All posts filed under: Articles

The Unremarkable Sunday in Advent

Second Sunday in Advent by John Keble And when these things begin to pass, then look up, and lift up your heads; for your redemption draweth nigh. St. Luke xxi. 28. Not till the freezing blast is still, Till freely leaps the sparkling rill, And gales sweep soft from summer skies, As o’er a sleeping infant’s eyes A mother’s kiss; ere calls like these, No sunny gleam awakes the trees, Nor dare the tender flowerets show Their bosoms to th’ uncertain glow. Why then, in sad and wintry time, Her heavens all dark with doubt and crime, Why lifts the Church her drooping head, As though her evil hour were fled? Is she less wise than leaves of spring, Or birds that cower with folded wing? What sees she in this lowering sky To tempt her meditative eye? She has a charm, a word of fire, A pledge of love that cannot tire; By tempests, earthquakes, and by wars, By rushing waves and falling stars, By every sign her Lord foretold, She sees the world …

Dostoevsky on the Demonic Decimation of a Shareable World

One way of thinking of the modern demonic is that it is marked by an otherness viewed not as a threatening outside, but a shocking inside contributing to the doubling of a self that cannot find ballast and thereby becomes capable of intentional forms of evil far beyond the circumscription of the human flesh and psyche. Given this definition, my proposal is that the literary figure who is most penetrating and expansive on the topic is Fyodor Dostoevsky. There are other writers with plausible claims to this mantle, perhaps one of the French trio of André Gide, Georges Bataille, and Jean Genet, maybe even William Golding who unerringly exposes our collective illusions regarding sympathy and fraternity throughout his oeuvre and not simply in Lord of the Flies. Needless to say, under scrutiny the bona fides of Golding as the connoisseur of the modern demonic do not hold up. As a writer Golding is more focused on the return of the repressed than on the endlessly spiraling reflection that is the ground of acts of evil …

A Revisionist Account of Natural Law and Natural Right

Discussions of natural law and natural right inevitably include accounts of their historical genesis, and where they do not, then often a fictive genesis is assumed, in such a way as vitiates the substantive claims for either law or right that are being made. This is most evidently the case for modern natural right, since this manifestly has an origin—it has been asserted always in particular circumstances and within a particular conceptuality that help to determine the sense of the notion. But it is also the case for natural law, because any attempt to ignore its origins in the Classical and Medieval past, and especially its links to theology and metaphysics, inevitably denature it and produce a novel, modern doctrine that is often much more reducible to a modern natural rights doctrine than its proponents imagine.[1] Therefore I will attempt, in this essay, to sketch in short compass an account of the historical development of natural right in relation to the older notion of natural law. My contention will be that the latter notion has, …

Advent Flesh?

It is the first week of Advent, and I am waiting for Jesus’s flesh. That is not all I am waiting for, but it is the central thing, the thing without which I would not be waiting for anything else. This means that Advent is a fleshly season first and last because the direct intentional object of all the waiting that goes on in it is flesh, and not just any flesh, but the flesh of a male Jew who, rather more than two millennia ago, was conceived, birthed, suckled, catechized, inspired, baptized, tortured, killed, raised and taken up to heaven. More than that; but at least that. One aspect of my waiting is strictly memorial. I am waiting to be able to remember Jesus’s natal flesh, the flesh conceived in Mary’s womb, active in Galilee and Jerusalem, and crucified at Golgotha. That flesh is no longer with us, and cannot be. I have never seen it or touched it or tasted it, and I never will. Neither will you. With respect to that flesh, …

Advocata Nostra and the Devil’s Due

The Season of Advent could quite rightly be understood as the season of Mary. The Christian community prepares for Christmas and waits with Mary for the birth of her firstborn son. It is no coincidence, therefore, that the Church places two great Marian feasts during this time of hope and expectation: the celebration of her Immaculate Conception and the veneration of her apparition in Guadalupe, Mexico in 1531. While the Church has always venerated Mary, the late nineteenth and early twentieth century saw a particular increase in the devotion to her cult and in Mariology more generally. In a theologically rigorous essay from the collection Mary: The Church at the Source, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger provides some “Thoughts on the Place of Marian Doctrine and Piety in Faith and Theology as a Whole.”[1] He begins his reflections with a brief history of the development of Marian devotion in the years between the end of World War I and the opening of the Second Vatican Council. Ratzinger describes two charismatic movements that characterized the Catholic Church …

The Advent Corrective to Locke’s Lonely Liberalism

The Nativity is astonishing. Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world, was born of a woman. The King of the Universe entered the world as a fragile infant, a bundle of needs who was utterly dependent on his mother. What a terrifying fact. The vulnerability of Our Savior’s gestation and early life is enough to take your breath away. The Advent and Christmas seasons are an invitation for us to examine our own dependence on relationships of love, a dependence that is constitutive of our lives. In reflecting on the method through which Christ came into the world, we can enter more deeply into this aspect of our creation in his image and likeness. 1. John Locke and Charles Taylor on the Human Person The logic of Advent and Christmas runs counter to our modern notion of the individual, the main foundation upon which the liberal order rests. This notion can largely be traced back to the thought of John Locke, whose theory of personhood advances a robust autonomy and individualism. Locke grounds this theory …

The Bridegroom Comes

Advent Sunday by Christina Rossetti BEHOLD, the Bridegroom cometh: go ye out With lighted lamps and garlands round about To meet Him in a rapture with a shout. It may be at the midnight, black as pitch, Earth shall cast up her poor, cast up her rich. It may be at the crowing of the cock Earth shall upheave her depth, uproot her rock. For lo, the Bridegroom fetcheth home the Bride: His Hands are Hands she knows, she knows His Side. Like pure Rebekah at the appointed place, Veiled, she unveils her face to meet His Face. Like great Queen Esther in her triumphing, She triumphs in the Presence of her King. His Eyes are as a Dove’s, and she’s Dove-eyed; He knows His lovely mirror, sister, Bride. He speaks with Dove-voice of exceeding love, And she with love-voice of an answering Dove. Behold, the Bridegroom cometh: go we out With lamps ablaze and garlands round about To meet Him in a rapture with a shout. Christina Rossetti’s “Advent Sunday” provides a framework for the …

Newman’s Strategic Reassembly of Secular Trends

“Newman’s mind always pushed against the edges of knowledge,” says Owen Chadwick.[1] Newman is rarely an easy read and An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent is maybe his most dense work. But Newman’s rhetorical, philosophical, and personal complexity pushes his readers to push against the edges of their own knowledge of Newman, his world, and the world as a whole. By identifying faith as a form of reason, Grammar of Assent reflects the European renegotiation of the relationship between Church and state occurring in Newman’s day. We will first examine the book’s context and arguments, then its implications, and then its influence beyond the 19th century. Newman attends to the political order as a “grammar” of interrelated parts. We will conclude with an analysis of Newman’s poem “Lead, Kindly Light” in light of Grammar of Assent, and in contrast with Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” the paradigmatic poem of British modernity. In 1851, six years after entering the Roman Catholic Church, Newman wrote that he had been considering writing a “philosophical polemic” for …

Lonergan’s Communal Novum Organon

For a certain generation of those who studied theology, Bernard Lonergan’s Method in Theology (1972) was a book that was constantly referenced. For my generation of theologians, when one mentions the text, it is all too often looked at askance. For many, Lonergan is neither fish nor fowl. For some, he is not sufficiently radical enough, considered too indebted to Tradition. To others, his thought is considered not sufficiently Thomistic, far too eclectic. And still, there are others who point to him as the one providing the blueprint for the philosophy behind a relativistic theology of pluralism with his development of the concept of historical consciousness. I have been asked if my interest in Lonergan is merely a historical curiosity, a desire to look into a period of time in Catholic theology that has since passed. I have been asked, continually in some circles, if Lonergan has really anything to offer in an all-too fractured theological world. My response to those who want to know specifically what Lonergan can offer theology today is to examine …

Charles Péguy’s Difficult Hope

Charles Péguy died with a bullet through the head on September 5, 1914. The First World War was but a few months old. Péguy is impossible to really characterize. He has a way of defying summarization, and so too do his poems. There is much too much between the lines, in the meandering prose, in the life. He was French, born of peasants in Orléans in 1873, and he considered himself a child of the Republic that had lurched into existence somehow in the 19th century after a couple turns at empire and emperor. He was convinced that his generation was the last of the real republicans, whom he traced backward with an impracticable, zigzagging line from 1848 to 1830 to the first breath of the first revolution.[1] Péguy can be understood, insists on being understood, by knowing something of the Dreyfus Affair. He bound himself to the event tightly and inexorably, and refused to relinquish it.[2] One Alfred Dreyfus, a captain in the military, was convicted of treason and thrown in jail for life …