“Walker Percy the Philosopher,” Revisited

walker percy

Walker Percy sees our culture as a diseased patient who has already died – perhaps around 1914. The name of the culture was Christendom. The greater difficulty beyond ascertaining death is to name the disease; or, as he says, “if not to isolate the bacillus under the microscope, at least to give the sickness a name, to render the unspeakable speakable.”[2]

Percy was acutely sensitive to the bacillus, and all the male Percy’s before him. His biographer Jay Tolson remarked: “The problem, specifically, was depression – a wracking, disabling depression… partly hereditary”[3] that engulfed his great-grandfather (suicide), his two uncles (LeRoy accidentally shot himself) and his father who deliberately shot himself after a previous attempt at slashing his wrists. Walker suffered acutely from the same fugues, melancholy and meaninglessness. While in medical school at Columbia, he was seeing a psychotherapist on a regular basis. While interning at Bellevue’s pathology lab, he contracted tuberculosis, was sent to a sanatorium in Saranac Lake, New York. Percy reports: “I lived a strange life then. For weeks I saw no one, except the person who brought me food, on a try, three times a day, and occasionally a doctor. I read and read.”[4] What did he read? Thomas Mann, Kafka, Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Kierkegaard. He left the sanatorium and the practice of medicine, returned to the south, traveled with Shelby Foote to New Mexico and there expanded his read to Gabriel Marcel, Heidegger, Mounier, Jaspers, and Sartre. Like Kafka, the scientist, he was on the hunt in search of the bacillus that was killing him (and everyone else).

What did he seek? Himself. Not himself in a selfishness of everything “for me,” but the identity and the reality of me as a unique subject; a “me” that did not fit into any category. He was not, I will argue, in search of abstract thought or immateriality as the key to conceptual knowing, but the unique and un-repeatable “me” that had fallen through the categorical “gaps” of scientific abstraction.

The thesis of Joseph F. Previtali’s “Walker Percy the Philosopher” seems to have interpreted Percy’s diagnosis of the malaise as a materialist entrapment that can be cured by an apologetic of immateriality in the human person, and this by the immateriality involved in the semiotics of sign-giving or naming. He writes: “Since we know that there are some times when the signified and the signifier are purely material, we can conclude that the intellect, at least sometimes, must be that which has immateriality.”[5] This would be the traditional neo-scholastic response to the reduction of sensible reality to mere matter and measurement. Percy, indeed, uses the Helen Keller experience of naming the water at the well in Tuscumbia, Alabama as the eureka moment when it seems that she has escaped from the dyadic physiology of stimulus (S) – response (R) as the connecting of the Braille symbol for water to the wet liquid. Previtali says: “To emphasize the immateriality of the coupler, Percy asks the reader to draw a picture of someone asserting a proposition or judging a painting or composing a piece of music. As the reader comes to learn, Percy knows that it is not possible to do so. Here we have the climactic discovery of Percy’s investigation into human nature: the human intellect must have an immaterial element in order to account for the phenomenon of human language.”[6]And Previtali is led to think that Percy is fixing his attention on the psychic work of abstraction and immaterial conceptualization from whence comes the name. He presumes that Percy’s philosophical perspective is an “Aristotelian/Thomistic metaphysical view.” [7]

He is clearly right in that symbolization has taken place which is a “throwing” (Ballein) “together” (sym) of name (an abstraction) and individual thing by the verb “is.” Percy says: “A child points to a flower and says ‘flower.’ One element of the event is the flower as perceived by sight and registered by the brain: blue, five-petaled, of a certain shape; and the spoken word ‘flower,’ a Gestalt of a peculiar little sequence of sounds of larynx vibrations, escape of air between lips and teeth, and so on. But what is the entity at the apex of the triangle, that which links the other two? Peirce, a difficult, often obscure writer, called it by various names, interpretant, interpreter, judge. I have used the term ‘coupler’ as a minimal designation of that which couples name and thing, subject and predicate, links them by the relation which we mean by the peculiar little word ‘is.’ It, the linking entity, was also called by Peirce ‘mind’ and even ‘soul.’

“Here is the embarrassment, and it cannot be gotten round, so it might as well be said right out: By whatever name one chooses to call it – interpretant, interpreter, coupler, whatever – it, the third element, is not material.
“It is as real as a cabbage or a king or a neurone, but it is not material. No material structure of neurons, however complex, and however intimately it may be related to the triadic event, can itself assert anything. If you think it can, please draw me a picture of an assertion.

“A material substance cannot name or assert a proposition.
“The initiator of a speech act is an act-or, that is, an agent. The agent is not material” [8](bold mine).

In this text, Percy is not referring to the work of an immaterial intellect, precisely because “intellects” do not work. The agent of the naming is an “interpretant,” a “interpreter,” and a “judge.” The “coupler,” the “namer” is not “the human intellect”[9] as Previtali suggests. Rather, and in accord with the best of thomistic anthropology where “actiones sunt suppositorum,”[10] the coupler or namer is an “act-or, that is, an agent. The agent is not material.” Previtali assumes that the coupler is the intellect as “immaterial agent.” Having identified agency with the intellect as a medium of knowing names and not the knower, he then finds himself with the false problem of “how… the immaterial part of the intellect interacts with our brain matter in the phenomenon of coupling the sign and the signified?”[11] Discovering that Percy does not deal with such a problem because he never entered into it, he suggests that “it is reasonably likely that the Aristotelian hylomorphism of St. Thomas Aquinas would be Percy’s response to the question of interaction, and it does seem to be the most cogent answer to this problem of interaction.” He then goes on to say: “In this view, the human being is a single substance composed of a unity of body and soul of materiality and immateriality… Given Percy’s desire for an anthropology that expresses an integration of body and soul, this view would seem to be most in line with his thinking.”[12]

I would suggest Percy’s whole endeavor works on a different level, namely, the level of the subject as “I.” Percy’s take on Helen Keller’s discovery in the act of naming the water is not that she discovered thought. Rather, she discovered herself – her existential “I” – in the exercise of her subjectivity by “throwing” the sign and at the water and uniting them in “meaning.” She experienced herself as a “thrower,” an agent exercising causality.

Percy’s whole discovery is the act of conjoining of signs with signified by a signifier. His problematic is that there is no sign that can be “thrown” at the sign-user whereby he is signified. “Semiotically,” he says, “the self is literally unspeakable to itself. One cannot speak or hear a word which signifies oneself, as one can speak or hear a word signifying anything else, e.g., apple, Canada, 7-Up. The self of the sign-user can never be grasped, because, once the self locates itself at the dead center of its world, there is no signified to which a signifier can be joined to make a sign. The self has no sign of itself.”[13] Hence, the signifier cannot have “substance” as its “name” since the signifier as active agent is irreducibly “I” as in George, or James or Helen. “You are Ralph to me and I am Walker to you, but you are not Ralph to you and I am not Walker to me”[14]

Of course, the question arises as to how the singular can be intelligible in human cognition without being rendered an abstract, conceptual universal. Two things stand out immediately. One, the act of being (esse)is irreducibly singular. Yet, as act of all acts,[15] it is the supreme and only source of created intelligibility. As Maritain remarked: “Existence… is the consummation or completion, in the mind, of intelligibility in act. It corresponds to the act of existing exercised by things. And this act of existing is itself incomparably more than a mere positing without intelligible value of its own; it is act or energy par excellence; and as we know, the more act there is the greater the intelligibility.”[16] Secondly, (and decisively) the encyclical “Fides et Ratio” points to the human person – as concrete “as a cabbage or a king or a neuron” and yet immaterial – as the “privileged locus for the encounter with being, and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”[17] This knowledge – unmediated by sensible perception or abstraction and categories – that accrues to the experience of the “I” as symbolizing agent is not concept but consciousness[18] as Helen describes it.[19]

Karol Wojtyla expressed the need, as we approached the Third Millennium, to undergo this migration of seeing the human person as existential subject rather than as the objectivized mental category, “rational animal.”[20] He went on that “the antinomy of subjectivism vs. objectivism, along with the underlying antinomy of idealism vs. realism, created conditions that discouraged dealing with human subjectivity – for fear that this would lead inevitably to subjectivism.” But as “we are seeing a breakdown of that line of demarcation… we can no longer go on treating the human being exclusively as an objective being, but we must also somehow treat the human being as a subject in the dimension in which the specifically human subjectivity of the human being is determined by consciousness. And that dimension would seem to be none other than personal subjectivity.”[21]

Previtali ends by saying that “the ultimate end of Percy’s quest is to discern the implications for human existence of this newfound discovery that man is indeed more than just an organism interacting with an environment. Percy proposes that our unique nature is such that our search for fulfillment reaches beyond the here and now.” [22] Such a conclusion squares with his thesis that Percy’s discovery is the immateriality of the intellect, and therefore the immateriality of the soul that transcends the here and now into immortality.

But, in line with the perspective that Percy is talking about the self not only as immaterial, but more deeply as “subject,” I would submit that Percy’s thesis has much to do with the world of here and now. His explicit complaint and suffering – “the modern malaise” – is the feeling “in the deepest sense possible that something has gone wrong with one’s very self? When one experiences the common complaint of the age, the loss of meaning, purposelessness, loss of identity, of values, and so on?”[23] The partial and temporary solution he proposes points to the recovery of – not immateriality – but of identity… even as “neurotic.”[24] Being able to be named such by the “experts” is an achievement in identity and becomes in this moonscape a glimpse of recovery: “I may be sick but how happy I am when I can present my doctor with a sickness or a symptom or a dream which is recognized as a classical example of such-and-such a neurosis: I am an authentic neurotic.”[25]

[1] Joseph F. Previtali, “Walker Percy the Philosopher,” Fellowship of Catholic Scholars Quarterly, 31, Number 4, Winter 2008, 26-31.
[2] Walker Percy, “Diagnosing the Modern Malaise,” Signposts in a Strange Land ed. Patrick Samway, The Noonday Press, Farrar, Straus, Giroux (1991) 206.
[3] Jay Tolson, “Pilgrim in the Ruins” Chapel Hill, (1992) 28.
[4] Robert Coles, “Walker Percy – An American Search” Atlantic-Little Brown (1978) 66-67.
[5] Previtali, op. cit. 29
[6] Previtali, op. cit 29.
[7] Previtali, op. cit. 29.
[8] Walker Percy, “The Fateful Rift: The San Andreas Fault in the Modern Mind,” Signposts in a Strange Land ed. Patrick Samway, The Noonday Press (1991) 287.
[9] Previtali, op. cit. 29
[10] S. Th. II-II, 58, 2, Respondeo: “Now actions belong to supposits and wholes and, properly speaking, not to parts and forms or powers, for we do not say properly that the hand strikes, but a man with his hand, nor that heat makes a thing hot, but fire by heat, although such expressions may be employed metaphorically.”
[11] Previtali, op. cit. 30
[12] Ibid.
[13] Walker Percy, “Lost in the Cosmos,” Noonday Press (1996) 106-107.
[14] Ibid 107.
[15] S. Th. I, 4, 1 ad 3: “…Ipsum esse est perfectissimum omnium; comparator enim ad omnia ut actus. Nihil enim habet actualitatem, nisi inquantum est; under ipsum esse est actualitas omnium rerum, et etiam ipsarum formarum.. Under non comparator ad alia sicut recipiens ad receptum, sed magis sicut receptum ad recipiens.” ”Cum enim dico esse hominis, vel equi, vel cuiuscumque alterius, ipsum esse consideratur ut formale et receptum, non autem ut illud cui competit esse.
[16] J. Maritain, “Existence and the Existent” Image (1956) 27-28.
[17] John Paul II, “Fides et Ratio” #83: “In a special way, the person constitutes a privileged locus for the encounter with being [actu essendi], and hence with metaphysical enquiry.”
[18] K. Wojtyla, “We then discern clearly that it is one thing to be the subject, another to be cognized (that is, objectivized) as the subject, and a still different thing to experience one’s self as the subject of one’s own acts and experiences.” The Acting Person Reidel (1979) 44.
[19] “I stood still, my whole attention fixed upon the motion of her fingers. Suddenly I felt a misty consciousness as something forgotten – a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me. I knew then that ‘w-a-t-e-r’ meant the wonderful cool something that was flowing over my hand. That living word awakened my soul, gave it light, hope, joy, set it free!” in Walker Percy, “Message in the Bottle,” Noonday Press (1995) 35.
[20] Karol Wojtyla, “Subjectivity and the Irreducible in the Human Being,” Person and Community (1993) 209.
[21] Ibid 210.
[22] Previtali, op. cit.
[23] Walker Percy, “Diagnosing the Modern Malaise,” Signposts… op. cit. 211.
[24] Ibid.
[25] Ibid

Assumption 2017

images (2)
Points of Benedict XVI on the Assumption (Mostly From “Daughter of Zion” 1977)

“Daughter of Zion”[1]

What we are dealing with here in the Assumption does not appear in Scripture, nor was there a consciousness of the Assumption in the Church until its appearance in the 6th century. As you will see below, the declaration of the Assumption of our Lady is “canonization” and of the highest kind by a surging consciousness of the Church. This is not an increase of Revelation (which was total and complete in the Person of Jesus Christ), but there is a growth in experience of faith in the Church, and with that experience, a heightened consciousness and awareness.

Not “Historical,” Therefore Myth?

1) The proclamation of the Assumption is neither historical tradition (Altaner claims “there is no witness to such a doctrine before the sixth century”) nor historical fact proclaimed as such in Scripture. The Resurrection of Christ “also transcends history and in this sense offers us no historical fact of the usual type, but it is essential for the resurrection that it reach into temporal existence and announce itself in an historical account.”[2]

Rather, Theological Affirmation.

2) The Assumption is “a theological, not an historical affirmation.”[3] The dogma proclaimed in 1950 is an act of veneration. The East achieves this veneration as liturgy. The West achieves it by dogmatic proclamation. “The dogmatic proclamation of 1950 was an act of Marian veneration in the form of a dogmatic statement, which, by exalting the Mother to the highest degree, was intended to be a liturgy of faith.”[4]

Therefore, it is important that we understand that we are dealing here with“canonization.” Benedict said that the Assumption is “the highest degree of canonization in which the predicate “saint” is recognized in the most strict sense, i.e., being wholly and undividedly in eschatological fulfillment.”[5]

The theological base has two scriptural references:

a) “Behold, from henceforth all generations will call me blessed,” (Lk. 1, 48).

b) “Blessed are you who believed.”

Our Lady is assumed into eternal life because of the Immaculate Conception. That is, she had no original sin. That means “no exceptional proficiency, no exceptional achievement; on the contrary, it signifies that Mary reserves no area of being, life, and will for herself as a private possession: instead, precisely in the total dispossession of self, in giving herself to God, she comes to the true possession of self. Grace as dispossession becomes response as appropriation.”[6]

All the theological affirmations below are made in the light of the dynamics of the Trinity. That means that the Person of the Father is the relation of engendering the Son, and the Son is the relation of glorifying the Father; the Spirit is the personification of the “opposing” relations of the Two. Therefore relation of one is the Life-giving of the other. In the created, grace is the love-relation that gives ontological identity to the creature.

“Full of Grace”

Grace is the relation of love of the divine Person for the human person. “Our religious mentality has reified [made it into a “thing”] this concept much too much; it regards grace as a supernatural something we carry about in our soul. And since we perceive very little of it, or nothing at all, it has gradually become irrelevant to us, an empty word belonging to Christian jargon, which seems to have lost any relationship to the lived reality of our everyday life. In reality, grace is a relational term: it does not predicate something about an I, but something about a connection between I and Thou, between God and man. ‘Full of grace’ could therefore also be translated as: ‘You are full of the Holy Spirit; your life is intimately connected with God’… Grace in the proper and deepest sense of the word is not some thing that comes from God; it is God himself. Redemption means that God, acting as God truly does, gives us nothing less than himself. The gift of God is God – he who as the Holy Spirit is communion with us. ‘Full of grace’ therefore means, once again, that Mary is a wholly open human being, one who has opened herself. Entirely, one who has placed herself in God’s hands boldly, limitlessly, and without fear for her own fate. It means that she lives wholly by and in relation to God. She is a listener and a prayer, whose mind and soul are alive to the manifold ways in which the living God quietly calls to her. She is one who prays and stretches forth wholly to meet God; she is therefore a lover, who has the breadth and magnanimity of true love, but who has also its unerring power of discernment and its readiness to suffer.”[7]

The Meaning of “Assumption”

Blogger: Our Lady was assumed into Heaven [i.e. into the Person of Christ, her Son] because she had been first loved and called by God to be the Mother of His Son. She was able to day “Yes” because she was preserved free of original sin [which would have turned her back on herself and made it impossible to say the totality of the “Yes” that would have been necessary to give God the fullness of humanity (concretely hers and the totality of her human life].


Benedict XVI: The theological connection with the Immaculate Conception: “Where the totality of grace is, there is the totality of salvation. Where grace no longer exists in the fractured state of simul Justus et peccator, but in pure ‘Yes,’ death, sin’s jailer, has no place. Naturally this involves the question: What does the assumption of body and soul into heavenly glory mean? What, after all, does ‘immortality’ mean? And what does ‘death’ mean? Man is not immortal by his own power, but only in and through another, preliminarily, tentatively, fragmentarily, in children, in fame, but finally and truly only in and from the Entirely-Other, God. We are mortal due to the usurped autarchy of a determination to remain within ourselves, which proves to be a deception. Death, the impossibility of giving oneself a foothold, the collapse of autarchy, is not merely a somatic but a human phenomenon of all-embracing profundity. Nevertheless, where the innate propensity to autarchy is totally lacking, where there is the pure self-dispossession of the one who does not rely upon himself (= grace), death is absent, even if the somatic end is present. Instead, the whole human being enters salvation, because as a whole, undiminished, he stands eternally in God’s life-giving memory that preserves him as himself in his own life.”

There, anyone who is “glorified and praised together with God’s name is alive.” As God is the God of the living, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, so also is He the God of the Virgin, His Mother. “We added that in the case of Mary and in her case alone (as far as we know) it applies in a definitive, unconditional way because she stands for the Church itself, for its definitive state of salvation, which is no longer a promise awaiting fulfillment but a fact. Here Colossians 3, 3 seems to me to be significant: ‘You have died, and you life is hidden with Christ in God.’ That is, there is something like an ‘ascension’ of the baptized, of which Ephesians 2, 6 explicitly speaks: ‘He raised you up with him and place you in heaven at the right hand of Christ Jesus.’ According to that text Baptism is a participation in Jesus’ ascension as well as his resurrection. The baptized person, as such and on that account, is already included in the ascension and lives his hidden (his most individual) life there, in the elevated Lord. The formula of the ‘assumption’ of Mary’s body and soul loses every trace of speculative arbitrariness in this perspective. The Assumption is actually only the highest form of canonization. She gave birth to the Lord, ‘with her heart before her body’ (Augustine), and therefore faith, i.e., the interior substance of Baptism according to Luke 1, 45, can be predicated of her without restriction, realizing in her the very quintessence of Baptism.”[8]
Enter St. Josemaria Escriva: The experience of the Virgin in Heaven

As we saw above, “the declaration of the Assumption of our Lady is “canonization” and of the highest kind by a surging consciousness of the Church. This is not an increase of Revelation (which was total and complete in the Person of Jesus Christ), but there is a growth in experience of faith in the Church, and with that experience, a heightened consciousness and awareness.


” Vatican II teaches that the act of faith is always an experience whereby one goes out of self and thereby takes the revealing “I” of the Word of the Father into self, Faith is the experiential act whereby one becomes Christ Himself and therefore “knows” Him experientially in oneself (ab intus). One knows that the Virgin is “in Heaven” [in Christ] when we go to her and she intervenes and unties the knots.

                I copy this from a meditation offered on August 15. “St. Josemaria made this consecration to Our Lady for the first time in 1951. It was a time when the Work was suffering the onslaught of a harsh and hidden attack. I was denied any dialogue, Escriva wrote in one of his letter. I was not even granted the opportunity to explain and clarify matters. I suffered bitterly. They spread falsehoods  … It was in the midst of these sufferings that the Work obtained all the solemn approvals of the apostolic Magisterium … Even after  the approval had been given, the slander did not stop.

               “Not knowing to whom I could turn here on earth, I turned, as always, to heaven. On 15 August 1 951, after a trip that was penitential (why not admit it?), there at Loreto I consecrated the Work to the most Sweet Heart or Mary.”

               St. Josemaria often mentioned that trip to the Holy House of Nazareth, expressing deep gratitude to our Lady. Those were difficult times. Weighed down by strong external difficulties, St. Josemaria placed all his trust in our Lady. He returned from the trip with peace in his heart with the certainty that he had left his concerns in good hands. “When I returned to Rome, I received a letter from my sons in Milan. In it they told me, with great emotion that the venerable Cardinal Schuster had asked them to inform me that I should be on guard, because a great tribulation was about to break out against the Word and against me.” During those trying moments the Blessed Virgin gave St. Josemaria the strength he needed to defend the Work. He and all of his children constantly repeated the words, Cor Mariae Dulcissimum, iter para tutum.

    The point is that there was a growth in the experience of the power and intervention of the Virgin – from Heaven. This is not a theological conclusion, but a lived experience. This is how faith grows in reality, not by conceptual study and conclusions. I have understood that the threat forged in the Vatican consisted in splitting the two branches of Opus Dei apart in order to safeguard against temptations of impurity, and to that end removing Escriva as president general who held the Work together in his persona. Such an act would have destroyed Opus Dei decapitating it and breaking down its internal unity. Our Lady intervened. It did not happen. And as always, because of the suffering and the experience of going to the Virgin [assumed into Heaven], the Work increased in holiness and effectiveness in the apostolate.

               It occurs to me that the entire Church is in a crisis now over the issue of mercy trumping doctrine. If we will go to Our Lady now asking her to intervene, not only will the brouhaha subside, but the entire Church will come to understand that doctrine is really grounded on the experience of loving, something we haven’t seen rightly for millennia. The truth will emerge from a higher mysticism, as in faith/reason. Reason feeds on experienced reality. The immediate reality that reason seeks and must see is the self as gift that is faith. That is, the being that is the food of reason is offered to reason by the action of self-transcendence to receive the revealing Word of the Father: Christ. This is called faith. Therefore, reason is not fully reason  without faith as obedience to the Word.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Daughter of Zion,” Ignatius (1983) 72 -82,
[2] Ibid. 72.
[3] Ibid. 73.
[4] Ibid. 74.
[5]Ibid. 74.
[6] Ibid. 70.
[7] J. Ratzinger, “Mary, The Church at the Source,” Ignatius (2005) 67-68.
[8] J. Ratzinger, “Daughter of Zion,” op. cit 79-80.

Posted by Rev. Robert A. Connor at 12:46 PM     


The Radical Priority of Christ

download    Gil Bailie

Professional Background: 
Gil Bailie is the founder and president of The Cornerstone Forum, an apostolate dedicated to calling attention to the unique cultural, spiritual, and anthropological significance of the Judeo-Christian tradition and encouraging a deeper appreciation for the history-altering impact of Christ and his Cross and the growing challenges confronting the Christian vocation in our time. Gil is a long-time friend and student of René Girard, Emeritus Professor at Stanford and member of the French Academy. Gil has lectured and written on the value of Girard’s anthropological insights for assessing the scope and depth of the contemporary cultural crisis and for recognizing how essential a theologically, anthropologically, and sacramentally robust faith is to the world-historical challenges we now face.
Education: J.D. from University of Tennessee, College of Law
His formal education was completed in 1968 with the J.D. degree of the University of Tennessee, but Gil has never practiced law. Gil insists that he is not an academic, yet he has undertaken something that is significantly more difficult: to foster and institutionalize a conversation outside the academy, on a national and international scale. Gil acts upon his conviction that “Even an imperfectly sanctified life … can foster a respect for Christianity by exercising the intelligence which faith awakens and by summoning the theological, cultural, moral, and anthropological arguments that render Christian faith intelligible.”

Guardini - older images (2)Romano Guardini

Bailie cites Guardini:            

    “Unconverted man lives in the visible world judging all that is or may be by tradition’s experience and by the rules of logic. But when he encounters Christ, he must either accept him and his revolutionary approach to truth or lose him. If he attempts to judge also the Lord by the stands of common experience, he will soon notice that he is dealing with something outside experience. He will have to discard the norms of the past, and take Christ as his new point of departure. When he no longer attempts to subject Christ so immediate reason and experience, he will recognize im as the supreme measure of all possible reality. The intellect jealous for its own sovereignty rejects such recognition, which would put an end to its world-anchored self-glorification, and surrender it intohte hands of the God of Revelation. This is the ‘risk’ any would-be Christian must take. If he takes it, a profound revolution begins. It may take a disquieting, even frightening form; may demand passage through stifling darkness and perplexity. All that until now has seemed certain suddenly becomes questionable. The whole conception of reality, the whole idea of existence is turned upside-down. Only the haunting question persists: Is Christ really so great that he can be the norm of all that is Does the world really lose itself in him, or is the whole idea only another (magnificent) example of the human tendency to make that which it reveres the measure of all things; another proof of the blindness inherent in al love? Yet the longer the intellect continues to grope, the clearer it becomes that the love Christ is essentially different from every other love. And to the degree that the searching individual experiences such spiritual revolution, he gains an amplitude, a superiority, a synthesizing power of reason that no natural insight can match.[1]

More Guardini:

Romano Guardini  remarked on God’s “is” and the “is” of everything else: “In recollectedness the worshipper says, ‘God is here and here also am I.’ In saying this, he become aware of an important distinction. He realizes that in the two sentences ‘God is here’ and ‘here am I,’ the verb to be has different meanings. Differences of meaning also attach to it in ordinary life. If someone asks, ‘What is in this room?’ and I answer, “in the center stands a table, on the windowsill is a rose, on the carpet lies a dog, before me sits my friend,’ then I have said of all these various things and living beings that they are in the room. But they are not there in the same manner. The plant which lives and grows is more than and is different from the table; the dog who knows me and answers my call also is, but he is more than the plant, and in a different sway. But man also is – differently and more en tensely, being endowed with freedom and dignity, and able to reason and to love. And different men possess to varying degrees, the power and the manner of being. “[2]

 This is the meaning that God creates ex nihilo. God “Is” as nothing else “is.”


* * * * * * * * * *

To fill out the Christocentrism, consider Pope Francis and Robert Barron

As every pope, Francis is empowered to speak Revelation which is the Person of Jesus Christ. Laudato ‘Si  is a sustained meditation on creation, Creator and  Creation or the created world that has Jesus Christ, God-Man, as Creating Center and as Part.

Christ as Radical Center:

In #99, he writes that “the destiny of all creation is bound up with the mystery of Christ, present from the beginning: ‘All things have been created through him and for him.” The reference is to Colossians 1, 16, 19 that says: “All things have been created through and unto him… For it has pleased God the Father that in him all his fullness should dwell, and that through him he should reconcile to himself all things, whether on the earth or in the heavens…” He also refers to Jn. 1, 14 where he remarks that “unexpectedly, the prologue of the Gospel of John (1, 1-18) reveals Christ’s creative work as the Divine Word (Logos). One Person of the Trinity entered into the created cosmos, throwing in his lot with it, even to the cross. From the beginning of the world, but particularly through the Incarnation, the mystery of Christ is at work in a hidden manner in the natural world as a whole, without thereby impinging on its autonomy.”[3] Bishop-Elect Robert Barron gives important emphasis to this centrality of Christ in creation. Notice that Christ is not merely a religious figure, but the ontological center of all that is of matter and spirit: Jesus is not only the one in whom things were created but also the one in whom they presently exist and through whom they inhere in one another…  Individuals, societies, cultures, animals, plants, planets and the stars – all will be drawn into an eschatological harmony through him. Mind you, Jesus is not merely t he symbol of an intelligibility, coherence and reconciliation that can exist apart from him; rather, he is the active and indispensable means by which these realities come to be. This Jesus, in short, is the all-embracing, all-including, all-reconciling Lord of whatever is to be found in the dimensions of time and space.

Yet, Christ as Part:

There is more. He is not only Creator of all that is, but He has entered into His own creation as part of it. That is, the divine Person of the Son has taken a created humanity from the Virgin, and taken it as His very Self. And that humanity, an egg fertilized by the Holy Spirit, with a soul as substantial form endowed with a human intellect and human will, has been assumed into the Person of the Logos as His very Self Which He lives out in relation to the Father for us. He lives a totally human existence being a divine Person transforming every human act into self-gift to the Father. The Council of Constantinople III explained the metaphysics of Chalcedon’s one Person, two natures, not as a parallelism tied together through the Person, but the Person protagonist of all the actions perfused through both natures. There is only one Person who wills with ontologically distinct wills, divine (uncreated) and human (created), but, as Ratzinger puts it, not in parallel but “compenetrated” as one personal will. Wills don’t will; only persons do (Actiones sunt suppositorum).

Robert Barron presents St. Thomas’s theology of creation within the Christology of Chalcedon and Constantinople III.  To be created is to be understood in terms of the humanity of Christ. St. Thomas, in S.Th. III, 17, ad 2, asks how many “esse’s” [“to be’s”] are there are in Christ. As we know from Chalcedon there is only one divine Person, there can be only one Person and therefore one “esse personale” which ontologically dynamizes the humanity of Christ without “overpowering” it. Rather, it brings it to its supreme completion with the autonomy and freedom of the divine Person living His Self-gift by means of it. It is here that we are touching the redemption itself where the divine and the human become one in the one Person.

[1] This is quote from Gil Bailie’s “God’s Gamble.” It sounds findable in Guardini’s “The Lord.”

[2] Romano Guardini, “The Art of Praying,” Sophia (1985)  19-20.

[3] Pope Francis, “Laudato ‘Si” #99.

The Dynamic of  the Vocation and Becoming a Person: Guardini

       Man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself [Gaudium et spes #24]

“It is one and the same man who is to exist on each of these levels, but he does not get from the lower to the higher by simply continuing to live. He does not automatically develop from one level to another; this would only be possible if they differed from one another in a purely quantitative manner. Rather, the difference is qualitative and man attains the higher level  – higher in its differentness – only by deciding and daring. It is thus not a matter of approach and transition, but of choice and leap. On his momentary, variously determined level of existence, aman comes to a ‘brink.’ “It is one and the same man who is to exist on each of these levels, but he does not get from the lower to the higher 

The level has been lived through to something higher – until he feels himself faced with the decision, whether or not he will take the risk…. It is given to him to the extent to which he dares….   Then he becomes aware of what ‘person’ really means, its solitude, its responsibility, its earnestness, and that it is something different, something higher than any immediate  structure of life and culture . He thereby comes to the brink of his hitherto existing levels of existence; he divines the new  level and its demand upon him. In order to satisfy the demands, he must let go of the present level and ‘leap’ to the next. He must leap, because  he receives no guarantee from his old position that  he will gain a foothold on the new one , for the new one is of a higher level; his eyes are opened to a new  and superior reality; a new  power of evaluation awakens, and he is able to appreciate and to love on a higher level. Thus the existence  of a truly living man is divided according to existential  levels and t h e risks which li e before each level; according to ‘st ages’ which in each case bear their own values within themselves, pose their special problems, and in which corresponding possibilit ies of the given, concrete  men are realized” [Romano Guardini – “Pascal for our time” 20, 21].

The Impact of Romano Guardini  on Vatican II: “The Church is awakening in souls”[1] a la Ratzinger

quote-we-are-the-archenemy-of-our-own-salvation-and-the-shepherd-must-fight-first-of-all-with-romano-guardini-133-39-72“Just after the First World War, Romano Guardini coined an expression that quickly became a slogan for German Catholics: “An event of enormous importance is taking place: the Church is awakening within souls“. The result of this awakening was ultimately the Second Vatican Council. Through its various documents it expressed and made part of the patrimony of the whole Church something that, during four decades full of ferment and hope (1920 to 1960), had been maturing in knowledge gained through faith. To understand Vatican II one must look back on this period and seek to discern, at least in outline, the currents and tendencies that came together in the Council….

“The Church is awakening within souls”. Guardini’s expression had been wisely formulated, since it finally recognized and experienced the Church as something within us—not as an institution outside us but something that lives within us.

If until that time we had thought of the Church primarily as a structure or organization, now at last we began to realize that we ourselves were the Church. The Church is much more than an organization: it is the organism of the Holy Spirit, something that is alive, that takes hold of our inmost being. This consciousness found verbal expression with the concept of the “Mystical Body of Christ”, a phrase describing a new and liberating experience of the Church. At the very end of his life, in the same year the Constitution on the Church was published by the Council, Guardini wrote: the Church “is not an institution devised and built by men … but a living reality…. It lives still throughout the course of time. Like all living realities it develops, it changes … and yet in the very depths of its being it remains the same; its inmost nucleus is Christ…. To the extent that we look upon the Church as organization … like an association … we have not yet arrived at a proper understanding of it. Instead, it is a living reality and our relationship with it ought to be—life.”[2] [emphasis in text mine]

On the occasion of the 100th birthday of Romano Guardini (February 1   7. 1885 – October 1, 1968), Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger gave an incisive evaluation of Romano Cuardini’s theology and doing so went far beyond the parameters of a merely pious, retrospective commemorative address. Ratzinger explains: “It so happened that, just as I began to read Guardni intensively again, I had to complete a rather long essays for the recently published Nuovo dizionario de liturgia (Rome, 1984), in which I found precisely the opposite assessments: The liturgy, the writer claimed, is certainly threatened chiefly by the existing form of Christian experience in the Church, which became set in the Middle Ages. Despite the efforts of Vatican II, it is difficult for her to detach herself from it and to be open to change…” One has to remember that Guardini was entering into his fundamental theology at the time of the condemnation of Modernism which was aimed at putting the breaks on any new developments in theology. Lamentabili and Pascendi dominici gregis “had the effect of a declaration of war against everything that seemed modern and progressive in theology. No one who had anything to do with teaching or learning theology in Germany at that hour could remain unmoved by this challenge.”[3]

Ratzinger explains that Guardini was looking for a new foundation for what he described as “the endangerment of the religious act in the secondary world of self-made objects…” Guardini was concerned about a return to what is authentic, what is ‘essential.’” Ratzinger writes: “More precisely: he had already found it in the experience of his conversion. In the short scene showing how he, along with his friend Karl Neundorfer – had yet each one individually – broke through to the faith again after having lost it, there is something thrilling and inherently great precisely because of the timidity and simplicity with which Guardini describes the process.” I quote:

“This experience in the attic and on the balcony of Guardini’s parents’ house has an almost amazing resemblance to the scene in the garden in which Augustine and Alypius found the breakthrough of their lives. Both times the innermost part of a man opens up, but in looking into this utterly personal and intimate par, in listening to a man’s heartbeat, one hears all at once a major historical hour stricking, because it is an hour of truth, because a man has abeen hit by the truth. Guardini had been moved by the verse: ‘He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life will find it’ (Mt. 10, 19). His soul had been penetrated by the intuition that this salvific giving could refer only to God himself. But it had likewise become clear to him that his could not mean God in general, intangibly and, so, ultimately only a reflection of our own will, but rather God concretely, as he stands before us in history. ‘There God concretely, as he stands before us in history. There must be, therefore, an objective authority that can draw my response out of that hiding place of self-assertion. But there is only one: the Catholic Church in her authority and precision. The question of keeping or giving way one’s soul is ultimately decided, not in the presence of God, But in the presence of the Church.’ At that moment Guardini knew that he held everything – his whole life – in his hands that he now had it at his disposal and had to dispose of it, and he gave his soul to the Church.[4]

[1] Conference of Cardinal Ratzinger at the opening of the Pastoral Congress of the Diocese of Aversa (Italy)

On the afternoon of 15 September 2001, at the invitation of Archbishop Mario Milano, His Eminence, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger, Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, opened the Pastoral Congress of the Diocese of Aversa (Italy) dedicated to a re-reading of the documents of the Second Vatican Council.


[2] La Chiesa del Signore, [English translation: “The Church of the Lord”]; Morcelliana, Brescia 1967, p. 160

[3] J. Ratzinger, “Fundamental Speeches From Five Decades” Ignatius (2012) 240

[4] “Then is seemed to me as though I were carrying everything – really, ‘everything,’ my existence – in my hands, as though on a scale that was evenly balanced: ‘I can make it tip to the right or t o the left. I can give my soul away, or keep it…’ And then I tipped the scale to the right.”

The Mind of St. Edith Stein: The Assimiliation of Thomistic Metaphysics, Phenomenology and Christ’s Cross of Self- Gift —-> Woman and Empathy

Edith Stein
BloggerWhat does this title mean? It is an “inkling” of the later achievement of Karol Wojtyla who introduced it (the assimilation) as core of the Second Vatican Council. The act of faith was understood as the obedience of the self to the revealing Son of the Father whereby the believer experiences himself as “other Christ.” The true metaphysics of “Esse” comes to light  as the result of the act of faith. That “esse” is the “I” of the believer experienced in the act of self-transcendence (the Cross), and the process is what we understand as phenomenology.  

“Being the type to insist on acquaintance with the best exemplar of a particular field of knowledge, she turned to the system of reflection most popularly acclaimed by Catholics at that time, viz., Thomism. She translated an important work of St. Thomas into German, the “Questions on the Truth,” and as she did it she devised fine linguistic rendering of the medieval genius’ teaching in contemporary German. But she did not stop there. She worked at building bridges between Thomism, the then reigning Catholic expression of the philosophia perennis and Phenomenology as a cutting edge trend in modern philosophical thinking.” This was the vision and work of Karol Wojtyla/John Paul II.

Irreducibility of the Woman as “I”

“Along with St. Thomas and Aristotle, Stein acknowledged that there are traits unique to the human soul, abilities (or at least dispositional traits) that are shared by every member of the species. Rationality, and along with it free choice, belong to every human being and so to every woman as a human person. But if the soul is the form of the body, and the form of humanity is individuated by being united with this body or that one, Stein reasoned that the woman’s soul will have a spiritual quality distinct from the man’s soul. She did not argue that biology is destiny, but that the physical differences between men and women profoundly mark their personalities. The woman’s body stamps her soul with particular qualities that are common to all women but different from distinctively masculine traits. Stein saw these differences as complementary and not hierarchical in value, and so they should be recognized and celebrated rather than minimized and deplored. There are two ways of being human, as man or as woman.
Stein supported her view both by philosophical appeal to the intimacy of the body/soul relationship and to psychological theories that focus on personality types, rather than on behavior alone. She considered the differences between males and females to be evident even to common sense, and so in need of little argument. Her thesis would be denied by many feminists today, but probably not by anyone who has children of both genders. The differences between girls and boys are evident and seem totally resistant to manipulation. Nature has a stubborn way of asserting herself in total disregard for our theories.

Deep dispositions

Stein looked especially to the creation narratives of Genesis to draw out what she took to be the natural vocation of woman. Every woman, she claimed, is meant to be both a companion (her spousal vocation) and a mother. Because of her close connection with human birth and development, woman seeks and embraces whatever is living, personal, and whole. “To cherish, guard, protect, nourish, and advance growth is her natural, maternal yearning.” Woman naturally focuses on what is human, and tends to give relationships a higher importance than work, success, reputation, etc. Here Stein’s thinking lines up with recent neo-feminist authors like Carol Gilligan who claim that women approach moral questions with more attention to the people affected by their actions and decisions than to abstract and impersonal considerations of duty, rights, and justice.

Woman is naturally more attuned to the individual, and hence to a concrete, particular person with all of his or her own needs and potential. Further, this maternal concern aims at the total development of the other person as a unity of body, soul, and spirit. No one aspect of the personality is to be sacrificed to any other. In particular, there is to be no divorcing of mind and body, treating persons (especially students) as if they were disembodied intellects.
The maternal aspect of woman’s vocation involves helping other persons develop to their fullest potential, and for those who are married, this will include their husbands as well as their children. Motherhood is a universal calling for women, and so not simply a task to be exercised with one’s biological children. Woman’s concern for the good of persons must extend to all those whose lives touch hers in some way.

Pope John Paul II raises this feminine vocation to truly cosmic proportions, looking to women for the rehumanization of a world dominated by hedonism and materialism. In The Gospel of Life he calls upon women to “teach others that human relations are authentic if they are open to accepting the other person: a person who is recognized and loved because of the dignity which comes from being a person and not from other considerations, such as usefulness, strength, intelligence, beauty or health.” This contribution of women, declares the Holy Father, is “an indispensable prerequisite for an authentic cultural change,” for replacing the culture of death with the civilization of love.

In addition to this cultural or spiritual motherhood, Stein sees woman’s calling as including a spousal dimension, the role of companionship. This involves sharing the life of another, entering into it and making that person’s concerns one’s own. One might argue that this is a vocation for both men and women, and it is unlikely that Stein would deny that it is. But it may also be true that women have a special genius for friendship, perhaps because of their orientation to the human and personal, and a greater capacity for exercising empathy. Stein’s dissertation on the subject of empathy was completed some years prior to her lectures on women’s roles, but one can see its influence on that later work. She describes empathy as a clear awareness of another person, not simply of the content of his experience, but of his experience of that content. In empathy, one takes the place of the other without becoming strictly identical to him. It is not just understanding the experiences of the other, but in some sense taking them on as one’s own.
Obviously this ability to enter into another’s life is especially helpful within marriage, but it can and should be exercised in other relationships as well. For women who are single, or for those who have consecrated themselves wholly to God, this aspect of their vocation should take on a more universal scope, and will call for a more disinterested {that is to say a more divine} kind of love. Everyone who knew Edith Stein tells us that she was a living example of this capacity for empathy. Her spiritual director in the late ’20s, Abbot Raphael Walzer, wrote that she possessed “a tender, even maternal, solicitude for others. She was plain and direct with ordinary people, learned with the scholars, a fellow-seeker with those searching for the truth. I could almost say she was a sinner with the sinners.”


Edith Stein and Faith Experience

Edith Stein

“I no longer have a life of my own,” she wrote at the beginning of the First World War, having done a nursing course and gone to serve in an Austrian field hospital. This was a hard time for her, during which she looked after the sick in the typhus ward, worked in an operating theatre, and saw young people die. When the hospital was dissolved, in 1916, she followed Husserl as his assistant to the German city of Freiburg, where she passed her doctorate summa cum laude (with the utmost distinction) in 1917, after writing a thesis on “The Problem of Empathy.”

During this period she went to Frankfurt Cathedral and saw a woman with a shopping basket going in to kneel for a brief prayer. “This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot. “Towards the end of her dissertation she wrote: “There have been people who believed that a sudden change had occurred within them and that this was a result of God’s grace.” How could she come to such a conclusion?

Edith Stein had been good friends with Husserl’s Göttingen assistant, Adolf Reinach, and his wife.

When Reinach fell in Flanders in November 1917, Edith went to Göttingen to visit his widow. The Reinachs had converted to Protestantism. Edith felt uneasy about meeting the young widow at first, but was surprised when she actually met with a woman of faith. “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it … it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me – Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”

In the summer of 1921. she spent several weeks in Bergzabern (in the Palatinate) on the country estate of Hedwig Conrad-Martius, another pupil of Husserl’s. Hedwig had converted to Protestantism with her husband. One evening Edith picked up an autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila and read this book all night. “When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth.” Later, looking back on her life, she wrote: “My longing for truth was a single prayer.”

On 1 January 1922 Edith Stein was baptized. It was the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, when Jesus entered into the covenant of Abraham. Edith Stein stood by the baptismal font, wearing Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ white wedding cloak. “I had given up practising my Jewish religion when I was a 14-year-old girl and did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God.”


Teresa Benedict of the Cross – Edith Stein (1891-1942) –  Philosopher, Discalced Carmelite, Martyr  



“We bow down before the testimony of the life and death of Edith Stein, an outstanding daughter of Israel and at the same time a daughter of the Carmelite Order, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, a personality who united within her rich life a dramatic synthesis of our century. It was the synthesis of a history full of deep wounds that are still hurting … and also the synthesis of the full truth about man. All this came together in a single heart that remained restless and unfulfilled until it finally found rest in God.” These were the words of Pope John Paul II when he beatified Edith Stein in Cologne on 1 May 1987.

Who was this woman?

Edith Stein was born in Breslau on 12 October 1891, the youngest of 11, as her family were celebrating Yom Kippur, that most important Jewish festival, the Feast of Atonement. “More than anything else, this helped make the youngest child very precious to her mother.” Being born on this day was like a foreshadowing to Edith, a future Carmelite nun.

Edith’s father, who ran a timber business, died when she had only just turned two. Her mother, a very devout, hard-working, strong-willed and truly wonderful woman, now had to fend for herself and to look after the family and their large business. However, she did not succeed in keeping up a living faith in her children. Edith lost her faith in God. “I consciously decided, of my own volition, to give up praying,” she said.

In 1911 she passed her school-leaving exam with flying colours and enrolled at the University of Breslau to study German and history, though this was a mere “bread-and-butter” choice. Her real interest was in philosophy and in women’s issues. She became a member of the Prussian Society for Women’s Franchise. “When I was at school and during my first years at university,” she wrote later, “I was a radical suffragette. Then I lost interest in the whole issue. Now I am looking for purely pragmatic solutions.”

In 1913, Edith Stein transferred to G6ttingen University, to study under the mentorship of Edmund Husserl. She became his pupil and teaching assistant, and he later tutored her for a doctorate. At the time, anyone who was interested in philosophy was fascinated by Husserl’s new view of reality, whereby the world as we perceive it does not merely exist in a Kantian way, in our subjective perception. His pupils saw his philosophy as a return to objects: “back to things”. Husserl’s phenomenology unwittingly led many of his pupils to the Christian faith. In G6ttingen Edith Stein also met the philosopher Max Scheler, who directed her attention to Roman Catholicism. Nevertheless, she did not neglect her “bread-and-butter” studies and passed her degree with distinction in January 1915, though she did not follow it up with teacher training.

“I no longer have a life of my own,” she wrote at the beginning of the First World War, having done a nursing course and gone to serve in an Austrian field hospital. This was a hard time for her, during which she looked after the sick in the typhus ward, worked in an operating theatre, and saw young people die. When the hospital was dissolved, in 1916, she followed Husserl as his assistant to the German city of Freiburg, where she passed her doctorate summa cum laude (with the utmost distinction) in 1917, after writing a thesis on “The Problem of Empathy.”

During this period she went to Frankfurt Cathedral and saw a woman with a shopping basket going in to kneel for a brief prayer. “This was something totally new to me. In the synagogues and Protestant churches I had visited people simply went to the services. Here, however, I saw someone coming straight from the busy marketplace into this empty church, as if she was going to have an intimate conversation. It was something I never forgot. “Towards the end of her dissertation she wrote: “There have been people who believed that a sudden change had occurred within them and that this was a result of God’s grace.” How could she come to such a conclusion?
Edith Stein had been good friends with Husserl’s Göttingen assistant, Adolf Reinach, and his wife.

When Reinach fell in Flanders in November 1917, Edith went to Göttingen to visit his widow. The Reinachs had converted to Protestantism. Edith felt uneasy about meeting the young widow at first, but was surprised when she actually met with a woman of faith. “This was my first encounter with the Cross and the divine power it imparts to those who bear it … it was the moment when my unbelief collapsed and Christ began to shine his light on me – Christ in the mystery of the Cross.”

Later, she wrote: “Things were in God’s plan which I had not planned at all. I am coming to the living faith and conviction that – from God’s point of view – there is no chance and that the whole of my life, down to every detail, has been mapped out in God’s divine providence and makes complete and perfect sense in God’s all-seeing eyes.”

In Autumn 1918 Edith Stein gave up her job as Husserl’s teaching assistant. She wanted to work independently. It was not until 1930 that she saw Husserl again after her conversion, and she shared with him about her faith, as she would have liked him to become a Christian, too. Then she wrote down the amazing words: “Every time I feel my powerlessness and inability to influence people directly, I become more keenly aware of the necessity of my own holocaust.”

Edith Stein wanted to obtain a professorship, a goal that was impossible for a woman at the time. Husserl wrote the following reference: “Should academic careers be opened up to ladies, then I can recommend her whole-heartedly and as my first choice for admission to a professorship.” Later, she was refused a professorship on account of her Jewishness.

Back in Breslau, Edith Stein began to write articles about the philosophical foundation of psychology. However, she also read the New Testament, Kierkegaard and Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises. She felt that one could not just read a book like that, but had to put it into practice.

In the summer of 1921. she spent several weeks in Bergzabern (in the Palatinate) on the country estate of Hedwig Conrad-Martius, another pupil of Husserl’s. Hedwig had converted to Protestantism with her husband. One evening Edith picked up an autobiography of St. Teresa of Avila and read this book all night. “When I had finished the book, I said to myself: This is the truth.” Later, looking back on her life, she wrote: “My longing for truth was a single prayer.”

On 1 January 1922 Edith Stein was baptized. It was the Feast of the Circumcision of Jesus, when Jesus entered into the covenant of Abraham. Edith Stein stood by the baptismal font, wearing Hedwig Conrad-Martius’ white wedding cloak. Hedwig washer godmother. “I had given up practising my Jewish religion when I was a 14-year-old girl and did not begin to feel Jewish again until I had returned to God.” From this moment on she was continually aware that she belonged to Christ not only spiritually, but also through her blood. At the Feast of the Purification of Mary – another day with an Old Testament reference – she was confirmed by the Bishop of Speyer in his private chapel.

After her conversion she went straight to Breslau: “Mother,” she said, “I am a Catholic.” The two women cried. Hedwig Conrad Martius wrote: “Behold, two Israelites indeed, in whom is no deceit!” (cf. John 1:47).

Immediately after her conversion she wanted to join a Carmelite convent. However, her spiritual mentors, Vicar-General Schwind of Speyer, and Erich Przywara SJ, stopped her from doing so. Until Easter 1931 she held a position teaching German and history at the Dominican Sisters’ school and teacher training college of St. Magdalen’s Convent in Speyer. At the same time she was encouraged by Arch-Abbot Raphael Walzer of Beuron Abbey to accept extensive speaking engagements, mainly on women’s issues. “During the time immediately before and quite some time after my conversion I … thought that leading a religious life meant giving up all earthly things and having one’s mind fixed on divine things only. Gradually, however, I learnt that other things are expected of us in this world… I even believe that the deeper someone is drawn to God, the more he has to `get beyond himself’ in this sense, that is, go into the world and carry divine life into it.”

She worked enormously hard, translating the letters and diaries of Cardinal Newman from his pre-Catholic period as well as Thomas Aquinas’ Quaestiones Disputatae de Veritate. The latter was a very free translation, for the sake of dialogue with modern philosophy. Erich Przywara also encouraged her to write her own philosophical works. She learnt that it was possible to “pursue scholarship as a service to God… It was not until I had understood this that I seriously began to approach academic work again.” To gain strength for her life and work, she frequently went to the Benedictine Monastery of Beuron, to celebrate the great festivals of the Church year.

In 1931 Edith Stein left the convent school in Speyer and devoted herself to working for a professorship again, this time in Breslau and Freiburg, though her endeavours were in vain. It was then that she wrote Potency and Act, a study of the central concepts developed by Thomas Aquinas. Later, at the Carmelite Convent in Cologne, she rewrote this study to produce her main philosophical and theological oeuvre, Finite and Eternal Being. By then, however, it was no longer possible to print the book.

In 1932 she accepted a lectureship position at the Roman Catholic division of the German Institute for Educational Studies at the University of Munster, where she developed her anthropology. She successfully combined scholarship and faith in her work and her teaching, seeking to be a “tool of the Lord” in everything she taught. “If anyone comes to me, I want to lead them to Him.”

In 1933 darkness broke out over Germany. “I had heard of severe measures against Jews before. But now it dawned on me that God had laid his hand heavily on His people, and that the destiny of these people would also be mine.” The Aryan Law of the Nazis made it impossible for Edith Stein to continue teaching. “If I can’t go on here, then there are no longer any opportunities for me in Germany,” she wrote; “I had become a stranger in the world.”

The Arch-Abbot of Beuron, Walzer, now no longer stopped her from entering a Carmelite convent. While in Speyer, she had already taken a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience. In 1933 she met with the prioress of the Carmelite Convent in Cologne. “Human activities cannot help us, but only the suffering of Christ. It is my desire to share in it.”

Edith Stein went to Breslau for the last time, to say good-bye to her mother and her family. Her last day at home was her birthday, 12 October, which was also the last day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Edith went to the synagogue with her mother. It was a hard day for the two women. “Why did you get to know it [Christianity]?” her mother asked, “I don’t want to say anything against him. He may have been a very good person. But why did he make himself God?” Edith’s mother cried. The following day Edith was on the train to Cologne. “I did not feel any passionate joy. What I had just experienced was too terrible. But I felt a profound peace – in the safe haven of God’s will.” From now on she wrote to her mother every week, though she never received any replies. Instead, her sister Rosa sent her news from Breslau.

Edith joined the Carmelite Convent of Cologne on 14 October, and her investiture took place on 15 April, 1934. The mass was celebrated by the Arch-Abbot of Beuron. Edith Stein was now known as Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce – Teresa, Blessed of the Cross. In 1938 she wrote: “I understood the cross as the destiny of God’s people, which was beginning to be apparent at the time (1933). I felt that those who understood the Cross of Christ should take it upon themselves on everybody’s behalf. Of course, I know better now what it means to be wedded to the Lord in the sign of the cross. However, one can never comprehend it, because it is a mystery.” On 21 April 1935 she took her temporary vows. On 14 September 1936, the renewal of her vows coincided with her mother’s death in Breslau. “My mother held on to her faith to the last moment. But as her faith and her firm trust in her God … were the last thing that was still alive in the throes of her death, I am confident that she will have met a very merciful judge and that she is now my most faithful helper, so that I can reach the goal as well.”

When she made her eternal profession on 21 April 1938, she had the words of St. John of the Cross printed on her devotional picture: “Henceforth my only vocation is to love.” Her final work was to be devoted to this author.

Edith Stein’s entry into the Carmelite Order was not escapism. “Those who join the Carmelite Order are not lost to their near and dear ones, but have been won for them, because it is our vocation to intercede to God for everyone.” In particular, she interceded to God for her people: “I keep thinking of Queen Esther who was taken away from her people precisely because God wanted her to plead with the king on behalf of her nation. I am a very poor and powerless little Esther, but the King who has chosen me is infinitely great and merciful. This is great comfort.” (31 October 1938)

On 9 November 1938 the anti-Semitism of the Nazis became apparent to the whole world.

Synagogues were burnt, and the Jewish people were subjected to terror. The prioress of the Carmelite Convent in Cologne did her utmost to take Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce abroad. On New Year’s Eve 1938 she was smuggled across the border into the Netherlands, to the Carmelite Convent in Echt in the Province of Limburg. This is where she wrote her will on 9 June 1939: “Even now I accept the death that God has prepared for me in complete submission and with joy as being his most holy will for me. I ask the Lord to accept my life and my death … so that the Lord will be accepted by His people and that His Kingdom may come in glory, for the salvation of Germany and the peace of the world.”

While in the Cologne convent, Edith Stein had been given permission to start her academic studies again. Among other things, she wrote about “The Life of a Jewish Family” (that is, her own family): “I simply want to report what I experienced as part of Jewish humanity,” she said, pointing out that “we who grew up in Judaism have a duty to bear witness … to the young generation who are brought up in racial hatred from early childhood.”

In Echt, Edith Stein hurriedly completed her study of “The Church’s Teacher of Mysticism and the Father of the Carmelites, John of the Cross, on the Occasion of the 400th Anniversary of His Birth, 1542-1942.” In 1941 she wrote to a friend, who was also a member of her order: “One can only gain a scientia crucis (knowledge of the cross) if one has thoroughly experienced the cross. I have been convinced of this from the first moment onwards and have said with all my heart: ‘Ave, Crux, Spes unica’ (I welcome you, Cross, our only hope).” Her study on St. John of the Cross is entitled: “Kreuzeswissenschaft” (The Science of the Cross).

Edith Stein was arrested by the Gestapo on 2 August 1942, while she was in the chapel with the other sisters. She was to report within five minutes, together with her sister Rosa, who had also converted and was serving at the Echt Convent. Her last words to be heard in Echt were addressed to Rosa: “Come, we are going for our people.”

Together with many other Jewish Christians, the two women were taken to a transit camp in Amersfoort and then to Westerbork. This was an act of retaliation against the letter of protest written by the Dutch Roman Catholic Bishops against the pogroms and deportations of Jews. Edith commented, “I never knew that people could be like this, neither did I know that my brothers and sisters would have to suffer like this. … I pray for them every hour. Will God hear my prayers? He will certainly hear them in their distress.” Prof. Jan Nota, who was greatly attached to her, wrote later: “She is a witness to God’s presence in a world where God is absent.”

On 7 August, early in the morning, 987 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. It was probably on 9 August that Sister Teresia Benedicta a Cruce, her sister and many other of her people were gassed.
When Edith Stein was beatified in Cologne on 1 May 1987, the Church honoured “a daughter of Israel”, as Pope John Paul II put it, who, as a Catholic during Nazi persecution, remained faithful to the crucified Lord Jesus Christ and, as a Jew, to her people in loving faithfulness.”

Transfiguration – August 6, 2017. Today We Dropped the Bomb on HIROSHEMA (1945)

The Transfiguration is not reducible to a fact. It is a fact. But it is more then a fact. It is an experience of God-become-Flesh. And one enters this experience by doing what God is. The Son of God – one with the Father [“I and the Father are one” (Jn. 10, 30) becomes transfigured [radiation] as He lives out His divinity as Relation-to-the-Father. That is, He prays. And “as He was praying, the appearance of His countenance was altered” (Lk. 9, 28).  Christ’s prayer is the ontological action of the Son of the living God living out – and showing it – the very “thing” that He is. He is pure relation to the Father. He is not an individual who prays. He is prayer. He is conversation with the Father. Christ is material. He has a body: “Feel Me and see that a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk. 14, 29). When The enfleshed Son prays, He is living out who He is. He is Son. And that action is perceived in our human dimension as radiation energy, light, power. It is the power of creating divinity itself transfiguring the assumed humanity of Christ.

When I saw – again – atomic explosions in a documentary on “The Manhattan Project” – the development of the atomic bomb – , I could not help but think: “that is the Transfiguration.” Since Christ has assumed His Body from the Virgin, He has assumed, in His very Self, matter (mass), and that the divine “I” of the Son lives out His sonship that is relation to the Father dynamizing that matter which is His Body (“Feel Me…”). The Protagonist of every free action of Christ is His divine “I”, His human thinking/talking/relating to the Father God thinking,/thinking/relating God the Son to God the Father. They are one God “( “I and the Father are one” [Jn. 10, 30] but they are not the same Person (“The Father is greater than I [Jn. 14, 28]). You can only deal with this if you permit yourself to be taught that Person in God is nothing but relation. That is, the Persons are not individuals but actions that are relations (as the Father is the action of engendering the Son, and the Son is the action of glorifying and obeying the Father. That is the “otherness” of God, and why St. Thomas used the concept and word “Esse” in referring to the God of Jesus Christ – i.e. To Be. And that is why the God of Jesus Christ is not A Being, not even the Supreme Being, but totally and simply the action of all actions: “To Be.”

And that “To Be” which is relational Action, when enfleshed and is material, and involved in the human action of prayer as relation, becomes Transfigured. And this is when I think of the conversion of uranium and hydrogen mass into energy, and I see dramatization in the bomb. Go see a youtube on the bomb which was exploded over Hiroshima today and be in awe.

And think about yourself converted into the divine energy of which you are made (in the image of the Trinity) by the action of prayer – into which you are to convert your ordinary life and actions, and weep for your lack of faith and giftedness.

Permit the Lord to transform your mass into energy: E = MC 2. You can’t see the Transfiguration unless you experience it, and thus re-cognize it.

Atomic explosion
Thermonuclear reaction –

Getting the Joke: From New Yorker Cartoons to Dark Matter – The  Priority of Christ  


               To get a joke, you have to recognize the incongruous and anomalous within the congruous and ordinary. Robert Barron introduces us wonderfully into the topic: Barron: “I love the clever cartoons in the New Yorker magazine. But there are some times when, though I have seen all the characters and understood fully the caption, I don’t understand why a given cartoon is funny – I don’t ‘get ‘ it.’ Then, although I have seen no new feature of the design nor grasped a new word of the caption, I see the pattern that obtains, the light goes on, and I smile. The philosophy is how we manage to see something as something, precisely what is at stake in ‘getting’ a joke. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said that the most puzzling problem in all of philosophy is how we manage to see something as something, precisely that is at stake in ‘getting’ a joke. He illustrated the issue with his famous example of the ‘duck-rabbit’ design, a simple drawing that, squinted at from one perspective and the right suggestion in mind, looks like a duck and, perceived from another angle and with a different suggestion, becomes a rabbit. Such perception involves the transcendence of the merely empirical or measurable – this feature or that – and rises to the far more elusive grasping of a formal structure.”

               The humor of the New Yorker joke always has something to do with the developed dignity of man, the prototype of whom is Jesus Christ. The joke is invariably the incongruity of the denizen of the City, and the developed social sophistication of same which point toward Jesus Christ for its meaning. That is to say, jokes and narratives of creation discover meaning in Jesus Christ.  Barron writes:

“This means that Jesus is the iconic representation of the very mind of God, the enfleshment of the pattern according to which God fashioned the universe. In the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians we find a similarly bold claim in regard to Jesus. We are told that he is the ‘image (eikon) of the invisible God,’ the one in whom ‘all things were created, in heaven and on earth… [and] all things hold together’ (Col 1, 15- 17). Infinitely more than one prophet among many or one spiritual teacher alongside others, Jesus is the lens through which the whole of reality is properly read, the means by which we correctly see the universe as something. Balthasar said that Christ ‘is the unchangeably valid blueprint in every situation in the world and in history.’ These maximalist metaphysical claims carry the implication that the narratives and doctrines concerning Jesus are epistemologically basic. To state this negatively, the Jesus presented in the New Testament must function as an epistemic trump, that is to say, the truthful pattern that cannot be finally gainsaid by any rival system, philosophy, or overarching perspective. This claim by no means disallows insights from other points of view and intellectual disciplines, but it does rule out the possibility that those views or disciplines could, at the end of the day, fundamentally contradict what is presented in and through Jesus Christ. This is why the Catholic tradition, at its best, has exhibited a generosity in regard to mythic, philosophical, and scientific claims to truth, seeing them as logoi coherent with the Logos. But Jesus is the final and definitive pattern by which reality is interpreted – the manner in which we ‘get’ God and the world, and the dynamics of our own spiritual transformation. That claim stands at the heart of the Catholic intellectual tradition.” [1]

               In Defense of “Laudato ‘Si:”

Where else do we find this? Pope Francis: “Laudato ‘Si” in nos. 233: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face. The ideal is not only to pass from the exterior to the interior to discover the action of God in the soul, but also to discover God in all things. Saint Bonaventure teaches us that ‘contemplation deepens the more we feel the working of God’s grace within our hearts, and the better we learn to encounter God in creature outside ourselves….  (234) Encountering God does not mean fleeing from this world or turning our back on nature. This is especially clear in the spirituality of the Christian East. ‘Beauty which in the East is one of the best loved names expressing the divine harmony and the model of humanity transfigured appears everywhere: in the shape of a church, in the sounds, in the colors, in the lights, in the scents.’ For Christians, all the creatures of the material universe find their true meaning in the Incarnate Word, for the Son of God has incorporated in his person part of the material world, planting in it a seed of definitive transformation. ‘Christianity does not reject matter. Rather, bodiliness is a considered in all its value in the liturgical act, whereby the human body is disclosed in its inner nature as a temple of the Holy Spirit, and is united with the Lord Jesus, who himself took a body for the world’s salvation.”

               Consider the Eucharist: (236) “It is in the Eucharist that all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation. Grace[2], which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter [underline mine]. He comes not from above, but from within, he comes that we might find him in this world or ours. In the Eucharist, fullness is already achieved; it is the living center of the universe, the overflowing core of love and of inexhaustible life. Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: ‘Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world.’[3] The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist, ‘creation is projected toward divinization, toward the holy wedding feast, toward unification with the Creator himself.’ Thus, the Eucharist is also a source of light and motivation for our concerns for the environment, directing us to be stewards of all creation.”

               John Henry Newman: “Catholic Fullness:” This means that because the entire cosmos has been created in the image and likeness of the Son of God, the inklings of the Son are to be found throughout all creation, material and spiritual:

“Now, the phenomenon, admitted on all hands, is this:—that great portion of what is generally received as Christian truth, is in its rudiments or in its separate parts to be found in heathen philosophies and religions. For instance, the doctrine of a Trinity is found both in the East and in the West; so is the ceremony of washing; so is the rite of sacrifice. The doctrine of the Divine Word is Platonic; the doctrine of the Incarnation is Indian; of a divine kingdom is Judaic; of Angels and demons is Magian; the connexion of sin with the body is Gnostic; celibacy is known to Bonze and Talapoin; a sacerdotal order is Egyptian; the idea of a new birth is Chinese and Eleusinian; belief in sacramental virtue is Pythagorean; and honours to the dead are a polytheism. Such is the general nature of the fact before us; Mr. Milman argues from it,—”These things are in heathenism, therefore they are not Christian:” we, on the contrary, prefer to say, “these things are in Christianity, therefore they are not heathen.” That is, we prefer to say, and we think that Scripture bears us out in saying, that from the beginning the Moral Governor of the world has scattered the seeds of truth far and wide over its extent; that these have variously taken root, and grown up as in the wilderness, wild plants indeed but living; and hence that, as the inferior animals have {232} tokens of an immaterial principle in them, yet have not souls, so the philosophies and religions of men have their life in certain true ideas, though they are not directly divine. What man is amid the brute creation, such is the Church among the schools of the world; and as Adam gave names to the animals about him, so has the Church from the first looked round upon the earth, noting and visiting the doctrines she found there. She began in Chaldea, and then sojourned among the Canaanites, and went down into Egypt, and thence passed into Arabia, till she rested in her own land. Next she encountered the merchants of Tyre, and the wisdom of the East country, and the luxury of Sheba. Then she was carried away to Babylon, and wandered to the schools of Greece. And wherever she went, in trouble or in triumph, still she was a living spirit, the mind and voice of the Most High; “sitting in the midst of the doctors, both hearing them and asking them questions;” claiming to herself what they said rightly, correcting their errors, supplying their defects, completing their beginnings, expanding their surmises, and thus gradually by means of them enlarging the range and refining the sense of her own teaching. So far then from her creed being of doubtful credit because it resembles foreign theologies, we even hold that one special way in which Providence has imparted divine knowledge to us has been by enabling her to draw and collect it together out of the world, and, in this sense, as in others, to suck the milk of the Gentiles and to suck the breast of kings.

“How far in fact this process has gone, is a question of history; and we believe it has before now been grossly exaggerated and misrepresented by those who, like Mr. Milman, have thought that its existence told against {233} Catholic doctrine; but so little antecedent difficulty have we in the matter, that we could readily grant, unless it were a question of fact not of theory, that Balaam was an Eastern sage, or a Sibyl was inspired, or Solomon learnt of the sons of Mahol, or Moses was a scholar of the Egyptian hierophants. We are not distressed to be told that the doctrine of the angelic host came from Babylon, while we know that they did sing at the Nativity; nor that the vision of a Mediator is in Philo, if in very deed He died for us on Calvary. Nor are we afraid to allow, that, even after His coming, the Church has been a treasure-house, giving forth things old and new, casting the gold of fresh tributaries into her refiner’s fire, or stamping upon her own, as time required it, a deeper impress of her Master’s image.

“The distinction between these two theories is broad and obvious. The advocates of the one imply that Revelation was a single, entire, solitary act, or nearly so, introducing a certain message; whereas we, who maintain the other, consider that Divine teaching has been in fact, what the analogy of nature would lead us to expect, “at sundry times and in divers manners,” various, complex, progressive, and supplemental of itself. We consider the Christian doctrine, when analyzed, to appear, like the human frame, “fearfully and wonderfully made;” but they think it someone tenet or certain principles given out at one time in their fullness, without gradual enlargement before Christ’s coming or elucidation afterwards. They cast off all that they also find in Pharisee or heathen; we conceive that the Church, like Aaron’s rod, devours the serpents of the magicians. They are ever hunting for a fabulous primitive simplicity; we repose in Catholic fullness. They seek what never has been found; we accept and use {234} what even they acknowledge to be a substance. They are driven to maintain, on their part, that the Church’s doctrine was never pure; we say that it never can be corrupt. We consider that a divine promise keeps the Church Catholic from doctrinal corruption; but on what promise, or on what encouragement, they are seeking for their visionary purity does not appear.”[4]


            And so, it is suggested that in view of “Dark Matter, Dark Energy, and the Race to Discover The Rest of Reality” (cf. “The 4% Universe” – Richard Panek), it would be wise to bring theology to the table. As I posted two days ago from Robert Barron: “Following the inner logic of Christian revelation, Newman, like Bonaventure, saw that theology not only should be around the table [of all intellectual disciplines] but must be the centering element in the conversation, precisely because it alone speaks of the Creator God who is metaphysically implicit in all finite existence.”[4] What theology brings to the table is the experience of reality as subject, rather than object  which takes place by empirical sensation and abstraction into categories. The experience of Christ is very different from the experience of a tree. To experience Christ, one must become Christ by doing what Christ does [as relation to the Father]. Christ gives Himself. The tree – or the cosmos – does not give itself. Hence we experience them in two irreducibly different ways.  But both those ways make up the human way of knowing. And if the material universe is the extension of the humanity of Christ – and the humanity of Christ is not object but “Subject,”[5] then it would be necessary to enter the sensible cosmic order subjectively. This is apparently what was in the mind of Heisenberg in attempting to formulate the indeterminacy principle. Ratzinger remarked in this regard: “The intellectual approach of modern physics may offer us more help here than the Aristotelian philosophy was to give. Physicists know toda that one can only talk about the structure of mat ter in approximations starting from various different angles. They know that the position of the beholder at any one time affects the result of his questioning of nature. Why should we not be able to understand afresh, on this basis, that in the question of God we must not look, in the Aristotelian fashion, for an ultimate concept encompassing the w hole, but must be prepared to find a multitude of aspects which depend on the position of the observer and which we can no longer survey as a whole but only accept alongside each other, without being able to make any statement about the ultimate truth? We meet here the hidden interplay of faith and modern thought. That present day physicists are stepping outside the structure of Aristotelian logic and thinking in this way is surely an effect already of the new dimension which Christian theology has opened up, of its need to think in ‘complementarities”… E. Schroedinger has define the structure of matter as ‘parcels of waves’ and thereby fallen upon the idea of a being that has no substance but is purely actual, whose apparent ‘substantiality’ really results only from the pattern of movement of superimposed waves. IN the realm of matter such a suggestion may well be physically, and in any case philosophically, highly contestable. But it remains an exciting simile for the actualitas divine, for the absolute ‘being-act’ of God, and for the idea that the densest being – God – can subsist only in a multitude of relations, which are not substances but simply ‘waves,’ and therein form a perfect  unity and also the fullness of being… But let me also mention the second aid to understanding provided by science. We know today that in a physical experiment the observer himself enters into the experiment and only by doing so can arrive at a physical experience. This means that here is no such thing as pure objectivity even in physics that even here the result of the experiment, natures’ answer, depends on the question put to it. In the answer there is always a bit of the question and a bit of the questioner himself; it reflects not only nature-in-itself, in its pure objectivity, but also gives back something of man, of our individuality, a bit of the human subject….There is no such thing as a mere observer. There is no such thing as pure objectivity…[6]

[1] R. Barron, “Exploring Catholic Theology,” Brazos (2015) 64-65.

[2] Which is Divine Love as affirmation of the creature imaging the Father’s engendering the Son.

[3] John Paul II, “Ecclesia de Eucharistia”## 8 and 48.

[4] Barron, “The Priority of Christ,” op. cit. 159.

[5] “Feel Me and see that a ghost doesn’t have flesh and bones as you see I have” (Lk. 14, 29).

[6] J. Ratzginer, “Introduction to Christianity,” Ignatius (1990) 124-5.