Nieto on politics and nature and the dependence of the city on the village

We’ve published another Nieto paper at The Josias: Nature and Art in the Village.” It was originally read at a conference. It’s worth watching video of Nieto reading it, embedded above, to get a sense of his style. At the end he reads out a section of one of his poems. This lecture is about the way in which the Cartesian/Baconian project of the domination of nature through technology has estranged man from nature, including his own nature, and the necessity of recovering the sort of life in proximity to nature that used to be lived in villages for the revival of true political (i.e. “city” ) life.

Nieto on Right and Left

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John Francis Nieto

Over at The Josias we have posted a brilliant essay on the inadequacy of thinking of politics in terms of right and left by John Francis Nieto. He goes right to the heart of the matter: man’s natural inclination toward the common good. He argues that the modern right and left share a fundamental misunderstanding of the common good that deeply mares their whole approach to politics. And that therefore when in our attempts to combat specific political problems we implicitly accept the reigning framework we give up something essential.

Nieto was a tutor of mine at Thomas Aquinas College, and I learned much from him— and not only in the classroom. He is a truly hospitable man, and often used to invite us students over for magnificent feasts of his own cooking and truly philosophical conversations that would last till far into the night. He is an accomplished poet as well as a philosopher and theologian, and has a marvelous capacity for communicating his love of beauty and goodness and truth to others.

We have another one of his essays lined up for publication at The Josias soon.

Liturgy as Court Ritual

burke-throne

Pontifical High Mass at the Throne in the Usus Antiquior

Peter Kwasniewski has a wonderful post up at The New Liturgical Movement defending the liturgy as ‘Court Ritual’. He argues that especially in our democratic times it is necessary to emphasize that the Sacred Liturgy is a the court ritual of Christ the King as well as the oblation of Christ the Priest:

Monarchy or princedom, the oldest and arguably the most natural form of political organization, has been a far more consistent part of the human experience and of the formation of Christian culture than the democratic/egalitarian ideology of “self-evident truths” of which we have persuaded ourselves in modernity. Regardless of whether we think democracy can be made to work or not, in the realm of supernatural mysteries, Christianity is purely and entirely monarchical. Against the backdrop of the Old Testament revelation of God as the (one and only) great King over all the earth, and of the people of Israel as a kingly, priestly people ruled by prophets, judges, and ultimately the Davidic dynasty, we profess that Christ is our King, the Lord of heaven and earth, of all times, past, present, and to come, of this world and of the next; that His angels and saints are His royal court; that He deigns to call us His friends and brethren, yes, but such that we know that we never cease to be His servants. We long for His courts and tabernacles. The thick “politicism” of the imagery points to the real, sovereign polity of the Mystical Body, subsisting in the Roman Catholic Church as a societas perfecta and altogether perfected in the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the great King. Our ecclesial sacrifice, the Most Holy Eucharist, is a kingly and high-priestly oblation.

Consequently, the modern fixation on democracy, as if it were the best or the only good form of government, not only does not abolish our need for the language of kingship and courtliness, but makes it far more needed than ever before, in order to impress on our minds the way things really stand in the definitive reality of the kingdom of God. All of our democratic and egalitarian experiments will fall away at the end of time, as the glorious reign of Christ the King is revealed to all the nations, and those who have submitted to His gentle yoke will be raised to eternal life in glorified flesh while those who have rejected Him will wail and gnash their teeth, condemned to eternal fire in unending torment. The liturgy should reflect the truth of God — His absolute monarchy, His paternal rule, His hierarchical court in the unspeakable splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem — and not the passing truths of our modern provisional political organizations, or, in other words, that continual redesign of the liturgy, in language and ceremonies and ministers, for which the noveltymongers are agitating.

Yes, yes, yes! A thousand times yes!

Many years ago, in my undergraduate thesis, I made a similar point (though with much less eloquence):

The principle of active participation, which the Second Vatican Council was so right to insist on, has been nearly everywhere misunderstood and misapplied. This is because in modern democracy participation in the political order is understood in terms of being one of the rulers. We see this understanding of participation taken over so that active participation in the life of the Parish or Diocese is understood as participation in “pastoral councils” and similar tom-foolery. In the Sacred Liturgy active participation is taken to mandate all kinds of laypeople messing around in the sanctuary as lectors, ‘introducers,’ extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist, etc. This banal caricature of true active participation and the priesthood of the faithful persists despite all efforts of the Magisterium to correct it. The problem is that when political government ceases to be what it should be the “wonderful resemblance” that it bears to God’s government, of which Pope Leo XIII speaks, is destroyed. But grace builds on nature and men ought to be disposed to the higher by the lower. (p. 36)

Links R & C 9

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M.W. Lucik, A Radical Politics of Solidarity in the Age of AbortionTradinista! «Abortion and euthanasia are fundamentally a refusal to acknowledge the infant in the womb or the elderly or dying person as a person, “to be made a sharer, on a par with ourselves, in the banquet of life to which all are equally invited by God” (Sollicitudo rei socialis no. 39). They are, in this sense, contrary to true solidarity, as John Paul outlined it for us. But recall that John Paul taught that solidarity and care for the common good are inextricably linked; they are, in fact, the same thing. Thus, anything contrary to true solidarity is contrary to the common good. The force, then, of Benedict’s argument is manifest. When a polity “moves toward the denial or suppression of life,” it moves toward a negation of the common good expressed as solidarity.» Continue reading

Kozinski on Girard and Modernity

In a post on René Girard and St. Thomas I argued that Girard’s account of desire as “mimetic” is very persuasive when applied to modern, secular civilization, but that it is much less convincing when applied to the ancients. This is why Girard’s very first book, Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, remains my favorite of all his works. In that book Girard concentrates on the peculiarities of modern culture and its false promise that man can take the place of God. His readings of Stendhal, Proust, and Dostoyevsky are far more convincing than his later readings of Sophocles and other ancient writers, and much, much more convincing than his readings of Sacred Scripture. His account of desire as arbitrary and rivalrous gets at a very important feature of modern (and hypermodern) culture with its subjective view of the good, embedded in capitalistic/consumerist economies and egalitarian politics. But it is not adequate to understanding human life built around the non-rivalrous pursuit of genuine common goods. Continue reading

The Party Spirit in the Church

On January 21st, 1990, the then Cardinal Ratzinger preached a sermon at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Philadelphia. (The English version of the sermon can be found in The Catholic Priest as Moral Teacher and Guideand an expanded German version in Zur Gemeinschaft gerufen). It was, like today, the Third Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle A in the ordinary form. And he preached on the following words from the Epistle:

Still, I entreat you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, all to agree with each other, so that there will be no schisms among you, but you will be united in the same mind and the same understanding. For, my brothers, I have been told about you by Chloe and her people; that there are rivalries among you. I mean this: each of you says: I am for Paul; or else: I am for Apollos; or: I am for Cephas; or: I am for Christ. Christ is partitioned! (1 Cor 1:11-13)

Ratzinger asks what exactly was wrong with the parties in Corinth. What could be wrong with saying: “I am for Apollos”? Was not Apollos a great teacher “very helpful to those who, through grace, had become believers” (Acts 18:27). What could be wrong with saying: “I am for Paul”? Must we not be for the great apostle of the Gentiles? What could be wrong with saying: “I am for Cephas”? Must we not be for Cephas, for Peter, the Rock on whom our Lord built the Church? And above all what is wrong with saying “I am for Christ”? Is not that what it means to be a Christian?

And Ratzinger answers that the problem with the parties is that they are parties. A party is a group that grows out of a common understanding of the good and how to achieve it. A party is therefore a human work, and we form parties according to our own conceptions of the good, our own preferences and tastes. As Ratzinger puts it:

If I stand up for a party it becomes my party. The Church of Jesus Christ, however, is never my Church; it is always his Church. The essence of conversion consists in the fact that I no longer seek for myself a party looking after my interests and corresponding to my likes, but that I place myself in his hands and become his, a member of his Body, the Church. […] Faith is not the choice of whatever program appeals to me; nor is it the joining of some fraternal club where I feel I am understood. Faith means conversion that transforms me and my preferences or at least allows my desires and wishes to become secondary.

A party is a work of human hands, and its members have to do the best job they can in building it. But the Church of Christ is not a work of human hands, it is work of God: “not from blood or from the will of the flesh or from the will of man, but from God” (John 1:13).

I have been thinking a lot about that sermon of Ratzinger’s recently, because of the controversies about Amoris Laetitia, which have made the ever present danger of dividing the Church through a party spirit apparent. I have to ask myself: am I being faithful to Christ, or am I dividing Him. Is my position an “I am for tradition” in the way in which a Corinthian party might say “I am for Paul” and look down on the naïve party of Cephas? Conversely, of course, certain others should ask themselves whether they are really being faithful to Peter, or whether they are saying “I am for Cephas” because the opinions of the current pope fit their preferences. Now, I do not think that I have been motivated by a party spirit in what I have said and written about Amoris Laetitia. But then, as Nietzsche says, “we are unknown to us, we knowers, ourselves to ourselves.”

St. Paul gives a sort of criterion for discerning whether one is really following Christ or dividing Him with party spirit by appealing to the cross. Partisans follow clever arguments, but Christians follow the folly of the cross:

Christ did not send me forth to baptize, but to preach the gos­pel; not in accomplished oratory, but so that the cross of the Christ might not be made meaningless. For the word of the cross is folly to those who go the way of perdition, but to us who go the way of salvation it is the power of God. Since it is written: I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and I will make void the intel­ligence of the intelligent. Where is the sage? Where is the scholar? Where is the student of this age? Did not God tum the wisdom of the world to folly? For since by the wisdom of God the world did not, because of its wisdom, know God, God saw fit to save the believers through the folly of what was preached to them. For the Jews demand miracles and the Greeks look for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the heathens, but to us who are chosen, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Since the folly of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: that not many of you are wise in the way of the flesh, not many are strong, not many are well born. But God chose out the fools of the world, to shame the wise, and God chose out the weak of the world, to shame the strong, and God chose out the humble and despised of the world; and what is not, to abolish what is; so that no flesh may take pride before God. (1 Cor 1:17-29)

In the first reading for today we here how the land of Zabulon and the Nephthalim, the first part of Israel to fall to the heathens, the land of darkness, that seemed despised of God, will be the very place where salvation begins. And in the Gospel we see this prophecy fulfilled; our Lord begins preaching the Kingdom in Galilee. This will be a great obstacle to the inhabitants of Judah— can anything good come from Nazareth? If I imagine myself as a Judaean at the time of Christ I think I would probably have belonged to the party of the Sadducees, or at best the Pharisees, and would have looked with scorn on the Savior of the world because he came from the land of Zabulon and the Nephthalim. God preserve me and all of us from falling into a similar trap today.

John Milbank on Liberalism and Transgenderism

John Milbank has an interesting essay in The Catholic Herald about liberalism and transgenderism. Here’s a snip:

And there is, naturally, money to be made out of all this. Husbands, wives, children and adolescents (this last an invention of the market) are more effective and exploitable consumers when they are isolated. Fluctuating identities and fluid preferences, including as to sexual orientation, consume still more, more often and more variously in terms of products and services. The fact that the market also continues to promote the nuclear family as the norm is not here to the point – of course it will make money from both the “normal” and the “deviant” and still more from their dispute. Ultimately, profits will accrue from reducing the heterosexual norm to the status of just another “lifestyle choice”.

In Paradisum

Yesterday was the funeral of my grandmother. The whole occasion was very beautiful and moving. There was such love and gratitude towards her. A great many people were at the funeral whom I had not seen in years, or whom I only knew from stories.

On Tuesday evening we prayed the rosary for the repose of her soul in St. Sebastian. The Archbishop of Salzburg came and simply knelt in a pew and prayed the rosary with us. I was very touched by this sign of fatherly and pastoral care. So good of him to take the time to pray the rosary with us given all the other things an archbishop has to do.

Earnest solemnity rather than sadness was the dominant note. The solemn nobility of the Usus Antiquior seemed particularly fitting. (See the photos of the Requiem in St. Sebastian above). Auxiliary Bishop Laun preached the sermon, recounting how he had known my grandparents when he was a little boy, and how he had been impressed by their courtship. He read my grandfather’s description of meeting my grandmother from his autobiography. They met at the house in Morzg where the Launs (including the future Auxiliary Bishop) and the Seiferts were living after the war.

The burial was at the cemetery in Aigen, at the grave of my grandmother’s parents-in-law. The sun was shining through the crisp, clear, winter air on the masses of snow that lay about the graves. It was very beautiful.

Marie Theresa Waldstein, 1930-2017

My grandmother at my ordination

My grandmother at my ordination Mass with my grandfather, and my brother Johannes with his daughter

In my father’s house there are many rooms. Were there not, I would have said to you that I was going to make ready a place for you. (John 14:2)

Of your charity, dear readers, pray for the repose of the soul of my grandmother Marie Theresa (Esi) Waldstein, née Froehlicher, who passed away on January 2nd.  She had been ill for a long time, and was ready to pass over to the next life. She was very week in the last days, but prayed with an intensity of longing. For my grandfather it is of course a great blow to lose her after 65 years of marriage. It was very beautiful to see them together during her final illness— the beauty of a great love purified by long fidelity, by continual kindness and forgiveness. She had a very different temperament from her husband, but their love made them similar in another sense. I do not think it will be long till he follows her to the house of the Father. Continue reading