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The Polish Romantic Messianism of Saint John Paul II

On 18 May 2000 the front page of the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza featured a surprising poem by Nobelist poet Czesław Miłosz entitled,“Ode for the Eightieth Birthday of Pope John Paul II.” The most outstanding Polish poet of the 20th century paid an extraordinary tribute to the great Polish pope on the pages of the country’s most widely-circulated liberal daily: We come to you, men of weak faith, So that you might fortify us with the example of your life And liberate us from anxiety About tomorrow and next year. Your twentieth century Was made famous by the names of powerful tyrants And by the annihilation of their rapacious states. You knew it must happen. You taught hope: For only Christ is the lord and master of history. This was probably the first such unambiguously positive statement by Miłosz about John Paul II. Earlier Miłosz could not overcome his distance towards the pope’s work, even though he met him in private and attended discussions with him at Castel Gandolfo. He saw dangerous nationalist and theocratic threads in the …

Must Catholics Hate Hegel?

Among the vanishingly few things that command agreement among Catholics is that Hegel is a bad idea. Divergent, even mutually antagonistic, Anglophone Catholic circles such as Concilium, Communio, and paleo-Thomism hate Hegel because they see him as dodgy, corrosive, or just plain heretical. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a figure at once more disdained and less read by Catholics than him.[1] A recent piece by C.C. Pecknold offers a near perfect object lesson.[2] Its title, “The philosopher who poisoned German theology,” blazons its intentions. The German Church’s problems—empty pews, a vocation shortage, administrative tumescence, liberal bishops—are, Pecknold argues, in large part the consequence of a theological decision. German theology summoned the wrong doctor to its bed to dress trauma-wounds inflicted by the Enlightenment: none other than G.W.F. Hegel. But Hegel’s salves only deepened the damage. And German theology’s wounds fester still. To be sure, Pecknold’s not altogether interested in Hegel. He is rather interested in genealogy, in locating the poison tree who bore German Catholicism’s bitter fruit—particularly certain elements of its prelates’ proposal on …

Christ Doesn’t Save Us by Words First of All, but by His Body

Artur Rosman, managing editor of Church Life Journal, conducted this interview with Emmanuel Falque in December 2017. He sends his thanks to Professor Falque for making time in his busy schedule, to Professor Peter Casarella for arranging the initial encounter, and to Jonathan Ciraulo for translating the text from the French. Artur Rosman: In Quiet Powers of the Possible you speak of belonging to the third wave of the French theological turn in philosophy. What makes phenomenology so attractive to succeeding generations of Catholic thinkers, and not only in France? Emmanuel Falque: One can indeed speak about several generations of French phenomenologists according to the place, or rather the author, in which they are rooted. The “Husserlians” (Emmanuel Levinas, Paul Ricoeur, Michel Henry), the Heideggerians (Jean-Luc Marion, Jean-Yves Lacoste, Jean-Louis Chrétien) but also the “Merleau-Pontyians” (certainly myself, but one should probably also include Claude Romano and Renaud Barbaras, even though they do not deal directly with theological questions). These roots in different authors in the phenomenological tradition would have little importance if they did not also determine different …

Emmanuel Falque: Eucharistic Crossings Between Philosophy and Theology

This paean to Emmanuel Falque was delivered by Professor O’Regan over dinner after the Profiling Religious Experience: Notre Dame Systematic Theology Colloquium. I would like to speak with gratitude, of it, and in a certain sense also to it as the impossible ground or circumstance of belonging and coming together. “With” insofar as I want to express my thanks to Emmanuel Falque of the Institute Catholique for being with us—twice with us—this is his second coming this week and thus a profoundly eschatological gesture. I wish to thank him specifically for the intellectual nourishment he provided all of us in his diverse ruminations that covered historical, theological, and philosophical subject matters and their various “betweens” and borders which variously allow and disallow crossing. I want to thank him for sharing with us not only his thoughts, but his embodied incarnate bodily thinking, and not only his thinking, but its joyous quality which seems substantive rather than accidental and very much like the meal that we have shared, indeed, continue to share, genuinely Eucharistic. I am grateful …

A Prayer for the Poor

David Graeber’s Debt: The First 5000 Years (2011) is a strange, brilliant, frustrating, and perhaps indispensable book. It remains controversial among economists, of course, if only out of the resentment some of them feel at the very notion that an anthropologist might presume to intrude on their putative area of expertise, and to do so on so vast a historical scale. It continues, moreover, to strain the credulity of those who cannot imagine how anyone could express such doubts regarding the practical inevitability of a monetary economic system, or could seriously propose anarchism as a real alternative to the injustices of capitalism. And, of course, there are those who not unreasonably accuse Graeber of offering a grandly buoyant critique of the contradictions and cruelties of capitalist culture without the ballast of a few proposed solutions. But, exotic as Graeber’s book was as an intervention in economic analysis, at its heart lay a rather ordinary observation, one that was made just as grandly a couple years later by Thomas Piketty in his magisterial treatise Capital in …

Our Lady of Lourdes and the Pathologizing of Pain

I don’t promise you happiness in this life, but in the next. —Marian apparition at Massabielle to St. Bernadette The meaninglessness of suffering is a self-evident modern axiom. Who wants to suffer from pain? What is there to learn from pain other than learning what medications will treat it? Is it not normal to want to avoid pain and suffering at all costs? It seems perverse and backwards to suggest otherwise. The community of those who insist on pain’s therapeutic worth and intelligibility, who refuse to stop suffering, are pushed into margins of what is acceptable to modern society. Yet, Pope Saint John Paul II made nonetheless the Catholic case for suffering against this tide of incomprehension in the Apostolic Letter, Salvifici Doloris. The pope’s reflections are a commentary on the following passage from Colossians: “I am now happy in the suffering that I endure for you” (1:24). John Paul II grounds his argument (delivered “on the liturgical Memorial of Our Lady of Lourdes, 11 February 1984”) in the foundations of Christian anthropology: The joy …

Let’s Not Ignore Scientific Faith

The great project of modern scientific positivism has been to establish all that can be known with absolute certainty—to isolate that knowledge which is purely objective and provable by experiment, and to hold this alone as truth. Michael Polanyi explains this clearly in The Tacit Dimension: “The declared aim of modern science is to establish a strictly detached, objective knowledge. Any falling short of this ideal is accepted only as a temporary imperfection, which we must aim at eliminating” (20). Ideally, this knowledge is not in any way influenced by human personality—despite the fact that it might be discovered and articulated by humans, it stands entirely on its own. Such a project has been and generally continues to be held as unquestionably valid and worth pursuing. And, if academia has begun to reject this positivist project, it still lingers on in government, media, education, and the popular imagination. The seemingly obvious question that often goes unasked is whether such a project was ever even possible. On what basis can it be assumed that science might …

The Practice of Catholicism and Modern Identity

We are products of our zeitgeist more than we sometimes understand or admit. The Gospel of Jesus Christ transcends time and place, but Catholics themselves are not immune from the influences of the period in which they are born. Simply by virtue of living in the contemporary age, modern Catholics are presented with a set of peculiar difficulties that either explicitly or implicitly affect the practice of their faith. One of the greatest challenges pressing believers today is what Benedict XVI called the “dictatorship of relativism.”[1] A prevalent part of our worldview is certainly the idea that no objective moral truths exist or that all moral truths are historically conditioned. But relativism is not the only trial modernity presents and further difficulties arise in the response to the relativist mindset. This essay is an attempt to understand one such challenge: a type of intellectualism that I find common among Catholics who come or return to the faith after a period of searching. That is, for many persons who come to the Church to escape the modern …

The Eschatological Marian Image

In sharp contrast to the multiple-viewpoint technique and elongated figures dominating the old, Byzantine-influenced paintings, the new Western 15th century religious images are distinguished above all by an “increasing realism” embedding conspicuous moments in biblical narrative within landscapes or interiors of great spatial and symbolic complexity. Moreover, the increased availability of panel paintings and, by the mid-15th-century, woodcuts, naturally facilitates their acquisition as quasi-spiritual tokens for the purpose of private devotion. Hans Belting writes: “Individual citizens did not want an image different from the public one so much as they needed one that would belong to them personally. They expected the image to speak to them in person.” Jeffrey Hamburger notes that the transition from aniconic to an image-based vision is characterized by “the increasingly important role of corporeal imagery in spiritual life.” In this development, spanning from the late 13th through the 15th century, “the process of vision is detached from the process of reading [Scripture].” Less the focus of sustained exegesis or affective vision than a deposit of possible allusions and increasingly fungible …

Traversing Marian Economics

This August I will celebrate five years since being received into full communion with the Catholic Church. My journey into the Church was a long one, at least ten years. When I began telling friends and family about my upcoming reception, like most Catholic “converts” I received a wide range of reactions. I’d been raised within a small Protestant holiness denomination and later, during graduate school, I was confirmed in the Episcopal church. In addition to this, for many years I’d been studying and practicing canonical icon writing with a Russian Orthodox school of iconology. Some people couldn’t understand why I’d leave the Episcopal church as they knew I had convictions about women’s leadership in the church. Others couldn’t understand why I wasn’t becoming Orthodox, given my passion for the holy images. It is never easy to explain such journeys, and it is not my personality to attempt explanation. But some loved ones needed to hear something by way of explanation and so, when I found it pressing, I gave the best answer I could …