Freedom and self controlMen are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains upon their own appetites; in proportion as their love to justice is above their rapacity;in proportion as their soundness and sobriety of understanding is above their vanity and presumption; in proportion as they are more disposed to listen to the counsels of the wise and good, in preference to the flattery of knaves. Society cannot exist, unless a controlling power upon will and appetite be placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things, that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.
Letter to a Member of the National Assembly (1791)
May. 3, 2012, at 1:59am
Today, I'd like to open a can of worms. I hope we'll all still be on speaking terms by the time we're done. But they're important worms.
Last week, I tried to articulate a more personalist take on pronatalism--not, of course, that everyone must have as many children as biologically possible (cf. Catholic Teaching 101), but rather that we shouldn't go around blithely judging that this one or that one should never have been born.
I stand by everything I said about the value of those who happen to be their parents' umpteenth-born, or poor, or don't seem likely to offer the world a lot of entertainment value or marketable skills. Happy pictures of my own very jolly eighth child, and the …continue reading
May. 2, 2012, at 5:52pm
One of the students in my coursthip class (though I feel funny referring to him that way, since he's older and wiser than I am) made a great personalist observation yesterday. After class, the discussion ranged over the subject of the cultural epidemic of undermotivated men. Frank noted that it used to be the case that sons were expected to take up their father's profession, regardless of their interests and aptitudes. Realizing that that wasn't quite adequate to the mystery of individuality, more recent generations of fathers have instead taught their children, "You can be anything you want to be." But this has led to a widespread problem of aimlessness. Kierkegaard called it the …continue reading
Apr. 29, 2012, at 4:18pm
One technique for handling life’s pains and miseries is simply to run from them, to try to distract oneself from the dark side of life and thus not really face the problem. This is, admittedly, not really even an attempt at a “solution” or an answer, but it can allow the individual to go on functioning day-to-day in practical terms.
This can be done with drugs or alcohol, trying to blot out the pain or threat and blissfully overcome it with the aid of artificial stimulants. Another version of this would be trying to “drown one’s sorrows” in the face a particular source of unhappiness or a general weariness or disgust with life. This is often the theme of country songs, e.g. Hank William’s …continue reading
Apr. 26, 2012, at 9:25am
Why eight children?
Because we're personalists.
Let me explain.
After all, with Earth Day just past, our family might strike even sympathetic people as too much of a good thing (and less sympathetic ones as sheer insanity).
But to us, as personalists, the main thing about our eighth child, Gabe,
is not: "Oh, no! Eight! Too high a number!"
Likewise, we utterly miss the point about little Danica Camacho (whose name means "morning star")
if we say "Oh, no! Seven billion! WAY too high a number!"
(Danica's mother clearly knows better: you can see it in her eyes.)
Since persons are not things, you can count them, but you can't quantify them. Since they are not products, you are deeply …continue reading
Apr. 25, 2012, at 3:55pm
Continuing our thoughts on how to experientially grasp or get a hold of this distinction between the transcendent and the practical in life, we will look at Josef Pieper’s next three examples of a transcendent perspective: love, death, and beauty. As mentioned, this is from his book Leisure, the Basis of Culture.
(4) Love is certainly an experience that breaks through and revises our carefully laid out plans for ourselves. It gives us new priorities and opens up new levels of our own life and being. To quote a beautiful section from Von Hildebrand’s The Nature of Love:
In every intense and complete love a person undergoes a certain awakening. I begin to live more authentically; a …
Apr. 25, 2012, at 11:00am
Editors note: The following remarks originally appeared as several separate comments under Dr. Seifert's post below. We asked for and receive Fr. Forlano's permission to collect and post them here.
As a priest working in the hispanic community, I am in the position where a majority of my parishioners are living in ways objectively contrary to Church teaching on the dignity of marriage. (Most couples are married civilly, if they are married at all). These people love the Church, are faithful to Mass, and participate in many aspects of parish life. While I would not allow anyone in an irregular marriage to be a lector at Mass or an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion, I don't have …continue reading
Apr. 24, 2012, at 6:25am
Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973), born in Paris, was a French philosopher, playwright, musician, and drama critic. He was known as a Christian existentialist or philosopher of existence, though he very much contrasted himself to the existentialism of the atheistic absurdists, Sartre and Camus. Marcel was an original thinker whose works stay very close to his experience. Philosophy and an autobiographical description of the questions and thought processes which led him to his conclusions are closely entwined when one reads his works. He is afraid that "systematizing" can lead one astray from the truths present in our experience.
He was an only child raised in a broken and …continue reading
Apr. 24, 2012, at 6:23am
Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) was born in Copenhagen, Denmark and rarely left his native land (four trips to Berlin, one to Sweden). He wittily described himself as the greatest philosopher in Denmark. He was a critic of idealistic philosophy, especially that of Hegel, as well as of the state of Christianity in his time. He is considered to be the father of the existentialist movement in philosophy. Existentialism stresses the importance of the decision of each person in his freedom and power.
After exposure to Hegel's philosophy early in his career, Kierkegaard reacted strongly against it, influencing the bent of his thought for the rest of his life. He regularly …continue reading
Apr. 24, 2012, at 6:22am
Dietrich von Hildebrand was born in Florence in 1889, the son of the German sculptor, Adolf von Hildebrand. He was educated by tutors at home until he began his university studies in Munich in 1906. Between 1909 and 1911 he spent several semesters studying in Goettingen with the great Edmund Husserl, the father of phenomenological philosophy, and in 1912 he completed his doctorate. In Goettingen he also studied with Adolf Reinach, whom he always venerated as his real teacher in philosophy. But he also received tremendously much from Max Scheler, with whom he had a very close friendship for 15 years. It was Scheler who awakened von Hildebrand’s interest in …continue reading
Apr. 24, 2012, at 6:21am
John Henry Newman (1801-1890) was educated at Oxford and was ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1822. In 1833 there arose in the Church of England a reform movement known to history as the Oxford Movement. From the beginning Newman was the guiding spirit of the movement, which sought to recover the apostolic and patristic roots of the Church of England. For the 12 years of the Oxford Movement Newman was prodigiously productive as an author, writing tracts, treatises, letters, essays, sermons, and poems of great power and originality. After some years of struggling to renew the Church of England the conviction grew on Newman that he was in fact in a …continue reading
Apr. 24, 2012, at 6:19am
Karol Wojtyla was born in Poland near Cracow in 1920. When he entered the Jagellonian University in Cracow in 1938 he studied Polish literature with a special emphasis on Polish drama. The university was closed the following year by the occupying Germans. Wojtyla soon discerned a call to the priesthood and began his studies in an underground seminary. It was here that he encountered philosophy for the first time-in the manuals of Scholastic philosophy that were part of the seminary curriculum. After completing his doctorate in theology at the Angelicum in Rome in 1948 he returned to Poland for work on his Habilitation at the Jagellonian University in …continue reading
Apr. 23, 2012, at 10:20pm
The following reflections are not exclusively from the viewpoint of personalist philosophy. But they do contain philosophical distinctions whose fruitfulness for concrete decisions in Church administration and Church politics will, I hope, become clear as they are made. The following reflections are those of an Austrian Catholic who laments a decision of a Cardinal of his distant home-country, for whom he feels much respect and the affection of an old friendship.
The facts are well known: Christoph Cardinal von Schönborn, Archbishop of Vienna, Austria, and President of the Austrian Bishops Conference, has recently overruled the decision of a Polish pastor in a small village in Lower …continue reading
Apr. 20, 2012, at 10:17am
Having forcefully expressed my strong opinions about The Hunger Games in a lively facebook exhange with friend and film critic, Babara Nicolosi, it seemed like maybe a good idea to actually see the movie. So, I went last week with son, Max, and cousin's son, John Paul. Both boys had read and loved the books.
My bottom-line take-away is two-fold: The movie far surpassed my worst anticipatory criticisms. I don't think Catholic parents need worry about their teens seeing it. On the contrary, it's got lots of stuff for important conversations. Still, fundamentally, I come down with Mark Steyn's assessment:
It seems to me there is something empty about the Hunger Games. In the end the …
Apr. 19, 2012, at 1:29pm
God is clearly fond of diversity.
Last week, I posted about the striking variety in personality, temperament, talents and style among Catholic priests. Several readers noted the same individuality among the saints.
But is it just the Church? Reader (and friend) Jessica Essolen pointed to a Baptist minister and a Jewish philosopher who display plenty of flourishing individuality. And what about those Catholic "reductionists" we all know who misguidedly promote particular devotions or styles or images as the only authentic piety? (Steven Greydanus has some worthwhile thoughts on the subject.)
So, it's true: on the one hand, some Catholics do act as if they had very little use for …continue reading
Apr. 19, 2012, at 10:52am
One of the students in my courtship class has just brought to my attention a great primer on von Hildebrand's philosophy of love, happiness and sexuality, by his long-time student, colleague, and friend, William Marra, who died in 1998.
Dr. Marra, who taught philosophy at Fordham University for more than 40 years, had a winning warmth and down-to-earth simplicity and humor that are lamentably rare in philosophy professors.
Here are three paragraphs from the article, to give a taste. But do read the whole thing, which convey the von HIldebrandian essence in an especially lively and accessible way.
Scattered throughout von Hildebrands works are many references to the great errors that …
Apr. 17, 2012, at 4:45pm
Today, on Facebook, Mark Griswold quotes Archbishop Chaput on the importance of silence:
We need silence, more than anything… If people can create some time every day — even just an hour — when they eliminate all the distracting noise of American life, their spirit will naturally begin to grow. Daily life in the United States is so filled with appetites and tensions stimulated by the mass media that turning the media off almost automatically results in deeper and clearer thinking. And that interior quiet can very easily lead us to God. (As far as I can Google, this interview from 2007, about how to live Lent well, is the source.)
This brings to mind a thought from Max Picard, whose book …continue reading
Apr. 11, 2012, at 7:18pm
Something in Catholicism seems to foster a flourishing personality. This was my family's distinct impression upon converting from evangelicalism. (That conversion was a major subplot of our altogether uninventable family microcosm of salvation history, recounted by my mother, Marilyn Prever, in Honey from the Rock. But that's a story for another day.)
How is it, though, that a church that proclaims that truth is fixed and unchangeable, and that some actions are just plain intrinsically wrong—indeed, a church that claims for itself a certain immunity to error (under carefully defined conditions)—turns out to be so congenial to the flourishing of each person's inner freedom? You might not …continue reading
Apr. 5, 2012, at 9:47am
Jules recorded these very personal and moving remarks on a recent visit. Good food for Holy Week reflection.
Apr. 5, 2012, at 8:54am
The hallmark of personalism is its focus on interiority. This may explain why I have never yet been able to bring myself to watch Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. I've tried more than once, since so many of my friends recommend it. But I've found the depiction of the brutality of Jesus' physical sufferings not just disturbing, but somehow distracting. They yank me away from sorrowful reflection on the inward drama taking place.
Nothing helps me enter the mystery of the Passion like Newman's sermon on "The Mental Sufferings of our Lord in His Passion." He reminds me that the interior agony in the garden was the "first act" of His oblation, "the seat of the suffering" Jesus …continue reading
Apr. 2, 2012, at 9:07am
Our next two reading circles, on April 21 & May 19, are on Kierkegaard's Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing. It is a great book, worth reading slowly and reflectively. As Kierkegaard says in the preface:
It is in search of that solitary "individual," to whom it wholly abandons itself, by whom it wishes to be received as if it had arisen within his own heart; that solitary "individual" whom with joy and gratitude I call my reader; that solitary "individual" who reads willingly and slowly, who reads over and over again, and who reads aloud — for his own sake.
This kind of reading is not easy for contemporary men and women. All the more reason to make the effort. And, hopefully, doing it …continue reading