15 Aug

Sinning against the common good

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 08/15/16

Jacques Maritain on how human societies must account for the full nature of human personhood

“The end of society is the good of the community, of the social body. But if the good of the social body is not understood to be a common good of human persons, just as the social body itself is a whole of human persons, this conception also would lead to other errors of a totalitarian type. The common good of the city is neither the mere collection of private goods, nor the proper good of a whole which, like the species with regard to its individuals or the hive with respect to its bees, relates the parts to itself alone and sacrifices them to itself. It is the good human life of the multitude, of a multitude of persons; it is their communion in good living. It is therefore common to both the whole and the parts into which it flows back and which, in turn, must benefit from it. . . .

“[T]he common good of the city or of civilization — an essentially human common good in which the whole of man is engaged — does not preserve its true nature unless it respects that which surpasses it, unless it is subordinated, not as a pure means, but as an infravalent end, to the order of eternal goods and the supra-temporal values from which human life is suspended.

“This intrinsic subordination refers above all to the supernatural beatitude to which the human person is directly ordained. It is also and already related — a fact which a philosopher cannot ignore — to everything which of itself transcends political society, because all such things belong to the order of the absolute. We have in mind the [pagebreak] natural law, the rule of justice and the requirements of fraternal love; the life of the spirit and all that which, in us, is a natural beginning of contemplation; the immaterial dignity of the truth, in all domains and all degrees however humble they may be, of theoretical knowledge, and the immaterial dignity of beauty, both of which are nobler than the things of common life and which, if curbed by it, never failed to avenge themselves. In the measure that human society attempts to free itself from this subordination and proclaim itself the supreme good, in the very same measure it perverts its own nature and that of the common good — in the same measure it destroys the common good. . . . The common good of civil life is an ultimate end, but an ultimate end in a relative sense and in a certain order. It is lost if it is closed within itself, for, of its very nature, it is intended to favor the higher ends of the human person. The human person’s vocation to goods which transcend it is embodied in the essence of the common good. To ignore these truths is to sin at the same time and by the same token against both the human person and the common good.”

— from Jacques Maritain, “The Person and Society,” in The Person and the Common Good (Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1947)

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28 Jul

Confined to moral ghettos

Category: What We're Reading
Published: 07/28/16

Matthew Hanley on Augusto Del Noce’s The Crisis of Modernity.

“What emerges, perhaps above all, is that our current crisis is fundamentally metaphysical in nature. Modernity is a grand project of negation: the very order of being – as classically understood – has been shunned for theories that emphasize right praxis in time; history has become the lens through which things are assigned value. Fulfillment ‘lies in front of us, not above us,’ and whoever speaks of eternal metaphysical truths is branded a reactionary.”

— Matthew Hanley

On Volume 128 of the Journal, we interviewed mathematician Carlo Lancellotti about his translation of twentieth-century Italian philosopher Augusto Del Noce's The Crisis of Modernity. Today, the column for the daily online publication, The Catholic Thing, featured a helpful and brief summary of Del Noce's work, written by Matthew Hanley, a senior fellow for the National Catholic Bioethics Center. We encourage you to take a look.

18 Jul

The fountainhead from which perversions gush

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/18/16

Josef Pieper on how refusing to acknowledge the spiritual core of our true nature leads to a “roaming restlessness of the spirit”

“[According] to an ancient thought of Western wisdom, . . . ‘sloth’ . . . as acedia, is habitually counted among the seven capital sins (vitia capitalia). But present-day popular understanding has perverted the original concept of ‘sloth’ as a Capital sin into nearly its opposite. In ordinary usage ‘sloth’ seems to have settled into the domain of work — understood as lack of diligence, laziness, lack of pleasure in work. But when the great masters of Western Christendom named this ‘sloth of the heart’ a sin, it was not meant to be an approval of the ceaseless activity of the capitalist work establishment. Rather, acedia means that man does not ‘collaborate’ or work together with the realization of himself; that he refuses to add his conscious contribution to his very own, truly human existence. It is not at all a question of external activity but of the full realization of the self, to which we know we are silently but unmistakably summoned. And not to accept this summons, to respond to it with ‘no’: this is precisely the essence of ‘sloth’, of acedia. Through the sloth that is sin, man barricades himself against the challenge handed to him by his own dignity. He resists being a spiritual entity endowed with the power to make decisions; he simply does not want to be that for which God lifted him up above all natural potentiality. In other words, man does not want to be what  he nevertheless cannot stop being: a spiritual being, truly satisfied with nothing less than God himself; and beyond that, ‘son of God’, rightful heir to eternal life. . . .

“It was already said that sloth, acedia, was considered a capital sin in the ancient wisdom. Caput means source. Vitia capitalia are those perversions from which, as from a fountainhead, more perversions gush forth. Thus it is meaningful and necessary to speak not only of the source itself, but of the whole length of the river nourished by it. If one proceeds in this manner, from the river’s mouth to its source, to the source-sin of sloth, then its relationship to the existential mode of man in our time suddenly becomes very apparent. It is totally impossible to overlook.

“From not-wanting-to-be-oneself, from the refusal to collaborate with the completion of one’s own being, from this innermost conflict of man with himself, from this sloth (in a word), as the ancients say, springs the ‘roaming restlessness of the spirit’. He who is in conflict with himself in his inmost dwelling, who consequently does not will to be what he fundamentally is anyway, cannot dwell within himself and cannot be at home with himself. He has to make the vain experiment of breaking out from his own center — for example, into the restlessness of working for work’s sake or into the insatiable curiosity of the lustful eye, which does not really seek knowledge but only an ‘opportunity to abandon oneself to the world’ (Heidegger), which is an opportunity to avoid oneself.

“It must further be realized that both manifestations — the systematic establishment of the work ideal as absolute and the degeneration of the lustful eye — surround themselves with the immense effort of a forced optimism, of a radiating trust in life, of a noisily proclaimed ‘progress’. Everyone knows that belief in progress is declared a social duty in the world of nothing but work. It is also known that keep happy and happy end belong from the start to the basic elements of this world of illusions, in which the greedy eye has created for itself a replacement for the ‘fullness of life’.

“For all that, these optimistic attitudes provide no final meaning in the face of the despair that is their source — even though this source is safely enclosed in the innermost chamber of the heart, so that no cry of pain penetrates the outside, most likely not even to its own consciousness.”

— from Joseph Pieper, “The Obscurity of Hope and Despair,” in Josef Pieper: An Anthology (Ignatius Press, 1989)

(Click here to read an excerpt from R. J. Snell’s Acedia and Its Discontents: Metaphysical Boredom in an Empire of Desire.)

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13 Jul

Only domesticated religions are safe to be free

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/13/16

Stanley Hauerwas on why “freedom of religion” carries subtle temptations

“The First Amendment, when interpreted against the backdrop of political liberalism, has had disastrous results for church and society. I do not want to take the sting out of the argument to follow, but I hope it will be clear that I am not suggesting we repeal the First Amendment. The First Amendment could be a politically significant way for a state to acknowledge those public enterprises so essential to the public weal that they should be protected from command of the government. It is the brunt of my case, however, that for a complex set of reasons the First Amendment does not serve that end in our society. Moreover, my concern is not with the failure of American society in this respect, but with the failure of the church to hold the society to be true to its own best commitments.

“Because Christians have been so concerned with supporting the social and legal institutions that sustain freedom of religion, we have failed to notice that we are no longer a people who make it interesting for a society to acknowledge our freedom. Put differently, in such a context, believer and nonbeliever alike soon begin to think what matters is not whether our convictions are true but whether they are functional. We thus fail to remember that the question is not whether the church has the freedom to preach the gospel in America, but rather whether the church in America preaches the gospel as truth. The question is not whether we have freedom of religion and a corresponding limited state in America, but whether we have a church that has a people capable of saying no to the state. No state, particularly the democratic state, is kept limited by constitutions, but rather states are limited by a people with the imagination and courage to challenge the inveterate temptation of the state to ask us to compromise our loyalty to God.

“Freedom of religion is a temptation, albeit a subtle one. It tempts us as Christians to believe that we have been rendered safe by legal mechanisms. It is subtle because we believe that our task as Christians is to support the ethos necessary to maintaining the mechanism. As a result, we lose the critical skills formed by the gospel to know when we have voluntarily qualified our loyalty to God in the name of the state. We confuse freedom of religion with freedom of the church, accepting the assumption that the latter is but a specification of the former. We thus become tolerant, allowing our convictions to be relegated to the realm of the private. . . .

“The religion we have [in America] is one that has been domesticated on the presumption that only a domesticated religion is safe to be free in America. Rather than being a church that could be capable of keeping the state limited, Christianity in America became a ‘religion’ in the service of a state which then promised it ‘freedom.’ For what free means is the right to entertain personally meaningful beliefs that have only the most indirect relation to the state. The state by definition is just since it provides for freedom of religion. The inability of Protestant churches in America to maintain any sense of authority over the lives of their members is one of the most compelling signs that freedom of religion has resulted in the corruption of Christians who now believe they have the right religiously to make up their own minds. There is every sign that this is now also happening among Roman Catholics. As a result, neither Protestants nor Catholics have the capacity to stand as disciplined people capable of challenging the state.”

— from Stanley Hauerwas, “Why Freedom of Religion is a Subtle Temptation,” in After Christendom: How the Church is to Behave as if Freedom, Justice, and a Christian Nation are Bad Ideas (Abingdon Press, 1991)

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12 Jul

Free for obedience

Category: Sound Thinking
By: Ken Myers
Published: 07/12/16

Glenn W. Olsen on Augustine’s understanding of freedom

“Augustine developed an understanding of freedom that was intrinsically important and had great historical influence. For him freedom of the will was not something that existed as an end in itself, but as something necessary for love to exist, love’s precondition. Indeed, for both Augustine and Aquinas, will is identified with love of goodness. That is, human life was to aim at becoming God-like, at becoming a wise lover, and to this end mankind had been given freedom of the will. This was to be exercised in community, that is communally, for humans were made for social life. R. A. Markus quite seriously misinterpreted Augustine when he held that Augustine believed in a neutral saeculum. Augustine was no modern liberal. For him freedom, properly exercised, brings one into conformity first with God, and then with neighbor. Freedom exists not to do as one pleases, but as God pleases. Thus the paradox that the most liberated human is he who renounces his own will at every point where it conflicts with God’s will. This of course is a paradox only to a person who accepts the redefinition of freedom of the modern centuries, when freedom is less and less understood as a precondition for living a proper human life, and more and more understood as the very goal of life. Augustine’s view was almost the opposite of what probably the majority since the Enlightenment have meant by liberty.”

—from Glenn W. Olsen, “The Church in History: Status Viatoris” (Communio, Summer-Fall 2013)

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