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

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MacCaulay on Copyright

The advantages arising from a system of copyright are obvious. It is desirable that we should have a supply of good books: we cannot have such a supply unless men of letters are liberally remunerated […] And there are only two ways in which they can be remunerated. One of those ways is patronage; the other is copyright. […]
The principle of copyright is this. It is a tax on readers for the purpose of giving a bounty to writers. The tax is an exceedingly bad one; it is a tax on one of the most innocent and most salutary of human pleasures; and never let us forget, that a tax on innocent pleasures is a premium on vicious pleasures. I admit, however, the necessity of giving a bounty to genius and learning. In order to give such a bounty, I willingly submit even to this severe and burdensome tax. Nay, I am ready to increase the tax, if it can be shown that by so doing I should proportionally increase the bounty. My complaint is, that my honorable and learned friend doubles, triples, quadruples, the tax, and makes scarcely and perceptible addition to the bounty. (Thomas Babbington MacCaulay)

In Sinu Jesu

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A few weeks ago a friend of mine sent me a book by an anonymous Benedictine monk which had just been published: In Sinu Jesu. I have been reading it slowly in the adoration chapel of the seminary here in Heiligenkreuz, and although I haven’t finished yet, it has already made a deep impression on me. It is the sort of book that one wants to read in chapel; and this makes it difficult to write about. It a book about the intimacies of prayer, and therefore not one that lends itself to “blogesterial” discussion. It is a book that should be read in silence. It is a journal that the author kept at adoration, and consists largely of words “given” to Him by our Lord and our Lady. These words are mostly about prayer, and adoration, and sacrifice, about friendship with Jesus, and about the renewal of the priesthood. Readers who want to get a flavor of it can consult Peter Kwasniewski’s posts at Rorate Caeli and The New Liturgical Movementas well as the excerpts that Dom Mark Kirby has posted at Vultus Christi.

One theme that struck me particularly was the theme of loneliness, and the flight from loneliness into the trap of distraction, and the necessity of withdrawing from distraction in order to feel the pain of loneliness so that that pain can be healed by Communion with God. This is a theme that I have been reflecting on from from a quite different perspective in my dissertation on David Foster Wallace, and so I was struck by the words on it here. Consider the following passage:

I want you to tell priests of the desires of My Heart. I will give you many opportunities to do this. Make known to them these things that I have made known to you. So many of My priests have never really heard and understood the invitation to an exclusive and all-fulfilling friendship with Me. And so, they feel alone in life. They are driven to seek out in other places and in creatures unworthy of the undivided love of their consecrated hearts, the fullness of happiness and hope and peace that only I can give them. So many go forward in bitterness and disappointment. They seek to fill the emptiness within with vain pursuits, with lust, with possessions, with food and drink. They have Me, very often, near to them in the Sacrament of My love, and they leave Me there alone… (p. 27)

The theme is of course a traditional one, because it has to do with the condition of fallen man as such. Exiled from friendship with God through original sin, mankind wanders through the regio dissimilitudinis, and tries to numb the pain through importunitas mentis, inquietudo corporis, instabilitas (vel loci vel propositi), verbositas, and curiositas. 

The problem is a perennial human problem, but it takes on a particular character in the Cartesian universe of modernity, more prone to  anxieties of isolation and insecurity that to those of dependence and finality (to use Fritz Rieman’s jargon). The classic modern expression was given at the very dawn of modernity by Pascal in his analysis of diversion in the Pensées, and it recurs throughout the modern era— not only in Catholic writers such as Walker Percy, but also in non-Catholic ones as diverse as Kierkegaard, Paul de Legarde, Heidegger, and David Foster Wallace. Wallace is particularly interesting because of his insistence on loneliness as the root problem (cf. my discussion of this on The Great Concavity). I need scarcely say that while I think those authors are good at setting up the problem, most of them do not have a clear grasp of the solution…

In Sinu Jesu treats the problem particularly as it presents itself in the priestly life. The author is both a monk and a priest, and he shows how fitting it is for all priests to live at least some elements of monastic life. These elements are aimed at leading the soul into the “desert,” as it were, where it is free of diversions and distractions, and becomes able to feel the pain of the loneliness of sin, in order then to receive the healing consolation of Christ. In the Western Rite, all priests are at least required to live a celibate life, and In Sinu Jesu is in part a wonderful reflection on the beautiful and prophetic witness of celibacy. And yet priests engaged in the cura animarum, especially in a modern world that is so intent on diversion (and so skilled in producing it) can so easily fall into diversion’s trap and in “seek in other places” the consolation that can only really be found in Christ.

One of the most moving things about In Sinu Jesu is the constant repeated message that in this earthly pilgrimage true consolation can be found easily in the Adoration of Christ in the viaticum, the way-bread of our journey, in which we already have a foretaste of the union with God that we hope for in Heaven:

There is no need for you or any priest to remain alone. My Heart is open to all my priest sons, and to those who ask for it, I will not refuse the grace of a special intimacy with me, a participation in the unique grace given Saint Joseph and Saint John in the beginning. (p. 36)

I am He who understands every man’s loneliness, especially the loneliness of My priests. I want to share their loneliness so that they will not be alone with themselves, but alone with Me. There I shall speak to their hearts as I am speaking to you. I am ablaze to be for each one of My priests the Friend whom they seek, the Friend with whom they can share everything, the Friend to whom they can tell everything, the Friend who will weep over their sins without, for a moment, ceasing to love them. (p. 14)

The revival of Eucharistic Adoration among the Catholic movements of our time is one of the more unexpected “signs of the times”. If one looks for signs of life in the Catholic Church in Western Europe, one finds them almost always in movements and groups who put a good deal of emphasis on Eucharistic Adoration. A development that became very visible at World Youth Day 2005 in Cologne. Who would have expected this development? The Liturgical Movement in the 20th century considered Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament outside of Mass to be a dangerous habit, which might lead hearts away from the Sacrifice of the Mass itself, into an “Emmanuel piety” of Divine presence divorced from the Cross (cf. Dom Gommaire Laporta’s extraordinary polemic Eucharistic Piety). But In Sinu Jesu shows how, properly understood, the Adoration of the Eucharistic presence leads into and deepens the participation in the Eucharistic Sacrifice:

Many priests do not have a real and practical faith in My Eucharistic presence. Do they not know that the Eucharist encloses within itself all the merits of My Passion? Let them recover the faith of their childhood. Let them come to find Me there where I am waiting for them and I, for My part, shall work miracles of grace and holiness in them. (p. 14)

In adoration, and from it, as from an ever-flowing fountain, you will receive the love that makes suffering precious and makes you like Me in the hour of My Sacrifice on the altar of the Cross. The more you adore Me, the better equipped you will be to accept suffering and to live it in union with My Passion… (p. 146)

In a way, In Sinu Jesu reads like a commentary on Pope Benedict XVI’s sermon at the closing Mass of World Youth Day 2005. Not a speculative commentary, but an experiential illustration. I’m convinced that any reader who is willing to enter into the spirit of this book will be inspired with a new desire for union with God in prayer. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Tilman Riemenschneider, Last Supper - Detail

Maurice Baring and the Great War

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Maurice Baring’s autobiography The Puppet Show of Memory is my favorite book. Of course there are many books that are greater— more profound or illuminating, finer achievements of literary craft; but The Puppet Show of Memory is my favorite (abstracting here of course from the books of Sacred Scripture and others that I read for lectio divina). But why do I love The Puppet Show of Memory so much? St. Thomas teaches us that love is a conformity of the heart to its object, and that its causes are goodness, knowledge, likeness, and (per accidens) passions of the soul that arise from some other love. As far as its goodness goes, I have already admitted that there are better books, so its goodness cannot be the reason why I love it more than other books. Nor can I say that I know it better. Do I find some likeness or affinity between my own soul and Baring’s? I wish. And what other passions of the soul might per accidens cause a love of Maurice Baring? Oh dear. Continue reading