Thaddeus J. Kozinski on reading modernity’s symptoms wisely (and wonder-fully)
“In a remarkable passage, Alasdair MacIntyre zeroes in on the essence of modernity’s peculiar disease:
“‘We have within our social order few if any social milieus within which reflective and critical inquiry concerning the central issues of human life can be sustained. . . . This tends to be a culture of answers, not of questions, and those answers, whether secular or religious, liberal or conservative, are generally delivered as though meant to put an end to questioning.’
“What MacIntyre is saying, I think, is that the culture of modernity is a culture without wonder, and since without wonder there is no awe, as Plato taught us, modern culture tends to preclude the experience of that which is most awesome, God. What is the antidote to this? MacIntyre once said that we need a new Benedict, but I wonder if we couldn’t add Socrates to the list. Dietrich von Hildebrand describes the Socratic, questioning, wondering spirit as
“‘the inner willingness which is not closed against even the most unpleasant truth, which is really free from bias, ready to make friends with things, open to the proof of all objective existence, not looking at things through a colored lens that allows only such things to pass into the understanding as do not offend our pride and self complacency.’
“The existence of even one person with a genuine spirit of erotic, Socratic questioning, a soul with true metaphysical courage, is, I think, the most effective antidote to the suffocating, anti-questioning, partial-truth culture we live in, in both its traditionalist and modernist varieties. Those who believe themselves to have obtained answers without having first endured the existential agony of questioning the darkness, whether because they have judged that there are no answers, or because they believe themselves to be already quite securely possessed of dogmatic certitude, need to recognize in such an attitude neither a humble disposition of ignorance nor pious submission to God's word, but a type of idolatry, the idolatry of partial thinking.”
— from Thaddeus J. Kozinski, Modernity as Apocalypse: Sacred Nihilism and the Counterfeits of Logos (Angelico Press, 2019)
Aquinas, Augustine, and Aristotle on good government
“In the second book of the Politica we study the constitutions of the various Greek states. Thomas accepts Aristotle’s inductive bases, and will employ them in his work De regimine principum. In the nature of man he finds the origin and the necessity of a social authority, represented in varying degree by the father in the family, by the leader in the community, by the sovereign in the kingdom.
“He distinguishes, further, good government from bad. Good government has three forms: monarchical, where one alone rules, aristocratic, where several rule, democratic, where the rule is by representatives elected by the multitude. But each of these forms may degenerate: monarchy into tyranny, aristocracy into oligarchy, democracy into mob-rule The best form of government he finds in monarchy, but, to exclude tyranny, he commends a mixed constitution, which provides, at the monarch’s side, aristocratic and democratic elements in the administration of public affairs. Yet, he adds, if monarchy in fact degenerates into tyranny, the tyranny, to avoid greater evils, should be patiently tolerated. If, however, tyranny becomes unbearable, the people may intervene, particularly in an elective monarchy. It is wrong to kill the tyrant. He must be left to the judgment of God, who, with infinite wisdom, rewards or punishes all rulers of men.
“On the evils of election by a degenerate people, where demagogues obtain the suffrages, he remarks, citing St. Augustine, that the elective power should, if it be possible, be taken from the multitude and restored to those who are good. St. Augustine’s words run thus: ‘If a people gradually becomes depraved, if it sells its votes, if it hands over the government to wicked and criminal men, then that power of conferring honors is rightly taken from such a people and restored to those few who are good.’”
— from Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P., Reality: A Synthesis of Thomistic Thought (Herder, 1950)
St. John Henry Newman on the manner of speech fitting for Christian faithfulness
“Let us guard against discontent in any shape; and as we cannot help hearing what goes on in the world, let us guard, on hearing it, against all intemperate, uncharitable feelings towards those who differ from us, or oppose us. Let us pray for our enemies; let us try to make out men to be as good as they can fairly and safely be considered; let us rejoice at any symptoms of repentance, or any marks of good principle in those who are on the side of error. Let us be forgiving. Let us try to be very humble, to understand our ignorance, and to rely constantly on the enlightening grace of our Great Teacher. Let us be ‘slow to speak, slow to wrath;’—not abandoning our principles, or shrinking from the avowal of them when seasonable, or going over to the cause of error, or fearing consequences, but acting ever from a sense of duty, not from passion, pride, jealousy, or an unbelieving dread of the future; feeling gently, even when we have reason to act severely.”
— from John Henry Newman, “Contracted Views in Religion,” a sermon on the story of the Prodigal Son, in Parochial and Plain Sermons, Volume 3 (published 1834–42).
Alexander Schmemann on the grand modern heresy
“Secularism, I submit, is above all a negation of worship. I stress: — not of God’s existence, not of some kind of transcendence and therefore of some kind of religion. If secularism in theological terms is a heresy, it is primarily a heresy about man. It is the negation of man as a worshipping being, as homo adorans: the one for whom worship is the essential act which both ‘posits’ his humanity and fulfills it. It is the rejection as ontologically and epistemologically ‘decisive,’ of the words which ‘always, everywhere and for all’ were the true ‘epiphany’ of man’s relation to God, to the world and to himself: ‘It is meet and right to sing of Thee, to bless Thee, to praise Thee, to give thanks to Thee, to worship Thee in every place of Thy dominion. . . .’”
“Secularism — we must again and again stress this — is a ‘stepchild’ of Christianity, as are, in the last analysis, all secular ideologies which today dominate the world — not, as it is claimed by the Western apostles of a Christian acceptance of secularism, a legitimate child, but a heresy. . . . But then heresy is always a question addressed to the Church, and which requires, in order to be answered, an effort of Christian thought and conscience. To condemn a heresy is relatively easy. What is much more difficult is to detect the question it implies, and to give this question an adequate answer. Such, however, was always the Church’s dealing with ‘heresies’ — they always provoked an effort of creativity within the Church so that the condemnation became ultimately a widening and deepening of the Christian faith itself. To fight Arianism, St. Athanasius advocated the term consubstantial, which earlier, and within a different theological context, was condemned as heretical. Because of this he was violently opposed, not only by Arians but by ‘conservatives,’ who saw in him an innovator and a ‘modernist.’ Ultimately, however, it became clear that it was he who saved Orthodoxy, and the blind ‘conservatives’ consciously and unconsciously helped the Arians. Thus, if secularism is, as I am convinced, the great heresy of our own time, it requires from the Church not mere anathemas, and certainly not compromises, but above all an effort of understanding so it may ultimately be overcome by truth.”
—from Alexander Schmemann, For the Life of the World (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1973)
An audiobook edition of For the Life of the World is available from our catalog.
Benedict XVI on what threatens true academic freedom
“The idea of an integrated education, based on the unity of knowledge grounded in truth, must be regained. It serves to counteract the tendency, so evident in contemporary society, toward a fragmentation of knowledge. With the massive growth in information and technology there comes the temptation to detach reason from the pursuit of truth. Sundered from the fundamental human orientation toward truth, however, reason begins to lose direction: it withers, either under the guise of modesty, resting content with the merely partial or provisional, or under the guise of certainty, insisting on capitulation to the demands of those who indiscriminately give equal value to practically everything. The relativism that ensues provides a dense camouflage behind which new threats to the autonomy of academic institutions can lurk. While the period of interference from political totalitarianism has passed, is it not the case that frequently, across the globe, the exercise of reason and academic research are — subtly or not so subtly — constrained to bow to the pressures of ideological interest groups and the lure of short-term utilitarian or pragmatic goals? What will happen if our culture builds itself only on fashionable arguments, with little reference to a genuine historical intellectual tradition, or on the viewpoints that are most vociferously promoted and most heavily funded? What will happen if, in its anxiety to preserve a radical secularism, it detaches itself from its life-giving roots? Our societies will not become more reasonable or tolerant or adaptable, but rather more brittle and less inclusive, and they will increasingly struggle to recognize what is true, noble, and good.”— from Benedict XVI, “Address to Members of the Academic Community,” Prague, September 27, 2009, in A Reason Open to God: On Universities, Education, and Culture (Catholic University of America Press, 2013)
Click here to subscribe to the Addenda RSS feed.