Does the American political tradition at its best consider the good of the republic to be something good in itself, an honest good, or merely a useful good, an instrument to aid citizens in the attainment of their private goods? In a recent discussion of this question a friend of mine proposed looking at American patriotic poetry rather than political treatises. His idea, if I understand him aright, is that while on a theoretical level American political thought has tended to deny the primacy of the common good, the American people have a natural and implicit love for and understanding of the true political good, and this is expressed in their patriotic songs etc. This points to an interesting tension in modern liberal democracies between their theoretical self-understanding and the image of themselves that the must propose to the imagination of their citizens. Continue reading
Milton’s republicanism was, I am afraid, founded in an envious hatred of greatness, and a sullen desire of independence; in petulance impatient of control, and pride disdainful of superiority. He hated monarchs iu the state, and prelates in the church; for he hated all whom he was required to obey. It is to be suspected, that his predominant desire was to destroy rather than establish, and that he felt not so much the love of liberty as repugnance to authority.
It has been observed, that they who most loudly clamour for liberty do not most liberally grant it. What we know of Milton’s character, in domestic relations, is, that he was severe and arbitrary. His family consisted of women; and there appears in his books something like a Turkish contempt of females, as subordinate and inferior beings. That his own daughters might not break the ranks, he suffered them to be depressed by a mean and penurious education.
(Thanks to Thomas Howard for pointing me this text).
Aelianus of Laodicea has posted a reply to my post on the anointing at Bethany that I think merits an extended response. He writes:
The Holy Father’s moderation of the papal liturgy along with his comments about the desired poverty of the Church seem to imply that he feels there is a relationship between the splendour of the liturgy and the provision the Church makes for the poor. Presumably some people feel this is an unfair suggestion and that the faithful have more than enough resources to provide for the poor and for the worthy service of the altar. Presumably they also feel that the implied relationship is a distraction from the inadequacy of the provision made for either. Furthermore, while the faithful may indeed neglect the poor materially, the essence of the problem lies in the principle upon which wealth is acquired not the mere quantity or distribution. Here perhaps the true negligence lies in the coyness of the holders of the teaching office in proposing the divinely revealed truth concerning the true function of money. In this (as in other matters) there have been shepherds, who have not, as becomes Apostolic authority, extinguished the flame of heretical teaching in its first beginning, but fostered it by their negligence.
This in turn underlines the fact that the prudential judgements of Popes about liturgical style or when and how much to teach are not guaranteed by God and that it is not the role of the faithful to imitate the apologists of the late USSR in frantically discerning why the Pope is necessarily right in every such prudential judgement. One only has to apply this prudential infallibility idea to previous centuries to see its absurdity. The faithful do not need to be guided and ruled by the Vicar of Christ, the authentic guardian of tradition (whether Benedict XVI, John XII, Celestine V, Boniface VIII or Francis) in their choice of footwear or transportation, liturgical composers, prose style or missionary strategy. When, however, in the exercise of his office as shepherd and teacher of all Christians, in virtue of his supreme apostolic authority, he defines a doctrine concerning faith or morals to be held by the whole Church, he undoubtedly possesses, by the divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, that infallibility which the divine Redeemer willed his Church to enjoy in defining doctrine concerning faith or morals.
I have never denied that one can have legitimate disagreements with the Holy Father on prudential matters. In fact in a previous post I expressed my own disagreement with his liturgical minimalism, and unease at his apparent Gallicanism. Aelianus is surely right that our attitude toward the Holy Father should not be that of Soviet apparatchiki toward Stalin. But neither should it be the attitude of the citizens of liberal democracies toward their leaders — an attitude of habitual mistrust and scorn. It should be the attitude of a pious son toward his father, of a loyal subject toward his legitimate ruler.
It is vital not to regard our Holy Father with habitual suspicion, but rather to regard him with filial trust and docility, to try to learn all we can from his teaching, to be guided by his rule, and to voice legitimate criticism only with the utmost reverence and discretion. Continue reading
Now when Jesus was in Bethany, in the house of Simon the leper, there came to him a woman with an alabaster vessel full of precious ointment and anointed his head with it as he reclined at dinner. When his disciples saw this they were displeased and said: Why this waste? It could have been sold for a great price and the money given to the poor. Jesus was aware of them and said: Why are you hard on this woman? She has done a good thing to me. For always you have the poor with you, but you do not always have me. When she anointed my body with this ointment, it was for my burial. Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached through all the world, she will be spoken of, and what she did, in memory of her. (Matthew 26:6-13)
But six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, the one Jesus had raised from the dead. So they prepared a supper for him there, and Martha served them, and Lazarus was one of those who dined with him. And Mary brought a measure of ointment of nard, pure and precious, and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was full of the fragrance of ointment. One of his disciples, Judas the Iscariot, who was about to betray him said: Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor? But he said this not because he cared anything about the poor but because he was a thief and, being keeper of the purse, used to make off with what had been put into it. But Jesus said: Let her be, so that this can serve for the day of my burial; for the poor you have always with you, but you do not always have me. (John 12:1-8)
The beautiful scene of the anointing in Bethany occurs several times in the liturgy of these days. Hearing it this year I could not help of thinking the way it has been misused by certain soit-disant “traditionalist” bloggers to criticize the Holy Father. The reaction among certain liturgical “traditionalists” to the election of Pope Francis was truly appalling. As Fr John Saward would say: “if anything proves that liturgical renewal is necessary but insufficient for the restoration of all things in Christ, it is these arrogant, intemperate, unjust, and profoundly un-Catholic cyber-tirades.”
Concern for the splendor of the sacred liturgy is laudable, but if certain “traditionalists” would spend more time reading the authentic witness of Apostolic tradition found in the Church Fathers, they would see how odd it is to use the anointing in Bethany as to attack the Holy Father’s concern for una Chiesa povera e per i poveri. A glance at the Catena aurea for Matthew and John shows that the Fathers read this passage as signifying (at one level) the love that we should show Christ in the poor. Continue reading
In the 1930s Evelyn Waugh could suggest that the idea of Progress was out, but alas the idea proved much more resilient than one might expect. Confidence in progress might have become a bit more cautious after Auschwitz and the Gulag, but it persists.
A remarkable example of this cautious confidence is President Obama’s Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance Speech. Consider the following passages:
But we do not have to think that human nature is perfect for us to still believe that the human condition can be perfected. We do not have to live in an idealized world to still reach for those ideals that will make it a better place. The non-violence practiced by men like Gandhi and King may not have been practical or possible in every circumstance, but the love that they preached — their fundamental faith in human progress — that must always be the North Star that guides us on our journey. For if we lose that faith — if we dismiss it as silly or naïve; if we divorce it from the decisions that we make on issues of war and peace — then we lose what’s best about humanity. We lose our sense of possibility. We lose our moral compass. [...] We can acknowledge that oppression will always be with us, and still strive for justice. We can admit the intractability of depravation, and still strive for dignity. Clear-eyed, we can understand that there will be war, and still strive for peace. We can do that — for that is the story of human progress; that’s the hope of all the world; and at this moment of challenge, that must be our work here on Earth.
Obama does not see progress as the automatic, inevitable process parodied by Waugh– there can be setbacks–but he sees it something for which we can and must hope. Note how religious his language is here. Progress is presented as the hope of the world. In effect what he is presenting here is a rival Gospel to that of redemption through Christ: redemption through human progress. This is precisely what Pope Benedict sees as the root of the crisis of Christian hope and therefore of Christian faith in the modern world. In Spe Salvi, after describing how Francis Bacon developed a knew program for human knowledge ordering it to power over nature, he writes: Continue reading
I once pointed out the irony of using Charles Taylor to defend Christopher Ferrara (which I had been doing up to a point) given the radically different intellectual worlds which they seem to inhabit. So it was with some surprise and delight that I noticed that Ferrara’s latest book has a blurb from–of all people–John Milbank. Somehow one doesn’t picture the left-leaning, Anglican theologian à la mode Milbank actually reading the sort of American trad. polemicist who actually writes for The Remnant. Apparently, Ferrara also quotes Milbank a good amount in the book itself. Excellent, Sancrucensis says to himself; the strategy of uniting the anti-liberal insights of the 19th century popes with that of those intellectuals “on the left and the right [who] have all taken their cue from [...] Alasdair MacIntyre’s After Virtue” (to borrow a phrase from Mark Lilla) is one that has my approval.
Reading the Frankfurter Allgemeine on the Holy Father’s appointment of Gerhard Ludwig Müller as prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith is a bit like going back in time; it is so similar to the sort of thing that they wrote about the Holy Father himself when he was prefect of the CDF:
Combined with his stern gaze and determined body language the bishop’s scarlet choir robes give the impression of a suit of armor (Panzer) for the fight against the enemies of the Faith and the Church.
They list his acts against pro-choice politicians and the praise that his Handbook of Dogmatiks received from the original “Panzerkardinal”. But then there bring up the enigma: is this the same guy who is friends with Gustavo Gutiérrez, the hero of progressive, “socially conscious” Catholicism?
This time though, one must admit that the caricature is nearer to the truth than last time. No one could hear the Pope Benedict XVI speak without be astonished at how such a gentle, soft-spoken man could be the kind of heretic-hunting fanatic that he was made out to be. But when I heard G-L M a few years back, he sounded just like the sort of old-style religious energumen that showed up in media reports. But it wasn’t just the 1930s style top-of-the-voice noise of his sermon, but also its triumphalisticly anti-Protestant argument — he was preaching on the sacrificial character of the Mass– that gave this impression. It has been said that in his professorial days Müller used to write letters denouncing his colleagues to the CDF, and it is certainly true that as bishop he used the rod far more vigorously than one expects in Germany. He is constantly bringing cononical sanctions against heterodox theologians, suspending priests, and otherwise annoying the liberals. It seems that in Bishop Gerhard-Ludwig Müller the CDF at last has a prefect who relishes a fight. He he has also gone after the SSPX. This has caused concern for traditionalists, who are also concerned about some of his doctrinal positions.
As Modestinus has pointed out (with unnecessary brusqueness) some of their concerns might be based on too hasty interpretations of Müller’s Handbook of Dogmatik Theology.
In my studies I read a few sections of Müller’s book, and didn’t discover anything so very shocking at the time. His method is “encyclopedic.” After introducing a topic he gives a long history of what everyone from the fathers and doctors to Protestant Reformers, and from Nouvelle Theologie theologians to the Magisterium of the Roman Church has said on it, before giving his own ideas. The advantage that he has over most “encyclopedic” theologians is that he is better read than them, and has a better sense of what he has to pick out from the history of thought on a subject so that he can make the sythesis that he wants at the end. David Berger has criticised him on this point for often willifully misunderstanding texts to make them fit his narrative better. Berger’s review of Müller’s book is well worth reading (for those who can read German).
David Berger is a very strange figure in his own right. He was one of the leaders of German speaking neo-neo-Thomism and wrote a highly regarded book attacking the anti-neo-Thomist cliches of post-conciliar German theology. Later however it was revealed that he was involved in “gay” circles, and he wrote a bizarre book about homosexuality and the Church.
Berger’s review of Müller falls within his “neo-neo-Thomist standard bearer” period. He bashes Müller for a number of things– including for following De Lubac’s account of the relation of nature and grace. His main criticism though is that Müller abandons the idea of theology as a science “from the top down” (Berger’s expression): a participation in the science of God and the blessed, which can thus proceed demonstratively from first revealed principles. According to Berger, Müller tries instead to build a bottom-up theology, beginning with the human experience of divine revelation as described by Karl Rahner in Hearers of the Word.
Another way of reading Müller though is in the light of Joseph Ratzinger’s account of revelation in his book on Bonaventure. According to Ratzinger “revelation” was not understood by Bonaventure and the other medievals as referring to the “content” of divine teaching – not to a set of propositions giving information about the Divine life – but rather to the activity of God showing Himself to His people. From this he concludes that there is no revelation “going on” unless someone is receiving it; God has to be revealed to someone. Ratzinger develops his whole theory of tradition of this, and as far as I can remember that is the tack that Müller takes as well. The Holy Father hints as much in the preface to the Festschrift for Müller’s 60th birthday.” I want to end with a passage of effusive praise from that preface:
We [in the International Theological Commission] were all deeply impressed by your comprehensive knowledge of the history of dogma and theology, which your interventions always showed, and which were the foundation of your ever reliable judgement (immer zuverlässiges Urteil). In everything we sensed that your theology was not just academic learning, but that it was and is – as the essence of theology demands – a thinking-with the word of the Faith, thinking-with the “we” of the Church as the communal subject of the Faith. [...] You made great efforts to explain the true meaning of the document “Dominus Jesus” which had so often been distorted in the reduction to a few slogans. As bishop of Regensburg you took the foundational biblical title “Dominus Jesus: Jesus is the Lord” (Rom 10:9; 1 Cor 12:3) as your motto, and by so doing you determined an agenda: Christ stands at the center of the episcopal ministry; He is the center of our Christian existence. (Pope Benedict XVI)
Let us hope and pray that Bishop Müller does indeed show an “ever reliable judgement” in his new office, and – when necessary – the courage to pick a fight.
In a recent post I wrote that I’m not an admire of leftist politics, but I’m not an admire of what passes for a politics of “the right” nowadays either. The sort of populist, quasi-Bonapartist nationalism espoused by parties like the Front National in France and the FPÖ in Austria is a bore. Nevertheless, I was sorry that Marine Le Pen went down in the first round of the French presidential elections on Sunday. Whatever her shortcomings, she is one of the very few European politicians who dares to say anything against abortion. Gallia Watch posted the following clip of Marine Le Pen being interviewed by a “feminist” journalist. The journalist suggests that it is ironic that while Le Pen’s career is only possible because of feminism, her platform is inimical to “feminist values”. “What feminist values?” asks Le Pen. Well, abortion rights for instance, answers the journalist. And then, as Galllia Watch puts it, “Marine gets angry”:
Just for that I wish that she had made it to the second round. By sheer chance I was in Paris during the first round of the 2002 election when Marine’s father Jean-Marie Le Pen made it into the second round with less votes than his daughter received on Sunday. But this time around the Front National was a victim of its own success; 2002 had an historically low turn out, since everyone just assumed that Chirac and Jospin would make it to the next round
I am by no means an admire of leftist politics, but I must admit that the English Labour MP in the above clip is attacking a real evil. The so-called payday loan companies that give short-term loans at a very high rate of interest are a particularly clear and extreme example of the injustice of usury. They exploit the distress of the poor, enticing them into an unjust contract, obligating them to exchange (say) £182 for £100. Continue reading
Matthew Peterson has posted some trenchant objections to a post of mine on the American Revolution. The main point of my post was a contrast between the way political order is viewed in the modern social imaginary vs. the way it was “imagined” in ancient and medieval societies. While in the modern social imaginary (and in modern political theory) political order is not seen as something good in itself, but only as an instrument to the realization of other goods, in the ancient/medieval imaginary political order was seen as something in itself good. St Thomas (as I read him) sees order as the primary intrinsic common good of political society. Continue reading