Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Further Reflections on Catholicism

The Digest of Several posts:

Whole and part

Catholics tell me that Catholicism is the 'fullness' of Christian truth, the 'fullness' of the faith. I was pondering this as I sat today in a weekday Mass.

If you take a drop of water or a grain of salt and split the water-drop or slice through the grain, the molecular structure remains intact, and it is not true to say that half the water-drop or a fragment of salt is less than water or less than salt. This is the nature of matter or of material substance.But the same is not true of spiritual truth - and the echo of this can be heard in the oath that is sworn in a court of law, "the truth, the whole truth, so help me God."

It is not possible to take away anything from truth and have it maintain its character as truth. To remove the slightest bit of it, to twist a word from a plain meaning to an obscure one, to add something to it which does not belong to it, to shade the context with diverting or irrelevant details or aspersions of bad faith, covert motives, interests not subjected to open inquiry -- all these things undermine the possibility of truth.

And actually truth remains in a mysterious ether, an atmosphere or aura of good faith between men - or at least the possibility of this good faith. Ultimately spiritual truth is bathed in this aura of Mystery - and even the truth, the whole truth, the truth of the material witness, the truth of the material world - depends upon it.

Men think that by stripping away to the very roots of the material world they will arrive at the truth they seek. Our culture has been consecrated, so to speak, to this task. But it is actually an anti-consecration, a kind of cursing of matter, a condemnation of matter to material disintegration. What this act of anti-consecration means is that modern men have lost the flexibility of thought to move from the material to the immaterial realm. Thinking is a spiritual act, and they have the spiritual means of thinking but they have lost all knowledge of the guidance of a spiritual force. So a spiritual force not guided by spiritual principles becomes anti-spiritual. It becomes demonic.

Before the splitting of the atom in 1945, I believe that the material world lay under a kind of protection, so that the despiritualization of human thinking did not penetrate to the roots of life. But now we are in the midst of this despiritualization. The havoc lies all around us, in our culture, our landscape, our politics, our lack of loyalty to anything. There are times when I come close to a great despair in humanity. It's not that no one cares. They care, but they cannot listen. They don't know how.

The instrument of thinking has to be attuned to the ether in order for listening to become possible - somewhere, deep within man, this instrument has to vibrate with the whole truth. This is not to say that the 'whole truth' can be known. But somehow it must be felt, or believed, in a living core of incorruptible faith. Perhaps this is the real meaning of Modernity - that the core of faith should be shut up in a dank basement labelled the 'Unconscious,' full of unclean spirits that feed off of it in the darkness.

It is not by unburying the Unconscious that we reclaim the whole of ourselves but by the restoration of the fullness at the core of faith.

"The renunciation of truth does not heal man."--Benedict XVI, Truth and Tolerance "...The teachers of the Church unfold the classic view...of the fact that man was not shut out from the Tree of Life until after he had maneuvered himself into a position that was not appropriate by eating from the Tree of Knowledge... for man to be immortal in this condition would indeed be perdition... There are indeed final boundaries we cannot cross without turning into agents of the destruction of creation itself."

God and the World: "... when Christianity is taken away, archaic powers of evil that had been banished by Christianity suddenly break loose again."


Santayana on the Spirit: "...the Nicene Creed tells us the Son was begotten not made, that is to say, came through an inner impulse, without plan or foresight, from the substance of the Father... ... the novel fact of human existence is passion of the spirit. "

"...This passion would certainly not have overcome the spirit in heaven, where the harmony between powers and form is perfect, and life is ever at its topmost, ecstasy - as in the God of Aristotle. But that is sheer myth; and as matter can exist only in some form , so Spirit can exist only incarnate in the flux of matter and form... Passion is therefore inseparable from Spirit in its actual existence, and exposes it to perpetual obscuration and suffering."

Its degradation: "Obscuration and suffering bring temptations with them, and spirit is tempted... to love evil and be content with lies... to deny matter; to despise form; and to pose itself the only power... and arbiter of truth...But this is itself the greatest of lies and the sin of the spirit against its own vocation. Spirit proceeds, and is always proceeding, from the Father and the Son . . . It was not the Holy Ghost that denied his dependence on the Father and the Son; it was Lucifer. And Lucifer merely lost his brightness and became Satan..."

SalvationVere dignum et justum est, æquum et salutáre-"It is truly meet and just, right and for our salvation"-

What is salvation?

What a load of history this word bears for Western man - as though salvation or the desire for it were the very engine of our history itself. Modernity is the desire for salvation and history to coincide, which is to say, modernity is the ambition to do away with the supernatural horizon of salvation, or to empty salvation of its supernatural content. The traditional anchors of this supernatural content, Hell, Heaven, and Limbo, have been pushed beneath the frontiers of consciousness. They no longer correspond to any real sense of place in the cosmos, but they do continue to eke out a small living in the moral sphere, like the Salvation Army.

It is an interesting question, and one asked by far better minds than my own, whether history can continue to exist without a concept of salvation which is beyond history, outside of history. This seems to be the battle arena of our time.

As Pope Benedict XVI once wrote, "Even Adorno said that there can be justice only if there is a resurrection of the dead, so that past wrongs can be settled retroactively, as it were. There must, in other words, somewhere, somehow, be a settling of injustices, the victory of justice." [From his conversation with Peter Seewald, in Salt of the Earth, 1996.]

Putting the same thing more boldly and dramatically, George Bernanos once commented that "the thirst for justice will lay waste the world." That is because man's thirst for justice refers to the coexisting supernatural in him. Take away the supernatural coexistent and all that frustrated energy pours into the heart and soul of man, creating rancorous reverberations and resonances at every turn.We live in such society now,which George Orwell depicted as the "Two-Minute Hate" of the totalitarian tyranny of 1984.

We see the "Two-Minute Hate" principle applied to Catholics as a matter of course, and other targets and groups as needed. We have in this world a media, television and newspapers, which can disseminate these rancorous messages all day every day - although they are not called rancorous messages but "news."

"The loss of the idea of salvation has often been correlated with the rise of ideological this-world salvational movements --e.g. "Wherever politics tries to be redemptive, it is promising too much. Where it wishes to do the work of God it becomes, not divine, but demonic."
Truth and Tolerance

But too few people correlate the loss of the supernatural with the decline of thinking. This is because the people who do the thinking in society have no interest in such pursuits. For "... the intellectuals, especially academics, are fascinated by power," Paul Johnson reminds us, in his book Intellectuals (1988).

Intellectual man is the heir of religious man. But he would rather not be an heir but a ruler in his own right, dispelling all secrets [cf. Johnson: "It is one of the characteristics of the intellectual to believe that secrets, especially in sexual matters, are harmful."] with the exception of the shameful -- to him - secret of his own origin.


Declaration and Commemoration
October, 2005

Today at Radnor Friends Meeting I made my announcement or declaration that I was taking steps to become a member of the Roman Catholic Faith. While sitting in the silent meeting meditating about what I would say, or whether indeed I would get up to say anything, I felt some fear and uncertainty. I knew that there was some anti-Catholic sentiment in at least a few of the Friends, though more as a subcurrent or mood than as a conscious or principled decision. Indeed, anti-Catholicism is the subcurrent mood of Protestant or ex-Protestant society in general; the general tenor was established in the 1550's and only increased in the revolutionary events of the 1600's and the so-called Enlightenment.

It seemed to be the craze to subtract from God or from all the things that had heretofore carried society, as if by a process of subtraction and denigration, an addition and heightening of mankind would mysteriously turn up on the other side of the equation.One has to ask: was it necessary, in the development of rationality and science, for this absurd balance-sheet attitude toward the relation of God and man to have gotten started?

For the experiment is still going on, although it has entered a self-contradictory and even suicidal phase. Perhaps in essence that is what 'rationality' is: it is that in us which always sails perilously close to fixation, and it is only through a conversion experience of some kind that we escape shipwreck.

Still, I need not have worried about speaking. Afterwards a number of people came up to me and said how much they appreciated my sharing my religious journey. "That's what it's about - sharing the journey, walking the talk." The Quakers proved themselves most worthy of their name -Friends.

I should not fail to mention also that after I had spoken, another Friend got up to add on to what I had said. I had never seen this lady before; apparently, she was a visitor. She spoke most intelligently and appropriately about how the outlawing of Catholic churches in England in the 1500's had created a number of people who felt a loss, who felt that they missed the old services, and that George Fox, the founder of Quakerism, had perhaps appealed to these lost former Catholics in his message and preaching. This made complete sense to me; in fact, I wondered that I had not thought of it before. It seemed providential in a way that this lady had visited the Radnor congregation today - she was from Ithaca, New York.

How do you explain that my message of conversion to Catholicism was received with all cordiality of spirit amongst these people, and that in fact it found an answering chord in this visitor who just happened to be present on this day?I learned in Meeting today that our Radnor Friend, and my personal friend, Louis Hepburn, had died. There is to be a memorial service for him this afternoon. Louis was a warm presence in that meeting and a welcoming person to me. I had looked for him when I came in this morning.

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