Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Natural Law and Culture: The 'Explosive Problematic' in Gaudium et spes

THE WEAKNESS OF THE SECOND Vatican Council's treatment of modern culture in Gaudium et spes is perhaps attributable to its generally Maritanian trajectory. If Cardinal Garrone is to be believed, it was Maritain's thinking, of which rapproachement with the Liberal-humanist (modern) tradition (as contained, say, in his work Integral Humanism) is central, that the guided the Conciliar fathers.*  This is unfortunate in Tracey Rowland's view, in that the deeper, more critical analyses of culture found in the works of Erich Przywara, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Romano Guardini, and (even earlier) in John Henry Newman, seem to have been overlooked.

In her book Culture and the Thomist Tradition, Professor Rowland gives a number of examples of the "explosive problematic" contained in Gaudium et spes.  She points to Gaudium et spes, No. 56, where the following question is asked:
What is to be done to prevent the increased exchanges between cultures, which should lead to a true and fruitful dialogue between groups and nations, from disturbing the life of communities, from destroying the wisdom received from ancestors, or from placing in danger the character proper to each people?
This appears to be a reference to Kultur.**  Taken at face value,*** what does this say to Christian missionaries who confront non-Christian cultures, some of which have anti-Christian or even anti-human elements?  Is it disturbing the life of communities and destroying the wisdom of ancestors or placing in danger the character of African tribal communities by insisting in monogamy and in battling polygamy?  Are all parts of all cultures to be preserved so as to avoid insult to "each people"?  This suggests putting manacles on the Gospel, something entirely impossible to comprehend in a Church document.

As another example, Professor Rowland turns to Gaudium et spes, No. 57:
Furthermore, when man gives himself to the various disciplines of philosophy, history and of mathematical and natural science, and when he cultivates the arts, he can do very much to elevate the human family to a more sublime understanding of truth, goodness, and beauty, and to the formation of considered opinions which have universal value. Thus mankind may be more clearly enlightened by that marvelous Wisdom which was with God from all eternity, composing all things with him, rejoicing in the earth, delighting in the sons of men.
This is a reference to culture as Bildung.**  This language, if understood within the "implied Trinitarian framework that draws attention to the relationship between spiritual formation and intellectual formation, and gives a specific Christian content to the concept of truth, beauty, and goodness," it can be construed in a manner perfectly compatible with Church Tradition.  If understood in the sense that this section is promoting Maritain's "theocentric humanism," and not in the sense of "anthropocentric humanism," it can find a home in the Church.

Yet, if it is wrested from this implied context, "the section is more immediately evocative of the works of Wilhelm on Humboldt and Friederich Schiller on the self-development and the 'aesthetic education of man.'"  Rowland, 24.  In other words, this section can appear to advocate an "Arisocratic Liberal" conception of self-development, one that looks as "education" as the means for inculcating "virtue," and thus can appear to be plugging itself into the "subterranean link between the Encyclopaedist and Genealogical traditions."  Surely the Church had no intent to listen to the voices of Voltaire or of Nietzsche?  Did the Church really intend to promote the Kierkegaardian "aesthete"?

To put it bluntly: where is grace?  Is the grace of Christianity irrelevant to culture in the sense of Bildung?

In this criticism, Professor Rowland is not alone.  In what can only be categorized as blunt and strong criticism of this section, Rowland points to Joseph Ratzinger's early (1969) commentary on Gaudium et spes, where he described sections of it as containing "eine geradezu pelagianische Terminlogie," "a downright Pelagian terminology."  As particular examples of this tendency, Ratzinger pointed to Gaudium et spes, Nos. 17, 41, where there seems to be an overemphasis on freedom and autonomy understood in a modern liberal manner, and not in a manner as freedom as "living in the presence of God."  There appears to be a de-emphasis of grace and an over-emphasis of self-development, self-will, self-perfection.

As Rowland summarizes these various sections of Gaudium et spes dealing with Bildung: "The need for the personality to have a Christian form of development might therefore be implied [in Gaudium et spes], but the whole tone of the discourse remains suggestive of the Liberal-humanist tradition with its idea of self-perfection through education and exercise of will-power."  Rowland, 25.

Another defect in Gaudium et spes seems to be in its rather uncritical handling of the problem of "mass culture" (see Gaudium et spes, No. 54).  How does the Kultur in modernity's "mass-culture" affect the ability for authentic Christian Bildung?  This fundamental question is largely overlooked.

As one final example, this time more in the area of Geist or ethos,** Professor Rowland points to Gaudium et spes No. 57, and the invocation of the "expert." The text speaks of the need to obtain "a clearer awareness of the responsibility of experts to aid and even to protect men . . . especially for those who are poor in culture or who are deprived of the opportunity to exercise responsibility."  As Professor Rowland puts it, this section of Gadium et spes

immediately raises the question: What is the basis for the authority of these benevolent 'experts'? . . . . [T]he whole notion of 'government by experts' stands in tension with the tradition of Catholic social thought which emphasises the importance of the principle of subsidiarity, and the tradition of governance in Catholic institutions, which has favoured what in Weberian terms would be classified as 'charismatic authority' over 'bureaucratic authority.'

Rowland, p. 26-27.  Did the Church really intend to baptize the modern bureaucrat?  Did it bless a modern peritocracy?  That is rather dubious, but the text would give support to such a view.

Finally, one might point out that the suggestion that "experts" can solve the problems of the "cultural poor" or the "poor in culture" is rather shallow.  Is the expert really the one that can provide, like a magician pulling a white rabbit out of the hat, technical solutions that will ipso facto aid the "culturally poor"?  There is a little bit of elitism in the air here.

*Although unmentioned by Prof. Rowland, one might mention Maritain's less ebullient and more sober later work, A Peasant of the Garrone, where he appears to re-think some of his earlier optimism.  One might also point out the accommodationism in Fr. John Courtney Murray, which, although focused more on the religious freedom issue, also seemed quite open to the Liberal-humanist tradition.  It should be noted, in any event, that both Maritain and Fr. Murray were and would have been appalled at the "hermeneutic of discontinuity" that followed VII.
**For Rowland's categorization of Kultur, Bildung, and Geist, see the posting "Natural Law and Culture: Towards a Better Definition of Culture."
***The language can be interpreted in a Herderian sense (i.e., in the manner of the German Romantic Johann Gottfried Herder).   It can also be interpreted in other senses.  Hence, in Rowland's view, the language "requires further clarification."  Rowland, 23.  There has to be some to distinguish between "a Christian conception of inculturation," which is entirely legitimate, and a "Herderian promotion of the preservation of all cultures that exhibit the Romantic qualities of individuality and originality," which seems relativistic and suffers from a cultural indifferentism.  

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Natural Law and Culture: Towards a Better Definition of Culture

PERHAPS THE MOST important Vatican II document as it relates to the Church's' relationship with the world at large, the Church's relationship ad extra, is Gaudium et spes. Unfortunately, there are some intrinsic weaknesses with the document arising from the fact that it was a compromise document (thereby often suffering from ambiguity or a lack of clarity), that the Conciliar fathers lacked a full understanding of modernity (particularly in its cultural manifestations), that the form of the document was innovative, indeed unprecedented (a "pastoral Constitution" as distinguished from a "dogmatic Constitution," and yet a "Constitution" without legal form, but instead a rather loose, hortatory and pastoral, form), its lack of definition of some essential  and frequently used terms (e.g., "modern man" and "modern world").  Moreover, these problems, which are already present in the Latin text, seem to have been exacerbated in the vernacular translations.  As Tracey Rowland summarizes it in her book Culture and the Thomist Tradition:

When taken together, the fact of compromise, the multiple contrasts, the unprecedented form, the absence of a clearly defined theological framework for its interpretation, the alternation between dogma and pastoral appeals and the terminological looseness all contributed to the complexity of the 'explosive problematic'.

Rowland, 19.

Then, as if to add insult to injury, the problems associated with the text were compounded by "the most commonly applied hermeneutical key to the interpretation of this document," a concept as banal and amorphous as aggiornamento.*  It seems like "openness" became "accommodation" became "capitulation."  It is no wonder the Church's message to the modern world--whatever it was in Gaudium et spes--was further muddled.  Instead of fresh air out, it was foul air in.

The problems with Gaudium et spes generally also find themselves exhibited in its definition of "culture."  The definition of culture in the Conciliar document is found in Paragraph 53.   Culture, it states, "in the general sense refers to all those things which to to the refining and developing of man's diverse mental and physical endowments."  As Rowland critiques it, "this definition is extremely broad in coverage, but shallow in analysis, and not explicitly related to the grace-nature problematic as one would expect in a theological document."  Rowland, 20.

What Rowland suggests would have behooved the Conciliar Fathers is to have adopted a little more rigorous  understanding of culture.  She draws from T.S. Eliot (and the subtleties of the German language as exploited by the German Kulturgeschichte scholars) and the Greek concepts of nomos, ethos, and logos, to expand the notion of "culture" into three separate senses:
  1. Culture of the individual (a specific form of Bildung, or self-development; nomos is "the element that gives each conception of self-formation or Bildung its guiding principles or laws");
  2. Culture of the group (the Geist or ethos of a specific civilization or institution = ethos)
  3. Culture of society as a whole (the Kultur or civilization of a society; logos = "that which give a given civilisation or Kultur its overarching and particular form.")
Rowland, 20-21.**

Taking these concepts and knitting them together within the context of her "Augustinian Thomist conception of culture," Rowland comes up with this definition of culture, which seems superior at once to the rather one dimensional definition found in Gaudium et spes, 53.

[A]n Augustinian Thomist conception of culture can be defined as one in which any given ethos is governed by the Christian virtues, the process of self-formation or Bildung is guided by the precepts of the Decalogue and revealed moral laws of the New Testament, and the logos or form is provided by the 'identities-in-relation' logic of the Trinitarian processions.

Rowland, 21.
*Even the term aggiornamento, the main "hermeneutical key," was ambiguous.  As Rowland notes, instead of mere uncritical accommodation  it probably was originally intended to "mean an updating or development of theological resources to provide a coherent critique of the culture of modernity, rather than a simple accommodation to it."  Rowland, 19.  Against the accomodators, it is this notion of aggiornamento that may be said to have been behind John Paul II and Benedict XVI's efforts to rectify this problem.
**Rowland cites to the classic study of T.S Eliot, Notes Towards the Definition of Culture and to R. Geuss, Morality, Culture, and History.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Natural Law and Culture: Recognizing Modernity

RECOGNIZING THE ROLE THAT CULTURE, especially modern culture, plays in the formation of persons is important.  There has been a tendency to view modernity as a separate superstructure with its own philosophical assumptions which, often, are in opposition to the natural moral law and the Faith.  Charles Taylor, one scholar of modernity, its history, and its development, has defined culture as a "specific understanding of 'personhood, social relations, states of mind, and virtues and vices' or 'constellation of understandings of person, nature, society and the good.'"  It includes, within this "constellation of understandings," the "relationship of the human person to 'God, the cosmos and other humans."  (Rowland, 12)  In short, it is a sort of an enfleshed or socially-institutionalized Weltanschaung.

Unfortunately, modern culture is not like a monastic habit.  One cannot look at a society and call it "modern" or "Christian" or "Muslim" like one could call a friar a Dominican if he wears a white habit with black scapula and a Franciscan if he wears a brown one.  Cultures blend, and, more often than not, especially in times of transition, one will have to struggle to determine what is what.  For this reason, the concept of "modernity" as a culture is not simply contemporaneous culture.  Contemporaneous culture in the West is the culture of modernity mixed in with the past culture of Christendom.

Modernity did not come upon us as a culture in one fell swoop.  Rather, the dismantling of Christianity culture came through a process of change, addition, subtraction, reconstruction during the eighteenth, nineteenth, and early twentieth centuries.  While the Popes of this time attacked individual phenomena, one cannot say that they ever constructed an exhaustive or plenary critique of modernity.  Rather, their attacks on the modernity as it evolved was more or less on an ad hoc basis.

Even during the Second Vatican Council, a council supposedly dedicated to the issue of the Church in modernity, seems to have failed to engage in a "theological examination of this culture phenomenon called 'modernity' or the 'modern world.'"  (Rowland, 13)  Its almost as if the Church fathers looked at the phenomenon of modernity as a social accident--sort of like a hurricane that causes damage--and not as a social substantive--like a plague that gets progressively worse without some sort of sustained effort at diagnosis, treatment, and prognosis.  As Rowland in her book Culture and the Thomist Tradition puts it:

There was no consideration, at least not at a philosophical and/or theological level, of the question of what is, in essence, the culture of modernity, and how such a culture affects the spiritual and intellectual formation of persons and thier opportunites for evangelisation.
Rowland, 13.  There seems to be a time when the Gospel is preached without purse, shoes, or bag, but also a time when it needs a purse, and indeed, a sword.  (Luke 22:35-36).  In confronting modernity in the Second Vatican Council, the Church seems to have gone the former route, and so Catholics were rather vaguely enjoined to be "authentic," and "relevant," and "open" to "modernity" with joy and hope.

In the view of John O'Malley in Tradition and Transition: Historical Perspectives on Vatican II, this sort of je ne sais quoi attitude with respect to modernity contained an "explosive problematic" attached to it.  It was like sending lambs to wolves, mice to serpents.

The Church was ill-prepared to address the issue of modernity, especially in its cultural aspects.  As Rowland observes:
[T]he notion of "modernity" as a "cultural formation" had not yet arrived within the theological frameworks of the Conciliar fathers in 1962. In this context Hervé Carrier has observed that "prior to the Council, the capacity for cultural analysis was almost whooly ignored in the theological formation provided at the time"--the word "culture" did not even appear as an entry in the Dictionnaire de Theologie Catholique.

Rowland, 14.  It was sort of like believing one had to take care of a simple wart, when one was in reality confronting something as complex, as serious, as dangerous, and as alive as a cancerous tumor.

Not informed by a clear sense of modern culture, the Church--then guided by Pope John XXIII--seemed (certainly in retrospect) altogether naïve about what it confronted.  In his opening address to the council fathers, Pope John XXIII spoke of modernity as something provided by God's Providence, something even that fulfilled "God's superior and inscrutable designs," something that was bound to lead "to the good of the Church."  In short, there was a "belief in the latently Christian orientation of the social trends."  (Rowland, 14).

This attitude was already seen in John XXIII's encyclical Pacem in Terris.  In that encyclical, John XXIII naïvely assumed, without any analysis, that the "mutual acknowledgement of rights and duties in society" presented the Church with a "kind of preparatio evangelii" because it made humans open to values such as "truth, justice, charity, and freedom."

However, as Rowland sees it, this supposed link between modern "rights and duties" and an openness to the Gospel was simply presumed.  Hobbesian rights, Beccarian justice, Rawlsian duties may not be the same as rights, justice, and duties from the perspective of the Gospel.  There may be an entire closure to transcendent values.

"[W]hat is missing from Pacem in Terris and John XXIII's optimistic judgements about the directions of social values in the 1950s is precisely what Taylor calls a cultural analysis--an understanding of the clusters of values fit together into constellations that become embodied in the practices and beliefs of individuals and the institutions in which they work."  (Rowland, 15).  This incorrigible optimism, founded largely upon a failure to undertake a cultural analysis adequate to the task, was continued by John XXIII's successor Paul VI.

If culture has a role in thought, in other words, if culture has a role in influencing conceptions of justice, of rationality, and of virtue (as is argued by Alasdair MacIntyre and those of the Geneological tradition) then to ignore its role is a huge error. What are "universal values" to a Liberal may not be "universal values" to one of the children of Abraham.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Culture and Natural Law: Introduction

WE ARE GENERALLY FAMILIAR with the maxim that grace builds upon nature. We might also extend that maxim out a bit and observe that grace may also build upon those aspects of human nature that extend beyond man's mere substance (a rational soul), but into that substance's external constructs: politics, family, history, in short, culture. We might say that grace builds upon nature, and nature builds upon culture, and so ultimately grace also builds upon culture.

When culture was in the main Christian--as in the high Middle ages when St. Thomas Aquinas, in what may have been the height of Christendom, wrote his Summa Theologiae--the importance of culture seemed to have been overlooked somewhat.  As Professor Tracey Rowland put it in her introduction to her book Culture and the Thomist Tradition After Vatican II,* the "given" nature of Christendom all about him resulted in the fact that the "rôle of culture in moral formation was not a problematic requiring his attention."  (p. 2)  Modernly, when our culture is so adverse to Christian morals and the Christian narrative (i.e., the Gospel), the importance of a right culture (like right reason) is increasingly recognized.  In the West, of course, we live in a culture where moral liberalism and moral nihilism reign supreme, where that amorphous and highly malleable "rights talk" entirely unanchored from nature or objective value is the language of the day.

The modern culture is highly anti-Catholic and anti-Christian, and the few remaining remnants of Christendom--which already appear as the ruins of the monasteries, friaries, convents, and priories after the their dissolution by the tyrant King Henry VIII--are still being dismantled.  Like the French Huguenots and Revolutionaries, modern barbarians are unhappy with the little of the Abbey of Cluny that remains in our culture: they want to continue taking the ashlar stones in place and haul them away for their own pet projects, their own homes and mills and stables and barns.  In such hostile cultural environment, neither the natural moral law nor grace flourishes.

To state a truism: since the high middle ages to modernity, the cultural narrative as changed.

The role of culture, both its hindrance to and its support of, a life of human flourishing, is painfully apparent to anyone sensitive to Christendom's demise, "when Christendom is but a historical memory for a significant proportion of the population, and the Christian soul is forged within a complex matrix of institutions founded upon a mixture of theistic, quasi-theistic and anti-theistic traditions."  (Rowland, p. 2)  This is the culture of modernity.  This is the culture we confront.

Additionally, culture has an effect even on reasoning.  Someone steeped in the Thomist tradition reasons differently from someone steeped in Enlightenment-derived Liberal or Romantic Genealogical philosophies, say, Locke, or Hume, or Rousseau,   or Nietzsche, or Marx.  These divided ways of thinking is a reality we also confront.

To some extent, there has been a certain diffidence in approaching the issue of culture and its effect on moral formation and moral flourishing.  The fear is that too much emphasis on culture in moral formation and moral flourishing seems to concede to much to the Genealogical school that, at root, all values are conventional, cultural.  The desire to emphasize that there are objective moral values, that there is a universally applicable natural moral law that is not conventional or culturally grounded, to avoid yielding ground to historicism or relativism, has seemed to contribute to trepidation in engaging the issue.  Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.  Thomists appear to avoid being fools; and their courage has been less than that of angels.  But according to Professor Rowland, this fear is unwarranted, and, in light of current circumstances, indefensible and irresponsible.  She urges the "need for an account of the rôle of culture in moral formation which does not undermine other elements of the tradition."  (Rowland, p. 7)

Professor Tracey Rowland

How does a Christian, in particular a Catholic Christian, approach this world of dismantled Christendom, where there is this admixture of "theistic, quasi-theistic, and anti-theistic traditions," and where, moreover, the reigning spirit seems to be concerned with yet the further minimization of the "theistic" and "quasi-theistic" remnants, and maximization of the "anti-theistic" traditions?

There seems to be somewhat of a division among Catholic thinkers regarding how we should best approach the problem with modernity.  Some believe that the "culture of modernity is neutral in relation to the flourishing of Christian practices, or even a second praeparatio envangelii in the manner of classical culture."  (Rowland, p. 2) We might call these the naive optimists.  This attitude appears to have been institutionalized in a manner in Vatican II's optimistic and perhaps somewhat naive (or perhaps now even dated) pastoral constitution Gaudium et spes.

Other scholars or authorities have the opinion that regards "the culture of modernity as the very solvent of Christian practices."  The scholars that we might put in this group include Catherine Pickstock (who speaks of a "polity of death"), David Schindler (who regards modern culture akin to a grace-resistant machine), and Alasdair MacIntyre (who sees modern culture as "toxic to the flourishing of virtue and the precepts of the natural law," Rowland, p. 2).  Even within the Church, the tocsin has been sounded.  Blessed Pope John Paul II's "culture of death," and Pope Benedict XVI's "tyranny of relativism" appear somewhat less embracing of modernity than Gaudium et spes.  We might call this view the realist view.

It seems that there is a disconnect between Gaudium et spes and reality, and so, to a certain extent, Catholics confront a sort of crisis.  Is it the accommodation of aggiornamento or the challenge of the New Evangelization?

It seems that Catholic leadership has begun to ask the question, "Foundations once destroyed, what can the just man do?" as did the Psalmist.  (Ps. 11:3 [10:4])  Ultimately,  Professor Rowland, whom we categorize with the realists, addresses this question in her book Culture and the Thomist Tradition After Vatican II.    Rowland's treatment is engaging and seems to bring forth out of the subtraditions of classical and analytical Thomism (in particular relying on Alasdair MacIntyre's work, but also on the work of David Schindler and Kenneth Schmitz, a sort of patchwork which she categorizes with the somewhat cumbersome term "postmodern Augustinian Thomism"), the Nouvelle Théologie, and Radical Orthodoxy We will spend our next series of postings on this highly-recommended work.

*Hereinafter in this in subsequent blog postings, identified as "Rowland."