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.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment