Truth and Falsity of Modernism

The topic was published on August 21, 2011 (“The Truth Will Make You Free) and hopefully improved on here.

Modernism – the heresy of all heresies – is true in that it tried to get to the Person of Christ beyond the reductionism of mere doctrine – the divine “I” of the Son. It is false in that it dipped into a subjectivism and lost the reality of Christ by relegating Him to consciousness. Christ was reduced to an internal sentiment (of subjective thought and feeling) and all religion to a psychology of vital immanence, and therefore a phenomenon of evolutionary development.

This is very delicate business on which the entire Vatican Council stands, crossing the threshold of the third millennium, the new evangelization, the universal call to sanctity in secular life characterized by secularity all emerging from an identification with the Person of the God-man, Jesus Christ. It all hangs on the ontological reality of the God-man, Jesus Christ Who is the revelation of Who God is, and who man is. In a word, it hangs on the meaning of “revelation.” Is Revelation Scripture and Tradition or is it God’s revelation of Himself in the Person of Jesus Christ?

Ratzinger found it most clearly in Bonaventure in that the Person of Christ   – the divine Son – is the Word spoken by the Father as the most intimate revelation of Who God is. Since God is Creator, nothing can be anterior or more primordial than He. Creatures can tell us that He is, and attributes of Him, but nothing created can tell us Who the Creator is. Only He can. And that telling is “the Son.” The problem, then,  is how to know the Son. And elsewhere, Ratzinger will tell us that only God knows God, and only by becoming the Son can one experience being the Son by experiencing oneself – reading Him from within oneself by the ontological experience of going out of oneself, the act of faith [the first act of which is prayer: Ratzinger, “Behold the Pierced One” Ignatius 25-27].

Behold a new/old phenomenological metaphysics of the “I” which is not subjectivism, but subjectivity and the most experiential realism. This is what Ratzinger discovered in Bonaventure and found himself failing the doctrinal part of his habilitation thesis because it looked like the subjectivism and relativism of Modernism.  And this, which was to become Vatican II.

The Ratzinger Text:

“In my research [for his rehabilitation thesis], I had seen that the study of the Middle Ages in Munich, primarily represented by Michael Schmaus, had come to almost a complete halt at its prewar state. The great new breakthroughs that had been made in the meantime, particularly by those writing in French, had not even been acknowledged. With a forthrightness not advisable in a beginner, I criticized the superseded positions, and this was apparently too much for Schmaus, especially since it was unthinkable to him that I could have worked on a medieval theme without entrusting myself to his direction. The copy of my book that he used was in the end full of glosses of all colors in the margins, which themselves left nothing to be desired by way of forthrightness. And while he was at it, he expressed irritation at the deficient appearance of the graphic layout and at various errors in the references that had remained despite all my efforts.

   “But he also did not like the result of my analyses. I had ascertained that in Bonaventure (as well as in theologians of the thirteenth century) there was nothing corresponding to our conception of ‘revelation,’ by which we are normally in the habit of referring to all the revealed contents of the faith: it has even become a part of linguistic usage to refer to Sacred Scripture simply as ‘revelation,’ by which we are normally in the habit or referring to all the revealed contents of the faith: it has even become a part of linguistic usage to refer to Sacred Scripture simply as ‘revelation.’ Such an identification would have been unthinkable in the language of the High Middle Ages. Here, ‘revelation’ is always a concept denoting an act. The word refers to the act in which God shows himself, not to the objectified result of this act. And because this is so, the receiving subject is always also a part of the concept of ‘revelation.’ Where there is no one to perceive ‘revelation,’ no re-vel-ation has occurred, because no veil has been removed. By definition, revelation requires a someone  who apprehends it. These insights, gained through my reading of Bonaventure, were later on very important for me at the time of the conciliar discussion on revelation, Scripture, and tradition. Because if Bonaventure is right, then revelation precedes Scripture and becomes deposited in Scripture but is not simply identical with it. This in turn means that revelation is always something greater than what is merely written down. And this again means that there can be no such thing as pure sola scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), because an essential element of Scripture is the Church as understanding subject, and with this the fundamental sense of tradition is already given. At that moment, however, the burning question was the habilitation thesis, and Michael Schmaus, who had perhaps also heard annoying rumors from some in Freising concerning the modernity of my theology, saw in these theses not at all a faithful rendering of Bonaventure’s thought (however, to this day I still affirm the contrary) but a dangerous modernism that had to lead to the subjectivization of the concept of revelation.”[

The thesis of Modernism and Ratzinger are alike in that there is a turn to the subject, the “I;” but with the difference that the modernist “I” is a subjective consciousness, whereas the “I” of Ratzinger is the ontological “I Am” of Christ as the Word and Revelation of the Father [Yahweh], who is communicated to us by our becoming Him. He, being Son, abandons the trappings of the Godhead without ceasing to be God, and becomes one of us so that we can become Him (eat my flesh, drink my blood, live my life).[1]

In 2011, I wrote: “This understanding of faith as conversion away from self in order to receive and be transformed into Christ as subject and therefore take on a relational anthropology is the Second Vatican Council (GS #24). This conversion takes place in the interchange of subjectivities (Christ and the believers), but it is not subjectivism and the non-reality of relativism. Rather, it is supreme realism. The supreme created reality – being – that reason craves is the self itself in the act of going out of self. It is Wojtyla’s “Acting Person.” It is the “I” being loved by being called to walk on water by Christ.

Therefore, Modernism had its true side, but dangerous in its falsity. Pius X providentially stopped the proliferation of the falsity of modernism while giving the Holy Spirit the time and space to develop the spirituality of Opus Dei, the theology of De Lubac and Joseph Ratzinger and the phenomenological metaphysics of Karol Wojtyla. All of this has conspired with a technology of universal communication to give us the greatest possibility to restart a global culture with a “new trajectory of thinking” (BXVI “Caritas in Veritate #54[2]) built on this relational anthropology of the “I” for the “new civilization of love.”[3] Therefore, I repeat the remark of Ratzinger taken from Johann Metz’: Levels of Teaching: “The text (Instruction on the Ecclesial Vocation of the Theologian) also offers different forms of binding which arise from different levels of magisterial teaching. It states – perhaps for the first time with such clarity – that there are magisterial decisions [like Pascendi and The Syllabus of Errors] which can not be and are not intended to be the last word on the matter as such, but are a substantial anchorage in the problem and are first and foremost an expression of pastoral prudence, a sort of provisional disposition. Their core remains valid, but the individual details influenced by the circumstances at the time may need further rectification.” Ratzinger continues: “In this regard one can refer to the statements of the Popes during the last century on religious freedom as well as the anti-Modernist decisions at the beginning of this century, especially the decisions of the Biblical Commission of that time. As a warning cry against hasty and superficial adaptations, they remain fully justified; a person of the stature of Johann Baptist Metz has said, for example, that the anti-Modernity decisions of the Church rendered a great service in keeping her from sinking into the liberal-bourgeois world. But the details of the determinations of their contents were later superseded once they had carried out their pastoral duty at a particular moment.”[1] [1] J. Ratzinger, “Theology is not the Private Idea of Theologians,” The Wanderer August 2, 1990 (Reprinted from L’Osservatore Romano [English] July 2, 1990.


[1] See Phil. 2, 5.

[2] “Pope Paul VI noted that “the world is in trouble because of the lack of thinking”[128]. He was making an observation, but also expressing a wish: a new trajectory of thinking is needed in order to arrive at a better understanding of the implications of our being one family; interaction among the peoples of the world calls us to embark upon this new trajectory, so that integration can signify solidarity[129] rather than marginalization. Thinking of this kind requires a deeper critical evaluation of the category of relation. This is a task that cannot be undertaken by the social sciences alone, insofar as the contribution of disciplines such as metaphysics and theology is needed if man’s transcendent dignity is to be properly understood.

“As a spiritual being, the human creature is defined through interpersonal relations. The more authentically he or she lives these relations, the more his or her own personal identity matures. It is not by isolation that man establishes his worth, but by placing himself in relation with others and with God. Hence these relations take on fundamental importance. The same holds true for peoples as well. A metaphysical understanding of the relations between persons is therefore of great benefit for their development. In this regard, reason finds inspiration and direction in Christian revelation, according to which the human community does not absorb the individual, annihilating his autonomy, as happens in the various forms of totalitarianism, but rather values him all the more because the relation between individual and community is a relation between one totality and another[130]. Just as a family does not submerge the identities of its individual members, just as the Church rejoices in each “new creation” (Gal 6:15; 2 Cor 5:17) incorporated by Baptism into her living Body, so too the unity of the human family does not submerge the identities of individuals, peoples and cultures, but makes them more transparent to each other and links them more closely in their legitimate diversity” [Caritas in Veritate #54].


[3] Blogger: The Greek notion of “substance” is an abstract objectification of “thing-in-itself.” It was formulated by Aristotle and identified with the meaning of “being” or reality (ουσϊα and τo τὶ nv eiνὰi). As such, it is a symbolic designation of individual “thing,” and hence the reduction of “being” and “reality” to individual and thing. As Ratzinger makes clear in his “Introduction to Christianity” ( Ignatius [1990] 132) with the notion of “person” [taken from the Christian revelation of Trinity], person as “I” has an intrinsic [constitutive] relationality. The meaning of person in Vatican II theology is Gaudium et Spes no. 24: “man, the only earthly being God has willed for itself, finds himself by the sincere gift of himself.” The “I” experiences self as “person” in the act of self-transcendence – of going out of self towards another “I.” The modernists sought this beyond “substance”, but at the price of losing reality itself. It is only by understanding Christ as the priority and center can reality and relationality be one.



Faith of the Canaanite Woman

12th Sunday in Ordinary Time


Canaanite woman: a pagan who does not believe in the creating God of Revelation, but in household gods who “control” domestic affairs. She is not a Jew but an idolator. She recognizes Christ as Jew and a son of David who conquered the Philistine Goliath. She is seeking power and is desperate. She implores Christ’s disciples and Christ Himself for help. She is completely out of herself. He answers her not a word, and the apostles are tired of her and want to get rid of her. “But the woman came and did Jesus homage, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He said in reply, ‘It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs. She said, ‘Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.’ Then Jesus said to her in reply, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And the woman’s daughter was healed from that hour’ (Mt, 15 , 27-28).


“Oh woman, great is thy faith.” But she doesn’t even know who Christ is. How can it be said that she has faith in Christ? She doesn’t. But then what is faith? Abram had no idea who God was. He heard the command: “Leave your country, your kinsfolk and your father’s house for the land which I will show you: I will make a great nation of you… Abram went away as the Lord had commanded him…(Gen 12, 1-3). Years later, “God put Abraham to a test. He said to him, ‘Abraham,’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ God said, ‘Take your only son Isaac whom you love and go into the district of Moria, and there offer him as a holocaust on the hill which I shall point out to you… Abraham took the wood for the holocaust and put it upon his son Isaac while he himself carried the fire and the knife. As they walked together, Isaac said to his father Abraham, ‘Father’… You have the fire and the wood, but where is the sheep for the holocaust?’ Abraham replied, God himself will provide the sheep for the holocaust, my son’” (Ibid 22, 1-8).

What does Abraham know of God? Joseph Ratzinger writes: “Abraham worshiped the God then well-known in the East as EL He was the Creator of all, the highest God in the whole pantheon, and possessed several subsidiary names –the Highest, the Eternal, the Mighty, the All-seeing – and he was worshiped in the most diverse places. Abraham worshiped him as his own family God – and this may have been what distinguished Abraham’s piety from that of those around him – as his personal God, who thus became, for his descendants, the God of Abraham and of Israel, until finally, as the God and Father of Jesus Christ, he acquired a new significance. We need not assume that Abraham denied the existence of other Gods of which we have spoken. Everyone of that time worshiped El, the Creator, the Highest, and there were family gods everywhere who bore the appropriate family name. But for Abraham, El was his family god too. He knew that it was he, the Highest, the Lord of All, who had personally called him.”[1]

Exactly the Situation We are in Today  

  What is the meaning of this faith of Abram? It reads like a blueprint  of tomorrow for us. Ratzinger writes: “He gave up the present for the sake of what was to come. He let go of what was safe, comprehensible, calculable, for the sake of what was unknown. And he did this in response to a single word from God. He had met God and placed all his future in God’s hands; he dared to accept a new future that began in darkness. The word he had heard was more real to him than all the calculable things he could hold in his hand. He trusted in what he could not yet see, and thus became capable of new life, of breaking out of rigidity. The center of gravity of reality, indeed the concept of realty itself, changed. The future good precedence over the preset, the word heard over comprehensible things. God had become more important to him than himself and than the things he could understand. Imprisonment within the calculable and among the good with which a man surrounds himself, was broken, and a new limitless horizon opened up – a horizon towards the Eternal, towards the Creator. Attachment to the accustomed world around came to an end, and man’s true destination appeared – not his immediate environment, but the whole world, the whole of creation that knows no frontiers, aut allows itself to be explored until the ultimate foundation of everyitng has been discovered. This wholeness is repreented by the image and the reality of the journey, Abraham on his way. He no longer belongs to any fixed place, and is therefore a stranger and a guest wherever he goes.”[2]

               Does this ring like the present moment in this beginning of the third millennium after the Second Vatican Council, and in the era of the most momentous electronic technological advances imaginable and a global culture in search of itself after the collapse of the ideologies, be they Nazism, communism, capitalism, democracy as we have lived it out for the last 200 years in this country…?

               C.S. Lewis drills to the essence of the moment when he says presciently about us: “However far they go back, or down, they can find no ground to stand on. Every motive they try to act on becomes at once a petitio [a petition of principles that is circular reasoning, and therefore groundless]. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao [the common consciousness of truth that is experiential as lived], they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artifacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.”[3]

               And so, we return to the Canaanite woman: “Oh Woman, great is they faith!” She puts her trust in Another. Not in knowing, and not in herself. And now I coppy John Paul II in his commentary on the meaning of faith in the Second Vatican Council (Dei Verbum #5) for which Joseph Ratzinger was a major protagonist:

    John Paul II in dialogue with Andre Frossard on the meaning of Faith: “In the words, ‘man entrusts himself to God by the obedience of faith,’ one musts see, if only indirectly, the thought that faith, as response to the revelation by which God ‘gives himself to man,’ implies through its internal dynamism a reciprocal gift on the part of man, who in a way ‘also gives himself to God.’ This gift of oneself is the profoundest and most personal structure of faiths.

               “In the act of faith, man does not respond to God with the gift of a bit of himself, but with the gift of his whole person. Of course, in this reciprocal relationship the disproportion remains.’

               “So misapprehension is frequent. Those who say, ‘faith is a gift,’ implying that they have not received it, are at the same time both right and wrong. Right, because there really is a gift on the part of God. Wrong, because this gift is not one of those which require only a banal acknowledgement of receipt; it only takes effect when there is reciprocity.

               ‘Man gives himself or “entrusts himself” to God in faith, by the response of faith in the measure of his created – and therefore dependent – being. It is not a question of a relationship between equals; that is why Dei verbum uses with superb precision the words ‘entrusts himself.’ In the ‘communion’ with God, Faith marks the first step.

               “According to the teaching of the apostles, faith finds its fullness of life in love. It is in love that the confident surrender to God acquires its proper character and this dimension of reciprocity starts with faith.

               “Thus while the old definition in my catechism spoke principally of the acceptance as truth ‘of all that God has revealed’ [Vatican I], the conciliar text [Vatican II], in speaking of surrender to God, emphasizes rather the personal character of faith. This does not mean that the cognitive aspect is concealed or displaced, but it is, so to speak, organically integrated in the broad context of the subject responding to God by faith….

               “Before I tell you how I am inclined to conceive this commitment, allow me to examine once again the fundamental meaning of this word in the light of the confident surrender to God.

               “I have already drawn your attention to the difference between the catechism formula, ‘accepting as true all that God reveals,’ and surrender to God. In the first definition  faith is primarily intellectual, in so far as it is the welcoming and assimilation of revealed fact. On the other hand, when the constitution Dei verbum tells us that man entrusts himself ato God ‘by the obedience of faith,’ we are confronted with the whole ontological and existential dimension and, so to speak, the drama of existence proper to man.

               “In faith, man discovers the relativity of his being in comparison with an absolute I and the contingent character of his own existence. To believe is to entrust this human I, in all its transcendence and all its transcendent greatness, but also with its limits, its fragility and its mortal condition, to Someone who announces himself as the beginning and the end, transcending all that is created and contingent, but who also reveals himself at the same time as a Person who invites us to companionship, participation and communion. An absolute person – or better, a personal Absolute.

               “The surrender to God through faith (through the obedience of faith) penetrates to the very depths of human existence, to the very heart of personal existence. This is how we should understand this ‘commitment’ which you mentioned in your question and which presents itself as the solution to the very problem of existence or to the personal drama of human existence. IPt is much more than a purely intellectual theism and goes deeper and further than the act of ‘accepting as true what God has revealed.’

               “When God reveals himself and faith accepts him, it is man who sees himself revealed to himself and confirmed in his being as man and person.”[4]

Solution: The “Priority of Christ” as Alpha  and Omega of all creation. As in Col. 1, 15-19, all things have been created by Him, in Him and for Him. He is the meaning of all creation beginning with man. Hence, all knowing, all epistemology must start with Him and finds its place to stand in becoming and knowing Him. The Person of Christ is the meaning of “To Be.” See Bp Barron’s “Priority of Christ.”











[1] J. Ratzinger, “Faith and the Future,” Franciscan Herald Press (1971) 29-31.

[2] Ibid. 30-31.

[3] C. S. Lewis, “The Abolition of Man.”

[4] John Paul II and Andre Frossard “Be Not Afraid” Franciscan Herald Press  (1984) 66-67.

On the Occasion of Filing a Paper on David Walsh Written by Fr. James Schall S.J.

David Walsh

I may be wrong, but my first reading and insight into David Walsh came after reading his “After Ideology –Recovering the Spiritual Foundations of Freedom” (CUA Press 1990). I therefore proceeded to read his “The Modern Philosophical Revolution – “The Luminosity of Existence” – and found an intelligence expanded and free beyond the constrictions of empirical positivism. It was a mind from Voegelin. It was a mind understanding the drama of which it is already a part and knowing it experientially. I wrote the following email:

Dear David,

   The import of the “introduction,” and therefore, the book, seems – on my first take – to be a shadow of Ratzinger’s theological  epistemology where the Person of Christ as relation to the Father reveals Himself as the action of prayer (Lk. 9, 18). And only in the context of that action, is Simon able to experience in himself what it means to be Christ, and therefore is able to say: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” This produces the name change from Simon to Peter (as “Rock” – ipse Christus), and the remark of the Aparecida document (written by Pope Francis – 2007): “Only God knows God.” Clearly, Christ does not pray, but is prayer. And we have to become prayer.

    The profundity of what you are doing philosophically – i.e. what we mean by reality is person, not being – is precisely what Ratzinger was calling for in the “Introduction to Christianity” when he wrote: “Therein lies concealed a revolution in man’s view of the world: the undivided sway of thinking in terms of substance is ended: relation is discovered as an equally valid primordial mode of reality… a new plane of being comes into view. It is probably true to say that the task imposed on philosophy as a result of these facts is far from being completed – so much does modern thought depend on the possibilities thus disclosed, but for which it would be inconceivable” (p. 132 of the 1990 edition).

               It also drives me to the thesis of Louis Bouyer on the Protestant Reformation where he says that the real problem with the Reformers was not their spirit or insights of reform, but the philosophy they used to convey them. I.e., they used Nominalism which placed the whole of reality in an extrinsicism. What’s needed is a philosophy from within the consciousness of the person without being a philosophy of consciousness or subjectivism. As you say first hand from the Voegelin experience of recognizing consciousness as an event of being itself: “He says that consciousness grasped being but not that consciousness is the grasp of being. We experience the transcendent because we are already constituted by it. We know that God is more than he reveals because we are person who are always more than we say.”

    David was not impressed by my references to Ratzinger, etc., but seemed quietly peaceful in the vision that he was giving voice to. At the time of our meeting, he was writing a book on the person, but I have yet to see it. Here is Fr. Schall on same:

 James Schall S.J.  on David Walsh:

The World We Think In and the Drama of Existence | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J. | Ignatius Insight | October 29, 2008

“This is why we are engaged in a drama of which we are not the source, and we sense the importance of responding rightly to the pull of Being. What is at stake far transcends any immanent good. It is nothing less than the loss of our participation in Being. The soul of man is, as Dostoevsky noted, a battlefield in which God and the devil are contending. Our decisions are of surpassing significance because they carry a dimension that endures beyond the universe itself. This is the drama of existence that is glimpsed by the Greek discovery of Being, but that reaches its full transparence only in Christ.” — David Walsh, The Third Millennium [1]

“Indeed, there is hardly a ‘world’ or an ‘age’ at all when we see that each individual exists within an eternal scale of measurement that utterly outweighs any finite calculation.” — David Walsh, The Modern Philosophical Revolution [2]


David Walsh’s brilliant new book, The Modern Philosophical Revolution, is the third part of a trilogy of deeply reflective books on the very nature of philosophy and its too often unrecognized and delicate relation to revelation. The first two books were After Ideology: Recovering the Spiritual Foundations [3] and The Growth of the Liberal Soul. [4]

The first book was basically a reflection on Solzhenitsyn and what was thought to be the post Marxist world. It may not be as “post” as at first we thought it was. The book’s thesis was simply that the modern intellectual fascination with ideology could only be seen for the aberration it was when someone actually suffered its lies. It was Solzhenitsyn’s imprisonment under its total power than made him realize the emptiness of the ideology and its animosity to human life itself.

The second volume on liberalism sought to determine whether there was left any of the initial liberal concern with human dignity that was found in early modernism, itself reminiscent of the great medieval understanding of the scope of human nature. Though modern liberalism has fallen far away from its original concern with what is right everywhere, Walsh found that some glimmer of the tradition was left of a notion of right or rightness. This sense of what is right went back to a standard and not just to a will that could be otherwise. Even though modern liberalism has in most ways become a voluntarism without norms, still its rhetoric reflects a tradition of abiding standards of human good.

Walsh has long been a student of the German philosopher Eric Voegelin. In one sense, though he does not directly address himself to Voegelin in this book, Walsh’s trilogy is a completion of and—in some ways—a corrective of Voegelin’s project of “order and history.” Voegelin’s project itself often seemed to drift off into an anti-dogmatic universalism, even though Christian revelation had a key place in Voegelin’s thought. With Leo Strauss, Voegelin was largely responsible for re-introducing genuine political philosophy back into academic discourse. Voegelin did think that Christians confused “doctrine” about God with the reality of God. The effort to make true statements of God, however, was never intended to identify God with the statements. But the human being does seek to state what he does know of God without identifying God with the statement.

Walsh’s trilogy, I think, is much more obviously sympathetic to the orthodox position. At the same time, Walsh reminds us that we are ourselves within Being. None of us stands outside it in some ideological thought-world. The thinking being already participates in what is. Walsh reminds the reader constantly that he, the reader, is within being as it goes on. He is himself not outside of being, nor is his thought apart from the reality about which it thinks or knows. Knowing is itself a form of being. Walsh does not allow the thinker to assume that he is somehow superior to the being he finds himself already involved in because he already exists. The search for the “ground” of being is in every soul. It arises from within its own experience. It is not apart from what keeps being in being in the first place. If we already are, we do not need to look further for what is.


Walsh is a professor in the Department of Politics at the Catholic University of America. He is an Irishman by birth. Walsh has been a good friend over the years. He is a man whose work I have admired, but it is only with this last work on the “luminosity of existence” that I have fully realized what he has been up to. It proves that we do not always know our friends even when we know them. His project, if I dare use that word, is nothing short of reconfiguring the modern mind towards the existence from which it has, on first glance, so much departed. The mind itself exists in the being that exists. Its activity itself is an activity of being. To know is to be. Indeed in the case of human beings, it is to be more than the bare existence it begins with.

We have long been accustomed to divide intellectual history into classical, medieval, and modern periods, each with its own intelligibility. Modernity was conceived to be a cutting off of all Christian roots within philosophy. And modern philosophy separated itself from existing things. Being was replaced by a consciousness that had, so it thought, no external object. Man replaced God as the object and source of human happiness. This was the “modern project.” Man was also the provider of intelligibility to himself and to the cosmos, now conceived to be empty of any internal or transcendent meaning.

Modern man was freed from the legacy of Greek metaphysics and Christian revelation, neither of which had placed man in the position of the cause of things. Walsh has taken another look at modern thought. He has concluded, after much careful and detailed study of the authors, that, in spite of its apparent breaking away from its intellectual past, what modern thought, at its best, was really about is a continued search for the meaning of our existence. This search appeared within the presence of, as he calls it in a happy phrase, the “luminosity of being.” This light has its source as a reflection of the divine Being.

Modern thought, both in its socialist and liberal varieties, when translated into the political arena, logically lead to tyranny and totalitarianism. Shrewd modern political ideologues, politicians, and tyrants, most of whom were trained in this very philosophy, thought they were curing the well-known ills of mankind. The first step in this “curing” was to reject virtue and grace and replace them by the universal ideology either forced or elected into political existence. The arena of modern politics has been at bottom eschatological, not political. It was not concerned with man’s temporal life but with the ultimate status of his being, a new way to achieve happiness.

Essentially, Walsh argues that this totalitarian turn, whether Marxist or liberal, was an enormous misreading of modern thought, though an understandable one. In one sense, as he traces the lines of argument from Kant on, Walsh considers that these thinkers themselves did not know where their thought led. But they all in the core of their arguments were searching for being, its meaning and reality. Walsh does not much deal with the pre-Kantians in this volume. By beginning with Kant, however, he starts with a philosopher/theologian who recognizes the seriousness of the loss of being and seeks a way to return to it. Kant’s noumenon and phenomenon could not be kept separated. Reality had at least to be postulated if it could not be met in any other way.

As I have pointed out before on Ignatius Insight, one of the most important philosophy books of our time was also recently published by Cambridge University Press by a professor at the Catholic University of America. This book was Msgr. Robert Sokolowski’s The Phenomenology of the Human Person. Sokolowski’s book is simply the best book on what it is to philosophize about reality and its meaning. 

Sokolowski  Fr. Robert Sokolowski

Walsh’s book is a remarkable revision of what modern philosophy is really about. Revision is perhaps not the right word. Walsh’s own word in the title, “revolution,” is better. Walsh has done nothing less than rethink the meaning of German idealism and French existentialism in terms of Plato, Aristotle, and the essentials of Christian revelation, which latter subject, in one form or another, has never been far from the consciousness of these modern thinkers. Walsh’s book asks: “What did philosophers think?” Sokolowski’s book asks: “What does one do when he thinks?” The one thinker the two books touch on in common is Husserl, a man who wanted to know exactly what is it we know when we know anything? 

Walsh devotes successive chapters to Kant, Hegel, Schelling, Nietzsche, Heidegger, Levinas, Derrida, and finally and most centrally Kierkegaard. By showing what they have in common and their individual differences, Walsh is able to follow the thread of existence as the real “revolution” of modern philosophy. This revolution has really never been about either idealism, skepticism, or pragmatism except as dead end solutions to a live problem that is best explained by being in the light, in the luminosity of the Being. This book is exciting to read as it puts so many things together.

What is perhaps unique to Walsh’s consideration of these particular authors is his constant attention to the impact of revelation on their souls. In effect, the apparent philosophical rejection of Christianity ends up by deepening philosophy itself, something we already learned from Aquinas. In so doing, now corrected, philosophy becomes open precisely to those things in whichlogos, wherever found, especially in each of us, is directed to and rooted inLogos. As Walsh says again and again in different ways, the thinker—the person who thinks, “the agent of truth,” as Sokolowski calls him—already finds himself within being that includes his thinking, his affirmation. He cannot find a place outside of it.

One thing that has always struck me about Walsh is his remarkable independence of the academic orthodoxies that are too often found in philosophical departments of various hues. This independence of mind is also true of the CUA School of Philosophy in general. In both places, logos seems to have been more important than credentials or outside “evaluations,” which often turn out to be but reaffirmations of modernity in its worst sense, the sense that Walsh is attacking. These CUA places, I think, is where to go to study “real” philosophy. The reform of the Catholic mind can begin here. Benedict’s observation that theology addresses itself to logos in its own terms is here adhered to.

Politics, at its best, allows this same logos to flourish midst things which are not themselves political. Much modern politics, however, conceives itself as not ethics or politics of finite mortals, but as a “pseudo-metaphysics,” to use the words of Father Charles N. R. McCoy, who once held the position in the Politics Department at CUA that Walsh does today.

It is also typical that Sokolowski, a philosopher, should be actively interested in political philosophy. Walsh, a political philosopher, on the other hand, writes not just a history of modern philosophy. He writes what Daniel Mahoney called a “deeply meditative” penetration of what was really going on in what we have come to call modernity or post-modernity, often unbeknownst to or unarticulated by itself. The real alternative to philosophy and revelation in the modern world has been a political philosophy that, as Aristotle already suspected, considers itself as the highest of the sciences and not just the highest of the practical sciences. Philosophy turns to politics when the transcendent order is conceived as a political, not theological or metaphysical, project. This is what Voegelin meant when he said that modern politics is the “immanentization of the eschaton.” And it was precisely to this corruptive influence that Benedict XVI directed Spe Salvi.

Actually, Sokolowski’ little book, The God of Faith and Reason, is a very fitting context for the Walsh trilogy. Obviously, Walsh has been working for decades on this rethinking of modern thought. Indeed, he purposes to do nothing less than explain what it was really about all the time. He proposes this view not in terms of philosophy’s history but in terms of philosophizing itself. As with Plato, the separation of philosophy and political philosophy rejoins itself in order to free politics from an alien philosophy. It has long been clear that no understanding of philosophy is possible outside of politics. Nor can we understand politics outside of both philosophy and revelation.

Obviously, much of the thought of Benedict XVI is related to Walsh’s trilogy—the question of hope, the relation of truth to Logos, and the relation of both to the inner-worldly eschatology that the pope has seen to be the driving force of modern thought that takes it away from actual being and its transcendent ends. Walsh’s book, I think, is best seen as a rediscovery of the meaning of existence and of our role within it, a role that includes our pursuing the “restless heart” we find within us to its very existential end. This end can only be the personal and resurrected destiny of each of the human beings who exist. I have remarked that Benedict XVI observed that the best proof of the doctrine of the resurrection of the body is through the idea of justice, a position that was suggested by the Marxist philosopher Theodor Adorno. Similar rediscoveries are found on almost every page of Walsh, and of Benedict, for that matter.


It will take a long time before Walsh’s trilogy will be properly appreciated and evaluated. My remarks are preliminary and appreciative. Walsh’s work is part of that necessary project in which the European mind must first straighten itself out. Being and mind belong together, but not in just any way. Walsh has given us a guide about how this reflection can be carried out; that is, philosophy needs to understand itself and its Christian and Greek roots. Modern philosophy is no exception. Moreover, it is part of the Christian faith itself that what it addresses to reason is that it be more reasonable, more in contact withwhat is, by the encounter of revelation with reason. Revelation and philosophy live in the same world; their supposed separation has itself been un-philosophical and politically destructive to actual people as ideas come into existence.

From the very moment I began to read this book, I kept saying to myself and anyone who would listen that this is an “amazing” book. If it reminds me of any book, it is Gilson’s The Unity of Philosophic Experience. Like Gilson, who began with the classics, and worked his way through the medievals to the moderns, all in the light of the philosophia perennis, Walsh is concerned with the connection of thinkers to one another in their thought, which mysteriously has its own dynamism. What modern philosophers were looking for was, in another way, there all along. If faith is addressed to reason, as it is, reason must itself be prepared to hear it and to receive it in order that nothing that claims to be true be left out.

Walsh is quite aware of the sometimes obscure Christian overtones in German philosophy. I have always thought that something profoundly right circled about Nietzsche, who so many would consider the end of the road. Walsh spells out what is right about him. Nietzsche’s disappointment with Christianity—”the last Christian died on the Cross”–is itself Christian in origin, however much Nietzsche underestimated the divinity’s awareness that all were sinners and in need of redemption, hence the Cross. The “will to power,” which, at first sight, is proposed as the replacement for reason, is not simply a voluntarism. It is an affirmation of being that is not confined by all that passed as unlived Christianity by the Christians themselves. Nietzsche was scandalized not by the Cross but by Christians who lived as if they did not believe it. Evidently, he would not have been scandalized by the One who died on the Cross, as we suspect most moderns would if it implied that they need to live differently.

What is also remarkable is the way that the two French philosophers, Levinas and Derrida, are understood to continue the pursuit of being. Again these two writers, especially Derrida, are usually seen as going in the other direction. He is the leader of the “de-constructors.” They both become profoundly Christian in inspiration in Walsh’s reading. John Paul II often cited Levinas’ emphasis on the human face, which, when we think about it, is what the Incarnation is about, our faces and the divine Face.

But the hero of the book is the Dane, Kierkegaard. The sections that deal with love in this book, especially those of Levinas and Kierkegaard, but also Hegel, remind one of Benedict XVI Deus Caritas Est. What will strike most readers as absolutely remarkable is that the true locus of love is, and can only be, marital love that commits itself to a lifetime of fidelity. This is the conclusion, Walsh thinks, of the modern philosophical search itself. This reveals existence. For it here that the realization that the love in which we are created most often realizes among us its transcendent purpose and place within the Godhead itself.

In conclusion, many readers of Walsh will find most striking the theme that “ethics comes before ontology” to be particularly provocative. On the surface, this formula is nothing less than an entire overturning of the classical priority of metaphysics to ethics. Yet, Walsh does not see this new priority, which overturning I have often thought was what happened in Roman philosophy in comparison to Greek, to be anything but the logical consequence of what it means to be and act in the world. Aristotle himself had assured us that someone who was not virtuous could see the truth of the contemplative order which itself indicated an “action.” In this sense, modern philosophy is often the product of an intellectual effort to find a substitute for the living well that is found in the classics and Christianity, reason and grace. What Walsh suggests is that even in trying to escape being we find it, so it makes a difference how we live and what we conceive this living to mean

All through the Walsh book is found the theme that we must live in the mystery of the being in which we already find ourselves. In this living, we are constantly confronted with our obligation to others, which presses on us with a universal force of reason. We do not find our end in this world, but our beginning is there as is the choice of what we make of it. Yet we believe that the being that we are given as a gift displays that everlastingness we find in love; namely, we want the other to be forever. If metaphysics is seen to be dangerous, it is because it can be an excuse for us not to live the real life we are given.

We can seek to explain ourselves by defining a system that explains all, but we do not have to do anything. Yet, even in classical metaphysics, we are finally pointed to the vision, the Beatific Vision, as it came to be called. The “luminosity” of the being that we encounter needs to be grounded. But this grounding is always in that being carried forward that existence itself contains from its origins

David Walsh has produced a major work of enormous proportions. He mentions politics several times in his book. He suspects that the aberrations of the political order are ultimately rooted in the theoretical order. But the proper understanding of our being and the divine Being always takes us back to living rightly in an on-going world. In the second citation that I used to begin this reflection, Walsh suggests that it does not matter overly much what era or polity we live in. The ultimate things take place in every time and place, for they all are, at bottom, immersed in the ongoing flow of the reality that we did not cause but in which we live. “Each individual exists within an eternal scale of measurement that utterly outweighs any finite calculation.”

Walsh said in his earlier book: “We are all engaged in a drama of which we are not the source, and we sense the importance of responding rightly to the pull of Being.” As I said in the beginning, this is an astonishingly amazing book, truly revolutionary in modern philosophy about what it is really about, namely, in Walsh’s words, “the luminosity of existence,” a wonderfully philosophic expression. Gloria in excelsis Deo is, perhaps, another way of saying the same thing.


[1] David Walsh, The Third Millennium: Reflections on Faith and Reason(Washington : Georgetown University Press, 2007), 46.

[2] David Walsh, The Modern Philosophic Revolution: The Luminosity of Being(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), 450.

[3] Walsh, After Ideology (Catholic University of America Press, 1995).

[4] Walsh, The Growth of the Liberal Soul (University of Missouri Press, 1997).

“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.”