Saturday, November 24, 2007

Beatification of Rosmini: wonders never cease

Sandro Magister, "Blessed Liberty: The Posthumous Miracle of Antonio Rosmini" (www.chiesa, November 12, 2007), writes:
ROMA, November 12, 2007 – A beatification ceremony is approaching that is a miracle in its own right: the beatification of the priest and philosopher Antonio Rosmini.

It's a miracle because just six years ago, the new blessed was still under a condemnation issued in 1887 by the congregation of the Holy Office, against 40 propositions drawn from his writings.
Magister remarks: "The philosopher Dario Antiseri paints the portrait of this teacher of a form of liberalism open to religion." Rosmini fast tracked ahead of the Venerable John Henry Cardinal Newman?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The rediscovery of Dietrich von Hildebrand's legacy

Sue Ellin Browder, "‘Lost Treasure’: Catholic Colleges Recovering Von Hildebrand’s Philosophy" (National Catholic Register, November 4-10, 2007), writes:
STEUBENVILLE, Ohio — John Henry Crosby is determined to revive interest in the thought of philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand.

First persuaded by von Hildebrand’s reasoned arguments for the necessity of beauty, Crosby soon was caught up by the story of the philosopher’s heroic fight against Nazism and communism and his suspense-filled flight to freedom. The notion of a “brave philosopher” willing to put his life on the line for the truth inspired him.

“I’ll be involved with this until the day I die,” said Crosby, 29.

His enthusiasm for von Hildebrand is shared by none other than Pope Benedict XVI. As a priest in Munich in the 1950s, Father Joseph Ratzinger attended one of the lectures von Hildebrand often gave on his summer visits to Europe. The subject was “beauty.”

“The joy and freshness of [von Hildebrand’s] understanding of Catholic doctrine were contagious,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote in 2000 in the foreword to The Soul of a Lion, Alice’s von Hildebrand’s biography of her late husband.

Cardinal Ratzinger believed the “transcendent beauty of truth” that had captured von Hildebrand’s heart was the “same love for the beauty of truth” that later led him to embrace and defend the magisterium’s teaching on birth control. He did so in a small volume originally titled The Encyclical “Humanae Vitae:” An Essay on Birth Control and Catholic Conscience, reprinted by Sophia Institute Press as Love, Marriage and the Catholic Conscience (currently out of print).

Characterizing von Hildebrand as “a man captivated by the splendor of truth,” Cardinal Ratzinger wrote: “I am personally convinced that, when, at some time in the future, the intellectual history of the Catholic Church is written, the name of Dietrich von Hildebrand will be most prominent among the figures of our time.”

The Legacy Project

To ensure that all the philosopher’s works will be available in English, Crosby has worked with Alice von Hildebrand and others to set up the Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project (

Last month, the Legacy Project brought together more than 150 scholars and devotees from around the world for a conference at Franciscan University in Steubenville, Ohio. Scholars focused on von Hildebrand’s growing impact on Christian philosophy.
The philosopher’s impact is making itself felt, too, in university courses. At Steubenville the master of arts philosophy program is furthering von Hildebrand scholarship.

In support of the Legacy Project, Pope Benedict put through a $45,000 Papal Foundation grant to help fund the translation, publication and promotion of von Hilde-brand’s work.
That, my friends, is the substantial first half of the sizeable NCR article, which is well worth reading in its entirety. As a presenter at the recent von Hildebrand conference at Franciscan University and one who has discovered only relatively recently the philosophical breadth of the thinker, I heartily commend Mr. Crosby's Legacy Project to you.

[Hat tip to The Legacy Project Staff]

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Turning of an Atheist

Mark Oppenheimer, The Turning of an Atheist (New York Times, November 4, 2007).

Of related interest: "Anthony Flew's newfound belief in God" (Musings, December 11, 2004).

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Ingwagen on the advantages of skepticism

Peter von Ingwagen, in God, Knowledge & Mystery: Essays in
Philosophical Theology
(Ithaca and London: Cornell
University Press, 1995), on p. 2, writes:
One advantage philosophers bring to theology is that they know too much about philosophy to be overly impressed by the fact that a particular philosopher has said this or that. Philosophers of the present day know what Thomas Aquinas and Professor Bultmann did not know: that no philosopher is an authority. Philosophers know that if you want to pronounce on, say, the project of natural theology, you cannot simply appeal to what Kant has established about natural theology. You cannot do this for the very good reason that Kant has established nothing about natural theology. Kant has only offered arguments, and the cogency of these arguments can be (and is daily) disputed.
This is, of course, amusing in one way; and I think I agree with in in the sense in which I believe he intends it. Yet I would disagree with the notion that no philosopher can properly be an authority, as, for instance, Aristotle is for St. Thomas Aquinas. This, of course, is what Ingwagen's quote would entail, if it were taken in the literal sense. Authority, I would argue, is something a bit like honor. You can be honored by others and not deserve it; and you can be dishonored by others and not deserve it. But when you get it right, you're honored by others because you've earned it by becoming worthy of their honor; and that worthiness is the important thing -- far more important than the actual honor given you by others. Accordingly, I would argue that it's possible for a philosopher (like Aristotle) to earn the right to be considered an authority -- whatever lack of consensus may exist within the contemporary fraternity of postmodern professional lemmings who call themselves philosophers. And a philosopher earnes this right by being worthy of being so regarded -- by becoming, in fact, an authority on a subject.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Decadent postmoderns

For a scathing indictment of the existentialist philosophers, Jean-Paul Sartre and Martin Heidegger, and postmodern philosopher (I use the term loosely), Marcel Foucault, see Christopher's post, "Revolutionary Intellectuals" (Against the Grain, September 1, 2007). The discussion is occasioned by Gerald Augustinus' dismissal of Jean Paul Sartre at Closed Cafeteria (to which -- the former referencing Fr. Neuhaus' post Sartre, Legal Scholarship, and Those Troublesome Male Pronouns "On the Square") and the following excerpt from Clive James' Cultural Amnesia: Necessary Memories from History and the Arts. Complete with personal confessions of capitulation to the existentialist seduction and delicious quotes from Paul Johnson's wonderful book, Intellectuals, it's sure to provoke a plethora of responses.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Reformational Philosophy

The Dutch Reformed tradition in philosophy -- often called "Reformational Philosophy" (not to be confused with the "Reformed Epistemology" of Alvin Plantinga, et al., which is an independent development in the Dutch Reformed tradition of Anglo-American analytic philosophy -- has produced a wealth of societies and journals and theorists stemming from Calvinistic tradition of Abraham Kuyper and Herman Bavinck and the seminal philosophical work of Herman Dooyeweerd (pictured left) and D.H.Th. Vollenhoven (pictured right) at the Free University of Amsterdam in the last century. Philosophical societies include the Stichting voor Reformatorische Wijsbegeerte (Society for Reformational Philosophy) and the professional journal, Philosophia Reformata. Other related sites include that of The Dooyeweerd Center for Christian Philosophy (Redeemer College, Ancaster, Ontario, Canada), Studies relating to Hermann Dooyeweerd (J. Glenn Friesen, Calgary, Alberta, Canada), Herman Dooyeweerd (Steve Bishop, Bristol, UK), The Dooyeweerd Pages (Andrew Basden, Salford, UK), Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) (Philip Blosser, Lenoir-Rhyne College, Hickory, NC), and numerous other links. Of recent interest is the launching of a new electronic periodical, Aspects of Reformational Philosophy, Vol. 1 (2007), No. 1. Philosophers from a Catholic background may be interested in the work on Dooyeweerd by the Jesuit, Fr. J. Marlet, Grundlinien der Kalvinistischen "Philosophie der Gesetzesidee" als Christlicher Transzendentalphilosophie (Munchen: Karl Zink, 1954), which has interesting chapters comparing Dooyeweerd with St. Thomas Aquinas.

A number of sites promote the published work of the premiere Dutch Reformed philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd. Among these one finds, for example, Steve Bishop's New Critique site, self-described as "A Guide to Dooyeweerd's New Critique of Theoretical Thought." This site offers introductory summaries not only of Herman Dooyeweerd's major philosophical work, the four-volume New Critique of Theoretical Thought (2nd ed., 1997)Bishop's "Guide" also offers an introduction to and study guide for Dooyeweerd's In the Twilight of Western Thought, a series of lectures Dooyeweerd gave at Princeton in the 1960s. A survey of Amazon links to the works of Dooyeweerd reveals that English-language translators of his works (originally in Dutch) have been busy over the last decades:Although there is not much in English by D.H.Th. Vollenhoven, Dooyeweerd's brother-in-law, one can find the following:Any intellectual wading more than ankle-deep into the work of these Reformational Philosophers soon realizes that he would be a fool to ignore the wealth of theoretical insights yielded by them over the last century. Dooyeweerd is probably among the two or three greatest Christian philosophers of the twentieth century from any tradition, period. I say this as a Catholic with more than a passing acquaintance with the work of Etienne Gilson, Jacques Maritain, Gabriel Marcel, John Courtney Murray, Bernard Longergan, and Alasdair MacIntyre, not to mention Karol Wojtyla. This is a philosophical tradition, in my opinion, with which every serious thinker ought to be acquainted and conversant.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The gnostic temptation

Theology as Literary Criticism

By Ralph Roiter-Doister

I love the idea of theology as literary criticism. Much of literary criticism can be reduced to the explication of metaphorical language, or of the language of symbolism (which, with the flash and filigree removed, is only a more complex and challenging permutation of metaphor). The common denominator of both metaphor and symbol is the illusion that two separate things are actually one. With a simple metaphor, such deliberate confusion may amount to nothing more than a conceit, designed to highlight the cleverness of the author. With a symbol, however, a more complex statement is being made, the template of which is typically (1) A is not B, but (2) in a different and more profound way, A is B. The "more profound" way has to do with the cleverness of the author, of course, but also with his relationship with the reader: the author has set out in his text a deeper, more profound and elusive subtext, a hidden level of meaning which only the best prepared, most intelligent, most sensitive, most attuned, can fathom. It is a game of perspicacity, and also of exclusivity.

Thus, there is a certain gnostic tincture to literary criticism: a secret, "higher" knowledge which only the initiated can appreciate. The exquisite insights of Keats and Shelley are lost on workaday drudges, who prefer the ringside orations of WWF freaks of chemistry. The "quiet desperation" crowd is clueless before the altar of Shakespeare, and must wallow in the trashy cultural trough of soap operas and "American Idol" (and, as post-modernists might claim, the poor boobies don't even grasp the proper significance of that!)

But hark ye, a yet deeper layer. As the American university has transformed into a standard item of upper middle class accessorizing, many departments have had to staff up. The ability to teach is all well and good, but it has long been assumed by departmental pashas that performance and promotion has to be decided by more than just that: the basis for promotion in most English departments across the land is popularly referred to as "publish or perish", which means that you must demonstrate your attainment of the gnostic inner circle of knowledge by having your insights on a suitable topic accepted for publication in a book or a journal that is likely to be read only by other members of that inner circle. You must have your parchment placed in the gnostic Nag Hammadi, or face banishment to the bleak desert of the berber bourgeosie, where people actually perform manual labor for money, follow the doings of local sports teams, and watch the Fox Network – all willingly!

Quiet desperation indeed. And the effect of it has been to reduce literary criticism to an almost atomistic level of relativity – an incidental but absolute vindication of the postmodern thesis. My personal favorite example of this phenomenon is Moby Dick. Where once, not so very long ago, there was a fair amount of agreement about what was going on between Ahab and the white whale, today, Moby Dick resembles less a great work of literature than an abandoned strip-mine. The Bible, Shakespeare, Freud, Jung, John Calvin, Pierre Bayle, Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Zoroaster, the Ophites, Hindu mythology, Polynesian mythology, even Husserl – it is common, in piling yet another interpretational apparatus upon the novel, to extol the greatness of its symbolism as lying in its ability to "support" all of this gnostic dead weight. A true knee-slapper, that! The post-modern horselaugh in a nutshell: there is no deeper knowledge, no deepest layer: the Nag Hammadi parchments may as well be blank.

How marvellous, then, to see theologians behaving like literary critics! From Han Urs von Balthazar's radical inflation of Shakespeare's "all the world's a stage" into "all's a stage, period", to ressourcement fascination with the perfumed vitalistic metaphors of Blondel and Bergson, to Scott Hahn's promotion of the family as a suitable symbol for the triune God, to the current competitive "gnosticizing", if you will, over the proper reading of the metaphor of communio (why, for example, it is more than just a shiny new term for the pockmarked old one, "dialogue"), our "call to holiness" seems to lead so many of us into pursuit of one or another "white whale".

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Habermas Writes to Pope Benedict XVI, ally against the "Defeatism" of Modern Reason

Sandro Magister (www.chiesa, Roma, March 7, 2007): Habermas Writes to Ratzinger, and Ruini Responds. Allies against the "Defeatism" of Modern Reason -- "The famous atheist philosopher invokes a new alliance between faith and reason, but in a form different from the one Benedict XVI proposed in Regensburg. Cardinal Ruini highlights the points of agreement and disagreement. And he insists on “the best hypothesis”: to live as if God exists."

[Hat tip to M.F.]