Sunday, April 22, 2012

Richard Weaver / Engaging the Culture

"There is another type of outsider, however, who may entertain hope of doing something about a culture that is weakening. He is a member of the culture who has to some degree estranged himself from it through study and reflection. He is like the savant in society: though in it, he is not wholly of it; he has acquired knowledge and developed habits of thought which enable him to see it in perspective and to guage it. He has not lost the intuitive understanding which belongs to him as a member, but he has added something to that. A temporary alienation from his culture may be followed by an intense preoccupation with it, but on a more reflective level than that of the typical member. He has become sufficiently aware of what is outside it to see it as a system or an entity. This person may be a kind of doctor of culture; in one way he is crippled by his objectivity, but in another way he is helped to what he must have, a point of view, and a consciousness of freedom of movement." --Richard Weaver, Visions of Order To be unfamiliar with a thing can, it seems, help one know it better. Converts, notoriously, know Catholicism better than cradle Catholics. If we want to understand a culture, then, in some sense we perhaps should be separated from it. And if understanding a culture is a prerequisite for "engaging a culture," then to engage the culture we first must draw back from it. To lead a thing, you have to be something other than that thing, no?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Dicta, no. 12

Only those who wake early realize that sunrise and sunset look very alike.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Dicta, no. 11

A Christian contends that human suffering does not disprove the existence of a good God. An atheist finds this arrogant: how can the Christian know how horrible suffering is for some people?

An atheist contends that human suffering disproves the existence of a good God. A Christian should find this arrogant: how can the atheist know that any one life is so worthless, it would be better if God had not given it?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Catholic Protestants

Imagine a kid who thinks his parents let his younger brother get away with too much bad behavior. His parents think that some of his younger brother's bad habits are just "phases" that he will grow out of. They are wrong; the younger brother's habits are at least semi-permanent and will negatively influence his life for a very long time.

But the older kid still tries to fill up what he sees as a lack of discipline through his own action, although he is just an older sibling. Of course, this doesn't work very well. He knows something needs to be done, but has no idea of what it should be. So he manages things in horribly incompetent ways; he lacks the knowledge of what offenses must be stopped and what offenses should be ignored; and even if he possessed the knowledge, he still would not be able to enforce it. So he mucks it up.

Take this as an analogy for the current situation in the Church.

Catholic bishops and, perhaps, the Pope, are the parents. Crazed Catholic traditionalists are the older brother. The parents' refusal to act as an authority is the hierarchy's refusal to actually teach the Church, in a substantive manner, over the last forty-odd years. The unfortunate attempts to teach the younger brother are like upstart traditionalist groups attempting to bring right doctrine to the world.

The attempts are awkward, first, because often the traditionalists are somewhat theologically inept, at least sometimes. They don't always know what is absolute and what is not, just like the brother does not; the groups often come from laymen reacting against egregious abuses, and who are well-intentioned but know little theology. So they make mistakes, and the mistakes sap their already non-existent authority.

The attempts are awkward, second, because if authority abdicates then the people who try to fulfill its functions (by teaching correctly) will be matched by those who who also try to fulfill its functions (by teaching incorrectly). So if you have someone out there saying that Catholics can't say sodomy is great, you'll also have someone out there saying that Catholics must say that sodomy is great, because if we do not then we will not be tolerant like Jesus.

So we need authority, and if we don't have it we're in trouble.

Authority cannot be willed into existence from nothing. It cannot be remedied by having someone who isn't the authority try to do all the things authority doesn't. There actually has to be the power to bind and to loose, in some sense. And if you speak without having that power, you soon tend to be a bit shrill: no one is listening, and so you perhaps feel the need to assert yourself even more.

In some ways, I fear some--not all--traditionalist Catholics can become somewhat Protestant in their attitude because of the aforementioned. Some Protestants--not all, necessarily--set up little enclaves, which then often split because no one has real authority in them. (I grew up in West Virginia, where these enclaves could be small indeed.) And traditionalists also seem to set up little enclaves, which also perhaps have a tendency to split over little things that might not even matter.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Balthasar on Saints

“Instead of possessing a ‘proof’ [of Christianity], they ‘are’ a reflection of it in their lives. As they respond to the glory of God and reflect it, it shines forth not only for them but for others. For, according to the Spirit of revelation, the really holy person—in the sense of Leviticus 11:44f.: ‘For I am the Lord you God; consecrate yourselves, therefore, and be holy, for I am holy’—is the best ‘proof’ of the truth of revelation.”
--quoted here.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

On Tradition and Philosophy

"Today, authors lay themselves bare, expressing and liberating themselves. They strive for originality, for what has never been said before. Philosophers set forth their system, expounding it in their own personal way, freely choosing their starting point, the rhythm of their expositions, and the structure of their work. They try to stamp their own personal mark on everything they do. But like all productions of the last stages of antiquity, the Enneads are subject to servitudes of a wholly different nature. Here, originality is a defect, innovation is suspect, and fidelity to tradition, a duty. . . . Philosophy has become exegesis or preaching."--Pierre Hadot, on Plotinus, in Plotinus: or, The Simplicity of Vision, trans. Michael Chase (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993), 17.

It would be easy to say that the old way of philosophizing is right, and the new way of philosophizing is wrong. But I don't think that this is the case. Originality for its own sake is surely wrong. But surely philosophy should not be exegesis; certain things, I hope, are in some ways more manifest to me now then they were manifest to Aristotle in his time.

I think well-written philosophy would be towards prior philosophy as the ending of a drama would be towards the first acts of the drama. One should not be able to predict the later from the former, because then there would be nothing new in the later and one might as well not have it at all. Yet when the former is viewed from the later perspective, the former leads to the later, anticipates it, and is perfected by it.

So somehow what is new is not contained in the old, but when one looks back at the old from the perspective of the new, the old seemed to desire the new all along. Like the Old and New Testament are, surely.

This is not an original thought, of course. And I admit it leaves something to be desired in terms of concrete suggestions.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dicta, no. 10

Attempts to form statements that cannot be misunderstood result in statements that contain nothing to understand.