All posts filed under: Articles

None of Us Shall Enter the Kingdom?

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD! “In our age,” Søren Kierkegaard complains about the 19th century in Fear and Trembling, “everyone is unwilling to stop with faith but goes further.”[1] This is true in our day also. For all the talk about “the end of faith,” sustained reflections on this theological virtue are scarce. In film, reflections on faith rarely go beyond the trappings of clerical garb or the often heavy-handed and saccharine “Christian movie” genre. Over a year ago, Martin Scorcese’s Silence generated a lively discussion around Christian martyrdom. More recently, Paul Schrader’s First Reformed, has given us the kind of dramatic look at the tormented inner life of a country parson the likes of which we had not seen since Ingmar Bergman’s Winter Light or Robert Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest. This is to be welcomed. Still, I want to point to an older film largely unknown outside of specialist circles, as well as to the theological tradition that underpins it. A film which addresses the nature of Christian faith with unrivaled centrality and depth. Perhaps …

The Resplendent Completion of the Liberal Arts

Prolegomena of Meaning We live in a world mediated by meaning.[1] I begin with a well-worn phrase, one that you may never have seen worn thin, and one that cannot be immediately understood. I know that you read it and wonder what on earth I mean by it. Still, you know it is meaningful somehow. At the least you know that I mean something by it, whatever that might be. In other words, in reading it, you know and do not know. This is how the first minutes of the day strike each of us: there, already somehow present to our bleary-eyed consciousness, brimming with an unannounced something. I cannot say what. I can say only that I am awake, and that the morning is not nothing to me. We live in a world mediated by meaning. I begin here and I will explain what it means, though I know it is not readily apparent. I begin here in part because “knowing is not like taking a good look,”[2] is not like staring and seeing, …

Ora et Labora: Christians Don’t Need Leisure

We Christians, no less than other human creatures, are interested in ourselves. Deformed versions of this interest are narcissistic: under that rubric, we think of ourselves as if we were intrinsically valuable and important and good, and then we forget that whatever value, importance, and goodness we have has been given to us by the triune LORD whom we worship. That gift denies us anything of our own. Less deformed versions of our concern with ourselves begin and end with the thought that we are creatures, brought into being out of nothing by our LORD for purposes scarcely apparent to us. Thinking about ourselves in this way has the double good of requiring us to think about our LORD, and of deflating our pretensions. It is not easy to think like that, however; narcissism was not abolished by Jesus, even if its eventual overcoming is assured, and a good deal of Christian theological anthropology, professional-hectoring and popular-sentimental both, shows narcissism’s deleterious effects. We Christians remain disposed to concern about how the world seems to us …

Desanitizing Christianity After St. Benedict and After Virtue

It has been a year or so since Rod Dreher published the much debated book The Benedict Option.[1] St. Benedict Reconsidered Since first hearing the term “Benedict Option” bandied about on social media, I had the impression it was based upon a reading of MacIntyre’s concluding salvo in After Virtue. Whether that reading is fruitful or pernicious I leave to the judgment of others and to that of history—though I suspect, as with most things, it is neither simply the one nor the other. It has been noted recently[2], that we can read MacIntyre’s concluding observation as either a prophecy destined to go unfulfilled or an exhortation to be heeded. In the first case, he is not unlike Cassandra of ancient Troy—given the gift of prophetic sight only to be condemned to a see and speak in a world incapable of hearing and believing.[3] If we read it in the second sense, it is closer to a call to arms, a call that has been met over the past year by proposals from figures like …

Remembering Creation Through the Saturday Sabbath

We have asked in our collect this week that our loving triune God put away from us all hurtful things and give us those things which are profitable for us. It is a fitting petition for us at this time, being as we are on the heels of Whitsunday and the Coming of the Holy Spirit, because it is precisely profitable things that we asked for in the Gifts of the Holy Spirit—both in the traditional expression of the Gifts of the Holy Spirit and in our local expression, where we asked for gifts that include 3-5 new families at both churches, a vocation to the diaconate, and a game plan to meet the homebound and lonely outside of our church membership but within our geographic parish. In other words, this is a season for asking for profitable things from God. And we should never hold back from the Maker of all that is, seen and unseen, our desire for profitable things. For as Saint Luke records of Our Lord Jesus, “How much more will …

Justice Kennedy, Judge Kavanaugh, and Our Two Supreme Courts

As many people now know, thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alexander Hamilton insisted, in one of his famous essays urging his fellow New Yorkers to embrace the proposed Constitution of the United States, that the Supreme Court “is beyond comparison the weakest” of the national government’s three branches. After all, the other two branches “dispense[] the honors,” “hold[] the sword,” “command[] the purse,” and “prescribe[] the rules.” But the Supreme Court? It has “neither FORCE nor WILL, but merely judgment” and is, therefore, the government’s “least dangerous branch.” Things have changed. For a variety of reasons—including the “rights revolution” of the 1960’s and Congress’s inability, or unwillingness, to legislate—the Court’s role in the country’s policies, politics, culture, and imagination has ballooned. Every summer, as the Court’s term comes to an end and the high-profile, hot-button decisions are released, judicial junkies are glued to their screens and the SCOTUSblog website like MCU fans waiting for the new Avengers trailer to drop. Each new much-anticipated, 5-4 ruling prompts howls and hosannas, grim pronouncements that doom is near and …

The Horror Inherent in Leisure

Leisure is not the cessation of work, but work of another kind, work restored to its human meaning, as a celebration and a festival. –Roger Scruton Leisure may very well be the basis of culture—as the beloved Josef Pieper says—but the word bears a fantastically unconvincing ring to a family full of farmers and maintenance workers as something to do with one’s life. I can assure you of this from personal experience. When the leisure espoused includes nary a game of sport or hunting, and includes little to no gambling, you can understand the incommensurable impasse a fly-over humanities major finds himself in defending their life choices. The great Walker Percy on more than one occasion relates that it was easier to say to townsfolk in Louisiana that he did “nothing” rather than explain that he wrote for a living. My interest is drilling into a fundamental misunderstanding of leisure by its supposed practitioners and most fervent devotees. Too often the allure of the quietude and unsegmented hours that must be allotted for the practice …

The Personalist Awakening in 20th Century Catholic Moral Thought

The personalist awakening in 20th century Catholic moral thought restored the ancient and medieval priority accorded to persons—as well as to the ways of relating between them (especially friendship)—to the modern field of ethics and moral theology. Furthermore, friendship is a strong idiomatic pattern in New Testament reflections, according to which, through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we can once again enjoy friendship with God. Jesus related not only to the Apostles as friends, but to all who gathered around him as friends. Jesus says the following in John 15: This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father (12-15). Though the …

The Mocking of Christ by the Glittering Spectacles of Consumerism

Everything vies for our attention. Movies, marketing campaigns, even medicines, all seek to fulfill our desires for release and joy. Entertainment captures our minds and transports them to different realities through various spectacles that shape our lives. This insight is blindingly obvious even though we are submerged in rampant consumerism and subversive capitalism. Chanon Ross unpacks how the early Christians dealt with their version of spectacle and draws parallels to how this theology of the spectacle shapes the Christian faith through the centuries. Gifts Glittering and Poisoned: Spectacle, Empire, and Metaphysics invites readers to take a trip back in time to the Coliseum and recognize that the horror of the past still exists in a (not always) bloodless and potent fashion now. Ross argues that it is only through the True Spectacle of Christ that Christians can be freed from the seductive draw of the “society of spectacle” to devote our deepest longings to the Triune God. Ross expands the idea of spectacle by contrasting it with the capital-s Spectacle (of Christ) in a tripartite …

Byung-Chul Han and the Subversive Power of Contemplation

“Avita contemplativa without acting is blind, a vita activa without contemplation is empty,” writes the rising star of the German philosophical scene in his book The Scent of Time. Byung-Chul Han draws a nuanced account of “lingering with God in loving attentiveness” as a spur to action from the writings of Gregory the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Meister Eckhart. He then defends the mystical tradition from his own spiritual master, Martin Heidegger.[1] The late Heidegger began to turn his philosophical attention to the path of contemplation, but it is at the heart of Han’s project from the start. He shows us how contemplation creates the time and space for meaningful action in a breathless, frantic, and networked modern society. Han’s next book, The Burnout Society, was a smash hit in Germany and his native South Korea that will soon be translated into 13 other languages. Unexpectedly, a meditation on the importance of contemplation, including prayerful contemplation, now animates debates about the future of the global Left,[2] the legacy of Foucault, and the direction of contemporary …