Wednesday, April 9, 2014

the great failure of the Heroic Generation of Catholic theologians

Modestinus asks some good questions regarding the fruits of the "New Theology" at Opus Publicum:
And last, assuming that there was something dangerously wrong with Neo-Scholasticism, "the manualist tradition," strict theological orthodoxy, etc. which didn't leave sufficient room for "dialoguing" with contemporary thought, what genuine fruits has the "new theology" produced for the Church?
R. R. Reno raised similar questions some time ago in his review of Fergus Kerr's Twentieth Century Catholic Theologians:
In these and many other ways, the Heroic Generation’s zest for creative, exploratory theology led them to neglect even dismiss the need for a standard theology. They ignored the sort of theology that, however pedestrian or inadequate, provides a functional, communally accepted and widely taught system for understanding and absorbing new insights.

We need to come to terms with this and other failures, but we must avoid the temptation to rebel against the revolutionaries who did so much to shape the Catholic Church of the second half of the twentieth century. To a great extent, the one-sidedness of the Heroic Generation was exacerbated by the equal and opposite blindness of the leading figures of early-twentieth-century neoscholasticism, who also neglected the full range of theological work and at times used their power within the Church to prohibit and suppress the properly exploratory mode of theology. The pressures were intense, and the Heroic Generation felt that they had to throw some hard elbows to make room for a deepening of the Catholic tradition. In their formative years, such figures as Congar, de Lubac, and Balthasar must have felt that the monolith of neoscholastic control over the seminaries and theology faculties would survive even with their pointed opposition. [...]

Thus the greatest failure of the Heroic Generation was not any particular theological mistake or set of mistakes. Instead, their failure was cultural and almost certainly unanticipated. Today English-speaking theology is an aimless affair. The post-Vatican II professors who are now retiring and who trained so many of us were themselves students of the Heroic Generation. They perpetuated the myth that nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century Catholic theology is a vast desert of dry and dusty theology empty of spiritual significance. Who assigns Joseph Kleutgen, Johann Baptist Franzelin, or Matthias Scheeben; Charles Journet, Cardinal Mercier, or Garrigou-Lagrange? Because of this neglect, the old theological culture of the Church has largely been destroyed, while the Heroic Generation did not, perhaps could not, formulate a workable, teachable alternative to take its place.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Agent Smith: "It's the smell!"

Rod Dreher: "When I was a Catholic, I was not a participant in the Tridentine Rite form of the liturgy, and did not love it as some of my friends did, but I never did understand the hatred so many in the institutional Catholic Church have for the Old Mass. I still don't. Many Catholic bishops and priests will tolerate all kinds of un-Catholic, even anti-Catholic, expressions in institutions and communities under their control and leadership, but the one thing they won’t tolerate is the Old Mass. Bizarre."

As any reader of Mark Shea knows, the bishops are just cleansing American Catholicism of merciless ingratitude and anti-Semitism. The "uniformity of US Catholic belief circa 1950 was historically unusual" anyway, so it's not as if there was anything in the first half of the twentieth century experience that could have prevented the inevitable collapse of Catholic identity. The noxious particles Bernanos noticed in the French dust were already spiritually choking American children as they played catch or traded holy cards at the parish picnic.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

advice for First Things

First Things has parted company with David Mills. I don't know anything about Mills, but I do think I know what would get the website moving: a Murray's Legacy blog, moderated by Ross Douthat, requiring weekly contributions from David Schindler, Robert George, Patrick Deneen, Peter Lawler, James Matthew Wilson, Rick Garnett, Christopher Ferrara, Edward Feser, William T. Cavanaugh, Robert Miller, Fr. Sirico, and Fr. Barron. Boom. Running a magazine is easy.

the false divide

Fr. Barron on the false divide between exegesis and systematic theology: "He was undoubtedly shaped by his study of Aristotle, but the God whom Thomas describes owes far more to Isaiah than to Aristotle. His theology was an explication of the structuring logic of the biblical narratives, and this became eminently clear to me as I explored the peculiar manner in which the God of Israel manifested himself in the adventures of Samuel, Hannah, Saul, Jonathan, and David."

is a Catholic homoeroticism possible?

Catechism: [2357] "Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that 'homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.' They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved. . . . [2358] This inclination, which is objectively disordered, constitutes for most of them a trial."

Bishops of England and Wales: "In so far as the homosexual orientation can lead to sexual activity which excludes openness to the generation of new human life and the essential sexual complementarity of man and woman, it is, in this particular and precise sense only, objectively disordered. However, it must be quite clear that a homosexual orientation must never be considered sinful or evil in itself."

Nathan O'Halloran, SJ: "My interpretation is that the teaching of the Church extends only to same-sex genital acts and does not refer to the sexuality as a whole. . . . In my experience, there is a richness to homosexual expressions of spirituality that are entirely separable from the desire for genital expression. . . . It has been my experience as well that often friendships with those who have same-sex attractions grow and develop richly as a result of those attractions and not despite them. . . . Many men with same-sex attractions have been profoundly successful in ministry, both within the priesthood and outside of it, again, as a result and not despite their particular sexuality. That is at least my observational experience.

Aaron Taylor: "We see here how the conservative objection to homoeroticism is more Socratic than Christian. . . . The point is that [David and Jonathan's] ordinary same-sex friendship had a homoerotic dimension—it actualized erotic possibilities latent within same-sex friendship as such, possibilities which are ignored or suppressed by contemporary Western culture."

I am reminded of Eve Tushnet's interpretation of John Paul II's corpus, or at least his philosophical approach, as amounting to an "insufficiently-hardcore way of saying 'kiss.'" I always thought there was something very misleading (and insufficient) about that--the choice of the word/act "kiss"--especially in the context of the Theology of the Body. I don't follow Taylor's peculiar distinction, here, between Socratic and Christian eros, but I do wonder whether the sort of "homoeroticism" Taylor is attempting to rediscover and articulate is something that can be actively pursued by those whose inclinations are "objectively disordered." It may be that there are, as Taylor says, "erotic possibilities latent within same-sex friendship," but wouldn't it still be the case that these possibilities are only appropriately sought or praised where they do not "proceed" from an orientation that "can lead to [homosexual] sexual activity"? The language of §2357 suggests that the disorder extends as much to affective as sexual complementarity. Taylor does, after all, point out that David "had a rapacious appetite for sex with women." Wouldn't it be different if he had that appetite for sex with men?

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

how does Kathryn Jean Lopez manage the self-loathing that must follow having-written something like this?

National Review: "And, yes, he said Bravo. It was an invitational Bravo, pregnant with uplifting possibilities, an open door to hear more."

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Paul Joseph Prezzia on Bernanos' Country Priest

Crisis Magazine:
Indeed, all the good that our country priest does remains hidden, and even then, we do not know how many of the seeds he plants actually flower. The very hidden nature of his work places before us a question that haunts the novel: is not the protagonist himself "old and sad?" Isn’t he a jaded hangdog? Even the prophet Isaiah himself did not clear up such mystery, the mystery which envelopes the dark night of the soul. Isaiah merely prophesied that God Himself, the fullness of joy and youth, would become the "Man of Sorrows." The Christian accepts that much of God's work goes unseen. Much of His work will be encountered under unpromising, even disgusting appearances.
My comments on the same book are here.

Weigel on Francis

A little too much glee in George Weigel's writing here:
This evangelical vision of the Catholic future, which was the dominant motif of the last half of the pontificate of John Paul II, is also in continuity with a regularly repeated injunction of Benedict XVI: The days of culturally transmitted Catholicism, or what some might call Catholicism by osmosis, are over and done with. But while Benedict XVI evinced a certain nostalgia for the culturally embedded Catholicism of his Bavarian childhood, Pope Francis has made it quite clear that there is to be no yearning for what is now irretrievably past.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"manufacturing consent"

Andrew Sullivan, professional writer:
[T]he only way to distinguish yourself from [the likes of Westboro Church re: same-sex "marriage"] is to make a positive case for your position. That's always possible. From the very beginnings of our faith, Christians have made such a positive case, even as they were being thrown to the lions. And Rod won't do it because someone might say something mean at the office! How delicate and sensitive these Christianists can be.
Rod Dreher points out that Ryan T. Anderson et al. have been making precisely this sort of "positive case" against same-sex "marriage" for years, and they're still tarred as bigots. So he calls Sullivan "smug, naive, and completely out of touch." But Sullivan knows what he's doing. Judge Walker did something similar after hearing one or two wishy-washy "experts" offer evidence on behalf of California's Proposition 8. He let their insufficiently "positive" testimony stand as the set of all possible arguments for traditional marriage and condemned said set as "irrational animus" against homosexuals. Here, Sullivan, from his position on what Dreher calls the "power-holding side of this cultural equation," articulates a standard for the rejection of every insufficiently articulate defense of marriage: if you aren't a trained philosopher, or you can't easily tie yourself into Douthatian conciliatory knots, you are a de facto (and hopefully soon de jure) bigot every time you open your mouth on the subject. Look at Will Saletan's "close reading" of a husband and wife's justification of totally ordinary (until a few minutes ago) views on marriage when they were dragged before the New Mexico Human Rights Commission and you will see Sullivan's "positivity standard" in action. Douthat and Matthew Lee Anderson may not want to call that "persecution," but it's a significant and conscious effort on the part of the "power-holding side" to distance the American self from its own opinions, beliefs, traditions, and political institutions in order to "manufacture consent" on same-sex "marriage."

Sunday, March 9, 2014

thanks for clearing that up

Cardinal Dolan:
"Once again, in an extraordinarily sincere, open, nuanced way, he said, 'I know that some people in some states have chosen this. We need to think about that and look into it and see the reasons that have driven them.' It wasn't as if he came out and approved them. But he just, in the sensitivity that has won the heart of the world, he said rather than quickly condemn them, let's see if — let's just ask the questions as to why that is appealing to certain people."
Civil unions are so '90s.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Deneen vs. Lawler re: American Catholicism

Patrick Deneen: A Catholic Showdown Worth Watching:
Because of these positions, the "radical" position—while similarly committed to the pro-life, pro-marriage teachings of the Church—is deeply critical of contemporary arrangements of market capitalism, is deeply suspicious of America's imperial ambitions, and wary of the basic premises of liberal government. It is comfortable with neither party, and holds that the basic political division in America merely represents two iterations of liberalism—the pursuit of individual autonomy in either the social/personal sphere (liberalism) or the economic realm ("conservatism"—better designated as market liberalism). Because America was founded as a liberal nation, "radical" Catholicism tends to view America as a deeply flawed project, and fears that the anthropological falsehood at the heart of the American founding is leading inexorably to civilizational catastrophe. It wavers between a defensive posture, encouraging the creation of small moral communities that exist apart from society—what Rod Dreher, following Alasdair MacIntyre, has dubbed "the Benedict Option"—and, occasionally, a more proactive posture that hopes for the conversion of the nation to a fundamentally different and truer philosophy and theology.
Peter Lawler responds:
[Deneen's team] is repulsively lacking in gratitude. We Catholics criticize Lockeans for not being grateful for what they've been given by nature and God. Well, we Catholics don't want to be justly criticized for not being grateful for what we've been given by America. Not only has our church flourished in freedom in America—in some respects in unprecedented freedom, but we can't forget what Chesterton says about America being a home for a homeless, including Catholics who had to flee from grinding poverty and oppression. Patrick's great teacher, Carey McWilliams, was just as harsh as he is in criticizing America's techno-indifference to virtue or genuinely dignified egalitarianism, but he also never failed to mention that he was grateful for American freedom, as well as for his country's resolute defense of that freedom (in winning, as the French Catholic thinker Pierre Manent admits, the Cold War against repressively atheistic global communism fairly close to single-handed) throughout the world.

Monday, January 27, 2014

more on the NH

A few words in response to Joey Prever's post regarding "The New Homophiles."

There is little in Prever's summary of his own opinion on the NH that even someone as stubbornly warlike as Austin Ruse would disagree with:
My own position within the Side B world is, I think, a little weird. Ruse's piece made me uncomfortable and annoyed, largely because it made us seem more heterodox than we are. Some Side B stuff, on the other hand, makes me uncomfortable and worried, because bits of it bear the smell of, or the smell of the danger of, self-deception: the line between "my homosexuality is a gift and a blessing because of all the gifts and blessings that have come with it" and "my homosexuality, per se, is a gift" is blurrier than I'd like. In some cases it's not blurry at all, but just nonexistent. I don't think I'm okay with that, but I have yet to formulate exactly why.
I trust Prever's discomfort more than I trust the the evangelistic sense of the NH. Ruse has been building up his commentary on the non-foundation provided by the presence and absence of precisely those "blurry" lines. No doubt he also read Melinda Selmys' condescending, projection-laden demand, at First Things no less, that traditionalists adapt to a "gay audience" and was moved, belatedly, to force the "culture war" back into the dialogic consciousness of the upper crust Catholic Internet. He isn't the world's most pleasant debater, but I think here he's more right than wrong.

Homosexuality may not exist elsewhere than "in people," but Prever's blurry lines between gratitude-for-gifts-given-to-those-who-suffer and "exceptionalism" are in the cultural air. The NH's evangelical approach -- according to which a woman could ask, "should I call myself queer even though I'm married to a man and have children that I also speak to?" -- will therefore have collateral damage. Their public "uncredentialed wonder" -- even with half a decade of private refinement -- is neither restorative nor upbuilding on a cultural scale and their commentary is full of "double thoughts" that, though valuable, are nevertheless not a firm footing for doctrinal development. The benighted Catholic masses do not have the time or talent to learn to talk and listen like Eve Tushnet or Melinda Selmys -- and I don't think that's a bad thing.

P.S. Any movement that an old-fashioned "anthropologist" like Ruse thinks is lead by someone as self-absorbed and vulgar as Elizabeth Scalia (who has built Patheos in her own image) ought to be viewed with suspicion.

Monday, January 20, 2014

"incarnational historicism"

Daniel McCarthy adds another label to his ongoing taxonomy of conservatism:
Second, if "natural right" is not necessarily "neoconservatism," it's also the case that "history" need not mean crude ethno-nationalism. Traditionalist conservatives like Claes Ryn and some of the paleoconservatives have begun to develop an incarnational historicism—which in fact has some parallels in the thought of Eric Voegelin and even, surprising as it may sound, Frank Meyer—that integrates the particular and universal in such a way as to do violence to neither. Strauss, of course, would not be satisfied; the project may sound too much like German Idealism revisited, with too much of a Christian overtone to be comfortable for someone who takes Judaism seriously. Nevertheless, a philosophically sophisticated conservative historicism is at least as incompatible with vulgar right-wing identity politics as it is with the universalist pretensions of American exceptionalism.

mini-review of Shaw's American Church

Shaw, Russell. American Church. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2013.

Shaw's book is an account of the two kinds of Americanism that ruled the Catholic Church in American in the twentieth century. One, the basically positive Americanism of the "ghetto" Catholicism that held sway in the half-century prior to Vatican II, provided Catholics with an adequate "plausibility structure" for their belief and "was an impressive picture of success." The other, the Americanism of the Call to Action Conference in 1976, "the worst year ever," caused bishops to tremble (or shrug) before a reinforced "culture of dissent." Shaw traces the origin of both back to James Cardinal Gibbons' response to the question of whether American liberty is ultimately good or bad for Catholicism.

But that's all. Shaw's program for renewal is not (and doesn't claim to be) new: an orthodox and evangelizing Catholic subculture, sans clericalism, institutional secrecy, and "fortress mentality," must be built up and allowed to flourish. Yup. The book is useful mainly for its quotations.

"what a blessed thing to do"

Duncan Stroik thinks it would be upbuilding for parishioners to go to Mass in unfinished, on-the-way-to-being-beautiful churches. It seems to work for the FSSP.

Peter Kwasniewski says that it's no longer "intellectually honest" to say that the implementation of Vatican II's liturgical reform wasn't bungled.

Gracy Olmstead asks whether beauty is siren or savior. I don't have time to read it and get all worked up and read a paragraph or two from ten different books and write 150 first sentences and drink a beer to calm down and then end up drunk and watching The Lost City, so I'm just providing the link.

Jeremy Beer outlines the "theoretical unity" of communio economics.

This is just beautiful from James Matthew Wilson:
Mediocrity makes visible something about tradition that greatness can often obscure. It is one thing to say, for instance, that the West possesses a valuable tradition because, within it, we find a sampling of awesome geniuses, from Homer and Plato, to Dante, Shakespeare, and Nietzsche. But this hardly explains the value of tradition. Traditions are self-authenticating. They are good in themselves. To live within and participate in a tradition is, again, to keep something alive and to draw things and persons together, across time, in a community of knowledge and love. The second-rate imitator of Keats in Kentucky, the belated composer of an oratorio in Ohio, may seem derivative, as if merely preserving the shadow of greatness in amber. But, to the contrary, they take their place in a way of being and keep that way open for others to tread. 
Authors’ names not withstanding, art, technology, and science, the whole world of work and culture, are starkly impersonal enterprises. The anonymous mediocrity, no less than the legendary maestro, gives his life in the service of keeping a tradition alive; in being himself forgotten he helps something else to be remembered. What a blessed thing to do.
Telegraph blogger looks at the Dark Enlightenment subculture. After Lawrence Auster (who was himself the subject of numerous check-out-these-weirdos-I-found-on-the-Internet exposés), there doesn't seem to be anyone on the Right able to engage that subculture with any kind of seriousness or success. But no one on the mainstream Left seems to take the Singularity crowd too seriously, either.

Peter Hitchens on the Dr. Who-ing of British television:
I for one actively dislike the TV modernisation of Holmes and Watson, in which Benedict Cumberbatch plays Holmes as a sort of detective Dr Who. In fact (I didn't invent this thought, but wish I had) much of the BBC's output now seems to be governed by a rule that everything must be more or less like "Dr Who," even the news--postmodern, ironic, fashionably cool, omnisexual, omnicultural, so slick that slickness may even be the entire point. It uses a great idea without showing it any real respect.
Alas, that David Suchet is not immortal! His existence has kept something similar from happening to Poirot. Miss Marple has not been so blessed. Anyway, Hitchens has an appreciation for Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Dickens that only an Englishman can possess.