,
a sort of medium between them, participating in both corporeal and spiritual
good things." This means ... that the authentic values and destiny
of Earth are indeed man's to accomplish. Man is the horizon and the
frontier. The completion of human numbers is a definite project.
Yet we must recognize that men's relation to what they themselves are created
to be is itself the primary determinative factor as to how many there can
and will be. Furthermore, human numbers in Aquinas are never seen
to be a question of numbers as such but as the universitas of persona who
achieve the goal for which the universe was created -- that is, the
free choice to respond to God's invitation to share his inner life.
The immanent meaning of the world -- the rise and fall of nations,
the "hominization" of nature, even he peaceable kingdom -- by themselves
are not the essential drama. The "horizon" of man, in all his numbers,
in all his accomplishments, is always God.
-- The Thomist, January, 1977, 102-03.
Post-Aristotelian philosophies were motivated by a reaction to
the destruction of the classic polities. With this loss came a feeling
of external helplessness about the alteration of any polity or any change
in the world. While modernity has been optimistic, a certain sadness
existed in the post-Aristotelian spirit, a sadness tinged with resignation.
This sadness had its origins in the post-Aristotelian understanding of
what inevitably went on among men in the world.... The post-Aristotelian
philosophies, in other words, were philosophies of inwardness and contentment
over against a world that could not be otherwise, with a world filled with
the unremittingness of natural, moral, and political evils, against which
man seemed externally helpless but inwardly free. The nobility or
even grandeur associated with the wise man in the post-Aristotelian philosophies
was not, then, that of someone who had changed the world, but of someone
who had risen above the world because the world could not affect him.
-- Aufstieg und Niedergang der Romischen Welt, v. 36.7, Pt. II, 1994, 4918-19.
The pattern of life which a post-modern man may follow, being
deficient in the ordinary channels of grace, motivation, and order, will
quite often lead through situations and encounters, that, in a Christian
sense, will be defined as objectively sin and scandal. But this objective
sin, even when culpable, never stands outside the search of the man for
a meaning. Nor, more importantly, does it stand outside God's effort
to bring good out of evil and grace out of life. The Catholic who
is content to judge his unbelieving contemporary merely on the surface
will hopelessly fail to comprehend the problem of unbelief, which consists
essentially in being cut off from the sources of order and purpose in this
life. Similarly, he will fail to understand the action of God in
a pursuit of man in the very searchings of his unbelief. The world
of modern unbelief, the post-modern world, is, in many respects, an exciting
world where the hand of God is ever present, reaching for men dramatically,
for men who do not know or understand Him. We should ... see the
world in this way if we are to see it as it really is. The post-modern
world is the world of the aloneness of man.
-- The Commonweal, February 23, 1962, 559.
A postal system is ... near to the heart of civilized life.
The mail must go through because our letters almost more than anything
else reveal how we are when we are alone, in our privacy. The function
of the public service is to protect, make possible, guarantee the private.
And it is in our private selves that we respond to each other. Precisely
in our privacy are we most open to God, where we sit still, body, soul,
and mind, to account both for the fact that we all are damned fools and
that God is as He is. Chesterton once observed that the posting of
a letter is almost the most romantic thing we can do, for it is an absolute
act that cannot be recalled. In this, it reveals how we are to someone
else. And in so revealing, it enables us to know ourselves.....
And how we are before our friends and before the Lord, how we "co-respond"
in our letters, is, ultimately, what the adventure of human life is about
in the first place.
-- DC, 284.
The poor are not poor as a result of the wealth of the rich.
In the beginning of the modern era, even two hundred years ago, almost
everyone was poor. The real question is, why is not everyone now
poor? The answer is that some men have learned how to produce wealth.
If this knowledge had not been discovered, learned, and passed on, everyone
would continue to be poor. Furthermore, the very learning how not
to be poor, which is not known by instinct or revelation, is a risk or
an adventure that gives mankind some real opportunity to discover things
by and for themselves. The fact of poverty in history is not itself
a sign of the non-existence of God or the perversity of men or nature.
The only hope the poor have of not being poor is the example of the rich,
or their own self-discovery of the same methods of wealth accumulation.
These discoveries can successfully determine what will and what will not
work to become not poor. This approach alone respects the basic dignity
of both the poor and the rich. It reaffirms their basic human inter-relationship.
-- RWP, 32-33.
... It is doubtful whether anything can really be wasted.
It is mainly a question of knowing what a thing is and its alternatives.
The only real resource is the human brain, and it seems to have something
infinite about it. Poverty used to be a question of not having things.
More and more, it is a question of not having brains or the discipline
or freedom to use them.
-- Vital Speeches, January 1, 1993, 179.
The limits of power intoxication are bound by the love of one's
` -- PSOB, 99.
Civil power is derived as a necessary adjunct to political authority.
Whenever the exercise of political power is reasonable and just, ipso facto
the use of coercive power proportional to the seriousness of the matter
is reasonable and just. Power, ... both moral and coercive, is a
property of authority itself and without it authority is essentially changed.
There is no reason to fear power as such if this be the case. Rather
what is to be feared is the unjust use of power, not, however, because
it is power but because it is unjust. The attempt to limit the power
of a government in terms of a constitution or basic law of the land must
not ... be understood to mean the actual lessening of a real power.
Rather it means the attempt to define the limits in which the use of power
is just.... Thus in what measure legitimate authority fails to use
its power when circumstances warrant, in that measure it fails in its nature
and purpose. The sole justification of political power as distinct
from political authority lies in this, that it is the only means possible
for realizing the demands of authority.
-- The Commonweal, November 26, 1954, 217.
Only in praise can we really stare at, grasp the reality of the
things that are, even if it takes us twenty times to see what is for the
-- MCN, February, 1990.
The "Evening Prayers" for Sunday in the Divine Office contain
this Pauline petition: "In this life we fill up in our own flesh
what is still lacking in the sufferings of Christ." Prayer must address
itself to this somber recognition. We recognize that the innocent
suffer. Some would use this fact to doubt God. In response
the Incarnation simply says that God suffered. Sometimes, not always,
we suffer innocently. Christ associated others, beginning with His
own Mother, with Himself and His suffering. When we look at ... what
is lacking, we realize that Christ's own sufferings have taught others
to pray, to endure what life has given to them. No suffering in this
life is without salvific potential.
-- WIGL, 108.
Something may be said also for fifty different versions of the
"Our Father" in English or French. But somehow it seems that at our
most profound moments, it is not only comforting but necessary that we
pray, old and young and in-between, pray aloud with the very same words.
Nothing is more touching for a priest, I suppose, than to listen to one
of his little grandnieces or a child of one of his friends recite for the
first time, in company, haltingly, "In the Name of the Father, and of the
Son, and of the Holy Spirit." ... Nothing should more frighten a
priest than the thought that people are coming to Mass simply because he
is saying it or preaching at it. Christianity, of course, is a religion
that speaks through men, but it has always suspected that holiness and
eloquence, or grace and personality, are not simply co-terminus.
Neither eloquence nor a pleasing personality ought to be downplayed.
They too are gifts, but what is said or repeated ought not to be things
that a talented Christian clergyman or layman simply makes up and "shares"
-- awful word -- with whoever happens to be standing by. The
ex tempore (prayer), in my experience, valuable as it can be, is almost
always more narrow and less freeing than the precise, "rigid", accurate
forms of prayer that embody the simplicity, eloquence, and authority of
the ages of the Church.
-- C., March, 1984, 43.
The greatest of the sins, pride, is not a vice of the humble or
simple, but that of the most learned and wise.
-- WIGL, 196.
... The primary vice (pride) is the singling out of ourselves,
the explanation of the world in terms of our own mental picture of what
it ought to be, checked by no outside source of truth.
-- WIGL, 203.
The destructiveness of pride simply consists in assuming (that)
the whole world is our classification and creation, even while it obeys
its own laws.
-- PSOB, 99.
PRIESTS AS PROFESSORS
Any teacher passes on what he knows to those who are willing and
able to learn. Why is the priest different, if he is? Or to
put it another way, is there any advantage to a professor also being a
priest, intellectual advantage to the teachable, that is? Only if
the answer to this question is in some sense affirmative can we justify
the use of clerical manpower in the universities. And it is not enough
to say that "I once had a priest-professor who taught me many things."
The question is, were things taught or learned imparted because he was
precisely both priest and professor? ... The reason for a priest
who is also an academic is because of the status of philosophy with regard
to what is taught in revelation. Not every philosophic system can
acknowledge that revelation is possible. This inability is, in itself,
an external reason to suspect such a philosophy's ultimate viability.
Philosophy is the search for the explanation of the whole, including the
whole that includes God and the reasons for our existing at all.
(Philosophy) may, however, betray its own vocation, and often does so.
But the fact is that a curious harmony about the whole, including philosophy
at its best and revelation, is at least thinkable. Priests, at least
those who understand what Chesterton meant by the word "orthodoxy", exist
in universities as academics to witness to this very thinkability.
What one does with this relationship, with this thinkability, depends on
one's freedom, not on one's intelligence.... Why do priests teach?
To be certain that the most important questions and the most plausible
answers at least be not unknown. In this they are not alone, even
in the university.
-- The Academy, September, 1992, 7.
PRISONS AND SCHOOLS
The (amount) of per capita public monies spent on jails is not
a norm for monies spent on schools. Jails and schools address themselves
to different realities, both needed.... By looking at jails so much,
we may begin to think that they are better models for children than schools....
The main reason children "cost" so little and prisoners so much is because
most parents take care of their children, teach them virtue, take responsibility
for their growth, and allow them to become gradually self-reliant.
We do not want a society which thinks it "ought" to do for children what
it must "do" for prisoners.
-- Letter in The Christian Science Monitor, December 1, 1982.
Walking slowly down "M" Street in Georgetown in mid-November,
in the latter stages of gout, even while the Bishops were meeting at the
Washington Hilton, I noticed an odd headline in a USA Today automatic kiosk.
It blared, "Church Says We Must Practice What It Preaches."
... I got to thinking about (this headline) as I continued down towards
Connecticut Avenue. I wondered what it meant. For example,
we hope the Church does not mean that everyone should practice what he
(anyone) preaches. That would make, say, Hitler, a good Christian,
because he did just that, practiced what he preached.... Furthermore,
I trust that it is still theologically untenable -- one must be cautious
-- to hold that everyone can, unaided, practice exactly what the
Church teaches. Grace and mercy, words rarely heard in these days
of justice and self-actualization, are still needed. Officially,
at least, we are not Pelagians who work out our own salvation by our own
theories for our own final goals.... On the other hand, if in fact
everyone suddenly began to practice what the Church taught, it would cause
economic and political chaos. Jails would empty. Brothels and
abortion mills would close.... So let those who preach to us be those
who still know about the Fall, who understand why men can fail, who see
the human dangers in "demanding" that we practice what we preach, lest
we lapse into ideology in the name of religion, alas, a well-trodden path.
We ought to be virtuously virtuous, as Aristotle remarked, that is, freely
so, while Aquinas reminded us not to expect everything from the law.
If this sounds like a plea for the imperfect, the hypocrites, and the rotters
against the revolution of the saints, so be it. What is different
today is that the ideologues are preaching perfection, while the clerics
are seemingly extolling politics. No one, alas, seems left to preach
to us poor sinners.
-- C, January, 1985, 47-48.
Nevertheless, it would seem highly unlikely, at the ultimate level
of personhood, that there is any real difference between men and women.
In the privacy in which we receive our unique and initial, irrepealable
being, as in the privacy in which we search the great questions or converse
with our friends, in the silence in which we yield up our spirit, we are
equal. In the First Book of The Confessions, Augustine asks
-- in one of the most deeply private conversations ever recorded, "Why
do you mean so much to me? Help me find words to explain. Why
do I mean so much to you that you should command me to love you?"
These are not only "male" questions, but they are first and last private
ones, both in the home or in the city -- even in the convent.
And contrary to so much current political spirituality, they are not answered
by redoing the home or the city. There is a tendency today to hint
that the pursuit of God and the pursuit of humanity are the same enterprise.
That they are not necessarily contradictory is a basic truth of the faith.
To believe that they are identical, is ultimate heresy....
-- Child & Family, #4, 1974, 346-47.
Ideas and whole intellectual systems ... are static in one very
real sense: the essential structure of man's thought becomes fixed
once it is uttered in the world. Once Socrates has sat down, the
affirmation that he has sat down is fixed eternally.... Certainly
a man can always change his mind until his very death, but once his utterance
becomes public in his speech or writing, it becomes fixed alongside other
statements of his. Accordingly, it enters the history of ideas somehow
apart from the man himself.
-- R, 122.
I have often remarked to my otherwise dubious students that the
pub may be the most important institution on (or more often off) campus.
Though I am not opposed to a beer or a good wine, this is not the "metaphysical"
purpose of the pubs -- the late Charles McCabe in San Francisco used
to say that a good bar is a place that pours a good drink, a place that
lets us talk, even be silent. I do not mean, of course, that students,
professors, and all who presume to think do not need a place just
to blow off seam. They need this, surely. But something more
profound is at issue here. We need places for conversation, sometimes
quiet, sometimes rather raucous. It may be a dinner party at home
with friends, a drink in a pub, a walk like those Socrates and Aristotle
used to take. But we do need a place just to talk, to be active in
the highest sense.
-- IR, 81.
After arriving back in San Francisco, I put on some old clothes
and walked downtown. I passed by the new Federal Building, out of
which suddenly poured about fifty uniformed, fully regaled, truncheoned,
male and female riot police. Since they seemed to be headed for some
crisis, not for me, I crossed Larkin Street and went into Harrington's
Pub for a draught Guinness. It took the bartender three glasses and
ten minutes to handle the foam, and besides the Guinness tasted flat, proving
once again that the stuff does not "travel". On the wall, there was
a sign saying, philosophically I thought: "If baby needs a new pair
of shoes, don't drink here."
-- C, September, 1985, 43.
QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
No one will ever know whether there are answers to the highest
questions unless he has first accurately formed the very questions to which
such answers might be addressed. Faith does depend on reason in this
sense, while reason need not a priori exclude answers of revelation that
curiously seem to be aware of the abiding questions when accurately formulated....
We live in an age that has proudly assured itself that no answers can be
given, that there is only power, exploitation and contingency. No
proposition is more questionable or less questioned than this. It
is not true that there are no answers. What is true is that there
are many answers we are not prepared to recognize because we have not formulated
the proper question to which they are answers. What is true and also
ominous is that we can choose not to question because we do not want to
hear certain answers since they would require us to change our lives.
Plato said that a lie in the soul is the worst of evils.
-- Social Survey, Melbourne, February, 1992, 15, 22.
In Trenton ... not far from the State of New Jersey government
buildings, by the Delaware River, I was in a lovely old stone church, beautiful
inside, the oldest Catholic Church in the state, as the good pastor, Monsignor
Leonard Toomey, told me. Sacred Heart, as I looked at it, dated from
1814, in a place where my friends, whom I was visiting, went to grammar
school.... As I walked out of the sacristy, after concelebrating
the eleven o'clock Sunday mass with the monsignor, I noticed that he was
about to baptize (still perhaps the most lovely of our sacraments) several
infants. I went over briefly to see more closely the first baby as
the parents brought her up to the baptismal font for Monsignor Toomey to
give her this gift she would spend the rest of her life wondering about.
She was dressed in white, with a cute bonnet. Her mother told me,
if I recall correctly, that her name was Emily, a name I quite like.
She was maybe a month old, and I touched her head just to prove again,
mainly to myself, that anything so dear could be real. She was an
absolutely radiant child. She rather took my breath away --
I was merely walking by on the way to the front door of the church, quite
unprepared to glimpse such unexpected beauty, though, I think, that the
vivid beauty and innocence of the human child do not come from us, even
if we be its parents.
-- IR, 54.
It stormed for the last two days of April (in Rome), almost a
whole week of rain. We know why it rains, I suppose. We are
even trying to learn how to control rain so that it falls at night or only
where we want it to fall. I, of course, like it to rain often and
also in the daytime. Mainly, I like it to rain unexpectedly.
I like the sunshine the same way, unexpectedly. I think I prefer
the world as it is in this regard. When rains come, we really do
not expect them; and when we really cannot do much abut them, then our
best course is simply to get wet and enjoy them.
-- UMLTC, 130.
The Old Testament, written in a normally parched area, is full
of grateful references to rain, while the Gospel of Matthew recalls Our
Lord's words that the rain, however romantic or annoying, falls on the
just and on the unjust. Psalm 147 tells us to "sing to Yahweh in
gratitude, play the lyre for our God, who covers the heavens with clouds,
to provide the earth with rain, to produce fresh grass on the hillsides
and plants that are needed by men." That "fresh grass of the hillsides"
always reminds me of the winter and spring green on the Mount Hamilton
range, so brown and purple during the dry months in San Jose. St.
Paul, stopping over on Malta, was rather less rhapsodic about the rain:
"The inhabitants treated us with unusual kindness. They made us all
welcome, and they lit a huge fire, because it started to rain and the weather
was cold." I never recollect being colder than in Naples or Palermo,
not too far from Malta, during the early spring rains, so I can appreciate
what (St. Paul) meant by the comfort of a huge fire. ... Christianity
is not a "nature" religion, but it is a religion in which nature is a sign,
a vestige of the spirit in which we are created. I do not think any
spiritual life is complete or even healthy that neglects the pastures and
the sands, the thunders and the cyclones, the snows and rains of this world,
made in the Word, which became flesh and noted the lilies and the sparrows,
the rocks and the seas.
-- C., June, 1984, 52-53.
But when I am really asked, "what should I read?" I have three
books that ought never to be missed: E. L. Mascall's The Christian
Universe, Josef Pieper -- An Anthology, and J. M. Bochenski, Philosophy:
An Introduction. What about Belloc's Four Men, or C. S. Lewis' Till
We Have Faces, or Dorothy Sayers' The Whimsical Christian? Read them!
What about The Confessions of St. Augustine Read it! These
are books every "Catholic American" should read. What about them
Irish Catholics over there, or Australian Catholics or Japanese Catholics
or Bolivian Catholics or German Catholics? Them too!
-- C, December, 1993, 15.
Time magazine carried on May 11 a typical and rather touching
essay of a 19-year-old California girl who is supposed to represent one
current climate of opinion. I have no doubt she does. Hers
is a remarkable testimony -- theologically speaking. For the
gist of this earnest witness is that a 19-year American girl, who has worked
her heart out for peace since she was in high school, who has marched,
and cried, and sung, and tried to make a more loveable world, to improve
it instead of burning babies in Vietnam (alas, the only atrocity our students
ever seem to have heard of), suddenly sees it all as hopeless. She
is now in a deep spiritual crisis because all her high hopes for action
and peace are dashed by the brutalities of America and its wars.
When I sit back and try to analyze this mentality, this almost hopelessly
innocent belief about what the world is all about, I begin to wonder what
kind of "theology" this girl must have absorbed to make her so unprepared
to confront the realities of mankind. Are we finally beginning to
suffer the ultimate consequences of our doctrine of the separation of church
and state, according to which we never allowed theology to be discussed
in our schools? If this is a typical American girl, she has known
only abundance and attention all her life. She has been prevented
in her education from ever really seriously studying the spiritual realities
of man's history -- wars and rumors of war, sins, evil, pride, lust,
jealousy, false honor.
-- America, July 11, 1970, 9-10.
It is at the peak of the ephemeral that the eternal appears.
The Relays, at Penn, at Drake, wherever run, test the limits of man as
a physical being against the world, against those who now exist and compete
and, with known records, against those who, now gone, have competed before.
They also test them against those who will follow down the decades on the
tracks and fields of Penn and Drake, wherever men compete for the wreath.
-- C., July, 1994, 62.
The tradition of political realism or Augustinianism has long
needed an articulate voice in the current controversies, when "morality"
is so easily idealized, especially by religious people, into giving up
or dropping any defensive capacity. (James S.) Kahn was justly angered
by the implications that those who worked at the Lawrence Livermore (California)
Laboratory and other defense establishments were less "ethical" or less
interested in keeping real peace. The fact is that any continued
non-use of nuclear weapons will depend primarily on their contributions.
The protesters, Kahn noted, "long for a world where nuclear arms do not
exist. There is no such world." And there is going to be no
such world. But, understanding this, we cans hope for and plan for
a world in which such weapons will not be used. Innocent movements
of nuclear freeze or disarmament or pacifism will not achieve this end.
Indeed, they are more likely to prevent their ever coming about.
Kahn has shown how "morality" is much closer to the realists who work in
Livermore than to the objectors in front of it who only stand around and
-- Letter in The Los Angeles Times, July 20, 1982.
When I was in grammar and high school I lived in a small town
in Iowa -- unlike Pocahontas, where I was born, not a "Catholic"
town -- where much of the community shut down from 12-3 P.M. on Good
Friday to commemorate Christ's death. We Catholics -- we were
few, but hearty -- went over to St. Anthony's, where Father Garrity
and later Father Horan would lead us in a solemn Stations of the Cross,
everything in purple. We seemed to be in church for most of the three
hours. Of course, in those days Lent used to end at noon on Holy
Saturday, after which we would eat all the sweets we could get hold of.
And I recall how beautiful the little church used to look on Easter Sunday.
I used to look forward to the singing of a haunting "Regina Coeli", which
I do not think I have heard, lo, these many years. In her essay,
"The Dogma Is the Drama," in The Whimsical Christian, Dorothy Sayers suggested
that "we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of
a crashing and rather ill-natured bore." We have done this, of course,
as Miss Sayers pointed out, because we did not hold and teach exactly the
faith as it is articulated in the Creeds.
-- C., March, 1986, 52.
RELIGION AND SECULARISM
At a philosophical level, then, to say that we simply have a "right"
to believe whatever we will is insufficient. What we hold and what
we do are both of critical importance. And this diversity of effects
generally is related to the nature of religious doctrinal positions.
When religion says the same thing as secularism itself, it is no solution.
-- Policy Review, Spring, 1994, 46.
RELIGIOUS MINDS AND WAR
The current changing attitude of religious minds toward war and
peace leaves many questions unanswered. It may be perfectly true
... that war is no longer a feasible instrument for men; it may be that
the calls for peace at almost any price are authentically religious.
Still, the religious mind is not free simply to be against war. This
is especially true when such attitudes are ... partial causes in prolonging
a war and encouraging an enemy to believe his threatening methods can win...
These religious minds who are so concerned about peace would like to believe
that any effort for peace, for that reason alone, causes peace. But
this is not always the case. (These efforts) may be the causes of
greater and more dire consequences. The religious mind is not free
of moral responsibility for such results simply on the ground that it thinks
it is seeking peace. Ironically, the religious minds concerned about
war do not have a monopoly on peace-seeking.
-- The Commonweal, November 18, 1966, 194.
The Resurrection ... is also, as Karl Barth rightly insisted,
a judgment of this world. He who believes in this resurrection cannot
promise men that they can fulfill by themselves all their needs and desires
in this life by political or economic or military or artistic means.
The dogma of the Resurrection precisely says that the millennium is not
here, that man's ultimate desires can only be completed beyond this life
within the life of God, that the hope or promise of achieving them here
is by definition idolatry, the belief that man has in his power the capability
of satisfying all his desires by himself.
-- RT, 234.
... "Making sense of the universe" at some point must reach to
Boswell's "the most joyful event in the history of the world" (The Resurrection).
If you make sense of the universe without this joyful event, you are left
with a pretty dull cosmos.
-- C, April, 1993, 49.
RESURRECTION, ALTERNATIVES TO
What are the alternatives to the literal truth of Christ's, and
subsequently our own, resurrection? The theme of the deluded apostles
(who merely imagined it) has been worked over and over. It is mostly
exhausted and cannot account for the evidence. The only real objection,
and it is an intellectual one based on the presumed impossibility of a
real personal resurrection, is that somehow our corporate and continued
existence as a race will proceed down the ages and give human life a kind
of exalted nobility that we might share, having once been living humans
ourselves. The world will get 'better'. Christianity is committed
to the belief in the value and uniqueness of each human person, not only
of those born but even of those conceived. We are already named in
the Word in whom all things are made. Each human being with his own
unique name will rise on the last day. We shall not pass away into
everlasting nothingness. And we shall be ourselves, not gods, but
members each, as Augustine said, of the City of God.
-- JTL, 23.
The specifically Christian doctrine of the resurrection of precisely
the body ... responded to something deeply philosophic in classical political
theory, namely to the desire to have the ultimate definition or experience
of happiness include the whole of man, who, admittedly, was the mortal,
born to die. In this sense, the most anti-ideological doctrine in
the Christian Creed is specifically that of the resurrection of the particular
body of each existing human being. Ideology can, in a sense, be looked
upon as an alternative to the implications of this doctrine. What
is most interesting about the doctrine of the resurrection is that every
alternative to it remains less directly proportioned to what men really
want as well as less fitting as the relation of each individual man to
the highest things.
-- The Catholic Commission on Intellectual and Cultural Affairs Annual, 1988, 40.
RESURRECTION, JOY OF
In an old Peanuts, Lucy overheard Charlie Brown, elbows on the
table, head in hands, muttering wistfully, "Y'know, I'll bet if I were
to disappear tomorrow, nobody would miss me." Lucy responded, earnestly,
"Oh, I don't think that is true, Charlie Brown", who answered somewhat
reassured, "You don't?" "No," Lucy continued, "I don't think that
that's strictly true at all." And in the final scene, she asserted
to an obviously crushed Charlie Brown, "Even if you were to disappear today,
nobody would miss you." Easter is dedicated to the proposition that
none of us, Lucy or Charlie Brown, ever disappears either today or tomorrow,
even when we disappear from this world itself tinged both with humor and
sadness. Crucifixion and Resurrection in the Christian are parts
of the same whole, which is why even our most sublime joys are touched
by sorrows. And our sorrows are not ultimate, unless we make them
so.... Another of Ogden Nash's poems ... begins with this prophetic,
funny line: "I regret that before people can be reformed, they have
to be sinners." The astonishment is that this indeed is our condition.
We do regret that we are sinners in need of reform -- it is in such
a world that the joy called Easter, Resurrection, the central doctrine
of faith, exists.
-- IR, 63-64.
REVELATION AND POLITICS
Revelation was not intended to make automata of men and women
in responsible positions, nor was it designed to deny the validity of natural
political or economic reasoning, let alone substitute episcopal or papal
decree for the appointed p0olitical authority whenever a difficult case
should arise for consideration and action. Human beings must continue
to use their practical reason, a reason to which certain questions deriving
from revelation are legitimately directed. Similarly, reason properly
poses to revelation questions arising from human experience and thereby
becomes capable of receiving revelation's illuminating response.
This revelation, in the Christian view, sheds light on human political
policy solutions in lieu of proper local action. Decision and action
will still require experience, insight and judgment on the part of the
human politician or agent.
-- "Introduction," OJP, 12.
REVOLUTION AND EVOLUTION
The symbolism of revolution ... does differ ... from ... that
of "evolution". A thing in the process of evolution is ... not really
what it is. A rodent ... evolving into say a dog is not really a
rodent, but something rather in a state of flux; it is actually ceasing
to be what it is assumed to be, that is a rodent. The perfection
of this thing in process of change is not to be a rodent, but to become
a dog, and after that, something else again. If some hierarchy is
assumed in this process, it may be possible to judge or perfect what one
thing will become next, but if there is no order of change, then apparently
anything can become anything if only we wait long enough. Revolution
... does retain this outside limit implied in the cyclical return; it wants
man to be fully man even though such an ideal man has never existed before.
All modern revolutions are designed to give man his inheritance.
What makes such revolutions specifically modern is the universal recognition
that no man, no culture has ever yet had the full inheritance of man.
Hence, today's criterion is always the future, not the past.
-- Downside Review, England, October, 1967, 420-21.
Clearly, "rights" are, at first sight, familiar concepts used
in public documents from the beginning of the modern era. They are
found in the American and French documents, in the League of Nations, in
the United Nations, in almost every civil constitution. Yet, they
are rooted in a system of pure will, presupposed to no natural order.
Again and again in recent times, we begin to find that there are "rights"
to all sorts of things that are quite incompatible with Christian and natural
law teachings. Conflicts of "rights" now have been transformed into
the "duty" of the state to protect the exercise of sundry human disorders.
A glowing praise of man's "rights" ends up in wondering how we can oppose
a "right" to an abortion, or a "right" to a deviant lifestyle. Moreover,
"rights" to work or to housing, economic rights, in other words, have tended
to embody the very socialist ideology that has failed. ... The point
I want to make is that it is not sufficient to use the doctrine of "rights"
without in every case clearly identifying what is meant by them and how
they are justified. As they are used in Catholic social thought,
I am afraid, they often tend to imply notions quite at variance with what
in fact is desired.
-- Social Justice Review, September, 1991, 145.
We have seen the notion of culture in our time turn into the notion
of private rights. We are not asked to endure or pardon the faults
and disorders of others. We are asked to approve them and adjust
our lives to them, no matter what they do, lest we be unsympathetic.
-- MCN, March, 1993.
The study of rights requires us to distinguish between that view
of the world that is merely an expression of our own wills and that view
which asks of us to know the truth and to give of what we are. In
the end, when we all have our rights, based even on truth, we will have
just begun to live in a world not of rights but of gifts. Aristotle
taught that political happiness is proper to us, but it is not our highest
end or goal. After we have insisted on our rights, even after we
have forced others to acknowledge them, we have just begun the road to
virtue, to sacrifice, to gift. This is the importance of understanding
talk of natural rights properly, lest we end up with only ourselves and
our polities formed exclusively on other image and likeness of ourselves
presupposed to nothing but ourselves.
-- Loyola Law Review, New Orleans, #2, 1992, 309.
I suspect that Christianity, whether it likes it or not, will
find that more and more the crisis of faith will be reduced to one issue,
that of keeping men free, of reminding them that their evil as their good
comes ultimately from within a man, and there alone.... Christianity
indeed will even find itself defending the possibility of what it clearly
calls vice because it realizes that the schemes to remove it also destroy
the humanity of our kind.... God, we are told in the Old Testament,
will not be mocked.... What we never suspected ... was that this
ultimate mocking of God would be incarnated in his image, in an attempt
to create another kind of good man and good earth than the ones classically
proposed in ethics and Scripture. Of the many complex issues of our
era, this ultimately, is the central one, the only one that really matters.
Man is the risk of God. "So God created man in his own image, in
the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And God blessed them" (Genesis 1:27-28). God is the risk of man.
-- CL, 100-01.
Rome, it strikes me, is the only "real" city in the world.
Though I enjoy the countryside as much as Horace, I must say I am more
touched by this vital "Babylon", as Peter called it in his Epistle, this
place that was not, as Chesterton said, first loved because it was great,
but became great because men first loved it. This, of course, is
the exact symbolic status we Christians have in Christian theology.
We are not loved because we are first loveable but rather we are loveable
because we are first loved. And so, compared with Rome, San Francisco
and Washington, Paris and Berlin, are but of yesterday. Rome is the
only city that has been constantly lived in and constantly important for
most of its more than twenty-seven hundred years. There are cities
older than Rome perhaps, Chinese and Indian ones, cities once more famous
-- Athens, for instance, and even Jerusalem -- but none has
its constant world-historic significance in almost every age and generation,
for almost every people. Thus, in Rome, no one can walk around the
corner without being conscious of a good part of mankind's history.
Rome, consequently, is an infinite place. No man can comprehend it.
This was one of the reasons, I think, why I most appreciated it.
The Eternal City seemed to me justly symbolic of my own finiteness, a place
where I could live out all my allotted years and days and still barely
begin to comprehend it all.
-- DC, 16-17.
A couple of years ago, just before I returned to Rome for the
ninth time, someone said to me, "Rome is probably no longer the same to
you now that so many of your friends are no longer there." Yet, Rome
was always the same to me. "Things happen there in a more intense
way," someone told me once. And that was always true for me.
Cities are places wherein we would know one another. That is what
they are. Rome was always a city of remembrance. We go back
when many of our friends are gone. We go and friends stay.
New friends, we hope, will always be given to us. And the beauty,
the haunting beauty remained to enchant us, to disturb us. Why is
it so often, I wonder, that we have to be without friends to discover beauty,
even the beauty and kindness of our friends? Yet, I have not returned
to Rome for several years now. When friends ask, "Don't you want
to go back, even f or a visit?" I say, "No, one cannot visit such
a place. I am content where I am."
-- UMLTC, 97.
You can still quite easily get lost in other ages in Italy.
The present does not always press so heavily in the light of the visibility
of the ages. A student of mine from Georgetown was in the city on
an archeological tour.... We had dinner near where Caesar was killed,
just off the Piazza where Giordano Bruno was executed. Later, we
went to a concert in the Aula Magna of the Cancelleria. It was before
this building that Pius IX's Secretary of State was murdered in 1848.
Death and beauty, power and weaknesses, go together in Rome somehow.
I do not over-romanticize Italy. In a sense, Catholic things are
being quietly, but forcefully almost with "hatred", a friend said, squeezed
out of business or restricted, by union rules, inflation, political control,
hospitals especially. I said good-bye to the Brother in charge of
the House (the Gregorian University). I said I had been glad to have
been here for a while, to get a better sense of the new Pope (John Paul
II). He replied, that not too much had changed in the three years
since I had left Rome. Then he reflected, "Ma, e vero, questo Papa
e un uomo duro," and then he clinched his fist with a certain virile admiration
and a smile. John Paul II is no doubt a tough man, though, intelligent
and kind in his toughness.
-- National Catholic Register, August 3, 1980.
ROME AIRPORT (FIUMICINO)
When Alitalia Flight 611 on the way over (the Atlantic) finally
approached Fiumicino Airport to land, a sudden hush settled over the 400
mostly loud, conversing Italian passengers. For the last ten seconds,
(however), there was total silence. But when the wheels of the 747
touched ground, almost as by instinct, the passengers broke out into a
loud applause (as in a theater), perhaps because they were glad to be home,
but probably just as a sign of gratefulness that we made it at all.
So even if you do not get there on time in this world, Rome still teaches
us that there is much left to applaud, even if it is only the fact that
we can clap at all.
-- The Monitor, San Francisco, July 16, 1981.
If we reread ... Professor Heinrich Rommen's State in Catholic
Thought (1945), it is clear that the theory of grace building on nature
was central for Rommen because it was largely nature that gave Catholics
any state to think about. Rommen ... insisted that it was a part
of Christian order for Christianity to take its political and economic
thought from experience and reason. In a sense, Christianity did
not need a specifically revealed and therefore unique political philosophy,
because men already had the essential outlines of, and capacity for, discovering
what they needed to know and put into practice in the public order.
Even Aquinas ... left the question of man's temporal well-being up to men.
This implied at first sight that the sociopolicial area was not crucial
for salvation. Yet the actual criterion given in the Gospel of Matthew
for salvation -- a cup of water to an unknown neighbor -- made
personal and public life in this world determinative of ultimate destiny.
"Grace does not destroy nature" meant the deepening importance to those
things that really were of Caesar. Aquinas ... seemed to have felt
that politics ought to be left to man as a proper manifestation of his
freedom and what he could do with it. Augustine, of course, had earlier
held that we could not and ought not to expect of politics more than a
holding action. That Augustine seems to have been the more empirically
correct in his estimates about what men would do has been one of the disturbing
legacies from which Christians of a more liberal and socialist bent seek
desperately to escape.
-- Worldview, April, 1976, 27-28.
The world of games is, on the surface at least, a completely neutral
world morally. Yet, games have their rules and penalties for rule
violation. Furthermore, someone who refuses to play or who refuses
to follow the rules is simply excluded from the game. What we can
conclude from this observation, I think, is that freedom to play necessarily
includes the possibility of losing, the need of penalties, and the possibility
of rejecting the whole game with its rules. To lose, or even to be
penalized, is not as bad as refusing to play the game at all. The
possibilities of losing and being penalized are not fatal. A loss
or penalty means that we can improve and play another day. It also
means that we belong to the same world as the winner who may be the loser
the next time around. The absolute refusal to play, however, is another
matter. When St. Paul said that our struggle was against principalities
and powers, not flesh and blood, he recognized that our temptation to withdraw
from the order to which God invites us can make God's order seen repulsive.
There is, as it were, a counter-order, another game in which we are free
to play strictly our own game, with our own absolute rules.
-- FTEP, 41.
SADNESS AND LAUGHTER
This latter proclamation ("We shall abolish sadness", found on
a French student wall in Paris, in 1971) ... I could not quite eradicate
from my memory. Somehow it seemed to me to be the most hopeless thing
I have ever seen, however much like joy it might have sounded. That
was not the (diabolical) sadness about the good being good, but the actual
claim to abolish sadness. I began to wonder if sadness was not something
more positive than I had suspected. I recalled the beatitude
-- "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted" (Mt.,
5:4). But even more I remembered laughter and comedy. In one
way or another, through the maze of our sanity, this bold challenge of
a new era on a French wall struck at the very depths of our humanity.
For it attacked, unknowingly perhaps, the roots of our laughter.
Instinctively almost, I knew this was the really crucial issue. For
I can accept humanity and its sadness because I believe in laughter....
Sadness is ultimately, not something to be "abolished" from our human midst,
but rather it is something at the very center of our condition without
which our joy and our laughter somehow would not really be ours, would
not even be possible.
-- PSOB, 114-15.
SAINT MARY'S CATHEDRAL (SAN FRANCISCO)
Afterwards, I caught a bus back to the University (of San Francisco).
A student from one of my political theory classes was on the bus.
As we passed below the new St. Mary's Cathedral, I remarked, perhaps for
the hundredth time since I had first seen it, how beautiful a structure
this really was. I had been walking all over this city during the
previous few weeks and months. I had seen it from all different angles
and places since, one day downtown crossing O'Farrell Street, I suddenly
looked up the street and realized it really did exist magnificently against
the skyline. But my young friend then promptly told me that the cathedral
should not have been built, especially as there were slums in the area.
The money would have been better given to the poor. Further, it was
merely a monument to comfort middle-class Catholics, to make then feel
nice. Alas, the middle-class Catholics I knew mostly bitched about
the cathedral because it cost them so much money, a money better spent
on living expenses. Paradoxically, it was the Jews and Protestants
who said to me, as Barry Hibbin said to me the summer after it opened on
a sailboat in the middle of the Bay, "It is a stunning success, a most
glorious thing for the city." Did the inhabitants of old Ely and
Lincoln and Chartres, I wonder, complain about the cost and the waste?
How do you call man out of his everyday routine and narrowness? I
myself believe this cathedral may very well be the most beautiful building
in America. And so I chided my young and earnest friend, shades of
Zeno and Samuel Johnson, "Why are you all young and presumably radical
students always stoics and puritans?" "How little they know
about the intellectual structures of the enthusiasms of the past!" I thought
to myself. Then aloud, "Don't you know the poor have more need of
beauty than of bread? That you show utter contempt for the poor if
you forbid man to build beautiful things?"
-- PSOB, 28-29.
SAN BENITO COUNTY RODEO AND FAIR
I went to the San Benito (California) County Rodeo and Fair
-- a very local affair, all the participants were from the county.
Some people had never missed a year -- except during the war.
At the Wild Horse Race in front of us were eight horses never ridden before,
fuming and fighting. The idea of the race, the feature of the fair,
was for a team of two to saddle the horses, a third rider to climb up and
race it around the track. A boy of about seventeen was immediately
in front of us trying to get on a gray mare which was quite wild.
The boy's mother sat behind us. "Why did I ever sign the papers to
allow him to do this?" she said -- to herself mostly. "But
they made me, the boy's father and grandfather." The boy was thrown
from the gray mare immediately after mounting, unhurt. But that is
how boys grow up. To try -- to compete with danger, with horses.
The men fight for manhood; the women for safety. One is as necessary
as the other.
-- PO, 85.
SAN DOMINICO MAGGIORE (NAPLES)
On Holy Thursday in the Church of San Dominico Maggiore, the Church
with a crucifix which was said to have talked to St. Thomas (Aquinas),
the Mass was sung by a group of girls about ten (years old) or so, all
dressed in white. The nun who directed them had perfect discipline.
This service commemorating the Lord's Last Supper is always moving, with
its procession to the Altar of Repose, wherein the Sacrament will be placed
until the morrow, the Pange Lingua, the candles. Even though the
Italians will talk during most any religious service, still there was a
hush. A girl would see her old aunt or friend's mother. She
would come over and chat for a bit. You saw that the old woman was
pleased. Those churches in Naples were so large, so familiar, that
it seemed the normal thing to do, chat a bit. Sometimes, you could
see faces in Italy so calm, so serene that the whole world seemed at peace.
Then you could realize that some of the greatest madonnas seen in Italian
painting were merely reflections of what was seen in the faces of ordinary
women in the streets and churches.
-- UMLTC, 121-22.
The origins of our most poignant problems ... are said to arise
because of science. But science did not happen just anywhere nor
arbitrarily. Science rather arose in a particular civilization which
had developed a view of the cosmos and man that alone made science possible.
As a result, all parochial world-views, the ones not found in or grounded
in science, are tested by this general civilization, in which the question
of universal validity of knowledge as such arose. To doubt
the generality of scientific truth, therefore, is to undermine the scientific
civilization. And without this civilization, the problems of war,
poverty, hunger, and liberty would be increased in a limitless exponential
fashion. We cannot, in other words, return to the pre-scientific
world without apocalyptic horrors on a scale even our novelists have difficulty
-- Gregorianum, Rome, #2, 1988. 206.
Most "waste" I suspect is a product of changing our minds or desires,
which is quite a different kind of issue when we think about it.
The second-hand store or the second-hand book or the second-hand car (these)
are mostly products of changed opinions and changed tastes. Indeed,
I think, the second-hand market is one of the great inventions of capitalism.
-- Vital Speeches, January 1, 1993, 180.
Scripture scholars love to delight their listeners with the famous
commentary of a venerable Protestant bishop who concluded that, according
to the sacred text, the world was created on October 4, 4004 B.C. at exactly
nine-thirty in the morning. During the subsequent six millennia or
so many fascinating things have happened in creation -- like
the discovery of human bones appearing to be some tens of thousands of
years old and the definition of a length of measurement called the light
year -- so that this God who created the world was pronounced
dead at Rapallo in 1883 A.D. by a curious German prophet named Friedrich
Nietzsche. History does not seen to have recorded the time of day.
The news of the death spread slowly among the faithful; indeed many tried
to keep it a secret lest the public be overly shocked and vested interests
be threatened. But recently it has become embarrassing for men not
to acknowledge this untimely demise. The ever-expanding world which
this God had created, however, sill managed to go on its obscure way so
that no great damage was done. At first, many thought that this God
was needed to explain where things came from or how they worked; he was
considered to be some sidereal archetype of what the Americans call "the
indispensable man". But ... he was not so needed. Actually,
this idea of God was only necessary to give the younger generation of mortals
a chance to prove their worth; they too could take control of and re-create
the world. Perhaps had God remained on the scene, man would never
have grown out of his infancy. Anyhow, things are better today because
we definitely know who is responsible for the human situation; it is man.
Our immediate problem is man's capacity and willingness to shoulder the
real tasks that remain for him to accomplish. Such a popularized
and somewhat easy summary of man's condition has not been unfamiliar in
secularist circles for some time.
-- The Catholic World, October, 1966, 20-21.
Men need to look out on something beyond themselves even to see
themselves. The sun that shines "upon the evil and the good" is seen
by each of us looking out on what it is we have done and what it is we
are for. What really "exhilarates" us is what possesses the vitality
of the real which did not cause itself, and therefore it reaches through
our very ordinariness to our "Divine model". We human beings will
be like Gods only if we choose not to be ourselves Gods. Only in
that way can we be free to love one another as we are, as ordinary folks,
"sacred beings of equal value in the sight of God."
-- MCN, January, 1990.
Thought is a personal attribute of a thinking being; it does not
exist outside a rational mind. The reflective mind, the mind which
sees itself thinking, can empirically distinguish in its own operations
what originates in the source of knowledge and what originates in the knower.
The human person, however, experiences himself as a whole, as a unit which
discovers that even his own inclinations to live, to know, and to love
are original tendencies given to him as an integral part of his own total
givenness. Man knows that he did not create himself, or his tendencies,
or the peculiarities of their functioning within himself. Nor did
he discover them from someone else. No man first recognized his own
personal desire to preserve his own life in a textbook of ethics or of
philosophy. The desire to know in man is not the result but the cause
of his education. These are initial experiences, present in man before
they are intellectually formalized.
-- R, 225-26.
SEX AND POPULATION
We live in an age that seeks to exalt the human enterprise, yet
fears to accept its conditions. The new original sin, ironically,
has almost become -- what it was not for Aquinas -- sex activity
that increases population. Perhaps the last words should be those
of Aquinas: "... Humility is essentially located in the appetite
inasmuch as by it one restrains the impetus of his soul from inordinately
seeking great things, but it has its rule in knowledge, namely, that one
should not esteem himself above what he really is" (II-II, 161, 4).
We are told not to esteem ourselves as more than we are, yet we are ultimately
given everything. This is the mystery that will be worked out in
history -- and beyond it, when the prescribed number of men will
-- The Thomist, January, 1977, 104.
Several years ago, I was in McDonald's Second-Hand Book Store
at the end of Turk Street in San Francisco. A friend and I were exploring
this vast emporium of used books and magazines. I believe I was actually
looking for Tolkien's Silmarillion, but I had not been able to find it.
After we had been there for some time, my friend suddenly, to my delight,
appeared from a ladder with a British hardback edition of The Silmarillion.
I had never at the time read it except for some random pages I once skimmed.
(These pages) had somehow left an impression on me, enough to want to read
more. When I had time to look at this marvelous book, I realized
that its first few pages may contain the best imaginative description of
what God is like ever penned. I read this description to my friend
several times, from the section called "Ainulindale: The Music of
-- WIGL, 185.
... Samuel and Lee and the Chinese scholars in East of Eden ...
pursued exegesis far enough to discover that the issue about sin is one
of choice -- "thou mayest rule over sin." "'Thou mayest'
-- that gives a choice. It might be the most important word of the
world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back
on man.... 'Thou mayest': Why, that makes a man great, that
gives him stature with the gods, for in his weakness and his filth and
his murder of his brother he has still the great choice." ... God
and evil are not just absolutes struggling against each other in some Manichean
sense (as sometimes seems to be the case even in Faulkner), two hostile
forces outside man opposed to each other; rather they are opposing presences
within man himself.
-- R, 24.
Sincerity ... is undoubtedly a virtue, indeed, a very important
and powerful virtue, as St. Paul said. But it is a most dangerous
virtue, for it has no content itself. We can be sincere about almost
anything. The question must first always be: about what is
it that we are sincere? When sincerity becomes its own norm, it is
the most selfish and individualistic of theories. We cannot always
"tell it just like it is", nor emote "just how we feel". Our feelings,
as important as they are, are just not that reliable. Furthermore,
there are times, many times, when we must give up our "right" to how we
feel. The Christian ethic, then, is not founded upon ourselves but
on others, others who are by no means perfect. We should indeed practice
what we preach. But what it is we preach is all important.
There are quite a few people who ought not to practice their preachments,
because what they preach is awful. Sincerity, consequently, can become
a very subtle substitute for any need to consider the world outside of
ourselves, its realities, its weaknesses, and its structures. "We
are saved if we are sincere..." But it all depends. The ultimate
vice is that which substitutes oneself for the cause and order of all things.
In our time, I suspect, pride seems to manifest itself as sincerity.
We no longer need to believe anything nor even do anything. We need
not study anything nor reflect on anything. We need merely to be
whole and guileless, genuine, frank, upright, and, yes, sincere.
-- PSOB, 60-61.
I came across this passage in P. G. Wodehouse: "It is a
curious law of nature that the most undeserving of brothers always have
the best of sisters. Thrifty, plodding young men who get up early,
and do it now, and catch the employer's eye, and save half their salaries,
have sisters who never speak civilly to them except when they want to borrow
money...." I put this (passage) on a postcard and sent it to my sister
when she lived in Santa Barbara. She would be quite amused about
what category her brother, and therefore herself, fell into, as her brother
is not thrifty, nor plodding, nor one who gets up particularly early.
But sisters are rather one of the best institutions in the human race.
The two-child family ideal, of course, eliminates brothers to brothers
and sisters to sisters, or sometimes denies brother to sister or sister
to brother. This is sad, indeed, one of the saddest things I know,
though we must say, if we have brothers or sisters or do not, this (having
brothers and/or sisters) is a gift. These are not choices which depend
on us, though the choices of others may depend on us.
-- UMLTCF, 133-34.
At 11:15 on the morning of December 5, the sun in San Francisco
was out but it was hazy. Some mist from the Sundown Sea had been
creeping up the streets from the beach. Out my window (from across
Parker Street), looking west toward the ocean, I could see the green lawn,
a new park for the students planted on top of the (old) St. Ignatius High
football field. The only person in sight was a janitor sweeping the
patio that jutted red out into the green grass. Small piles
of cut grass were all over the field, evidence of a recent mowing.
Out of the old high school building, now a university classroom, a girl
walked slowly, arms folded. First she climbed up on the cement railing
around the new patio at the end of a new entry hall to the building.
Halfway around she took her shoes off, jumped down onto the field barefoot,
and ran about sixty yards across it, neatly jumping over the grass piles.
She had on a red jumper and a white blouse. At the end of the field
she stopped and watched intently for a few minutes the newly planted ground
cover. Then she turned around and skipped back across the field,
put on her shoes, and gracefully re-entered the building.
-- PO, 39.
In recent years, we have successfully reintroduced a new form
of segregation among us, which means, in practice, that you just never
run into partakers of the vile weed unless you deliberately choose to forage
into smokers' pastures. I was on a SamTrans bus the other day (#5
to Hillsdale, California). Somewhere in the wilds of the El Camino
near Milbrae or Burlingame, some hapless soul lit up under four No Smoking
signs. The driver, bless him, turned on the loud speaker at 102 decibels
and asked the cigarette to be put out. Who says we don't have instant
justice and public pillorying! Actually, I am all for the driver.
For if the law is not enforced, the next thing you know, they will be smoking
in Shell Stations.... As far as I know today, we are no longer able
to segregate anymore according to the classical standards of virtue and
vice. Indeed, today it is all very simple if you remember that most
vices are now virtues or at least "rights", which must in justice be distributed
among the general populace proportionally according to employment and income
distribution criteria. The logical result is that we segregate smokers
and talk as if jail were cruel and unusual punishment.
-- The Monitor, San Francisco, August 12, 1981.
John's uncle was a past-President of the American Heart or Cancer
Association. I forget which, the one that is against smoking.
Helen was showing her uncle and aunt through Venice. They rented
a gondola. The young gondolier, as they pushed off, lit a cigarette.
For the benefit of her husband's uncle, Helen felt she should explain,
a bit in jest, to the young man that smoking was a danger to his health,
might even cause cancer and early death. This (explanation) in Italian.
The gondolier kept on shoving the bark into the canal and smoking.
Finally, he glanced down and sighed, "Ah, Signora, siamo tutti qui in passaggio."
-- "Ah, Madame, we are all here only in passage." Everyone was delighted
with this response, including the uncle. So we take our chances.
Sooner or later, life's end is ours too. A few years, here and there,
do they matter so much? Perhaps they do to those who do not believe
in forever. Later, years later, as I thought of this incident, I
thought that most of the antinuclear war people seem to hold that there
is no forever, that keeping alive for as long as possible is the only meaning
-- UMLTC, 60.
The beginning of the beginning of the end -- we shall abolish
sadness.... The notion of "the end of history" has become,
as Eric Weil remarked, a key in recent revolutionary thought. The
end of history has come to mean more particularly that man now actually
has it in his power (through social engineering) to abolish and eradicate
those evils of violence, injustice, and suffering that occur in the natural
and social orders. In the future, man will be subject only to those
types of evils that he himself chooses -- that is, there will still
be tragedy, if not comedy.
-- PSOB, 119.
SOCIAL SERVICE AGENCY
The economic crisis of these (social service) agencies ... has
arisen because the spirit of (Christian) benevolence has been largely replaced
by bureaucratic rights such that the service is contingent on the rewards
for the ones giving it. We either no longer believe certain people
should be helped -- the fetus is defined as legally non-human --
or else we hold that the cost of the institutionalized benevolence is too
high. And there are things still no one will pay for.
-- DC, 134-35.
The tenor of modern social science which denies to a large extent
the possibility of deriving order from the universe, as the Gnostics did
(deny) also, must seek to reconstruct society through specialized scientific
gnosis according to their own theories of what society should be like.
But if a scientist is freed from the necessity of discovering an intelligibility
from the world, he must end, like the Gnostics, in projecting a world view
upon reality based upon his own idea of what reality is like. In
this sense, Basilides, Valentinian, and Marcion belong to the same spirit
as many contemporary social scientists.
-- The American Ecclesiastical Review, September, 1962,172.
We need solemnity., However, solemnity is not a need.
It is a response. To walk slowly about the Altar is not just a rubric.
It is an awe.
-- UMLTC, 17.
Spiritual, not material, things are the most dangerous ones.
A good deal is written about "transcendence", but it often takes an inner-worldly
form such as a more perfect world order, justice, perfect benevolence,
all of which become politicized. These notions of perfect order are
"spiritual" or abstract. They do not defend the existing reality
but propose something that might be.... They can and often
do represent a refusal to be incarnational at all, to grant any sort of
imperfect existence to finite creatures. They repressed a rebellion
against any idea of an imperfect world in which the actual incarnation
could happen. The chief alternatives to God will be spiritual, even
when they appear as materialist and are imbedded in history.
-- WIGL, 200.
Ignatian spirituality ... is truly "contemplation in action."
But just as the whole notion of a Trinity "ad extra" in creation and contemplation
... ultimately leads to and reveals God in himself --- in his inner
life wherein God is not alone -- so the thrust of Ignatian concern
for the world is not finally towards the world. Any spirituality
that settles for the created order is not Christian, even though any spirituality
that finds the world evil is essentially Manichean. Yet this is why
Ignatian spirituality, in a way, always leaves the world, relativizing
it even, because it is concerned first and last with the kind of trinitarian
Godhead that Christianity uniquely proclaims. This, again, is why
classic Ignatian spirituality is right to spend so much time on God and
the individual person before Him, why the transcendence of God is the essential
thing it has to concern itself with.
-- DC, 123.
SPORTS, SERIOUSNESS OF
The nearest most of us get to contemplation is when we watch a
good game. Here, in a way, we near what is best in ourselves, for
we are spectators not for any selfish reason, not for anything we might
get out of the game, money or exercise or glory, but just because the game
is there and we lose ourselves in its playing. This (experience)
not only reminds us that we are not sufficient to ourselves, but that what
is higher than we are, what is ultimately serious, is itself fascinating
and joyful. Watching games, I suspect, teaches us about what was
once called "homo ludens," the being that plays. The sports writer
... in so far as he too is caught up in this fascination of games, of players,
referees, and fans, helps us to bridge the seriousness of life and the
seriousness of sports, by our learning that we too, watchers all, know
about things that exist for their own sakes.
-- Vital Speeches, February 15, 1983, 271-72.
STABAT MATER (DVORAK)
The National Symphony Orchestra was doing Antonin Dvorak's "Stabat
Mater", with the Czech conductor Zdenek Macal and the Oratorio Society
of Washington.... The music is quite solemn, lovely, meditative.
The writing of his "Stabat Mater" ... had a personal meaning of some considerable
poignancy for Dvorak. He and his wife Anna had three infant children.
Between 1875-6, one (Josefa) died a few days after birth, a second (Otakar)
of smallpox at about three years of age, and another (Ruzena), eleven
months, after accidentally drinking an acid used for making matches.
Dvorak was about 36 at the time his children died and he wrote the music.
This work, consequently, is very much addressed to the grief of his wife.
She was herself an alto, the voice the second from the last stanza features.
It is accompanied by neither chorus nor other soloist, bass, tenor, or
soprano. "Fac me cruce custodiri, / Morte Christi proemuniri, / Confoveri
gratia." "Make me to be protected by the Cross, / To be fortified
by the death of Christ, / To be favored by grace," she sings. Yet,
the music is, what can I say? -- itself redemptive. By the
time we arrive at the last stanza, we comprehend that the words of the
hymn through the very grandeur of the music have led us from a most somber
and tragic experience with corresponding musical setting to a new hope
-- that death, though present, is transformed. "Quando corpus morietur,
/ Fac, ut animae donetur / Paradisi gloria; / Amen." "When my body
dies, / Make it, that the glory of Paradise / Be given to my soul," would
be my most jejune translation. But the musical effect is stunning
-- C., January, 1993, 43-44.
STATE, LIMITS OF
The long intellectual struggle to limit the state has invariably
led minds back to considerations that must be described as natural law,
that is, to a source outside the power of the state itself to formulated
entirely by itself what it was.
-- Loyola Law Review, New Orleans, #2, 1992, 291.
The modern state in a number of ways -- insofar as it is
not merely a ... laicized absolute order --- is an institution that
has accepted many if not most of the ideas and institutions that arose
out of Christian culture. To walk down the streets of ... any Western
political capital, passing by welfare, social security, old age, and other
beneficent-sounding agencies, is to walk by the nationalization and rationalization
of impulses and institutions originally Christian.
-- DC, 134-35.
Walker Percy called this century (the 20th) "the strangest century
that I've ever heard or read about." What does this strangeness consist
in? For Percy, this century is at the same time the most humanitarian
century and "the century in which men have killed more of each other a\than
in all other centuries put together." ... Percy recalled the principle
from Dostoyevsky, if God does not exist, all things are permitted.
This is the first step, the step that evaporates from the universe any
ultimate reason why we are not free to do whatever we will. If God
exists and establishes an order in the world that can be known by
human reflection, freedom means following the order we discover to be to
be placed in ourselves and the world. If God does not exist, there
is no order in the world. We can act on it for our own purposes.
In such a position the highest reason is not the welcoming and protecting
of each particular human life, whatever its form, but the "improvement"
of the world by allowing only those who are best -- the thesis of
the "qualitarians", as Percy called them.
-- C, October, 1990. 39.
A crowded street in a city is a good symbol of our common lot
-- faces, lives we could perhaps know, but never will. Yet, we realize
there is drama everywhere. It takes our life merely to plot our own,
one life, one drama for each of us.
-- UMLTC, 18.
No suffering in this life is without salvific potential.
This ultimate truth means that in this world there are those who suffer
for others just as Christ did. They cannot do this by themselves.
The discourse of God with each of us is related to a similar discourse
with every other person in the whole range of human life, especially in
-- WIGL, 108.
The ultimate superabundance of being ... consists in our final
capacity to understand why we exist, to understand that the longing has
an object and the loneliness a companion, a love that insists that ultimately
we are not settle for too little, the real danger of precisely "human"
being.... We will be saved but not by the philosophers. Yet,
we are to be philosophers, if we can. It is a noble vocation.
We want to know. We will know. It was the same St. Thomas who
saw that the Beatific Vision was indeed also an act of our intelligence.
-- Gregorianum, Rome, #3, 1991, 518.
SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST
(There are) animals invented by man -- dogs, horses, cattle,
rabbits, lambs, animals crossbred to what they are not by nature, but by
man. Perhaps by keeping alive species that otherwise would be extinct,
we are preventing evolution. The survival of the fittest and all
that sort of stuff: I wonder what ever happened to that doctrine?
The abortionists seem to like it. The fittest are now those (creatures)
men choose to breed in zoos. The unfittest are those they kill in
their own wombs.
-- UMLTC, 49
For Christmas (one year) I received a greeting -- it read,
"Deep peace of the running wave to you...." Last week there were
great gales out in the Sundown Sea (the Indiana name for the Pacific),
winds of over one hundred miles an hour, but they did not directly hit
San Francisco. Saturday morning I wanted to see the sea and the waves,
to see the beach in the late autumn. At the end of Fulton Street,
the waves rolled in long and huge, mountains of spray; they broke all the
way up to the seawall. I walked along the little sand that appeared
on this normally very wide beach (the last time I had been there was at
a very low tide, which made it seem even more strange...). But I
was caught up to my knees by the next wave which I did not watch carefully.
"Never turn your back to a wave," my brother had told me the last time
I had gone clamming with him. So I did not make it to the steps through
the seawall in time. There are risks about walking on the beach
-- walking with wet shoes and socks on a December Saturday. The deep
peace of the running wave -- it too can destroy; it too can drench
-- PO, 49.
SURPRISED, CAPACITY TO BE
"The comprehension of one soul by another is something borrowed
from whatever lies outside time," as Belloc mused. Somehow ... I
have always thought that the short, lightsome essay is the best way to
remind us that our pathway to the beyondness of time begins and remains
in the particular days, in the common and extraordinary places we can describe
in much detail because we were once there. Ordinary, chaotic days
can have perfect endings, and we are a finite lot. If I conclude
by maintaining, as I do maintain, that our lives are a steady, often delightful,
sometimes sad, series of idylls and rambles, the reader no longer will
be surprised. And yet he will be surprised. The capacity to
be surprised comes close to the very definition of our dignity.
-- IR, 239.
I confess unabashedly my admiration for those who can talk and
talk, who can be and are interesting in whatever they say. I am,
I confess, a firm believer in Chesterton's remark that there are no uninteresting
things, only uninterested people. And while I am most concerned about
the condition of silence in our solemn world, probably I envy those persons
constantly capable of translating their worlds into words.
-- UMLTC, xiii.
Teaching ... is not to be conceived as something alien to us.
The teacher does not, strictly speaking, teach what is "his" own property.
He does not "own" the truths he has come to know. They are spiritual
goods that belong to everyone by right, but only on the condition of someone's
being willing and fit to learn them, with, at best, the help of a "doctor",
of one who teaches because he has first learned.
-- Vital Speeches, January 13, 1992, 214.
Let me grant, however, that a teacher owes his students many things.
I think what I most am thankful for is simply the continued opportunity
your presence gives me for reading and re-reading so many things, with
the time to reflect on them. I have often cited for you C. S. Lewis'
remark that if you only read a great book once, you have not read it at
all. But to begin at all, you must read it the first time.
This is what I have tried to do for you in my insistence that you come
to class regularly, after having carefully read the text. In return
you have enabled me to read the text again and again. I am thankful
to you for this rare liberty. Some books, as I often tell you, take
all of our lives to understand. This is not a defect either in the
book or in you or in your teacher. Rather, it is an acknowledgement
of the profundity of what we are and where we are.... So again, let
me indeed thank you. I thank you, each of you, for so many fascinating
and interesting hours when we sought to read together many books that we
might otherwise have missed. We have made efforts to know the truth
of things, the ordinary things and the highest things, that we might have
overlooked had we not had these years here together. I hope that
your experience will prove to you that, at least once in a while, your
professors did lead you to the truth in reality. I hope that your
experience, in your will and in your mind, will conform in your "futurity"
to ideas that are true and not to mere phantoms. I hope you now realize
that your minds are, as E. F. Schumacher said in his Guide for the Perplexed,
"adequate" to know all that is. And, one last time, I hope that you
will have something of that driven longing of the young Augustine to pursue
the truth of things -- to pursue it, yea, like him, even unto the
City of God.
-- C, September, 1993, 50.
The discourse of mankind with the greatest teachers does not cease
because those who speak to us are dead.
-- ASL, 100.
Today, we tend to think of, say, New York City as a hopelessly
ungovernable locality, debt-ridden, unsafe, greedy, ugly, a place whose
taxes and economic attitudes have driven away the very life that once fed
it. Yet, in this mood, when we take another look at the paintings
of the Italo-American artist, Joseph Stella, in works from the end of the
First World War period, his Brooklyn Bridge or his New York Interpreted,
we find an unaccustomed fascination with steel and form, with man-made
technology and its realities. Of him, John I. H. Bauer wrote:
"In a sense, he outdid the Futurists at their own avowed aim of glorifying
the mechanistic aspects of modern life. Actually, they seldom painted
such themes, whereas Stella found in New York their perfect embodiment."
We have here ... almost a mystical response to the objects of technology,
the powerful beauty of the bridge, the skyscraper, the apartment house.
But is the Creator to be separated from His work? Is this the spiritual
result of the modern intellectual revolution? Is the towering vision
of the city we see one made only by ourselves? Is this the only sign,
as so much of modern philosophy has taught, of authenticity, of human worth,
that it is self-made, man-made? Is there no sense in which the City
of Man can reflect on the City of God, however much the two differ ultimately?
-- DC, 145-46.
The biggest human temptation is not to be ambitious for too much,
but to settle for too little.
-- PSOB, 98-99.
I had a call from a former student. He told me that for
personal reasons he was studying religion. He explained that he was
formerly a Catholic but was now a Methodist. What he wanted to know
from me, however, was "whether the Catholic Church still holds the Ten
Commandments?" Needless to say, I was taken aback at this remarkable
question, especially as we had said something about the Commandments in
the very class of mine the young man attended. In any case, I assured
the young man that the Church still did teach the Commandments. He
replied, "Well, I went to your university for four years, took the required
theology courses, went to Church on Sundays for many years in both the
Catholic and Methodist churches, but no one ever mentioned the Ten Commandments."
One suspects that this experience is not untypical.
-- Christian Order, October, 1994, 462.
Mother Teresa 's being there (St. Mary's Cathedral, San Francisco)
seemed to be that delicate balance of simultaneous attention to need and
to beauty, both of which are essential to the Christian inspiration.
The cathedral filled up rapidly to an estimated four thousand. There
were television, press, and just plain folk. Clearly, here was no
ordinary visitor.... "I fight abortion by adoption," The San
Francisco Chronicle quoted her as saying.... "Destroying an innocent
child is the greatest sin. If a mother can kill her innocent
child, then no one is safe." Anyone who understands our public law
knows that indeed no one is safe. Who else is telling the young this?
Not many. I suspect that is why the young (and not so young) were
there at St. Mary/s, to hear someone tell them about poverty, love, life,
prayer, to be whole abut it all. "Holiness is not extraordinary.
It is in you. It is in everybody. Close contact with the Eucharist
and with the poor is the quickest way to holiness," she said in remembering
the right order of spirit and world. Mother Teresa came to San Francisco
as someone so unusual that everyone would want to see or hear hear....
Yet, this is the City of St. Francis. I have often held that there
is a kind of strange quest for holiness in this very worldly city.
That is why it listened carefully to this sensible woman who challenges
in her way about everything in the public mind this city stands for.
San Francisco prides itself in being able to tolerate anything, even a
holy nun like Mother Teresa. Some day she may even be able to teach
it that not everything is to be tolerated. Some are beginning to
-- The Monitor, San Francisco, June 24, 1982.
The difficulty in finding out what the Christian faith really
is, especially for and from its most intelligent members, is perhaps the
most striking mark of Christianity in our time.
-- DC, 67.
THEORY IN AMERICAN POLITICS
I consider (that the nature of American politics is) limited and
personal. Congressmen know their people and their problems.
They are responsible, no one else. Thus they rise in wrathful indignation
whenever they feel the ominous shadow of scientific theory falling on their
duty to their people. Political science ... is not really like other
sciences. It is part and parcel of the effort of congressmen and
all our citizens to achieve a limited, yet we hope adequate public welfare
for human persons whose ultimate happiness lies beyond the political order.
... It is the political life itself that is limited to the temporal welfare.
Man has to know why this limitation is justified or else he will, as Kart
Marx rightly affirmed, turn on and revolutionize the natural order itself.
The task of political theory is to account for and to place in proper perspective
man's ultimate desires so that the striving for them does not become embodied
in a political movement that hopes to achieve them in this life.
The first book of the Ethics of Aristotle is still the starting point of
political theory. And the first book of the Ethics deals with the
problem of man's ultimate happiness. Politics in America has instinctively
respected these ultimate desires in men, but it has never tried to achieve
them by political means. The ultimate goals are not the strictly
political ones -- even though, paradoxically, the political goals
are as such very noble ones. Political theory ... and the impact
of Christianity upon it are indispensable in justifying and preserving
the actual political life we Americans have lived and developed.
-- Modern Age, Spring, 1960, 158.
One of the things I like about Washington is the sudden, unexpected
storms, the dark clouds, lightning, wind. Naturally, while on the
East Coast, you try to explain patiently to the (East Coast) natives that
such climatic oddities simply do not happen in the Bay Area -- San
Francisco, Oakland, Marin County, San Jose. I am not sure what happens
in Los Angeles in this regard, but, then, I suspect that what happens in
Los Angeles is, like the thoughts of Jesuits, one of those mysteries known
only to God. (During) the (rare) Saturday morning (recently when)
it thundered and lightninged in San Francisco most of the forenoon, I was,
naturally, diligently sitting at my desk. Slow as I am, it took me
about ten minutes to decide, "Yes, it is lightning and thunder all right
and not a bombing attack...." So I hastened up to watch it on the
Roof of Xavier Hall.... I do not think I have ever seen such lightning
here across the sky. And as a boy in the Midwest, we used to count
the time between seeing the lightning and hearing the thunder, I did the
same. About ten seconds, it took. I believe that we used to
say in Marion County, Iowa, that if you could count absolutely nothing
in the interval (between lightning and thunder), it meant you were probably
-- The Monitor, San Francisco, September 20, 1979.
TIME, WASTE OF
There is still another use of this word "waste". In the
famous book of St. Exupery, The Little Prince, we will recall the wonderful
sentence that goes, "It is only the time we 'waste' with our friends that
counts." The point is very different, isn't it? Someone who
is busy, occupied with many and sundry projects and duties is not likely
to be our friend because he cannot spend time with us. Time is chosen
to be spent on "important" things, not us. But the Little Prince's
point was precisely that in the highest things there was some conflict
between daily duties and the deeds of friendship. For the latter,
it seemed, the daily round almost interfered, however necessary the normal
might be. To waste our time with our friends meant that we did not
have some sort of right agenda, that we were not always looking at our
watches or worrying about our lives.... We needed time. We
needed time-out-of-time, the time that passes and we do not notice.
And perhaps we needed also some openness to what might be called "waste,"
to the myriads of topics and places that we were not curious about, yet
which were there. Someone needed to protect us from the urgency of
immediate things. We needed a kind of escape from what everyone
took to be our main tasks. Perhaps there was something to be said,
not merely for wasting time, but also for just waiting. Some things
could be had too soon, when we were not ready for them.
-- Vital Speeches, January 1, 1993, 180.
"Are 'educational' toys really educational?" Such was a
question once posed in a promotional advertisement in the Saturday Review.
But as I thought about it, I decided it was the wrong question. What
should be asked rather was this: "Are 'educational' toys really toys?"
This latter is the more profound inquiry, the one that most quickly brings
us to the heart of those joyous and penetrating notions that are the very
greatest of our hope and our affection. For it is the concept of
a toy, of a thing made merely to be fascinating, that comes closest to
touching the mystery of our strange worldly existence. Toys are not
made for the purpose of education. Rather it is nearer to the truth
to say that education is for the purpose of enabling us to play with toys
-- though, thank goodness, this capacity needs little education.
Education is ever but a means, a preparation to arrive at something else,
truth or technique. The question about toys already transcends the
learning process. Indeed, there is something mystical about a toy,
something that touches the very spirit of the divine.
-- PSOB, 177-78.
We are unfair to past generations from whom we refuse to learn.
We insist on beginning all things anew, as if we had no duties towards
our past. We have even lost our confidence that we can (distinguish)
the truth from the error so we are helpless before ideologies which speak
confidently but which destroy and distort human life and freedom, truth
and virtue. We know our universities are largely controlled by vested
ideologies, yet we hesitate to mention it. We refuse, further, to
be guided in our private lives by what is good, even though we long for,
insist on, a kind of public morality which no evidence gives us reason
to suspect can actually come about at this level.... We have, without
recognizing it, turned the whole anti-Manichean polemic of the early Church
around. The natural things have become the evils, as the Manicheans
originally maintained; the unnatural vices have become to be called "good"....
-- PSOB, 66.
The punch line of an old Irish joke is that "you can't get there
from here." For most of the people in most of the cities of the United
States, when it comes to trains, this is the situation. You can't
get anyplace from where you already are by train. Amtrak was ten
years old in May. The Wabash Canonball and the Burlington Zepher
are mostly songs, not ways to get anyplace. ... Anyhow, I took the
subway to the old Penn Station, which I remember in its earlier incarnation
from during my distant army days at New Brunswick. I got off the
vandalized-painted subway and began to follow signs to the terminal.
Unless I am particularly stupid, a distinct possibility, I admit, every
sign directing you to the lobby or ticket counter led you someplace else,
usually to another subway or on the streets. I was up and down, in
and out, consistently missing the ticket counter, except that of the Long
Island Railroad, on which you couldn't get to Trenton (where I was trying
to go at the time). Finally, after deciding my 40 years of Jesuit
education were useless for practical things, like finding ticket counters
in Penn Station, I asked some man walking by. With a slight tinge
of concern about whether I was all there, he carefully pointed right back
of me. Well, I consoled myself, to be lost is to be human.
Besides several other people were lost too.
-- The Monitor, San Francisco, June 4, 1981.
TRANSCENDENCE AND POLITICS
Whenever I worry too much about the naive Marxism in Catholicism
today -- and it is a major problem -- I console myself that
we have a Pope who lived under the system and survived it religiously and
intellectually, something no theoretical Western Christian Marxist has
done. All the varieties of political Catholicism are religiously
valid only if they follow the doctrine and discipline for which the Pope
stands, that faith rooted in the primacy of transcendence over politics.
-- "The Changing Catholic Scene," CPCPP, 38.
The great need is to rediscover the transcendent reality at the
core of our being. Religion has been telling us very little about
this of late. Each human person, including those in wombs about to
be chopped up, is created as a gift, unique, with a destiny to be with
God, not (with) a movement. God's love does not obviously avoid our
neighbors as if somehow our mother and our father's love were unrelated
to our coming to be. But our mother and our father are also finite
beings, like ourselves. We are each created to everlastingness, however
long we might last trying to figure it all out. This is what we are,
and this is what our walkings and talkings, sittings and yellings, are
about. Transcendent beings can pass through life without noticing
anything but abstractions and collectivities. How sad this is.
The classic function of religion was to save us from such preachments.
It still is.... So the first thing I have to say is this: each
of us has a transcendent destiny, which is the reality of our lives.
When we discover it in us, we can be friends, or sometimes it works the
other way around. Starting here, we can look at this world, not be
consumed by it, not miss its beauty, not think it unimportant, only not
the most important thing there is.
-- C., December, 1983, 26.
As a traveller -- and I am not a particularly good traveller
-- I rather follow the theory of what might be called, with apologies
to Aristotle, the tabula rasa theory, the notion that the less you know
about a place ahead of time, the more likely you will be to be astonished
by its newness and uniqueness. This is why, I suspect, the one thing
I could never tolerate in popularized Oriental philosophies was the notion
that somehow I had been here before in another life and that someday, again
transformed, I shall return. Stubbornly perhaps, I remain a firm
believer in the notion that before I was, I simply was not, and that if
I shall indeed see all this gloriousness again -- as I hope I shall
-- it will be precisely I who see it -- I who am not the One
nor the All nor anything else but a wildly improbable person with one foot
a half size shorter than the other and enough teeth left, as my dentist
once vividly told me, "to go the rest of the route." The Karma and
I, alas, do not seem to mix too well. Yet, even on a this-worldly
level, I know it is not always such a good thing to know nothing in advance
about what you are seeing. How often have I walked by things in Rome,
dully and unwittingly, never suspecting that Otto III had been here a thousand
years ago, never imagining that I was overlooking half the history of some
people, if not the world itself.
-- Asian Report, Manila, December 15, 1972, 23.
It is possible to conceive of God as infinitely one, with infinite
power, knowledge, love, and wisdom. Yet, such a God is aloof, and
almost by default we are led to presume that the essential activity of
such a God is concerned with the world since both knowledge and love seem
to imply otherness, even otherness of persons. Such a consequence
... brings us back to the Trinity. The doctrine says that the godhead
is manifested in and completed by three distinct persons who equally possess,
but in different ways, one divine life. God is not some fourth essence
apart from the three; three persons are one God. In other words,
the three persons have an inexhaustible love and life in themselves.
Let us note what follows from this. Since the Trinity have a complete
life within the godhead, all that is outside their life is related to these
persons not by necessity but by love and choice. The world thus exists
because of the independence and freedom of God. This is made possible
by the prior fullness and completeness of the trinitarian life. We
can take many attitudes towards the world in which we dwell. What
we must now recognize is that, at bottom, it is a chosen universe; it is
the product of a supreme, transcendent freedom, not coerced by any inherent
deficiency or exigence within God himself. As a result of the completeness
of the internal life of God, everything else in the universe is the consequence
of a free choice. Wherever we look, we ultimately see freedom, not
necessity. And the contingent necessity we do see is thus rooted
in the more basic freedom that brought reality outside of God to be in
the first place.
-- RT, 76-77.
The Triune life of God, Father, Son, and Spirit, wherein the Father
is only the Father, the Son is only the Son, and the Spirit is only the
Spirit, is meant for each human person and is the bond of his relationship
to others. The doctrine of the Word made flesh is what grounds the
Trinitarian life in the particular world and history in which we ourselves
exist. The incarnation is a permanent aspect of reality. The
friendship within God makes possible the lasting friendship that people
have perceived as that which they want above all and which they want to
exist as a reality within God himself. It is also the relation they
most want to establish with God. This is why the passage from John
that reads "I call you friends, because I have made known to you everything
I have learned from my Farther" (15:15) makes the Trinity itself the source
of a communication between God and the human being in the highest things....
God is not alone. Any possibility that we will be saved in our bodies
is grounded in God. This fullness of being, body with soul, is what
we actually want. For us then the real drama of the doctrine of the
Trinity and of the incarnation and resurrection is that God is like what
we indeed want. I do not argue here from wanting to being, that is,
from the existence of a desire to the fact of an object. But knowing
what we want, if we could have it, we discover in being itself, in revelation,
an adequate response: Christ, the Word that was made flesh.
-- WIGL, 198-99.
A friend just said on the telephone, "Jim, I have a couple of
extra tickets to the opera, which ones would you like to hear?" After
listening to the offerings, I said, "Tristan and Cosi Fan Tutti."
Works I had never heard before, the intimations of what we have already
experienced, the expectation, the anticipation -- the rejoicing that
what we already have is never all there is, the abiding possibility of
-- PO, 94.
... Truth is not merely something we are given, but something
we must choose. We may, in fact, not choose it, even if we know it
is true. This is our risk.... For it is only in the drama of
our wills that the true end of the universe can ultimately be understood
-- WIGL, 209-10.
Today, anyone who suggests that the truth is "absolute", let alone
that he might have discovered it and passed it on, is looked on as some
sort of danger to the republic. Belloc noted that all conversation
today is advocacy. It is rooted in opinion and uncertainty, even
in the "certainty" that truth cannot exist at all.
-- MCN, October, 1992.
The ability to "hear" the truth is also a function of our wills
to want to hear it.... We live in an age in which "independence"
of thought is looked upon almost as the sole virtue, whereas the most valuable
person we can encounter is one who leads us to the truth that is not his,
but to the truth that is. We can recognize both the truth and him
through whose guidance we learned it. It was St. Thomas ... who defined
the nobility of teaching -- contemplata tradere -- to hand
on to others what one has first contemplated.
-- MCN, April, 1991.
The forms of government do make a difference with regard to the
speed and quality of development. I cannot help but feeling that
state-owned bureaucracies are the major cause of underdevelopment, and
that a further dose of socialism will merely men a further dose of interminable
bureaucracy. The whole Orient needs an honest whiff of free enterprise.
I know when you say that, visions of neo-colonialism and exploitation arise
like vampires at dusk. I am not an advocate of the abuses of 19th
Century capitalism, but I am sure the actual forms of socialism practiced
today are mostly stagnating. And yet I believe that even these will
work somehow. Some kind of practical arrangement between the
multi-national corporation and the developing world is the quickest and
most useful way to progress.
-- Asian Report, Manila, December 15, 1972, 28.
UNESCO AND CULTURE
That the UNESCO Conference in Mexico City should think that the
world's cultural problems can be reduced largely to Israel and capitalist
advertising comes as no surprise. Your Aug. 9 editorial did raise
the key issue -- why cannot "most governments be trusted with powers
over their nation's cultural life?" And it intimated that a government
which conceives its main task to be "cultural" may already have taken the
fatal step in identifying state and culture. There must be some reason
why the state is not everything. ... The ease with which a UNESCO
Conference is prone to "politicize" every "word", so that nothing is left
which is not political, is indeed the deeper question. You were right
to worry whether "we should be stepping into the ring (of those ideological
slugfests) at all." For unless we, includ8ing the church, can quickly
rediscover a space for what is not political, for what is metaphysical
and religious, we are in for a dire time in which everything is reduced
to current political ideology. Most governments do not realize that
culture is not theirs to define.
-- Letter in The Wall Street Journal, August 31, 1982.
Religious leaders, who have entered into this area recently, evidently
oblivious to the careful, equally anguished considerations of political
and military leaders, themselves mostly believers, themselves morally responsible,
according to the tenets of religion itself, for actual civil defense and
political freedom, considerations hammered out during the past 30 years,
must be served notice that their pacifist reasonings are not intellectually
tenable simply they are articulated by religious leaders. Political
morality must include the chastening experience of political responsibility
for all consequences. Nuclear war is not the only or most anti-human
danger we live under. Religious scruple ought not to become a tool
to lead us to a gulag on a much vaster scale. ... We may not "like"
it that the world is this way. But the more religious leaders, especially
bishops, give the impression that they are incapable of appreciating the
realities political and military leaders must face, the more will religion
seem irrelevant, even dangerous. Especially for Christianity, which
has a solid tradition of political realism, the lapse into such irreality
is not a progress.... Unilateral disarmament is, I think, itself
quite immoral. Thus, in pursuing a presumed morality, we see many
of our religious leaders, apparently unlettered in the basic tools of actual
political experience, ending up by embracing the worst regime as the most
"ethical" thing to do. Surely, religion was never intended to lead
us along this most dubious path.
-- Letter in The Los Angeles Times, January 13, 1982.
Government ... is man's classic response to chaos and violence;
it is his attempt to order change. Historically, government is man's
most necessary institution when he comes together in large numbers; it
is also his most dangerous institution. Not without reason is the
most perilous organization we know the state that believes itself to be
also a church, an economy, and a university. The university is not
simply a school. The medieval university was conceived as a guild,
a corporation of students and scholars. But what specifically distinguished
the university corporation from all others was that it was organized to
pursue truth, to preserve, gain, and increase knowledge. Traditionally,
the university has had three functions: 1) to know what has happened
to man in the past, that is, to preserve and classify what man has done
and learned, 2) to separate the true from the false, yet to know the false,
to record it, to keep it, but to know that it is false, and, 3) to provide
means to learn, a methodology and a context for passing on and increasing
-- Worldview, June, 1969, 14.
I believe that to be up-to-date is to be out-of-date.
-- Twentieth Century, Melborune, March, 1971, 200.
URGENCY AND WAITING
The waiting may well be the greater urgency. For it is the
vision that shapes the reality and our visions have been narrow, very narrow.
We can rush ahead and create another novus ordo saeculorum, but whose order
will it be? We cannot forget that this is a legitimate question.
Man has need to be saved from restricted visions. The waiting is
... part of the urgency. We must always be somewhat distrustful of
our capacities and therefore able to accept the fact of an imperfect, fallible
world. The sense of urgency that pervades our intellectual and political
life is not a neutral passion. It can destroy as well as create....
The urgency insists that we not forget the others. The waiting bids
us to remember what is true. Thus Paul was right in the end, even
about this life. We do not know what we shall be. And the meaning
of our history is finally that we are what we are created to be, not what
we make ourselves to be. This is our anguish and our glory.
Indeed, it is the greater glory, for man is a gift to himself. There
will be no greater "invention". The last book of the New Testament
ends with a plea for urgency and for waiting: "The one who guarantees
these revelations repeats his promise: I shall indeed be with you
soon. Amen: Come, Lord Jesus" (22:20). The crucial word
for the urgency and for waiting is, be it noted, "promise". Ultimately,
it is loyalty to a promise that will keep men to be men. And it is
this same loyalty that will keep us with one another. This belief
in the validity of man, the man who is created by something other than
himself, is ... what grounds our hope and our politics.
-- World Justice, Louvain, #4, 1969-70, 458-59.
Used books stand in many ways at the frontiers of freedom and
intelligence in our society. For a few dollars at such a (used book
store or) sale you can begin or complete or, as in my case, overstuff your
own personal library. If I have anything to teach or tell students,
as I wrote in Another Sort of Learning, it is the importance of having
their own books, good books, actually possessing them, actually reading
them. There is nothing quite like the thrill of finding a book to
begin, continue, or complete an area of knowing or curiosity. It
may be a rare book or a common one that we do not have. Often it
is one we never heard of before. And there is something to finding
a valuable book for eighty cents or so.
-- C, September, 1991, 38.
Our feelings about small things demand extraordinary language,
borrowed from the poets or from the prophets because they said it better
than we, because we know suddenly how th4e small thing is related to wonder
and to greatness and to the extraordinary fact that anything at all exists,
including this event on the train or the star or this beautiful woman or
this common man. Scott Walter, on hearing Gertrude Himmelfarb's reflection
on "no man is a hero to his valet", recalled that somewhere ... Chesterton
responded to this thesis to the effect that "yes, but every man would be
a valet to his hero." When he told this recollection to Gertrude
Himmelfarb, she said, "I wish I had known that, I would have used it."
If we would be valets to our heros it means that we can acknowledge a greatness
we do not necessarily have but one we strive for and admire. It means
that we will what is good. This is something the common man can do.
It is something that he can do that makes him no longer merely common in
that sense of the word that would reduce him to a mere structure or a tool
of power or class.
-- MCN, June, 1991.
VERITATIS SPLENDOR (ENCYCLICAL OF JOHN PAUL II)
God gave us the honor of creating us as finite, free beings.
He could not do otherwise. We are even free to choose ourselves,
to damn ourselves. If we were not, we could not be ourselves and
transcend ourselves to that end higher than ourselves for which we have
been created and redeemed. What is at stake in John Paul II's analysis
of our mind and our time is precisely our ultimate end, our final purpose
as created beings and the way to achieve it. If he reminds us that
the first thing we must do is to keep the commandments, he is doing what
Christ did. The Pope ... is saying that we are free, if we wish,
not to keep the commandments. But he is also saying that if we do
not know and keep them, the result, even in the secular order, is not neutral
or indifferent. The result is in fact pretty much what we are getting
in our relativist societies in which we specifically, point by point, reject
and institutionalize (our rejection of) what we are asked to do to be good.
The secular meaning of Veritatis Splendor is an accurate description of
lives and societies that decide to make their own autonomous good in preference
to that good they must do to be saved.
-- Seminarium, Rome, #1, 1994, 162.
Voegelin's search for the order within being characterized his
life. Again and again he asked students, readers, and audiences,
"Why is there something, not nothing? the problem of existence; Why is
there this thing and that, the problem of essence?" Gregor Sebba
noted Voegelin's principle, "you cannot find God unless you seek him, and
you cannot find him unless you already have him." ... In a passage
from Aquinas ... Voegelin wrote, "There is no revelation lying around somewhere.
Revelation is a process in history. Thomas has the fundamental formulation
in the Summa, Part III: Christ is the Head of all mankind from the
beginning of the world to its end." When we do not accept this (truth)
-- and it is a choice -- we construct the world as if this were not
true. And when we actively formulate what this means, we become men
"in revolt," who structure the world on our own premises and (with our
own) powers. Voegelin always suspected that Christians, or post-Christians
in particular, were especially tempted to do this, and here he was most
prophetic. Indeed, we could say, on this basis, that we live in a
time ... in which Christians, especially clerics, are tempted to embrace
anthropological myths and ideologies, to construct a world wherein there
would be "faith and justice," -- a faith and justice based not on
what is, but on "man-in-revolt" against the structures of being.
-- C, November, 1985, 39.
The Platonic proposal (communality of wives, children, and property
for Guardians) whose purpose was to prevent eros or greed from interfering
with the Guardians' life in knowing the good and ruling society in accordance
with it was neatly solved by the religious vows of chastity and poverty,
which bore a remarkably sane similarity to the spirit of Plato's original
proposal and avoided all its obvious, indeed, inhuman, difficulties.
Now it was not necessary to worry about marital and filial problems, to
speculate abate eugenics. Property was in common but the rule was
there to guarantee that the mine and thine were regulated within the monastery.
Moreover, the distinction of a proper political life from a contemplative
one, and also of a proper family one, enabled the polis to have its legitimate
place but yet not be absolutely the highest good. Neatly, the city,
the family, and the contemplative live were saved by a Christian insight
that protected all three.
-- DC, 193.
VULGARITY, DANGERS OF
Belief leads to joy. Hilarity will imply some risk.
It is very safe to praise ancient dances because we will never be asked
to dance them. But if we are at a feast that is grounded in faith,
dancing, and hence joy, and hence, if all join in, some hilarity, some
vulgarity, yes, some "heavy drinking" will possibly appear. Without
the risk of freedom, there is no divine joy. The erroneous conclusion
is that, because of the dangers of vulgarity, of commonness, there is something
wrong with dancing, with the joy, with the faith, with the drinking even.,
That is to say in this view, faith is not meant for everyone in his actual
condition. This conclusion, of course, is the opposite of the truth.
We are joyful, we experience a sense of hilarity precisely because the
faith is true. We dance and sing and laugh and are rowdy precisely
because we have discovered that the risk of God in creating and seeking
to redeem precisely all of us was worthy of Him.
-- MCN, December, 1994.
I have always been especially fond of two English essays which
are not unrelated to each other. They are, if you will, walking essays
-- William Hazlett's "On Going on a Journey" and Robert Lewis Stevenson's
"Walking Tours". Walking is perhaps something I have not considered
too much in these pages. It is a pity. For walking is very
close to play and contemplation -- it is also that prelude to reaching
the inn at the end of the journey which is, if we can recall from Chesterton's
Dickens, his image of festivity, the Great Inn at the End of the World.
Stevenson said that you should walk alone so you could "... be open to
all impressions and let your thoughts take colour from what you see.
You should be as a pipe for any wind to play upon. We name the earth
by walking on it, resting at stumps and crossroads, finding the streets
and inns, calling the cattle, the birds, attracting the fish, throwing
the stones, and sitting under the trees.
-- FTEP, 107.
We cannot end war until we can end will. This is a remarkable
sentence because, as he often does, Chesterton here points to what is behind
wars. Wars are not "things", but choices, wills in conflict, with
their varying motivations for glory, for power, for money, for whatever.
To the degree that we have given up understanding the old asceticism (and
praying about what it is in our own hearts), to that degree we have allowed
ourselves to think that the prevention of war is an easy thing and requires
no arms. If men were "different", to be sure, there would be no wars.
But would they still be men? Chesterton did not think so. Wars
and liberty were correlatives in some fundamental way.... War is
one of those things that has within its very structure "two quite opposite
purposes." Thus, "that all war is physically frightful is obvious;
but if that were a moral verdict there would be no difference between a
torturer and a surgeon." There are certain intellectuals who are
too bright "to be content with merely praising peace" but who are "infuriated
by anybody praising war." If no war is possible, all criminality
has its chance.
-- MCN, March, 1991.
On Tuesday of Holy Week, I was in the old (now gone) Woolworth's
on M Street. The day was warm and clear, after three days of windy
rain. The very early flowers were out, the crocuses, the yellow forsythia,
some white fruit blossoms. A lady ahead of me in the line was buying
some tennis shoes for one of her children. We chatted a bit.
Clearly, she had an accent, which I could not immediately identify.
The lady inquired of me whether the weather was always "like this", a sure
sign of a foreigner to these parts. So I asked her if she had just
arrived. She was from London, had arrived in New York for the first
time the previous day, and was driving with her family to New Orleans.
She could not get over how beautiful Washington was. And I thought,
"How marvelous to see Washington for the very first time on such an early
Spring day!" And it is so. Washington is a place to which people
come in the Spring, not for lobbying but merely just to see it. I
had (just) walked over to the last half of the Cherry Blossom Parade, almost
two weeks ahead of the cherry blossoms, but still I found (it) a great
spectacle of high school bands, with their ever-varying drum-beats and
-- IR, 184.
The tons of "waste" materials are no longer called garbage or
refuse, but precisely "waste". This "waste" is not collected, disposed
of, but "managed", as if it had some proper order in itself "Waste"
is what no one needs, what is thrown away. We talk of "waste" land
or "waste" paper. We have a mania for recycling things. It
is often rather a rival religion, in fact. I got a birthday card
the other day that assured me it was made out of recycled, that is, used,
that is, waste paper. And while I am happy for it, I did not think
it made a better card and made me wonder about the economics and ideology
of the sender. "Waste" has to be gotten rid of; though ...
various schemes to deal with the mountains of waste produced in any given
city see it as a sort of gold mine of heat, metals, building materials,
and sundry ideas for what to do with it I once knew a dentist who
invested in an invention to turn garbage into heat. Waste is on its
way to becoming a natural resource. Some cities I have read about
make small mountains out of it on which they ski. Waste is not wasted.
Indeed, it is doubtful whether anything can really be wast3d. It
is mainly a question of knowing what a thing is and its alternatives.
The only real natural resource is the human brain, and it seems to have
something infinite about it. Poverty used to be a question of not
having things. More and more, it is a question of not having brains
or the discipline or freedom to use them,
-- Vital Speeches, January 1, 1993, 180.
WASTE OF TIME
A guitar concert ... is like this. There is nothing useful
about it, a way to "waste our time" it is. What an odd expression!
The word, waste, has become almost a dirty word today. Yet, the concept
of waste may well be one of the most powerful and profound ones we have.
Practically all the things we do that are worthwhile are wastes of time.
But then we so easily forget that this is what time is given to us for,
to see what we do with it. Think how severely we should be judged
if we never did a thing that was not simply useless! We would literally
go through life doing nothing for its own sake.
-- UMLTC, 131.
WEALTH AND RELIGION
The relation of religion to wealth is no neutral subject, while
the possibility that certain religious doctrines and practices actually
cause wealth or poverty seems in controvertible. One's religion or
philosophy is directly related to one's ability to produce and distribute
wealth and, more importantly, the manner in which it this is accomplished.
Liberality and charity, alms and benefices, presuppose a background of
capital. A religion that places all property in the hands of the
state has secret ambitions of being a state religion. We have a deep
need to give, and we ought to be able to receive from others. When
there is no "mine" and "thine", as Aristotle taught, the "ours" also generally
disappears. If everything belongs to the state, the chances are very
good that so will everyone. Christian monasticism (with its vows
of poverty) was deliberately designed to prevent those who opted for the
"ours" from destroying the "mine" and "thine" of the majority of the people.
-- RWP, 140.
We must be attuned to the political rather than to the scientific
or "problematic" side of the whole issue. In this sense, things
are both better and worse. They are better because the reality is
not about whether nuclear weapons will be used or not. They almost
certainly will not be (used), unless real strength is given up voluntarily
by the free nations, in which case we might very well see nuclear weapons
used against, say, China, if not against ourselves in a sort of clean-up
operation. The question is rather whether we can retain the political
will not to put ourselves in a position where our only rational option
is to capitulate without a struggle of any kind. But things
are also worse, because we not seem to have opened ourselves to the possibility
of allowing the worst regime in practice to be imposed on us by our own
wills. By looking primarily at an abstract question of "situational
morality" rather than at a concrete question of "politics", we have come
close to allowing ourselves to be "argued" into the position, often with
the encouragement of religion, in which we are told we must "embrace" the
worst system in order to remain virtuous, wherein "virtuous" means doing
nothing that might allow us to remain free to use a political and military
deterrence in their effective realities.
-- Vital Speeches, May 1, 1983, 431.
WEST AS AMERICA
About a month before your editorial "Pilgrims and Other Imperialists,"
I saw the "West as America" exhibit at the National Museum of American
Art (in Washington), thought it was a piece of unmitigated propaganda,
and so wrote on the "Comments" form at the exit. I told a friend
that the intellectual contagion too politely called "politically correct
thinking" had now invaded our galleries and museums. Consequently,
I was interested to read in NMAA Chairman Wilber Ross' June 6 letter to
the editor that the exhibit has "engaged visitors more thoroughly than
anything at the NMAA in recent years." It would be more hopeful for
our society, I think, had he written "enraged" rather than "engaged."
The idea that this exhibit was an exercise in "patriotism" and "intellectual
honesty,," and that somehow our "national ego" is "sufficiently strong
and mature" to "withstand" such wonderful "demythologizing" hints that
the director himself thinks in terms favored by the popular ideologies
that cause the problem in the first place. Your editorial was more
right than it might first have appeared. The problem was not, as
Mr. Ross implied, only a "few snippets from the catalog," but the whole
tenor and feeling of the exhibit. There was an absolutely clear impression
that a variety of "left-wing extremism" had inspired the exhibit.
And I don't find it much consolation that private funds financed this sort
of distortion in a public gallery.
-- Letter in The Wall Street Journal, July 1, 1991.
WINE, PROPER CHOICE OF
Some friends of mine last year sent me a birthday card designed
by Leigh Rubin. The scene on the card was stark. We see a very
British couple still in pith helmets, their heads and shoulders sticking
out of a huge pot. Under the black cauldron, in which the couple
are squeezed, we see a blazing fire to boil the water for the stewing.
This pot is surrounded on the ground by two parched thigh bones and a whitened
skull, left-overs no doubt from former British feasts. Beside the
cauldron stands a small table on which a table cloth and a bottle of wine
are prepared. With the greatest of exasperation, as both stare from
the pot in utter disbelief at the bottle, the British gentleman exclaims
to his wife: "Good heavens, Evelyn. These savages really are
uncivilized. They're actually going to serve us with Chablis."
Certain things, then, are simply not fitting, not to be approved, even
among cannibals about to dine on the British colonial aristocracy.
Not only is there some distinct, to say the least, impropriety about eating
the British couple in the first place, even though it does seem to be a
long-standing custom of the savages, it is still more uncultured not to
eat them in style. The British upper class, at the very least, would
seem to deserve a rich, red Bordeaux, or Chateau Neuf du Pape, or perhaps,
-- The American Journal of Jurisprudence, 1993, 86-87.
WINNING AND LOSING
When I was in high school, I remember once playing in a basketball
game -- actually, I only remember sitting on the bench which is why
I can remember the game in the first place. I wasn't such a great
basketball player, but I liked the game. I cannot recall where the
gym was anymore, though I can still vividly see the scene in a way, from
the bench or maybe from a huddle. It was a small city in Southern
Iowa -- Osceola, perhaps, or Albia. On the wall to the right
of the basket was a huge painted sign which hovered over the court.
It proclaimed in bold letters the then famous line by Grantland Rice
-- not whether "you won or lost but how you played the game." Yet
it always seemed to matter very much whether we won or lost. We played
-- PO, 8.
WOMEN, RIGHTS OF
It is well and good to talk of women's rights, I suppose....
But it is a funny concept, too.... Life has something to do with
rights and justice, to be sure. We usually assign this area of life
to the males, or at least we think we do. It is probably the least
important part of life when you examine it.... Probably the whole
essence of Christianity is a commentary on the inadequacy of rights and
justice, however unpopular it is to hear this. I have never found
it much of a mystery to understand why women are more naturally religious
than men. They already know somehow from the time they were little
girls ... that much more than justice would be expected of them, given
to them. Women have rights? Dear God, that is the last thing
life will impose on most of them. The Christian God is said to be
a God of mercy. Were he a God of justice and rights, all women would,
I suspect, be atheists.
-- IR, 158-59.
Michael Jackson, neither rock star nor basketball player, deliberately
sent me a copy of The World of (P. J.) Wodehouse Clergy. On receipt
of this inestimable gift, I knew I was in trouble.... Here among
Wodehouse's clergy -- the Mulliners -- were wonders beyond
my imagination -- Gladys Bingley, "a charming girl who looked like
a pen wiper," Brenda Carberry-Pirbright, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. B.
B. Carberry-Pirbright, of 11 Maxton Square, South Kensington, Bernard Worple,
the Rev. Trevor "Catsmeat" Entwhistle, General Sir Hector Bloodenough,
VC. KCIE, MVO. Wodehouse's women were invariably stronger than his
generally confused men. And the man (Wodehouse) had a penchant for
the metaphysical -- "cats are not dogs," "cats will be cats," and
"Muriel Brandsome was incapable of bearing anything in the shape of bossiness
from the male." Wodehouse's stories, of course, assume a married
clergy, capable of quoting, in a flash, Proverbs xxvii, 14, Ecclesiastes
x, 20, or Esdras iv, 41. Once, it seems, the Bishop of Stortford,
a man with old school ties and somewhat trendy theology, was asked to unveil
a statue at his old school, Harchester, a statue of an old and rather disliked
school chum, Lord Hemel of Hempstead, affectionately referred to as "Fatty"
in his school days. The bishop -- one "Boko" Bickerton in his
school days -- and the headmaster, "Catsmeat", another old boy, having
consumed a suspicious tonic called Buck-U-Uppo, invented by a Mulliner
uncle, decided to paint at night the new Statue of Lord Hemel at Harchester.
This they did, only the bishop forgot and left his hat on the head of Lord
Hemel. On discovery, suspicion about the culprit was damaging to
ecclesiastical decorum. However, just as the bishop was about to
be trapped, a young student of Harchester bravely came forth from nowhere
to confess, falsely, that he had done the dastardly deed. The bishop's
relief was, to put it mildly, immense enough to make him wonder about his
-- IR, 144-46.
Indeed, we only have an imperfect world and imperfect men dwelling
in it. If we are not to love these, if we cannot find the divine
somehow within the context of the imperfect,
then as finite humans we cannot find love or God at all.
-- RT, 17.
The Christian notion (is) that the world that God made is not
necessary to Him, that what goes on in it is not analogous to work or duty
or determinism, but to freedom, delight, and play, to things that are beautiful
but not necessary, in the freedom of what need not exist but yet, when
it does exist, is joyful and delightful. ... (There is) the profound
connection between the highest things and play, between the seriousness
of God Whom we must approach in silent holiness and the fact that God's
holiness is also our delight, to which we respond freely, happily, as Plato
said, by "singing, sacrificing, and dancing," in liturgy, in praise.
The real end and final holiday of human souls (is) to spend our lives at
the most serious things, playing at the noblest games, the blessed seriousness
of which God is worthy, singing, dancing, sacrificing....
-- MCN, March, 1990.
... The simultaneous socialization of academic and cultural life
along with a feeling that intellectual integrity often requires a fleeing
from this very world is somewhat a consequence of our refusal to acknowledge
that worship is an essential element in the pursuit of truth. What
has been missing has been precisely a sense of the whole. The politicization
of literature, science, and knowledge is really the creation of a substitute
whole, the denial that there is any fundamental distinction between religion
and politics. What has in fact happened has been the working out
of the idea that man, not God, is the highest thing, that a kind of politics
is all there is. ... The monastery again begins to cast its shadow
on the world though the building itself is perhaps nowhere to be seen.
-- PSOB, 155.
The young, because they lack experience, are less capable of understanding
this darker side of human nature than the old professors who have seen
it all, even in themselves. Aristotle said as much in The Ethics,
when he remarked that the young are not yet suitable students of ethical
and political matters. This lack of experience need not mean that
the young potential philosophers ought not to take a look at what the philosophers
say about what they will themselves in due time most likely do or think.
Indeed, this very "looking" is one of the services that teachers can perform
for the young, to forewarn them so that when the time comes for them to
fail like most others have failed, they will not be too discouraged.
-- Perspectives on Political Science, Winter, 1991, 7.
ZORBA THE GREEK
The university players were doing the musical version of Zorba
the Greek, a show I dearly love. I also saw it recently again in
Los Angeles. I think I would see it any time I could. This
line has never left me from Zorba: "Life is what you do while you're
waiting to die." There is a profundity here. Life in death,
death in life. Yet, it is not to be morbid. In Zorba, you dance
while you're waiting to die; this makes the difference. C. S. Lewis
says that you dance after you die too.
-- UMLTC, 84.
So I did see Zorba the Greek, once as a movie, once as a college
play, once at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles, roughly as
ten-year intervals. "She's all right; she's dying!" -- Zorba's
memorable words. The production in college lacked the attention to
food and eating that it had in the book, which I have also read several
times. "What is this world? I wondered. What is its aim
and in what way can we help to attain it during our ephemeral lives?
The aim of man and matter is to create joy, according to Zorba...."
The whole question if, of course, how do these two sentiments co-exist
-- the being all right while dying, creating joy? Yet, they do fit
-- UMLTC, 90.
A couple of years ago an old friend called inviting me ... to
a lecture in the Masonic Auditorium on Nob Hill in San Francisco by Mr.
Gerald Durrell. "Who is Gerald Durrell?" I ignorantly inquired.
"Oh, you don't know? He writes good books on zoos and animals...."
Durrell is concerned especially with preserving species that are supposedly
endangered. In itself, this is a worthy enough project, and I have
no particular quarrel with it. However, I have plenty of reservations.
Mr. Durrell's main argument for his effort was this: if we spend
so much money and energy in preserving, say, a Rembrandt, we should do
the same to preserve an endangered species of animal, which after all is
God's work of art. ... In all of this ... a rather striking contradiction
exists. On the one hand, we are told that the survival of animals
is up to us, presumably the fittest animal by an older definition, or we
would not still be about. On the other hand, it is intimated that
the preservation of animals and plants and termites really conditions our
survival so that we cannot do too much with the Earth for our own welfare
because it is too fragile. One must wonder in what sense we can really
speak of evolution anymore. ... Either nature is still evolving,
in which case we should not worry because what does not survive, for whatever
reason, is simply unfit; or else, man is now completely in charge of nature,
to define what and how many animals and bugs and plants like poison ivy
and roses and dandelions should survive. In other words, everything
is now a zoo, or a Chinese garden, a farm, or a playing field. This
is why Durrell was forced to make his most telling argument for the preservation
of rare animal species through the analogy with art, something that is
beyond the category of use.
-- PSOB, 43-44.Books:
ASL Another Sort of Learning: Selected Contrary Essays on How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else, Containing Some Belated Advice about How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing, in Spite of Your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together with Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else in Captivity to Be Found (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1988).
CL Christianity and Life (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1981).
CP Christianity and Politics (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1981).
CPCPP Christianity and Politics: Catholic and Protestant Perspectives, Edited by Carol F. Griffith (Washington: Ethics and Public Policy, 1981).
CSSJPII The Church, the State and Society in the Thought of John Paul II (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1982).
DC The Distinctiveness of Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982).
FTEP Far Too Easily Pleased: A Theology of Play, Contemplation, and Festivity (Los Angeles: Benziger/Macmillan, 1976).
HDHN Human Dignity and Human Numbers (Staten Island: Alba House, 1971).
JTL Journey Through Lent (London: Catholic Truth Society, 1979).
LT Liberation Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1982).
OJP Out of Justice, Peace: Joint Pastoral Letter of the West German Bishops; Winning the Peace: Joint Pastoral Letter of the French Bishops (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1984).
PHH The Politics of Heaven and Hell: Christian Themes from Classical, Medieval, and Modern Political Philosophy (Lanham, MD.: University Press of America, 1984).
PO Play On: From Games to Celebrations (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1971).
PSOB The Praise of 'Sons of Bitches': On the Worship of God by Fallen Men (Slough, England: St. Paul Publications, 1978).
RRFPP Reason, Revelation, and the Foundations of Political Philosophy (Baton Roouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987).
RT Redeeming the Time (New York: Sheed & Ward, 1968).
RWP Religion, Wealth and Poverty (Vancouver, B. C.: Fraser Institute, 1990).
SP The Sixth Paul (Canfield, OH.: Alba Books, 1977).
UMLTC Unexpected Meditations Late in the XXth Century (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1985).
WIGL What Is God Like: Philosophers and "Hereticks" on the Triune God: The Sundry Paths of Orthodoxy from Plato, Augustine, Samuel Johnson, Nietzsche, Camus, and Flannery O'Connor, Even to Charlie Brown and the Wodehouse Clergy (Collegeville, MI.: Michael Glazer/Liturgical Press, 1992).
W#4 Welcome Number 4,000,000,000 (Canfield, OH.: Alba Books, 1977).
WTAM The Whole Truth about Man: John Paul II to University Faculties and Students (Boston: St. Paul Editions, 1981).
Periodicals and Chapters in Books
C. Crisis (1511 K Street, NW, Washington, DC, 20005).
JMJ Jacques Maritain and the Jews, Edited by Robert Royal (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1994).
MCN. Midwest Chesterton News (740 Spruce Road, Barrington, Illinois,