A wonderful paper by Peter Kwasniewski.
A wonderful paper by Peter Kwasniewski.
Goodness always tends to spread. Every authentic experience of truth and goodness seeks by its very nature to grow within us, and any person who has experienced a profound liberation becomes more sensitive to the needs of others. As it expands, goodness takes root and develops. If we wish to lead a dignified and fulfilling life, we have to reach out to others and seek their good. In this sense, several sayings of Saint Paul will not surprise us: “The love of Christ urges us on” (2 Cor 5:14); “Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel” (1 Cor 9:16). (Pope Francis, Evangelii Gaudium 9)
In the same way, to love the good that is participated by the blessed, to love it so as to have or possess it, does not establish the right relation between a person and blessedness, because even evil people want this good. But to love that good according to itself, that it may remain and be spread out and that nothing be done against this good, this gives to a person the right relation to that society of the blessed. (St. Thomas Aquinas, De Virtutibus, 2.2 c)
Leo Strauss’s critique of modernity was very penetrating, and there is much to be learned from it. But what are we to think of his idea that modernity was (at least in part) a reaction against St. Thomas Aquinas’s distortion of Aristotelian philosophy, and that thus a true return to the ancients much dis-engage them from their Thomistic mis-reading?
In Natural Right and History Strauss argues the great advantage of the political philosophy of Aristotle and Plato, is that while they thought that the good was objective and absolute, the more proximate rule of action was the relative to what was actually praised and blamed in a given political context:
The variability of the demands of that justice which men can practice was recognized not only by Aristotle but by Plato as well. Both avoided the Scylla of “absolutism” and the Charybdis of “relativism” by holding a view which one may venture to express as follows: There is a universally valid hierarchy of ends, but there are no universally valid rules of action.
St. Thomas’s teaching on natural law, Strauss then argues, misses this mean and falls prey to the “Scylla of absolutism.” Because St. Thomas sees the natural law as promulgated in every heart through conscience (or rather synderesis) it is universally binding, and there is thus no room for a discrepancy between what is good absolutely and what is good relative to a particular civil society. Moreover, Strauss argues, the Thomistic teaching on natural law orders all things to a final end which transcends earthly life, and is thus a properly theological account of law. The fundamental precepts of this law are thus the same always and everywhere and can brook no exception.
Strauss thinks that this moral absolutism is inhuman as it leaves to little room for the role of prudence and the situatedness of human life in contingent political circumstances. He sees modernity as an understandable reaction against this overly theological moral legalism, a reaction however which falls prey to the Charybdis of relativism:
Modern natural law was partly a reaction to this absorption of natural law by theology. The modern efforts were partly based on the premise, which would have been acceptable to the classics, that the moral principles have a greater evidence than the teachings even of natural theology and, therefore, that natural law or natural right should be kept independent of theology and its controversies. The second important respect in which modern political thought returned to the classics by opposing the Thomistic view is illustrated by such issues as the indissolubility of marriage and birth control. A work like Montesquieu’s Spirit of Laws is misunderstood if one disregards the fact that it is directed against the Thomistic view of natural right. Montesquieu tried to recover for statesmanship a latitude which had been considerably restricted by the Thomistic teaching. (p. 164)
I recently came across a recording of a lecture which Herbert Hartmann once gave at my alma mater that discusses this argument in detail, and then offers a defense of St. Thomas’s doctrine:
Hartmann’s defense of the Thomistic doctrine goes I think in the right basic direction, but then subtly misses the mark. He argues that natural law is not an extrinsically opposed set of rules to which the human person has to conform, but rather natural law is the voice of reason itself as a participation in divine reason. This is all very well, but then Hartmann tries to argue from this that therefore there is no “set pattern” of the moral life which reason discovers, but rather man himself establishes the rules of moral action by prudent choice.
This resembles the interpretation of St. Thomas which German speaking moral theologians such as Franz Böckle and Alfons Auer gave in the period following Vatican II. Böckle and Auer were trying to defend Catholic moral theology from the accusation of “heteronomy” leveled at it by Kantian ethics, and this lead them to exaggerate the “autonomy” of human reason, giving it a quasi creative power– as though what specified a kind of action as good were prudent choice itself, rather than the order to a due end with which prudence is concerned. Steve Long’s Teleological Grammar of the Moral Act masterfully clears up this confusion.
Similarly, Hartmann’s wish to avoid the Straussian charge of absolutism leads him to exaggerate the variability of morality. He is right that the natural law is not an extrinsic imposition on humanity; it is indeed human reason itself determining about the fitting means to the end of human life. But when he then argues that there is no universally valid, set pattern, of moral rules, he is equivocating on “determine.” Human reason does not “determine” the natural law in the sense of “making it up,” but in the sense of “recollecting” the eternal law, the Wisdom of the Creator in which all things are sweetly ordered.
His life was gentle, and the elements
So mix’d in him that Nature might stand up
And say to all the world, “This was a man!”
That, it seems to me, is the mot juste. Dr. McArthur was a big man, a strong man; he had a warm and passionate heart, and all the vigor and dash of a warrior. And all these strong faculties and virtues in him were ordered and harmonized by the rule of reason. Reason in Dr. McArthur was truly “that capability and god-like reason” (to speak of McArthur is almost inevitably to quote Shakespeare), not pettifoggery or mystification, but “such large discourse, looking before and after,” and it did not fust in him unused. Dr. McArthur’s life was truly political in his own sense of the word: that is, a life ordered by reason toward the true good as a common end.
Dr. McArthur was not the most profound thinker among the founders of his college (he was the first to point out that Marcus Berquist had that office), but he was by far the most suited to being its leader. My parents were in the third and fourth classes at TAC respectively, and they always looked to Dr. McArthur as their model of leadership. When my father became the first rector of the International Theological Institute in Austria, he used to give what he called “McArthur style pep-talks” aimed at inspiring the students and faculty with devotion to the common goal of wisdom.
I first met Dr. McArthur when I was a little child, and was first impressed by his huge size and vigorous, direct, frank way of speaking. He reminded me of my maternal grandfather, with whom he had been friends. My grandparents used to spend part of each year in San Francisco. Unfortunately the stopped going to San Francisco at a time when my grandfather and Dr. McArthur were in the midst of a huge argument about McArthur’s Laval School Mariology. Later when my mother arrived at Thomas Aquinas College McArthur was overjoyed at this sign of trust. Years later when I arrived at the college he greeted me with his old eyes shining, and told me that story, and of how much he loved my grandfather and my parents. I never ceased to be astonished by the heartfelt, generous, and completely unintrusive love that he showed to his students.
In September, just a month before his death, when he was already very ill, Dr. McAthur sent me an e-mail. I was astonished to see his name show up in my inbox, and was moved to tears to see that he was thinking of me. He said that he had just re-read my senior address at TAC–about which I remember him being very enthusiastic at the time–he still thought it good and added: “Listening to the talk also brought you to mind, which was a pleasure.” I replied immediately, and a few days later he wrote again, and said: “I have thought of you often over the years, and always with the greatest delight.” That to me was an image of the love of God; a totally undeserved grace.
Dr. McArthur was, I have said, a political man– all his faculties were harmonized by the grand sweep of reason. His example showed that the rule of reason does not destroy the other faculties and passions of man, but rather ennobles them. He understood that just as all human things have to be made subject to reason, so all things whatever have to be made subject to God. And he saw very clearly that just as reason does not destroy the other faculties of man, so subjection to God does not destroy the powers of creatures, but rather grounds, enables, and ennobles them. His doctoral dissertation (which he summarizes here), was on universal causality. He showed how the causality of the creator is not in competition with the causality of creatures: the effects of created causes are not caused partly by God and partly by creatures–they are caused entirely by both. Thus the re-subjection of all creatures to God in Christ is not violent, but answers to the deepest desires of creation itself. The curriculum that McArthur helped to establish at TAC flows from this insight, since it orders all human knowledge to theology.
Dr. McArthur was a patriotic man–he loved America–but he was not blind to the difficulties of reconciling the founding principles of America with Catholic political thought. I think it is true to say that his sense of this difficulty developed with his age. Christopher Ferrara in his recent integralist polemic against modern liberalism acknowledges Dr. McArthur’s assistance in formulating his argument. In a speech given during his last years Dr. McArthur attacks the modern attempt to found politics on human rights:
The recording above is from the internet archive. The speech is an abridgement of a longer paper the text of which is here. Near the end of the spoken speech, however, he says something that is not in the written text. He says: ”This whole conflict… is finally about Christ; you either accept him or you reject him. There’s no middle ground.”
That is true Catholic integralism: not the excuse given by accomodationist clerics to South American tyrants, nor the ignorant romanticism of the spiritual pigmies who troll the comboxes of traditionalist blogs, showing little sign of contact with reality, but the grandeur of human reason open to all being, and to the source and goal of all being in God. Fittingly his last words were: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.”
I have just discovered that the the Catholic Academy of Bavaria has a searchable concordance of Romano Guardini’s works online. It’s one of those things that I have always wished existed; how splendid to find that it actually exists. The database contains not only the works published during his lifetime, but also many of the lecture notes posthumously published in recent decades. I recently read his lectures on Dante–they are amazingly good. Someone ought to translate them into English. Here is a passage on the arbitrariness of an a-teleological view of nature:
The world is not a mere mass of reality causally ordered, and indifferent from an ethical point of view. That is how modernity sees it. And we would do well to realize clearly that this way of looking at things is not at all the result of science, but rather an a-priori. Modern man sees the world thus not because the world is thus, but rather because that is the way he wants to see it, and thus his view is the result of a selection. Max Weber’s famous definition according to which science must remain value-free–pure ascertainment of fact and analysis of reality– is a postulate, an expression of a certain attitude towards reality, not the result of an authentic encounter with the real. One of the points on which our future hinges is this: whether or not we recognize that the good is not some humanly imposed valuation of things, but rather that condition of the fulfillment of life which is given in being itself.
[Die Welt ist nicht eine vom ethischen Gesichtspunkt aus indifferente Wirklichkeitsmasse, die rein kausal geordnet ist. So sieht sie die Neuzeit, und wir tun gut, uns klarzumachen, daß diese Sehweise durchaus nicht Ergebnis von Wissenschaft, sondern ein Apriori ist. Der neuzeitliche Mensch sieht die Welt nicht so, weil sie so wäre, sondern weil er sie so sehen will, und nach dieser Voraussetzung eine Auswahl vollzieht. Die berühmte Definition Max Webers, wonach Wissenschaft wertfrei bleiben müsse, reine Wirklichkeitserfassung und Wirklichkeitsanalyse, ist Postulat, Ausdruck von Gesinnung, nicht Ergebnis echter Wirklichkeitsbegegnung. Und es ist einer der Punkte, an denen sich unsere Zukunft entscheidet, ob wir wieder erkennen, daß das Gute keine vom Menschen her aufgesetzte Charakterisierung des Daseins ist, sondern im Sein selbst gegebene Voraussetzung der Lebenserfüllung bildet]
In celebration of Blessed Pope John Paull II’s Feast I’m re-reading Novo Millennio Ineunte– arguably the programmatic magisterial text of our time. I was struck by the blessed pope’s use of what he calls “the lived theology of the saints.” The mysteries of Christ are our mysteries, as Bl. Columba Marmion repeats again and again, but this means that the experience of the saints, who have realized Christ in their lives to a wonderful degree, is a source of knowledge about Christ. Consider the following:
Theological tradition has not failed to ask how Jesus could possibly experience at one and the same time his profound unity with the Father, by its very nature a source of joy and happiness, and an agony that goes all the way to his final cry of abandonment. The simultaneous presence of these two seemingly irreconcilable aspects is rooted in the fathomless depths of the hypostatic union. Faced with this mystery, we are greatly helped not only by theological investigation but also by that great heritage which is the “lived theology” of the saints. The saints offer us precious insights which enable us to understand more easily the intuition of faith, thanks to the special enlightenment which some of them have received from the Holy Spirit, or even through their personal experience of those terrible states of trial which the mystical tradition describes as the “dark night”. Not infrequently the saints have undergone something akin to Jesus’ experience on the Cross in the paradoxical blending of bliss and pain. In the Dialogue of Divine Providence, God the Father shows Catherine of Siena how joy and suffering can be present together in holy souls: “Thus the soul is blissful and afflicted: afflicted on account of the sins of its neighbour, blissful on account of the union and the affection of charity which it has inwardly received. These souls imitate the spotless Lamb, my Only-begotten Son, who on the Cross was both blissful and afflicted”. In the same way, Thérèse of Lisieux lived her agony in communion with the agony of Jesus, “experiencing” in herself the very paradox of Jesus’s own bliss and anguish: “In the Garden of Olives our Lord was blessed with all the joys of the Trinity, yet his dying was no less harsh. It is a mystery, but I assure you that, on the basis of what I myself am feeling, I can understand something of it”. What an illuminating testimony!
This is what St. Thomas calls “connatural wisdom”:
Wisdom denotes a certain rightness of judgment in accord with divine principles. Now rightness of judgment is twofold: first, in accord with the complete use of reason, second, on account of a certain connaturality with the matter about which one has to judge. Thus, about matters of chastity, a man after inquiring with his reason forms a right judgment, if he has acquired the knowledge of ethics, while the one who has the virtue of chastity judges of such matter by a kind of connaturality. Accordingly it belongs to the wisdom that is an intellectual virtue to pronounce right judgment about divine things after reason has made its inquiry, but it belongs to wisdom as a gift of the Holy Spirit to judge aright about them on account of connaturality with them. Thus Dionysius says (Div. Nom.ii), ‘The man of God is complete in divine things, not only by learning, but also by suffering divine things (patiens divina).’ Suffering with God and connaturality with God (compassio et connaturalitas) is the result of charity, which unites us to God, according to 1 Cor.6:17: Anyone united to the Lord becomes one Spirit with him. Consequently wisdom which is a gift, has its cause in the will, which cause is charity, but it has its essence in the intellect, whose act is to judge aright, as stated above. (Summa Theol., II-II, q.45, a.2).
It is fitting that Bl. John Paull II was the pope to have declared Thérèse of Lisieux a doctor of the Church. Thérèse seems to exemplify this kind of wisdom to an eminent degree (see the text sited by Bl. John Paul above, and also this text).
A confrère of mine, Pater Marian Gruber, O.Cist., is the “Stellvertretender Geistlicher Assistent” of the “Kaiser-Karl-Gebetsliga” (Emperor Karl League of Prayers), a society founded during Bl. Charles’s lifetime for the sake of praying for peace between peoples.
At Pater Marian’s suggestion the Gebetsliga recently had a meeting here in Heiligenkreuz, at which Archduke Charles of Austria was also present. (Nor was it the Archduke’s first visit here. He has been here before, for example in 2006 when the Order of the Golden Fleece held its St Andrew’s Day Feast in Heiligenkreuz)
Pater Marian has also organized a monthly Mass for the Gebetsliga in the Giovanni Giuliani’s beautiful baroque chapel in the Heiligenkreuzerhof in Vienna. Last Thursday he invited me to celebrate Mass there.
The Gospel was Luke 11:47-54. I preached on the verse, “the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, will be required of this generation.” The persecution of Christ manifests that the persecution of all the prophets was really implicitly an opposition to God. But where does this hatred of God come from? I quoted the following text of St. Thomas:
Every aversion towards God has the character of an end insofar as it is desired under the notion of liberty, as according to the words of Jeremiah (2:20): For a long time you have broken the yoke, you have broken bonds, and you have said, ‘I will not serve.’ (ST IIIa Q8, A7, r.)
The intrinsic final cause of creation is the good of order. But order involves subordination, and this requires a certain self-transcendence that can be rejected. That is the root of all sin. It is the root of the hatred of God and His prophets, who appear as a threat to liberty. And it is the root of all the sufferings of Blessed Charles of Austria.
Today is the Feast of Bl. Charles of Austria. There is a wonderful, Christian paradox in the Benedictus antiphon that we sing on his feast. As I have mentioned before it is taken from Matthew: “Similabo eum viro sapienti qui aedificavit domum suam super petram: I will liken him unto a wise man, which built his house upon a rock.” (Mt 7,24) From a temporal point of view this is almost the opposite of the truth. It was during the blessed emperor’s reign that the House of Austria lost everything. But it is precisely in the ruin of temporal things that the foundation of Bl. Charles’s house becomes manifest: Christ the Lord.
“Then came Amalek and fought with Israel at Rephidim.” The first reading at Mass today is the magnificent battle between Israel and Amalek. But who is Amalek? In Genesis 36 we learn that Amalek was a grandson of Esau. “Amalek fought with Israel” thus means “Esau fought with Jacob.” Esau’s folly in selling his birthright for a bowl of pottage is folly to which his brother’s descendants too are tempted. “Whenever Moses held up his hand, Israel prevailed; and whenever he lowered his hand, Amalek prevailed.” This is a type of the whole history of the people of Israel. As long as they streach out their hands toward God all is well, but as we know they keep on tiring of this; they find it to difficult to have the living God as their portion, and keep reaching after seemingly more tangible goods: “they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man or birds or animals or reptiles.”