Tuesday, May 11, 2021

There are many rooms in my Father’s House

I am not sure how the “unrepeatability of the human person” fits the theme of Karol turning to phenomenology, at least from this week's readings.  More so, I found these quotes of Anna-Teresa Tymieniecka and Roger Duncan’s paper curious: ”Wojtyla came to phenomenology, contrary to a popular assumption, entirely on his own” and “[The Acting Person] manifests an independent and ingenious reflection of the author’s own, expanding the issues of personal and social ethics, grounding them in an analysis evidencing a strong kinship with the methods of the phenomenological school” (Anna-Teresa Tynieniecka and Roger Duncan, Karol Wojtyla, Between Phenomenology and Scholasticism, page 487).  I know that Wojtyla studied Scheler in the early 1950s; is it possible that he was already practicing something akin to the “method” of phenomenology?

I am led down this path as I think about the idea that Wojtyla appeared to experience people in an unusually intense and present way, apparently deriving the “meaning” of the people he met intentionally.  Did he practice “something akin” to the method of phenomenology simply as part of whom he was?  Weigel speaks of “. . . ongoing pastoral concern and his sense of priestly ministry as a matter of ‘meeting someone wisely.’  Wojtyla’s openness in his encounter with others was a way to ‘see’ into his philosophy . . . Other philosophers remembered texts.  Karol Wojtyla always remembered persons”.  (George Weigel, Witness to Hope, page 129).

I think that Wojtyla’s style of relationship--developed in the quarry with other workers, in the Rhapsodic Theater with other actors, in the underground seminary with other seminarians, and at St. Florians with the Srodowisko—was quintessentially phenomenological as his subjectivity richly perceived and described the people he met and knew.  He then used his metaphysical training to provide meaning to their lives through the context of his intellect.  In a strange way I think he contextualized each person he met as “unrepeatable” and unique and, then, gave them the dignity of their personhood by receiving them, each and every one of them, as a gift.  He provided the drama of who-they-could be from his metaphysical perspective of who-they-were, allowing the best of each person to appear in receiving them as a gift.

Deep calls To Deep At The Thunder of Your Cataracts

So, why a triangle [the SanJuanist triangle]?  The three vertices are three major spiritual communities in the life of Karol Wojtyla: the Living Rosary mentored by Jan Tyranowski, Srodowisko where he fell in love with love, and Vatican II where he helped distill a meaning of love for the whole Church.  From these communities he developed three major understandings of love: the Trinity as the exemplar of love (and gift), the spousal love of man and woman, and love as the give of one’s self.  Michael Waldstein ties them together using the form of a triangle in part, I think, to highlight this distinctive connection that Wojtyla made between the three.

While I found Christopher West’s introduction to the Theology of the Body exciting (Christopher West, Naked Without Shame, 1999), it was my encounter with Dr. Waldstein’s analysis many years later that illuminated this foundational understanding that the love between man and woman could somehow reveal something about the love of the Trinity.  Moreso, that the telos of theosis was somehow revealed in conjugal love as well as the poetry of Saint John of the Cross.  For me it was a dramatic connection between my understanding of marital love from working with marriage and family clients and the goal of theosis.  Here was a new faith, a way of communing with God beyond the intellectual concepts that had formed my religious practice.  I still marvel at the concept, not only in its strangeness to my early catechesis but as a way to address a better way than the “peace and love” of the Sixties that was rooted in a sincere desire to love authentically yet provides a sound base from which to practice that love rather than devolving into simple carnal lust and hedonism.

All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray

In my reading of contemporary articles, I recently came across a clear example of historicism.  This article by Eduardo Eccheveria examined the proclamation from the “Fundamental Text of the German Synodal Way” (Eduardo J. Echeverria, “The Faith Once for All Delivered”, https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2021/03/13/the-faith-once-for-all-delivered/).  Dr. Echeverria reported that the text states that revelation is limited to the encounter between a person and God : “The experience is revelatory, and not the content of faith, doctrines, creeds, confessions of faith, catechisms, and the like.” (Ibid.). Thus, anything beyond the encounter with God is not revelation: “St. Paul affirmed that ‘Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’ (Rom 10:17). What, then, has been revealed by His word? Nothing at all, according to the Text, because there is no revealed data, that is, no propositional revelation, mediating determinate knowledge of God, man, and the world, in other words, no revealed truth.” (Ibid.).

As John Paul II writes, “The fundamental claim of historicism, however, is that the truth of a philosophy is determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period and a certain historical purpose.” (John Paul II, , Section 87).  Thus, according to Dr. Echeverria, the above “Fundamental Text” shows an underlying  historicism in its isolation of Revelation to the experience of any particular person, denying the capability to communicate Revelation between persons much less across historical periods.  This variant of Modernism highlights the cost of absolutizing subjectivity—that Truth can not be communicated beyond a particular person’s consciousness—and exemplifies John Paul II’s point  that ”the history of thought becomes little more than an archeological resource useful for illustrating positions once held, but for the most part outmoded and meaningless now.”.  This philosophical narrowness limits access to the Truth and any hope for communicating it.

Thus, historicism denies the communication of Wisdom either across the ages or even between persons, since each person’s historical context is not identical.  In the end “this form of modernism shows itself incapable of satisfying the demands of truth to which theology is called to respond.” (Ibid.)


Therefore The Child To Be Born Will Be Called Holy, The Son of God

I centered on the quote from Pseudo-Epiphanius when reading this last section of Fides et Ratio: “the literal translation of the text [“He noera tes pisteos trapeza”] describes Mary as ‘the intellectual table of faith which furnished the bread of life to the world’." (Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M., Mary and the Vocation of Philosophers, page 54).  Somehow the image of Mary as “table” (or “altar”, from the Latin) brings to mind the icon “Platytera”--“an icon of the Theotokos, facing the viewer directly, usually depicted full length with her hands in the "orans" position, and with the image of Christ as a child in front of her chest, also facing the viewer directly . . . Poetically, by containing the Creator of the Universe in her womb, Mary has become Platytera ton ouranon, which means: "More spacious than the heavens.” (“Panagia Platytera”, Orthodox Wiki, https://orthodoxwiki.org/Panagia_Platytera).  The theme is of Mary as the place, the platform from which Jesus is brought to the world.  This is a very sapiential image, the framework that connects the person to the Creator and the Creation.

This sapiential service of Mary orders our interaction with God by giving us the structure of the table.  As in the Platytera icon, we are called first to receive Jesus from the table: “David Meconi, S.J. observes that: “Mary exemplifies philosophy’s initial task to receive reality and not manipulate it.’” (Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M., Mary and the Vocation of Philosophers, page 54).  Mary does not analyze or reduce the reality of Jesus; rather she ponders Him as a mother gazing at her child and leads us to do so as well.  Her vocation was simply to allow herself to present the Divine Mystery: “Just as the Virgin was called to offer herself entirely as human being and as woman that God's Word might take flesh and come among us, so too philosophy is called to offer its rational and critical resources that theology, as the understanding of faith, may be fruitful and creative. (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio, Section 108).  She invites the philosopher to focus on fecundity as well as analysis in his thought.  Also, she gave herself to this simple vocation of being a platform from which God emerges to the world ”in giving her assent to Gabriel's word, Mary lost nothing of her true humanity and freedom, so too when philosophy heeds the summons of the Gospel's truth its autonomy is in no way impaired” (Ibid.), inviting philosophers to the freedom of littleness by which God can be offered to the world.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

Oh, Living Flame of Love Tenderly Wound My Soul

Buttiglione speculates that “Perhaps it was from Tyranowski that Wojtyla derived a natural tendency to read in St. John of the Cross a kind of phenomenology of mystical experience” (Rocco Buttiglione, The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, page 45).  What I find intriguing is that Father Garrigou-Lagrange, who directed and influenced Father Wojtyla’s doctoral thesis on St. John of the Cross and the doctrine of faith, was “attempting to apply his knowledge of the Spanish mystic in defining a priestly spirituality which would fit the questions and problems of a world left devasted by the [Second World] War.” (Ibid.).  That devastation was far more than the physical destruction of infrastructure; rather the greater influence was the explosion of trauma in a generation whose parents endured the genocide of the First World War and its aftermath.

Why is this important?  We know that the common response to emotional trauma is some degree of long-term dissociation that leaves the sufferer both stunted in emotional growth as well as isolated relationally.  This dissociation expressed itself in the existentialism and nihilism of post-War culture for which the intellectual explanations of faith were insufficient to provide the emotional healing so desperately needed by that generation and its children.  I think that Karol Wojtyla discovered experientially this remedy of faith in God while enduring the horrors he experienced during the occupation by the German National Socialists, a faith he found through Saint John of the Cross, the faith that was the “only proximate and proportionate means for communion with God” (John Paul II, Master of Faith, Apostolic Letter, 14 December 1990, Section 2).

I think that Saint John of the Cross’s “message of a vigorous, living faith which seeks and finds God in His Son Jesus Christ, in the Church. in the beauty of creation, in quiet prayer, in the darkness of night, and in the purifying flame of the Spirit” provided the base for the fulcrum of Karol Wojtyla’s faith that he then expressed to others in service, especially in his vocation to the priesthood.  Wojtyla distilled the essence of the faith he meditated upon in the works of San John of the Cross that provided the healing for trauma by making available “the horizon of the mystical” (Ibid., Section 12) that allows the human person to commune with God in the prison of his dissocation: “St. John’s phenomenology of mystical experience takes man towards the irreducible core of the person, and shows the necessity of transcending this core toward that truth who is God himself, by responding to the initiative of God toward human beings.  This divine initiative, which traverses natural human structures, illuminates and, in a certain sense, makes the irreducible core of the human person experienceable” (Rocco Buttiglione, The Thought of the Man Who Became Pope John Paul II, page 48).  Thus, Saint John of the Cross is the Master of Faith for the generations suffering from the devastating trauma of the twentienth century as he leads us out of ourselves through our inner caverns of feeling.

Oh, Living Flame of Love
Tenderly wound my soul
To its deepest inner heart
Without oppression!

Come consumate our love
Tear through the veil of our union
If it be your will, come and rend
The veil of the temple!

Oh, lamps of fire
In deep caverns of feeling
Once obscured and blind
Are now leading
In the warmth and the passion
Of your love

(Saint John of the Cross, The Living Flame Of Love)

Sunday, February 07, 2021

If your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light


“Abandoning the investigation of being, modern philosophical research has concentrated instead upon human knowing.  Rather than make use of the human capacity to know the truth, modern philosophy has preferred to accentuate the ways in which this capacity is limited and conditioned.” (John Hittinger, John Paul II and the Exorcism of Descartes’ Ghost, page 191).  This summary of the difference between “modern philosophy” and the “ancients” supplies a useful starting point for describing the “obstacle for understanding faith and theology”.  Indeed, this focus on limitation and conditioning provides the paradoxical frame of describing faith in terms of “superstition”: “The belief in supernatural phenomina[sic], concepts, or figures; the opposite of logic or knowledge or facts.” (Urban Dictionary, 2021).  Paradoxical because the method of Descartes is to exclude any and all information that a person cannot greet with certitude, especially the perjorative “supernatural”, rather than to use one's rationality to know the truth.

It is this modern belief that reducing reality to some system of logic (and, consequently mathematics) as a base of certainty that misleads modern philosophers: “is faith also not cast into oblivion in light of the other great criterion for the modern philosophy—mathematical certitude?” (Ibid., page 196).  True, describing a small section of the “real world” with logic has utility scientifically.  However, mathematics is simply a “language” for describing what is thought to be observed rather than an anchor of truth.  It is the reification of a mathematical description, the “saving of appearances”, that produces this illusion of certainty.  Any greatly extensive mathematic description quickly becomes a world view in which flaws in its assumptions are hidden beneath the complexity of its deductions, as any writer of software models can willingly testify.  A mathematical model of “reality” thus is inherently darkened by its complexity and the limitations of its assumptions, an impediment to the search for truth.

I think this superstition of describing reality with certitude that comes about through filtering reality with the “emphasis upon subjectivity” and “the method of separation and reduction” is the true obstacle to the exercise of faith.  Not because these methods are not useful but because of “the ambiguity about the end or purpose” (Ibid., page 197) for which the method is use: “John Paul II detects impatience with mystery” (Ibid., page 194).  Indeed, it is this superstition of certitude that blocks openness to wonder and mystery, that comes from not acknowledging the insufficiency of human knowing simply through analytical and reductive investigations.  In the end, faith requires the humility of accepting the true boundaries of one’s interiority, the reality of one’s person.  The good news is that this provides the foundation for knowing other persons, including God, through relationship rather than remaining in the ignorance and isolation of the immature prison of one’s own consciousness, a way of knowing that allows reception of redemption and salvation through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, February 02, 2021

There are in life but two things


“After Descartes . . . the aspect of consciousness eventually assumed a kind of absolutization, which in the contemporary era entered phenomenology by the way of Husserl.  The gnosiological attitude in philosophy has replaced the metaphysical attitude: being is constituted in and somehow through consciousness.  The reality of the person, however, demands the restoration of the notion of conscious being, a being that is not constituted in and through consciousness but that instead somehow constitutes consciousness.  This also applies to the reality of action as conscious activity.” (Karol Wojtyla, “The Person: Subject and Community”, 1976, in Person and community: selected essays, p 226).  This quotation of Wojtyla illuminates “one of the central questions concerning the world outlook (Weltanschaung)” (Karol Wojtyla, The Task of Christian Philosophy Today, 1976), “the problem of the subjectivity of the person”.  

What is the problem of the subjectivity of the person?  It is not with subjectivity, the interiority of a person, per se.  Rather it is with the basis of human action and, as such, morality. With Descartes proclaiming that being is dependent on consciousness, subjectivism alone becomes the foundation of human action rather than in combination with the objective “conscious being”: “the act of personal existence has its direct consequences in the activity of the person”.

How is this problem important today?  This question connects to another essential if “hoary”, question: “Why be moral?  Why should I do what I should, rather than what I would? Why ought I do what is right?” (Kenneth L. Schmitz, At The Center of the Human Drama, 1993, page 31).  In a culture founded on the “notion of conscious being” morality is a consequence of relationship between beings (since a “being” is defined by its relationships with other objective beings):  I do what I should because of its effect on others as well as myself.  The context is one of whether an act is consonant with “love”, with the gift of self, with Gods will.  In a culture founded on the notion of consciousness solely as basis of action, the “I”, the subject, is alone, an individual whose “should” is determined by what is judged best for “I” by “I”.  Here the context is one of individual “power”, in which the “should” is focused on using and taking what the “I” needs and wants. 

This difference is reflected in psychological and developmental aspects of human beings, with the contrast of the immature, self-centered stage of “me” with the more mature stage of “us”, the basis of the moral contrast between young children and mature adults.  More deeply, this is the contrast between the psychosis of isolation and narcissism and the more realistic position of the interconnectedness of all persons and creation.  The fundamental consideration is one of knowing reality, of knowing the Truth (cf., aletheia in the New Testament), for knowing the truth frees a person to love.  As Weigel states about the Lublin school of philosophy, “if our thinking and choosing lacks a tether to reality . . . raw force takes over the world and truth becomes a function of power, not an expression of things-as-they-are.” (Witness To Hope, page 133). 

Living from the fundamental notion of “being . . . constituted in and somehow through consciousness” leaves one at the mercy of power and of one’s quest for it: an empty and lonely worldview disconnected from reality.  One’s moral “should” is based on this need for the power to provide for one’s self, a morality implemented in rage and addiction rather than in love since the source of human happiness—a sincere gift of one’s self —is blocked by the isolation that is needed to maintain one’s gaining and holding personal power.  Thus, the problem of the subjectivity of the human person, as “the very basis of human ‘praxis’ and morality (and thus also ethics)” (Karol Wojtyla, The Task of Christian Philosophy Today, 1976) led to and leads to “mountains of corpses and oceans of blood” (Witness to Hope, page 134) when solved this way since other persons have no intrinsic value besides their usefulness.

“'Here am I, Captain of a Legion of Rome, who served in the Libyan desert and learns and ponders this truth--there are in life but two things, love and power, and no man can have both.' (an Roman inscription popularized by Malcom Muggeridge).

I have come to cast fire upon the earth

 “The philosophy of St. Thomas deserves to be attentively studied and accepted with conviction by the youth of our day by reason of its spirit of openness and of universalism . . . an openness to the whole of reality in all its parts and dimensions, without either reducing reality or confining thought to particular forms or aspects . . . as intelligence demands in the name of objective and integral truth about what is real.” (John Paul II, Address to the International Society of St. Thomas Aquinas, Section 6, 17 November 1979).

I think the profound announcement of the title of “doctor of humanity” given by John Paul II to Saint Thomas Aquinas is grounded in this openness and universalism of his thought described in the above quote.  Openness to the “whole” of reality is a very difficult endeavor and constantly disturbs one’s sense of security derived from the barriers of one’s hermeneutical filters.  It is not for the faint-hearted.

Saint Thomas wrestled with the great disturbance of his era, the arrival of works of Aristotle that had streamed into Latin during the twelfth century as a result of reconquest of parts of the Islamic empire.  The importance of these works and the seeming contradiction of parts of these texts with Christian revelation greatly disturbed the worldview of established theologians.  Many reacted against Aristotle’s thought, some to the extreme of banning it.  Saint Thomas instead used his freedom to study and integrate this challenging new system of thought that excited the younger generation.

Openness to reality itself is not sufficient for the appellation, "doctor of humanity", however; the core is the desire for the truth of reality, for aletheia, a desire to know God : “the [prevailing characteristic of the philosophy of St. Thomas” is that it is always in search of the truth . . . Philosophy is not studied in order to find out what people may have thought but in order to discover what is true.” (Ibid., Section 8).  This passion for truth is what truly makes Saint Thomas the teacher of humanity because all human persons are created in the image of God and, thus, desire to know Him the source of their being.  His heart burning within him, filled with love for God, Saint Thomas lights the path for the rest of us to help show us the Way: “knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love” (Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, Chapter 5, Lecture 6, section 812, translated by James A. Weisheipl, O.P. {relevant text: “John [the Theologian] was perfect in his nature because he was a lamp, i.e., enriched by grace and illumined by the light of the Word of God. Now a lamp differs from a light: for a light radiates light of itself, but a lamp does not give light of itself, but by participating in the light. Now the true light is Christ: “He was the true light, which enlightens every man coming into this world” (above 1:9). John, however, was not a light, as we read in the same place, but a lamp, because he was enlightened “in order to bear witness to the light” (above 1:8), by leading men to Christ. We read of this lamp: “I have prepared a lamp for my anointed” (Ps 131:17).  Further, he was blazing and impassioned in his affections, so he says, blazing. For some people are lamps only as to their office or rank, but they are snuffed out in their affections: for as a lamp cannot give light unless there is a fire blazing within it, so a spiritual lamp does not give any light unless it is first set ablaze and burns with the fire of love. Therefore, to be ablaze comes first, and the giving of light depends on it, because knowledge of the truth is given due to the blazing of love”}).

Sunday, January 17, 2021

The Wonders of the Kingdom of God


I find Pieper’s essay (Josef Pieper, The Philosophizing Act) seductive as I am enticed to spend my days trying to live in the sunshine of mirandum—what could be better?  I find it helpful to remember that Pieper values the “workaday world”: “the utilitarian world, the world of the useful, subject to ends, open to achievement and sub-divided according to functions” (The Philosophical Act, page 64).  Indeed, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” (Second Letter to the Thessalonians 3:10).  

The point, of course, is that looking to mirandum as a means to escape from the duties and drudgery of the workaday world leads me right back into that world and the “pseudo-philosophy …[that] does not transcend the workaday world” (Ibid., page 70) and “…will never pierce the dome”(Ibid, page 71).  The temptation to “control” wonder and marvel is the opposite of what it means to philosophize in its purest form: “…it means to look at reality purely receptively—in such a way that things are the measure and the soul is exclusively receptive” (Ibid., page 77).

This is essential because the transcendence that comes with mirandum is not something that I create but that is created for me, a gift from the Creator.  If my focus is on my producing the marvellous then I am not open to the vital part of reality and I am unable “to look upon the world as the creation of an absolute spirit” and not just ”a field for human activity, its material, or even its raw material.” (Ibid., page 78).  Doing so traps me in the workaday world and prevents me from perceiving the spiritual part of the world--I am not open to the gift of the whole of reality as I filter out the non-utilitarian aspect.

And if I am not open to the whole of reality I have no hope of transcendence: “the great, wide, not to say deep, world which is at first sight invisible, the world of essences and universals, is not even suspected; nothing wonderful ever happens in this world, and wonder itself is unknown or lost” (Ibid., page 101).  I am left without hope because I filter out the Creator who can rescue me from the “narrow insensitive mind, that has become narrow through being insensitive…” (Ibid.).  I am left in the hellish isolation of the “dome” where I “itch for sensation” which I attempt to scratch through the perverting of the workaday world, producing higher and higher levels of stimulation in the hope of finding mirandum.

I propose that in the end philosophizing requires trust in God.  I trust that God will offer me wonder in ways I can accept in my always too-narrow perceptual field, to safeguard me as I find myself lost in the workaday world,  and will offer me the suffering that changes my nous and that frees me from my isolation of the dome.  If I trust in God’s providence of mirandum then I have the real hope of the wonders of the kingdom of God.