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Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?

Some weeks ago I was asked about a remark attributed to Pope Francis by that journalist he talks to from time to time, Eugenio Scalifari. According to Scalifari, the pope said that the resurrection of Jesus did not actually happen as a physical event. This was one of those conversations with the 90-plus-year-old journalist who neither records nor takes notes of his "interviews." So (1) who knows what Francis actually said? (2) who knows what Francis actually meant? (3) who really cares, unless something more definite is known about (1) and (2)?

So much for that. But my correspondent had searched for something like "does the pope believe in the resurrection?" and had turned up something more serious, albeit happily more obscure. The web site of a self-described "reformed, Calvinistic, conservative evangelical publisher" based in Edinburgh, "Banner of Truth," asserts that Benedict XVI clearly denies the resurrection. A look around the site reveals that it also pushes old-school anti-Catholicism: Far From Rome Near to God: Testimonies of Fifty Converted Catholic Priests. So it's not surprising that in an article called "Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?" Matthew Vogan says the answer is no:

Continue reading "Does the Pope Believe in the Resurrection?" »


No More Posts Till Easter Monday

As is fairly usual with me, I started off pretty well with Lent and gradually got slacker and lazier. I'm going to make an effort during Holy Week to attend more to the occasion. It seems especially important this year since I can't actually go to Mass. So I won't be posting anymore till Monday April 13. I'll still participate in conversations, if there are any, but there won't be any new posts. 

Today for the first time since public Masses were cancelled I watched one on television. As I said in a comment here a couple of weeks or so ago, a televised Mass just seems all wrong to me in some fundamental way that I haven't made the effort to articulate. I don't mean religiously wrong, just off. Unreal. Weird. But I have already noticed a tendency on my part to start drifting without the anchor of weekly Mass (and also in my case a weekly holy hour--which I still do at home but of course it's not the same). I keep thinking of what Janet said about the Japanese Christians who held on to the faith for...what was it?...250 years without priests, and I'm ashamed.


Anglicanorum Coetibus, Ten Years On

Here's a good assessment from Joanna Bogle at the Catholic Herald. Good, but in my opinion a bit more rosy than is warranted. And I'd say the headline is definitely too rosy:

It hasn’t been easy. But ten years on, the ordinariate is a success story.

I won't say the text contradicts that, but it certainly qualifies it. (And most likely the author did not write it.) Joanna Bogle is British and is writing mainly of the UK. Here she describes the phenomenon that apparently surprised a lot of people who thought that the development would be enthusiastically welcomed and that significant numbers of Anglicans would "come over":

A meeting of Forward in Faith, a network of orthodox Anglicans and the leading organisation on the scene, was quickly summoned. And that was when disappointment set in. The reaction of many was not what had been expected.

“We couldn’t believe it,” the ordinariate member recalls. “Speaker after speaker rose to say, ‘Oh, I don’t know … I don’t think this is for me,’ or words to that effect. Where some of us had assumed a general rejoicing and some practical plans on how to go ahead, there was just a flatness, a sort of bland rejection without any real reasons given.”

More or less the same kind of thing happened here. I was not altogether surprised, as I thought the number of interested Episcopalians and "Continuing Anglicans" was relatively small. It's not as if the heterodox drift (to put it mildly) of the Episcopal Church was a new thing. It was obvious and obviously well under way when I converted in 1981. Most people who were truly unhappy with those developments left years ago. As someone I know put it, "that pond is fished out."

And some big proportion of the Continuing folks seem to be very definitely Protestant. Or, if they think of themselves as Anglo-Catholic, are pretty well committed to the idea that they don't need to be in communion with Rome because they're already Catholic. Scratch these folks, and you'll usually get a distinct whiff of old-fashioned British disdain for "the Roman church." I suspect something of that is behind the "bland rejection without any real reasons" which Bogle describes.

(Here I will air one of my numerous pet peeves: the Anglicans who deny that there are any significant theological differences between them and Rome, yet when asked "So why not accept Rome's teaching?" immediately name a number of theological differences that they cannot accept. Either they're significant, or they're not.)

I don't follow these things very closely, but I'm told by those who do that the U.S. Ordinariate is doing better. Our local group, the Society of St. Gregory the Great, is hanging in there, not growing much but not in immediate danger of death, either. And the Ordinariate's cathedral, Our Lady of Walsingham in Houston, seems to be thriving. I was there a month or so ago and it was a pretty impressive experience. I had meant to do a blog post about it but haven't gotten around to it. There's more to the Walsingham story than Anglicanorum Coetibus, though: it came into being under John Paul II's Pastoral Provision in the early '80s, so it has relatively old and deep roots now.

As I see it, AC was about thirty years late. It is what the Pastoral Provision should have been; the PP was far more limited in scope than the Ordinariates. (See this for what the PP effected.) I think more Anglicans in this country would have come over if something like the Ordinariate had existed then. I almost said "too late," but that implies a hopeless situation. In this case "never too late" and "better late than never" apply. I think of us as nurturing a small and slow-growing plant which may grow into a great tree long after I'm gone. Maybe it will, maybe it won't, but it certainly won't if we don't keep it alive now.

Thank you and God bless you, Benedict XVI.

ShrineOfOurLadyOfWalsinghamShrine of Our Lady of Walsingham at the Cathedral in Houston

 


"In fact, you will not be saved."

That's a line from Stephen Vincent Benet's poem "Nightmare, With Angels." I first read it long ago, but I'm not sure when or where. I had thought it was freshman English, in the Sound and Sense textbook/anthology. But I've just looked, and it's not there. Could it have been in high school? That seems unlikely, but it's possible. Anyway, it made an impression on me, and I think of it from time to time. Here is a link to it.

It's been on my mind especially in recent weeks and months, as the American republic seems to be having some kind of breakdown. So is the Catholic Church, at least large segments of it. A few days ago, in a Facebook group devoted to the renewal of the Church, someone posted a list of proposed responses, basically theological, to a recent survey indicating a serious decline in the number of American Christians (of any and all denominations). It included things like reviving a genuinely Christian philosophy, getting rid of hyper-political partisanship within the community, and so forth. It was all perfectly sound, but very unlikely to have any discernible effect anytime soon--and by "soon" I mean within the next several decades. I guess I was feeling grumpy that day, because I responded with the Benet poem, among other helpful observations:

Fine, good things in response to bad errors. But as far as Western Formerly Christian civilization is concerned, Stephen Vincent Benet had the general idea right: "In fact you will not be saved." This train is not going to be stopped until it goes off a cliff or, best case, runs out of fuel. Either way it looks to be a long time.

Nothing would make me happier than to be proven wrong. And I'm sorry if I sounded like a jerk. But I don't see how any any theological adjustment can possibly turn things around, or even slow them down. [This program] is a good thing but a project for generations, maybe centuries.

I mean--pardon my crudeness, but: we live in a society which has decreed that as a matter of law and custom there is no ontological or teleological difference between a vagina and a rectum. How do you even converse with that? Unless we're in the final apostasy of the end times, which is certainly a possibility but not one to which I've ever committed myself, the Church will be renewed, and a new culture will arise around it. But I can't see a turnaround in our present trajectory. I think we'll have to hit a wall of some kind.

This may sound like despair, but it really isn't. The ship of the Church will eventually right itself, at least to the degree that it is ever really righted. The ship of state is a different story; perhaps it will be righted, but perhaps it will slowly turn into something else, something that may or may not preserve the form but definitely does not preserve the substance of the constitutional order.

It's a rejection of the belief, so beloved of those of us who spend a great deal of our time thinking and writing and talking, that if we can only formulate and propagate the correct set of ideas things will be put right. It's a recognition that we are riding extremely powerful waves generated by the uncontrollable movement of great masses far below the surface of the sea. It's true that ideas have consequences. But this doesn't mean, as those who traffic in ideas are tempted to think, that ideas determine events. 

I find that I've lost interest almost entirely in that kind of talk, especially talk that involves proposals for the reform of society, sometimes the construction of societies in the air, according to distributist, or Christian democrat, or Christian liberal, or integralist, or whatever, principles. It's a sort of hobby for which I've lost my taste. 

*

Addendum: in putting forth the Benet poem, I don't mean to be saying that we in the U.S.A. and Europe are headed for cataclysmic violence. I don't in fact think we are. The poem was written in the 1930s, when the fact that war was coming was pretty clear to perceptive people. I think we are, rather, in a decline the outcome of which I don't claim to foresee. But the first angel's lament for all the unfulfilled hopes and promises of history is poignant, and the second angel's brutal crushing of such hopes applicable enough in general.  


A Few Remarks from Newman

Today everyone in the Ordinariates is rejoicing in the canonization of our hero, Saint John Henry Newman. Well, okay, "everyone" is probably an exaggeration. But "hero" is not. 

I'm referring to the ecclesiastical structures created by Pope Benedict's Anglicanorum coetibus, by which Christians from the Anglican tradition can come into the Catholic Church bringing with them many elements of their worship and spirituality.  "Structures," because there are three, for the UK, Australia, and the Americas. The obvious natural thing to call them is "the Anglican Ordinariates." But we have actually been told not to use that term, or to refer to them in any way that includes the word "Anglican," apparently out of concern that it will appear that we are still Anglican. It's frustrating, as I've found whenever I mention it to what I can't help calling "regular Catholics." If I use the word "Anglican," they think I've left the Church. If I say "the Ordinariate" they just look blank, quite understandably. In general they really just don't get it at all. Which is disappointing. 

But anyway: Newman is our great model, a sort of patron saint long before he was canonized. And of course he's an important writer and thinker by any standard. I have a book called A Newman Treasury, a selection from his prose works which appeared in 1943. It includes a section called "Aphoristic Selections," which has some brief gems. Relatively brief--I don't think I'd call an excerpt which occupies a full page and contains a dozen sentences "aphoristic."

(Attributions: Essays Critical and Historical; The Idea of a University; Oxford University Sermons; Grammar of Assent; Difficulties of Anglicans.)

Man is born to obey quite as much as to command. Remove the true objects, and you do not get rid of a natural propensity: he will make idols instead; remove heaven, and he will put up with earth, rather than honour nothing at all. The principle of respect is as much a part of us as the principle of religion. (ECH)

This is similar to what I was getting at a week or two ago about Downton Abbey.

If literature is to be made a study of human nature, you cannot have a Christian Literature. It is a contradiction in terms to attempt a sinless Literature of sinful man. (IU)

Of course he's not using the term "Christian Literature" in the sense that we would use it of, say, Flannery O'Connor. But his point gets at the problem with a lot of art produced by Christians.

In morals, as in physics, the stream cannot rise higher than its source. Christianity releases men from earth, for it comes from heaven, but human morality creeps, struts, or frets upon the earth's level, without wings to rise. (DA)

Nothing is more common in an age like this, when books abound, than to fancy that the gratification of a love of reading is real study. (IU)

This stings a bit. I did realize it for myself but not until I was well along in life. I'm always bothered by those people who want children to read as if it that alone were good in itself. It isn't. It may even be a bad thing, if they only or mostly read books that communicate bad things.

When men understand each other's meaning, they see, for the most part, that controversy is either superfluous or hopeless. (OUS)

The current state of our politics.

Whence comes evil? why are we created without our consent? how can the Supreme Being have no beginning? how can he need skill, if He is omnipotent? if He is omnipotent, why does He permit suffering? If He permits suffering, how is He all-loving? if He is all-loving, how can He be just? if He is infinite, what has he to do with the finite? how can the temporary be decisive of the eternal?--these, and a host of like questions, must arise in every thoughtful mind, and, after the best use of reason, must be deliberately put aside, as beyond reason, as (so to speak) no-thoroughfares which, having no outlet themselves, have no ligitimate [sic] power to divert us from the King's highway. (GA)

I take "no-thoroughfare" as meaning the same thing as "dead end." I've known more than one person, as we probably all have, whose impulses toward faith were killed by their inability to answer or move beyond these questions.

One thing, except by an almost miraculous interposition, cannot be; and that is, a return to the universal religious sentiment, the public opinion, of the medieval times. The Pope himself calls those centuries "the ages of faith." Such endemic faith may certainly be decreed for some future time; but, as far as we have the means of judging at present, centuries must run out first. (DA)

Those who seem to think we are on the brink of some widespread return to the faith may be right, but I doubt it. And they are definitely defying the clear tendency of things.

Reason can but ascertain the profound difficulties of our condition, it cannot remove them. (OUS)

A really philosophical mind, if unhappily it has ruined its own religious perceptions, will be silent; it will understand that Religion does not lie in its way: it may disbelieve its truths, it may account belief in them a weakness, or, on the other hand, a happy dream, a delightful error, which it cannot itself enjoy;--any how, it will not usurp. (OUS)

Unbelievers call themselves rational; not because they decide by evidence, but because, after they have made their decision, they merely occupy themselves in sifting it. (OUS)

It is only necessary for Reason to ask many questions; and, while the other party is investigating the real answer to each in detail, to claim the victory, which spectators will not be slow to award, fancying (as is the manner of men) that clear and ready speech is the test of Truth. (OUS)

These last three made me think of the Dawkins-style superficial atheists. They do not have the "really philosophical mind."

The aspect under which Almighty God is presented to us be Nature, is (to use a figure) of One who is angry with us, and threatens evil. Hence its effect is to burden and sadden the religious mind. (GA)

I like this as a counter to our tendency to sentimentalize nature, now that we have gone so far in being able to control it. For most of history man's relationship to nature has been in great part the struggle to stay alive against it.

All men have a reason, but not all men can give a reason. (OUS)

That complements the earlier one about "clear and ready speech." A long time ago I wrote something against the idea that mere intellectual and verbal facility are the determinants of victory in a controversy. I said this was no different from the belief that physical strength should serve that purpose. 

This has been the course of lawless pride and lust:...to lead us, first, to exult in our uncontrollable liberty of will and conduct; then, when we have ruined ourselves, to plead that we are the slaves of necessity. (O.U.S.)

The instance cannot be found in the history of mankind, in which an anti-Christian power could long abstain from persecuting. (O.U.S.)

In spite of my basic pessimism, both temperamental and, as I think, objectively justified with regard to the prospects for Christianity in the West, I think this is in many ways a good time to be a Christian: so much is being clarified. And we have all the wonderful minds and souls like Newman who have penetrated the fog of the times for us. But I have to qualify that. It's a good time to be an old Christian who knows what he believes and is firm in it and no longer has much responsibility--everyday temporal responsibility, I mean--for other people. It is not at all a good time to be a Christian trying to raise Christian children. I should spend more time praying for those who are.

It seems that David Mills, writing at The Stream, had the same notion that I did, to post a number of aphoristic quotations from Newman. There's a bit of overlap with my list, more with the book I was working from.

800px-John_Henry_Newman_by_Sir_John_Everett_Millais _1st_Bt


I'm In Touchstone Again

You can read most of the first paragraph here

Heh. Sorry. It's subscriber-only. But you can see a nice picture of the little Methodist church in which I grew up, and which is the subject of the piece. If you get the magazine, you'll see that the byline says the article is an excerpt from my as-yet-unpublished memoir. That was true when I submitted it, but may not be now, as I'm rewriting the book and aiming to make it roughly half its original length. Which was...I hesitate to say...a bit over 130,000 words. Which I'm told is way too long--roughly the length of Merton's Seven Storey Mountain

I'm touched that the editors went to the trouble of finding a picture of the actual church to include with the article. 


Sally Read: Night's Bright Darkness

I've often wondered, when listening to or reading someone who seems to be a really hardened anti-Christian, what it would take to crack that shell. I say "seems" because of course one can never tell from the outside what's going on inside a person. And I say "anti-Christian" rather than "anti-religious" or "anti-theist" because for cultural reasons hostility to theistic religion is in the Western world most often, most explicitly, and most vigorously hostility to Christianity. 

This is not the simple skepticism which has been ascendant in Western culture for a couple of centuries. It's hostility, an engagement of the emotions as much as or more than the intellect, because Christianity is a significant obstacle to what is generally viewed as progress toward liberation, especially sexual liberation.

If I had met Sally Read fifteen or so years ago I might have thought she was just such a person, and wondered about her in just this way. And yet here is this excellent little book (147 pages) which tells just such a story of the breaking of a shell of resistance. Her father was a fairly militant atheist, and from early in life she followed in his intellectual footsteps. In the book she doesn't explicitly go into the question of feminism as such (as far as I recall), but it seems implied in her general outlook, though perhaps not in a fervently ideological way. And feminism is generally hostile, often extremely hostile, to Christianity. (Yes, I know there is such a thing as Christian feminism. I think it's a pretty uneasy and unstable mix, though, in the long run turning into the one thing or the other. Feminism as a complete theory of humanity is simply not compatible with Christianity.) 

Fundamental to her view of the world was something pretty close to contempt for all religion, especially for Christianity, and most especially for the Catholic Church, which she saw as more or less insane. But you can see that the seeds of faith were there. To start with, there is her father's commitment to atheism as truth. However mistaken in its immediate object, commitment to truth is always commitment to God. 

And there are those deep movements of the soul which are often obscure even to ourselves. When she finds herself "sitting on the floor of [her] flat in Belsize Park and saying lucidly, "This is hell. I'm in hell," she resists the impulse to reach toward God: "I thought I could never lower myself to that degree of self-delusion." But having the impulse to reach is itself an implicit reaching. 

Later on, in a conversation with a friend who confesses to believing in God, she makes

...my nonconfession, and it was a courageous bleakness I felt. I knew there was no God above. It was as if I had looked into an empty dish and simply declared it to be empty. 

But she doesn't want this to be true, and that not-wanting is also a way of reaching.

And there is the cunning of providence. She plans to write a book called The Vagina: An Owner's Handbook. And in this book she wants to write about the experiences of absolutely every kind of woman, including nuns--she is living in Italy--but she is unsure of how to approach one, and doesn't want to "spook" those who run the preschool her daughter attends. 

The only other link I had with the Catholic Church was tenuous--a friend of friends, a Canadian Byzantine-rite priest. He was about my age, with black, merry eyes, and seemed approachable. Perhaps he could introduce me to a nun. One day, ticking off chores on my work list, I fired off an email:

    Dear Father, I'm writing a book about the vagina.

So begins a crucial relationship in which, by email and over coffee, she beats Fr. Gregory with every rhetorical club she can lay her hands on. And apparently he sometimes hit back. She describes the weeks that followed as a fight, and it clearly was, and not only with Fr. Gregory.

And then there are the experiences, the direct contacts with the divine. This is where things get really puzzling, where I wonder why her? Why, of all the scornful non-believers in the world, does God come to her, and not to so many others who seem very much like her? Sure, her inner movement and her circumstances prepared her, but that doesn't answer the question, only moves it back a few steps. 

Conversion stories are all similar in many ways, and yet they remain interesting, because that complex interweaving of the personal and the circumstantial and the divine is different in each one. Demographic and sociological categories are irrelevant to God's relationship with any individual. I read this book shortly after reading Dawn Eden Goldstein's (see this post and this one). In one broad respect at least they are quite similar, in that both women are in many ways fairly typical of the sort of person who does not convert, who does not come anywhere near it. And yet here they are. For that matter, here I am, part of a tiny, tiny minority among those who would have seemed, ca. 1970, very much like me. Why me?

That skeptical and often hostile modern mind that I mentioned earlier has for some time been expecting and predicting the death of  Christianity and especially of the Catholic Church. I've heard more than one person in recent years assert with confidence that "the Catholic Church is dying." Setting aside the divine promises which non-Christians naturally do not believe exist, speaking only in human terms, that death is unlikely in the extreme. There will always be people for whom a life of maximizing pleasure and minimizing pain, whether or not successful in those efforts, will not be enough. It's the way the human person is made. Why is that, I wonder?

I haven't told anything like the whole story here, so don't get the impression that you know the book from reading this notice. It's really very good. I was flipping through it a little while ago and thinking I'd have liked for it to be somewhat longer. I don't think that about many books. 

NightsBrightDarkness


About That Letter From Those Theologians

I mean the one in which they accuse Pope Francis of heresy. I've only read the first page, at which point I scrolled down to see the list of signers. The only one I recognize is Fr. Aidan Nichols, O.P. I've read several of his books and he is certainly not any sort of crank. Or at least he hasn't been in the past. I can only conclude that either there is something to the charges, or that Fr. Nichols has made a mistake in judgment. 

The first page includes the first charge: that the Pope has "publicly and pertinaciously demonstrated his belief" that

A justified person has not the strength with God’s grace to carry out the objective demands of the divine law, as though any of the commandments of God are impossible for the justified; or as meaning that God’s grace, when it produces justification in an individual, does not invariably and of its nature produce conversion from all serious sin, or is not sufficient for conversion from all serious sin.

I've heard more or less the same charge from people who are theologically educated and are not cranks. It may be justifiable. Nevertheless, I don't plan to get into the controversy any further than the preceding remarks. It's been raised in a Facebook group for the Ordinariates to which I belong, and I posted the following comment there. I guess it's partly or mainly just an occasion for me to say something I've wanted to say for some time. And I want to say it more publicly.

This is a sort of meta-comment, about why I am not going to comment on the letter: as a lay Catholic with no knowledge of theology beyond some basics, I do not consider myself qualified or entitled or obligated to call anyone a heretic on any grounds more subtle than something like denying the physical Resurrection. This is much more emphatically the case where the accused is the pope. The same basic principle applies to the signatories of this letter: I am not qualified to evaluate their arguments. 

And on a personal level I have, in my going-on-40 years as a Catholic, become almost as sick of heresy-hunters as of heretics, especially of self-appointed heresy-hunters among the laity. By "heresy hunters" I mean those who are clearly looking avidly for anything that can be construed as heresy or just savoring of it. I have had a lot of reservations about Pope Francis and in particular about his governance, and have said so publicly. I had misgivings about him from the beginning, initially for nothing any more concrete than "I've got a bad feeling about this," and I think they have been somewhat justified. Somewhat. But I have deeper reservations about the anti-Francis people who seem determined to put the worst possible construction on everything he says.

(That emphasized "Somewhat" was not in the Facebook post, because you can't do italics in Facebook comments.)

The inquisitorial spirit I'm talking about is partly a somewhat (at least) understandable reaction against the toleration and even advocacy of heresy on the part of many elements of the Church, most harmfully within the hierarchy and the academic establishment. I was an enemy of what can loosely be called Modernism as soon as I understood what it was, and I still am. But the inquisitorial impulse quite clearly often has a strong taint of pride and malice. And is probably at least as great a risk to the soul of the person exercising it as the profession of doctrinal error. 

NobodyExpectsEtc(Sorry, couldn't resist.)


Romano Guardini: The Lord

I did manage to read this book over Lent, as I had intended. That may not sound like much of an accomplishment; in fact it's not that much of an accomplishment. But it's a long book, 600-plus pages, and a fairly dense one. And aside from my disorderly and distracted temperament and habits, decades of giving priority to almost everything else over reading have left me with a deep sense that reading is at best just barely above Doing Nothing, which is to say Wasting Time, which means that I feel uneasy about it, and guilty if I do it for very long.

But enough about my hangups. This is a great book, and I might even be justified in saying that it's a Great Book. I'd been wanting to read it for years, and now that I have I'm thinking of making it a Lenten thing every year. Whether or not I actually do that, there's no doubt that it is worth re-reading. 

Guardini-TheLord

It's essentially a commentary on the New Testament, primarily the Gospels and the Apocalypse. I must say that the word "commentary" applied to scripture is not a word that awakens eager anticipation in me. Perhaps that prejudice arises from a few old and as far as I know never-read volumes in the ancestral bookcase in the house where I grew up. Its shelves were filled with volumes going back to the early nineteenth century, and they mostly looked dull, or even forbidding, to me. Some should have interested me: Scott's novels, for instance. Some of the religious titles seemed to capture in a physical way the dullness of a species of Christianity that, after the Enlightenment, was stranded between emotional evangelicalism and liberalism.

So I'll dump the word "commentary" and say that this book is a very close and impassioned reading of the text. The best way for me to communicate that is to give some examples. If you've been reading this blog during Lent you've seen some: this, this, this, this, and this.

I left roughly two dozen book darts attached to the pages (book darts?) , sometimes pointing to a paragraph or two and sometimes to an entire chapter. There would have been more but sometimes I didn't have the darts handy. Here is one such passage. It appears late in the book, in a chapter called "The Great Sign in Heaven," in the section on the Apocalypse. That section was for me one of the most enlightening: it produces from the text a kind of order which is intelligible--to a degree--without attempting to reduce it to simple allegory or to pin the content of the visions to specific earthly things. 

But aren't we distancing ourselves from the simple meaning of the Gospels and the pure reality of Jesus? Isn't this after all more like mysticism and metaphysics? We must not be intimidated. The simple meaning of the Gospels--what is it? The pure reality of Jesus--which? The Gospels are anything but simple in the sense meant in the objection. Jesus is not at all the pure figure which criticism suggests. Behind these tenets stands a dogma--a shadowy, modern, man-made dogma--according to which Christian essence means pious humanism. The Gospels, however, know nothing of the sort, and before they can be made to read so, piece after piece must be eliminated on the excuse that it had crept in under foreign influence or was the product of collective elaboration. What then would be the significance of Revelation, or of faith? Then we human beings would be taking it upon ourselves to decide what is or is not divine. Then redemption would lose its power, for this self-doctored Christ would no longer redeem, but would only confirm our will. No, only one attitude towards Revelation is valid: readiness to hear and to learn. 

That last sentence serves very well as a description of Guardini's approach throughout. Here are a couple of fairly brief intro-to-Guardini pieces, one in the National Catholic Register and one in Crisis. I note this observation in the latter: "the textbook Thomism devised as a bulwark against the errors of Modernism left him cold." I can certainly sympathize with that. The primacy given to dogma among many of Thomas's disciples is not necessarily wrong, but it does sometimes give an impression that correct doctrine is the only thing that really matters, whereas it is a necessary-but-not-sufficient thing. Doctrine and devotion may be different things, but they are not in opposition, any more than flesh and bone are in opposition. Either without the other is...well, the images summoned by that idea convey the magnitude of the error pretty well, with no need for more words.

I've long felt that Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Bendedict XVI was at least very high among the wisest of churchmen in our time, perhaps the wisest. And he was greatly influenced by Guardini. Maybe that means I'm now a Guardinian. Pope Francis also is said to follow Guardini in much of his thinking. So does that make me also a Bergoglian? Well, I wouldn't have said so, but it's okay. My reservations about Pope Francis have to do with his governance of the Church, not with his theology. At least not necessarily--it isn't always clear exactly where he stands. 


By Our Own Powers?

Men have always known that something was wrong with human existence; that everywhere stupidity, injustice, deception and violence were at work. Consequently there was always the feeling that someday things must be set right and fulfilled. Some expected this clarification to come from human history itself: humanity by its own powers would fight its way through to a kind of divine existence. Let us allow this hope to die a natural death; it is flagrantly contrary not only to Revelation and Christian thinking, but also to the conclusions that must be drawn from a single honest glance at reality.

--Romano Guardini, The Lord

I admit that there's a part of me which is sympathetic to nihilism when it opposes sentimentality of the "arc of history" sort.