All posts tagged: Catholic imagination

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 …

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 …

The Mass: Heart of the Church and Academia

One of the best expressions of “Catholic community” in Higher Education is the academic colloquium. Only recently, Pope Francis reminded a gathering of Italian teachers that a commitment to free association was a way of fostering “an open outlook towards the social and cultural horizon.”[1] Such opportunities for shared exploration of ideas are welcome reminders of the Church’s longstanding engagement with the cultural challenges encountered in the mission to evangelize. It could be argued that such events risk presenting an elitist face to both the world and the wider Church. At their best, however, they offer multiple opportunities for fruitful dialogue on how to address the challenges of relativism and materialism, which, according to Pope Benedict XVI, make up a contemporary “educational emergency.”[2] I had the privilege of recently organising one such colloquium at the University of Glasgow (founded in 1451 by Pope Nicholas V). Catholicism, Culture, Education (the title of the Colloquium) was an opportunity for an international audience of Catholic educators (mainly in third-level institutions) to share thoughts on how to energise their …

There Is No Salvation Through the University

The 173rd commencement exercises will take place at the University of Notre Dame this weekend. Like most University commencements, there will be a good deal of self-congratulatory statements about the remarkable promise demonstrated by the class of 2018. Likewise, there will be generic exhortations to the newly minted students to “change the world,” to respond to the “unique challenges of this generation.” Yet not everything about these commencement exercises is quite so formulaic. At the conclusion of graduation on Sunday morning at Notre Dame Stadium, students will sing the Alma Mater once more (this time facing their parents and friends). The personification of the University as “nurturing mother,” as the place that brought the students into wisdom, is shared across colleges and universities. Students at Harvard College sing out in praise of “Fair Harvard!” The Bulldogs of Yale pledges themselves in song to God, country, and Yale. At the University of Tennessee, students clad in orange and white sing a wistful hymn commemorating the search for wisdom begun “on a hallowed hill in Tennessee.” Notre Dame’s Alma Mater is …

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 …

Relegating the Faith to the Private Sphere Generates a Distortion

Culture in the broadest sense can be defined as a way of life. The great historian Christopher Dawson created an entire corpus focused on the intersection of religion and culture. He claimed that four central pillars form the foundation of culture: people, environment, work, and thought.[1]  He describes how “the formation of culture is due to the interaction of all these factors; it is a four-fold community—for it involves in varying degrees a community of work and a community of thought as well as a community of place and a community of blood.”[2] When Dawson refers to the importance of thought, he means especially religious thought, which provides the inner form for the material organization of society. He describes how “every social culture is at once a material way of life and a spiritual order,” because “it is the religious impulse which supplies the cohesive force which unifies a society and a culture.”[3] Although Dawson recognizes that we live in the first secular culture in human history, he also rightly claims that the modern world …

Met Gala: Catholicism Broken but Shining

“Yo que sentí el horror de los espejos,” says Jorge Louis Borges. “I’ve been horrified before mirrors.”[1] Such strange things, mirrors. Those mysterious surfaces that reflect the eye’s light back to itself.[2] Poets so like to speak of them. Perhaps out of vanity, and perhaps because in mirrors we see “darkly” (cf. 1 Cor 13:12). One can never quite tell with poets. As for mirrors: mirrors, they are everywhere. Mirrors are experienced “ante el aqua,” writes Borges. “Before water.” Before speculating water that imitates The other blue in its deep sky[3] Or mirrors exist in windows, some of which Rainer Marian Rilke describes as an “Auge.” “An eye, which seems to rest.”[4] An eye that “opens and bangs shut (zusammenschlägt) with a crack of thunder.”[5] It is as if both poets imagine entire worlds behind (beneath? within?) each reflective surface. I include the original languages if only to force the eye to pause, to interpret. To hesitate and search for understanding. After all, knowing is not like looking.[6] I cannot walk along and pick up …

The Strange Myths of the New Evangelization

More than forty years after the publication of the encyclical Evangelii Nuntiandi by Pope Paul VI and six years since the establishment of a new Pontifical Council for Promoting New Evangelization, it is a good time to pause and evaluate how the New Evangelization project is proceeding. While many doom-and-gloom prophecies abound in casual Catholic conversation, a serious analysis of our current situation is essential. I would like to suggest that the common understanding or “conventional wisdom” among new-evangelists about the New Evangelization’s status is not based on well-documented evidence. While statistical studies are often cited with pessimistic relish, I will report on recent statistical and sociological research that may point in another direction—though a comprehensive sociological analysis of Catholic evangelization efforts is still lacking. Unfortunately, despite large investments of institutional energy in the New Evangelization, many Catholic communities are still evangelically ineffective. Later, I will suggest possible strategic shifts that could be implemented in order to improve the outcomes of our efforts. On the one hand, a renewed effort at full implementation of the …

The Formation of the Imagination

Robert Macfarlane, a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge University, has reignited the discussion on the connection between nature and the imagination. In Landmarks, his most recent book on the unique regional words used to describe English landscape, Macfarlane comments that “Our children’s vanishing encounters with nature represent a loss of imagination as well as a loss of primary experience.”[1] If Macfarlane articulates a concern for the disconnection between the decreasing number of experiences in nature and the imagination’s vigor in secular culture, is it such a great leap to question the connection between the imagination and the spiritual life? This very question was pondered by Father Conrad Pepler, O.P., a member of the English Dominican province, who addressed this topic some 60 years ago: There is a need of an imaginative response to life, a training of the imagination, not merely in a few cases of poetic talent, but as a common function in every member of society. Incalculable harm can be done to men generally by the perversion or deadening of this faculty. When …