All posts filed under: Theology

Gabriel Marcel and the Discovery of Fatherhood

Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) wrote about the meaning of the family beginning in 1927 with his earliest Metaphysical Journal right through to his latest autobiographical text, Awakenings (1971) and in dialogues with Paul Ricoeur and others in 1973 about his plays. As a philosopher of the “concrete,” Marcel was fascinated by the intimate relations and identities of family members. The unfolding of his philosophical thinking about the family can be divided into three phases: first, autobiographical reflections on the family he was born into and brought up by; second, the preparation for teaching a course on Fatherhood in Lyons; and third, autobiographical reflections on the family he participated in as husband and father. Throughout these three phases Marcel also created over 20 dramatic plays, in many of which he developed consequences of distorted family experiences and of grace of conversion in the midst of what he called “the broken world.” I. The Family as a Mystery or a Problem In “Concrete Approaches to Investigating the Ontological Mystery,” Marcel offered his well-known distinction between a problem and …

Integralism and the Logic of the Cross

I. Timothy Troutner’s Objections to Integralism Catholic integralism is the position that politics should be ordered to the common good of human life, both temporal and spiritual, and that temporal and spiritual authority ought therefore to have an ordered relation. As a consequence, it rejects modern liberal understandings of freedom. Timothy Troutner, in a recent article, strongly objects to the integralist position. Troutner argues that integralists in reacting to liberalism become liberalism’s mirror image. Liberalism, he claims, is understandable as a reaction to real errors in Christendom, and promoted, though in a distorted way, the precious Christian truths of the goodness of liberty and equality that Christendom had forgotten. In simply rejecting liberalism as a deception of the Anti-Christ, Troutner argues, integralists end up defending indefensible crimes of Christendom, and condemning important truths associated with liberalism. Integralists commit a fatal error, Troutner thinks, in attempting to attain spiritual ends by means of coercive, temporal power. In this, he suggests they play the role of the devil. Just as the devil tempted Christ in the desert …

Political Theology’s Haunting of Contemporary Politics

Erik Peterson’s Thought Erik Peterson and Carl Schmitt had met as early as 1919 but became better acquainted in 1924 when Peterson took a Church History and New Testament chair at the University of Bonn. This was a period of development for Peterson’s thought and he would eventually cross the Tiber in 1930 at great personal expense. The road to Catholicism was not a short one for Peterson and his relationship with Schmitt was significant in multiple ways. They were friends who commonly shared ideas and spoke highly of each other. Not the least significant of these shared ideas was that in Peterson’s own study of the New Testament he discovered that it was rife with legal terms. Thus, according to Peterson’s astute biographer Barbra Nichtwieß, the friendship between Schmitt and Peterson led to certain parallel insights in their respective disciplines as well.[1] Both thinkers are apocalyptic, but whereas Schmitt’s apocalyptic identifies a particular political crisis and emphasizes the importance of political decision, Peterson’s focuses on the cosmic and revelatory transformation that has occurred through …

The Integralist Mirroring of Liberal Ideals

I. A quarter century after Francis Fukuyama proclaimed liberalism “the end of history,” it is nearly impossible to avoid stumbling across rumors of its demise. With increasing populist dissent from the post-war global order, liberalism—not American left-wing politics but a combination of economic, legal, and social arrangements and their philosophical underpinnings—has received new scrutiny, especially among Catholics. Often attributed to John Locke, this system of free markets, free speech, and freedom of religion seeks to accommodate pluralism and avoid violence by focusing on procedures for getting along, rather than by legislating a vision of the good life. Although strains of liberalism differ, liberalisms typically claim to provide a neutral space for the exercise of freedom, which is construed as the highly individual project of self-creation. Among the most outspoken of liberalism’s critics are “Catholic integralists.” Although the term “integralist” has a complex history, this essay focuses on the contemporary, predominantly American variety, which alleges that liberalism’s maintenance of neutrality inevitably clashes with Catholic efforts to shape society according to Christian notions of the common good. …

Celebrating 200 Years of Catholic Theology’s Oldest Journal

While scrambling to finish an article on German theology last month, I found myself rummaging for a quotation from the inaugural, 1819 issue of the Theologische Quartalschrift, the house journal for the Catholic faculty of theology in Tübingen. Then it struck me that the ThQ had turned two hundred, and I would be remiss if I could not find a way to fete this loyal and reliable companion. But is it decadent to care about a journal? American theologians are more likely to connect journals with prestige than with place. Few faculties properly house a journal. My own institution, Saint Louis University, housed Theology Digest from 1967–2010, but by the time I had arrived in 2007, few of the faculty published in, read, or even browsed it. The Digest seemed more an eccentric side project of one dedicated faculty member than a point of pride for the rest of us. Its loss was mostly felt in the journal swap that our library could no longer participate in. Nostalgia for journals is more likely to arise …

The Essence of African Traditional Religion

One scholar who has written extensively on African Traditional Religion is John Mbiti, a Kenyan whom many consider the dean of living African theologians. An important preoccupation of Mbiti’s work has been to show that knowledge of God and the worship of God have been staples of African life from the earliest times on the continent. In other words, he shows that the sense of the divine was not something introduced to Africa by missionaries or by anyone else; that the knowledge of God in African religion was not much different from the idea of God that Christian missionaries preached in Africa; and, more specifically to our purpose here, that belief in God engendered a moral response that for centuries before Christian arrival in Africa directed moral life and interaction on the continent and among its peoples. According to Mbiti, Africans came to believe in God by reflecting on their experience and through observation of the created universe. Specifically, by reflecting on the wonder and magnitude of the universe, they came to the conclusion that …

Justice and Rights in Europe Today

In all the ways that I have indicated earlier in this six-part series, one can readily argue that liberalism, even Kantian liberalism, is not, after all, metaphysically agnostic. To the contrary, the other aspect to its ethical minimalism is clearly a materializing and reductive ontology. This observation therefore challenges the assumption that liberal societies are really neutral as to belief or to metaphysical assertion. Perhaps such neutrality is impossible, in which case one could argue that the public and established bias ought to run towards nobler, more “ideally realist” beliefs and affirmations, likely to be more romantically inspiring. Besides, as I have already suggested (in the long-term wake of the French romantic philosophers Maine de Biran and Félix Ravaisson), the liberal conviction, which holds that our “additions” of habits to nature are not fully natural and not objectively valuable for anything more than human preference, is not really livable, and does not actually accord with our tacit assumptions, even if we claim to be agnostic or atheist. But how might all this relate to contemporary …

Maritain’s Postwar Compromise of Natural Law

Compared with Edmund Burke’s unsourced Thomism (see: previous instalment in this series) concerning natural law, Jacques Maritain’s version, from the mid 20th century, was far less authentic. Contrary to his unhelpfully ecumenical proclamations after World War II, the metaphysical and theological foundation of natural law, so well sustained by Burke, is not a matter of indifference with respect to the content and understanding of rights.[1] For without it the social will not tend to be seen as original and constitutive, and accordingly rights will be embraced on an assumption of ontological violence, which can only be channelled and newly wielded in all its arbitrariness, if the absoluteness of right is itself, paradoxically, to be upheld. For this reason all rights-based or rights-preponderant theories are pessimistic views which limit the scope of justice and in the case of the former, as with Hobbes (who remains always the arch-theorist of right, as Strauss correctly discerned), of its ultimate non-reality, save for the dismal notion that it is the established ruling fiction of God himself. For this reason, …

The Faith of Ancient Philosophy’s Fathers

Truly one of the joys of reading Dariusz Karlowicz’s Socrates and Other Saints: Early Christian Understandings of Reason and Philosophy, is its lively, engaging style. It is irresistibly beguiling and beguilingly irresistible in so many places. Consider, for example, this opening characterization of the Church Fathers: Even though they looked to the heavens, they were firmly planted on the earth. They were not in danger of falling into a cistern like stargazing Thales. They lived in their own here and now. They knew what was en vogue. They not only knew the invaluable classics, but also the most fashionable trash . . . There is nothing of the classicist streak in them (xix). But the feature of the text to which I am drawing attention here is more than just style for style’s sake, but rather a way of asking questions better than the ways in which similar questions have been asked before. As the author notes, But do the philosophers and the prophets direct our gaze toward the same goal? Does philosophy at least …

Marxism and Religion

According to Marx, religion has a dual role to play. Throughout the history of class society religion performs two essential functions: it buttresses the established order by sanctifying it and by suggesting that the political order is somehow ordained by divine authority, and it consoles the oppressed and exploited by offering them in heaven what they are denied upon earth. At the same time, by holding before them a vision of what they are denied, religion plays at least partly a progressive role in that it gives the common people some idea of what a better order would be. But when it becomes possible to realize that better order upon earth in the form of communism, then religion becomes wholly reactionary, for it distracts men from establishing a now possible good society on earth by still turning their eyes toward heaven. Its sanctification of the existing social order makes it a counter-revolutionary force. Thus in the course of building a communist society, the Marxist must fight religion because it will inevitably stand in his path. …