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.  

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