All posts filed under: Featured

A Garden Lurking Beneath the Floorboards

In 1912, Sergei Bulgakov published The Philosophy of Economy, a sociological, philosophical, and religious examination of economic materialism. This was his way of settling an intellectual debt which he owed from his period as a respected Marxist intellectual. After writing two well-received works of Marxist economics, he drifted from political economy to explore the entire gamut of Idealist thought, particularly Kant, Hegel, and Schelling. This drift ended in one final major transition from Idealism to Christianity through reading the Russian sage and mystic Vladimir Solovyov. Like Solovyov, Bulgakov was drawn to a richly speculative understanding of the figure of Sophia from the Wisdom literature of the Old Testament—relating it in different ways to the order of Creation, the historical person of Mary, and the Church considered as the Bride of Christ. The Philosophy of Economy was Bulgakov’s first work to explicitly appeal to Sophiology in order to illuminate what are usually considered concerns of the practical order. With it, he hoped to move beyond the opposition of life and thought toward a more holistic, liturgical, …

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 …

Burke’s Romantic Restoration of Natural Law

This point (see: previous installment “The History of Natural Right”) was put supremely well by Edmund Burke: The rights of men are in a sort of middle, incapable of definition, but not impossible to be discerned. The rights of men in governments are their advantages; and these are often in balances between differences of good; in compromises sometimes between good and evil, and sometimes, between evil and evil. Political reason is a computing principle: adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing, morally and not metaphysically or mathematically, true moral denominations.[1] Burke’s argument is that what he calls “real right” depends upon this priority of the proportionately relational and reciprocal. Thus, he is by no means denying the validity of a modern universal claim right aspect to ius, but on the contrary fully re-inscribing it (beyond the limitations of early-modern scholasticism) within a traditional and essentially Aristotelian (or even Thomistic) horizon. In this spirit he declares that if civil society fulfills human nature, “the advantages for which it is made” (in other words its objective telē) also become …

Classroom Technology as the End of Education

As recently as half a decade ago, popular opinion regarded educational technology as a panacea for struggling schools and the key to reimagining American education. The New York Times was feting Khan Academy and the Washington Post continually lauded the possibilities afforded by “ed tech.”[1] In 2013, Google Classroom was still in its infancy, and the “flipped classroom” was more a novelty than a widespread practice.[2] Just a few years later, the educational cognoscenti are less certain. Pundits warn against indiscriminate adoption, and anxieties over excessive “screen time” have grown.[3] Many have become wary of the cultural and economic dominance of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and the like, especially in the education sector.[4] The fact that many tech executives send their children to tech-free schools alone should give us pause.[5] Yet most of these cautions are issued from a neurological, positivist-psychological, or otherwise materialist standpoint and retain the same criteria under which educational technology was applauded in the first place. We are told to be careful about the amount of technology in the classroom because it …

Renewing Nouvelle Théologie

There was a depression over the Atlantic. It was travelling eastwards, towards an area of high pressure over Russia, and still showed no tendency to move northward around it. The isotherms and isotheres were fulfilling their functions. The atmospheric temperature was in proper relation to the average annual temperature, the temperature of the coldest as well as of the hottest month, and the a-periodic monthly variation in temperature. The rising and setting of the sun and of the moon, the phases of the moon, Venus and Saturn’s rings, and many other important phenomena, were in accordance with the forecasts in the astronomical yearbooks. The vapour in the air was at its highest tension, and the moisture in the air was at its lowest. In short, to use an expression that describes the facts pretty satisfactorily, even though it is somewhat old-fashioned: it was a fine August day in the year 1913.  —Robert Musil Robert Musil, the early 20th century Austrian novelist, begins his multi-volume classic The Man Without Qualities (1930-1943) with a meteorological report about …

Gripping the Book of Nature’s Reality

There’s a repeating image in José Ortega y Gasset’s first book, Meditations on Quixote, of a bird flying through and then falling from the sky. When we first see the bird, it is gliding over a “miasmic swamp,” a metaphor for the “past falling dead within our memory.” The bird then becomes a truth hunted by great scientists and falling lifeless at their feet. An “ideal bird,” representing creatures of a heroic future which are unable to yet exist in the harsh conditions of the imperfect present, is laughed at as it pathetically falls from its branch. Finally, and perhaps most importantly for Gasset, birds sing on the edges of a forest which we are trying to penetrate, messengers of a depth which we can only intimate through their music. The notes of their song express a sylvan interiority which is “condemned to become a surface if it wants to be visible.” Meditations is only partially about the Quixote. It is more a rumination on the national spirit of Spain. But more than that even, …

The History of Natural Right

Given this revisionary account of the development of natural law (click for previous instalment in this series) in western intellectual history, how does it relate to the story of natural rights? In the case of Aquinas, as with many other medieval theologians, and the canon law itself, the Christian exaltation of individual uniqueness and liberty led to a greater recognition of subjective rights in the sense of both claim and exercise rights than had previously been the case. However, the claims generally remained claims upon others to exercise their more primary duties, while exercise rights were attached to social roles whose duties were derived from justice as distribution.[1] Later, in the 16th century, in the case of both Catholic and Calvinist thought, there was a greater development of the idea of “rights” as attaching to human beings as such, especially with respect to life, freedom and ownership. Thus for example, Suarez no longer, like Aquinas, defined ius as id quod iustum est, or as the equitable, but as “a kind of facultas which every man …

Chief Obstacles to Good Spiritual Direction

I recently had a conversation with a group of friends about the state of parishes. During the conversation, one of them said something like, “What people really need is spiritual direction. That’s what people want, and what they need. That’s what parishes need to provide for us. Imagine how things could be different.” This corresponds to my experience working with parishes all around the country. When conversion begins to awaken a desire for intimacy with God, one of the first things people begin to desire is “spiritual direction.” Somewhere along the line they are introduced to the practice, perhaps through a friend, a book, or a speaker. More than any other kind of involvement in Church life, they desire and need guidance. I would like to propose that individual spiritual guidance be a primary ministry, in addition to the sacraments, that parishes provide. But there are some definite obstacles to this being the reality. I would like to identify just three of them: Catholics tend to have an overly mystical conception of spiritual direction. There are …

The Anti-Catholicism of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks

The publication in the last few years of several volumes of the Black Notebooks (Schwarze Hefte)—consisting of Heidegger’s unedited ruminations from the early 1930’s to the early 1940’s on Being, human being, destiny, religion, ethics, and politics—has had about it the character of a sensation. It was thought that if we are to find beneath the complexities and opacities of Heidegger’s expression regarding his basic attitudes towards contemporary culture and political events, then here in these journals or notebooks, which Heidegger expressly forbade to be published in his lifetime, one can finally gain clarity in real time of the views Heidegger held during the fateful years of the Third Reich. The Notebooks, we are told, provide the raw and unfiltered versions of Heidegger’s attitude towards things of which he best provides notices in his published works. The Black Notebooks are understood to be the ultimate exposé, the smoking gun that was needed to put the nail in the coffin for a colluder masquerading as a thinker. The genre of the advertising for the Black Notebooks …

Confessions of a Feminist Heretic

During the advent of my first pregnancy, in 2012, I was comfortably settled into my own unique brand of postmodern feminist Christianity. I remember lounging on the couch amidst waves of debilitating nausea, watching news coverage of the controversial Contraceptive Mandate, rolling my eyes in anger and disgust at those regressive Catholic priests in their prim white collars, telling women what to do with their bodies. Yet almost exactly two years later, I would be standing before such a priest at the Easter Vigil Mass, publicly confessing my desire to be received into the largest, oldest male-helmed institution in the world, the Roman Catholic Church. My sudden swerve into Catholicism prompted a dramatic worldview inversion on a number of issues related to feminism and sexuality, including the central feminist tenet that abortion is good for women. I can trace my paradigm shift on abortion to two underlying recognitions that dawned slowly during those two short years: a recognition of unborn personhood, and a recognition that the feminist ideal of autonomy sets a woman at war …