Johannes Messner

Johannes Messner resting on a hike.

I was recently chosen to serve on the board of the Johannes Messner Geselschaft in Vienna, a society formed to promote the work and the memory of a great Austrian social ethicist. We have a new website now, to which I have added a section in English. Continue reading

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The Way to be Saved

Sancrucensis

Our brother, Paul Miki, saw himself standing now in the noblest pulpit he had ever filled. To his “congregation” he began by proclaiming himself a Japanese and a Jesuit. He was dying for the Gospel he preached. He gave thanks to God for this wonderful blessing and he ended his “sermon” with these words: “As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.” (From the Acta Sanctorumtranslation)

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Tarnishing the Splendor of Truth

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09leo_x

The eccentric French footballer Nicolas Anelka— once of Arsenal, Real Madrid, Chelsea etc., now of West West Bromwich Albion– celebrated one of his goals against West Ham the other day by performing la quenelle, a quasi-nazi salute invented by French comedian Dieudonné M’bala M’bala. Politically correct journalists are now suggesting that he should  be hounded out of the game for this.  Now, in this case the PC establishment has a point; anti-semitism is obviously evil, and making fun of the unspeakable evil of the שואה is horrible. But why is it that even when the PC machine is in the right there is something distasteful about the way it exercises its power? Anelka has claimed that la quenelle is not anti-semitic, but only “anti-système,” against the establishment and its manipulative and hypocritical system of power.

Anelka is presumably wrong about the original meaning of la quenelle, but…

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David Foster Wallace’s 1996 Interview in Elle

There is a quotation from an interview with David Foster Wallace reproduced on hundreds of webpages across the internet. There are several variants of the quotation, but it runs something like this:

…fiction’s one of the few experiences where loneliness can be both confronted and relieved. Drugs, movies where stuff blows up, loud parties—all these chase loneliness away by making me forget my name’s Dave and I live in a one-by-one box of bone no other party can penetrate or know. Fiction, poetry, music, really deep serious sex, and, in various ways, religion—these are the places (for me) where loneliness is countenanced, stared down, transfigured, treated.

None of the webpages that reproduce it, however, give a reference to the original. Searching the right phrases in Google Books turns up a snippet, which Google says is from p. 58 of Elle, Volume 11 (1996), Issues 5-8. It was surprisingly difficult to track down the correct issue. Academic libraries in Europe do not have the American editions of style magazines. The New York Public Library remote-scanning team (helpfully contacted for me by Incudi Reddere) responded that the material requested was not found in the Elle volumes specified. Even the usually omniscient Wallace-l e-mail list came up blank on this one. As did DFW Twitter.  At long length though, an ebay seller named luckybuckeye_collectibles was able to track down the correct issue. It was in issue 6 of the volume cited by Google.

Here’s a scan of the whole interview; a transcript follows. Continue reading

The Body as Deep Mud, a Donkey, and the Hinge of Salvation

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nativity copy

I am plunged into deep mire, and there is no standing. Ps 69(68):2

When Christ came into the world, he said, […] a body hast thou prepared for me. Heb 10:5

Caro salutis est cardo. (Salvation hinges on the flesh). Tertulian, De Resurrectione Carnis, VIII

For to what angel did God ever say, “Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee”? Heb 1:5

The ox knows its owner, and the ass its master’s crib; but Israel does not know, my people does not understand. Is 1:3

The Psalm verse about being plunged into deep mud where there is no standing is usually applied to the Passion, but Charles De Koninck in Ego Sapientia (ch. 20) shows that it can also be applied to the Incarnation. The “deep mud” is the potentiality of matter into which the eternal Son, the pure act of Divinity, is sunk in becoming man. Fashionable…

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Orientation and the Vertical

In practical sense experience, the vertical field appears to be the field of the common world in which we find ourselves thrown together with objects. And the horizontal field, by way of contrast, appears to be the field of our experience in this world. We orient ourselves in our horizontal field by orienting ourselves in respect to objects we find in this field, which is itself centered in us. But we orient ourselves in our vertical field by orienting ourselves in respect to the field itself, which is not centered in us; we find ourselves near the ground, near the bottom of the vertical field, in like manner with the objects around us. As active percipients we are, to be sure, at the center of a low-ceilinged practical field of vertical movement. What we must stoop to reach, appears “down;” and what we must stretch or leap to reach, appears “up.” But the point is that this entire practical field of vertical movement is itself perceived to be at the lower end of a downgraded vertical field directed from the heavens to the earth.

Being oriented in respect to the vertical field itself, we can be properly or improperly so oriented. That is, we can be right-side-up or up-side-down in it. The vertical field is the field in which our body direction is oriented. On the other hand, being oriented in respect to objects in our horizontal field but not to the horizontal field itself, it makes no sense to speak of a generally proper or improper horizontal orientation. That is, it makes no sense to speak of our being left-side right or front-side-back. For our orientation in our horizontal field, whatever it may be, is what first gives this field its order; its order must be consonant with our orientation in it. What is to our left is eo ipso the left-hand region of our horizontal field, and so for the other quadrants. The horizontal field of objects is the field of our body direction.

We may be improperly oriented in respect to objects in our horizontal field, not facing them when we should; but we cannot be improperly oriented in respect to our field itself. We may, more- over, be disoriented in respect to some objects in our horizontal field, lacking all sense where they are while still retaining a sense of an ordered horizontal field about us. A disorientation of this sort is the only failure of orientation possible in respect to our horizon- tal field. Any further disorientation involves a disappearance of the field itself; a loss of the sense of its order, not merely a sense of the loss of our right order in respect to it. I may sense that I am upside- down in the vertically ordered field; and I may try to “right” myself, bring myself into an upright, proper and effective orientation in this field. But I can have no corresponding sense of an ordered horizontal field in respect to which my body direction is out of order.

Objects thus appear to be encounterable and determinable only in virtue of our appearing to be thrown together with them, stuck with them for better or worse, in the vertical field of a common world. Active determination of an object in the horizontal field of our experience is our way of accommodating ourselves to it as in the same vertical world-field with it. The particular determination or significance that is effective is the one that meets the requirements of our living with the object in a common vertically ordered world. It is our contribution to actually bestow this significance on the object. But it is the world’s contribution to set the heaven-earth ordered stage on which, and conformably to which, this bestowal is possible.

There is then a phenomenological priority of the world-field—in which we must orient our off-centered selves—over the horizontal field of our self-centered experience in the world. This priority is reflected by the phenomenological priority of balance over poise; that is, the priority of our capacity for proper vertical orientation, in the world, over our capacity for effective orientation toward objects in our horizontal field of experience in the world. Balance in the vertical dimension may exist without poise in respect to circumstantial objects; but poise in respect to circumstantial ob- jects is impossible without balance. Poise is our capacity to cope effectively with circumstantial objects. We first have this capacity in virtue of our ability to stand erect, to balance ourselves in the vertical world-field. The equi-poise of balancing ourselves makes us capable of the directed-poise for responding effectively to our circumstances. Directed poise flows from equi-poise as from a gyroscopic center of our activity. As soon as we lose the central equi- poise of balance, our directed poise issuing from it flies off into an uncontrollable clumsiness. But our central equi-poise need not be lost by withdrawal back into it of all circumstantially directed poise. Our capacity to stand up21 normally gives us the capacity to act; but not vice versa. An effective poise or stance is an effective balanced poise. But good balance is not a well-balanced poise (in respect to something in our circumstances). (Samuel Todes)

O Oriens

The first meaning of “orient” is tied to the verb oriri, that is, “to be born, rise.” The sun is the oriens in the proper sense, because it is the star that rises. The rising of the sun orients the entire world, orients the day with its light. The very nature of the universe symbolically teaches man to orient himself, to begin and live the day knowing the direction of his path. The rising of the sun orients the time and space of the day until sunset. And they day that runs from the rising of the sun to its setting is a symbol of human life, stretched from birth to death. It is between these two poles that life must have its sense, its direction, and therefore it needs to be oriented.

… Before meeting the Lord, the Light of the world, our heart, life, ideas, relationships, all are confused. Let us just think of the confusion of thoughts and feelings in which the disciples of Emmaus found themselves…  All, before meeting Christ, are disoriented, do not know where to go, even and especially when they think they are on the right road, like the Pharisees, like Saul of Tarsus. It is important to recognize that this confusion is present most of all in ourselves, in our communities. But one should not think that this feeling of disorientation is necessarily negative. …Even when everything is going well, it can be positive for a person or a community to pass through moments in which one must reorient oneself, because this means that one is on the path, that one is advancing. One who is always seated or lying down will never feel disoriented, but he does not move, does not walk. In all situations, when we need to escape from confusion, to rediscover the direction of our life’s path, it is important that this take place not through our turning to ourselves, or to worldly guides, but, as we sing every day in the Benedictus, to the “sun that rises to shine on those who dwell in darkness and in the shadow of death,” the one who alone knows how and is able to “direct our steps in the way of peace” (Lk 1:78-79). From the first centuries, the orientation of churches eastward taught the faithful to live their prayer as an act of returning to the right direction of life. Christ is to return from the east. From the east Christ has already come, rising like the sun each day, after each night, also after the spiritual nights in which we lose the direction of our life. (Fr. Mauro-Giuseppe Lepori Abbot General O. Cist.)

The Josias Podcast, Episode IV: Nature, Natural Ends, and the Enlightenment (Part 2)

A continuation of the discussion of natural teleology on The Josias Podcast.

The Josias

Building off our previous conversation, this episode (iTunes, Soundcloud, Google Play) takes the question of nature and natural ends more into the modern era. What’s going on with natural order in the work of modern philosophers like Descartes, Hume, and Kant? What should we think about all of this? What does Pope Francis say? We promise it won’t put you to sleep, unless you’re trying to fall asleep.

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