The need for anthropologyWhereas the exact, natural and human sciences have progressed prodigiously in the knowledge of man and his universe, there is a strong temptation to seek to isolate the identity of the human being and to enclose this identity in the knowledge that can derive from it. In order to avoid moving in this direction it is important to support anthropological, philosophical and theological research which allows the appearance and preservation in man of his own mystery, for no science can say who man is, where he comes from or where he is going. Anthropology thus becomes the most vital science of all.
Address to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Jan 28, 2008
Oct. 23, 2013, at 10:42am
Last night friends Joseph and Marie Cabaud Meaney hosted us for a lovely dinner at their home outside of Rome. It was so wonderful to see familiar faces, and to feel their goodness and friendship. Joseph works for Human Life International. Marie studied with us in Liechtenstein, and taught for awhile with Jules at Villanova. She's an expert on Simone Weil, and writes for us sometimes. Her father and mother were in the von Hildebrand circle in NYC. I wish I had thought to take a picture!
We got back to our apartment late. Then my alarm went off at 6:15. This is not normal for me. A cup of coffee, and Jules and I were off on bicycles through the still-dark streets of Rome, letting the boys …continue reading
Oct. 16, 2013, at 7:40am
I read Manalive by G.K. Chesterton for the first time last week, and recognized in it a theme that has been on my mind lately. A character says of the protagonist, Innocent Smith
It is just because he does not want to steal, because he does not covet his neighbour's goods, that he has captured the trick (oh, how we all long for it!), the trick of coveting his own goods. It is just because he does not want to commit adultery that he achieves the romance of sex; it is just because he loves one wife that he has a hundred honeymoons.
It occurred to me that this is a wonderful description of gratitude. Innocent Smith has “captured the trick…of coveting his own goods,” and it has obviously …continue reading
Oct. 14, 2013, at 6:44am
One of the sharpest differences between the political left and right is their respective views of private property. For the (extreme) left, it's the root of social evil, the cause of social conflict. For the (extreme) right it's sacred and absolute.
For the Church, of course, it's neither/nor.
Just as we are, as individuals, radically our own, and yet, almost constituted by our relation to others and fulfilled only by making a sincere gift of ourselves in love, our property both belongs to us and is destined for others.
This came home to me in a new way visiting some of the great English estates this month. We toured Alnwick Castle, ancient seat of the Dukes of Northumberland.
Its library …continue reading
Oct. 12, 2013, at 11:26am
October 12th is Dietrich von Hildebrand's birthday. Yesterday, Jules and I visited the Florentine villa where he was born in 1889. The imposing home—a former convent called San Francesco—is still owned by nieces and nephews of von Hildebrand's, who rent it out to foreigners.
Outside on the gate you can see a relief of Adolf von Hildebrand, the renown German sculptor, Dietrich's father.
As we were peering eagerly though the fence, an attractive and friendly-looking youngish woman came out. We asked her whether we might go in. She—plainly an American—said, kindly, "I'm sorry; it's private." I told her we are devotees of the philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand, and that we'd spent a …continue reading
Oct. 9, 2013, at 12:30am
I’ve been reading Calah Alexander lately, and I'm hooked.
She makes a point in a recent blog post which cleared something up for me.
Here’s the conundrum: How do you convey the Good News to people who don’t believe in sin? If they don’t think there’s any such thing, what exactly are you offering salvation from? You can’t very well walk up to someone who rejects the whole premise and announce, “Guess what?! Good news! Your sins are forgiven!”
we don’t just lack repentence; we lack even a “sense of sin”—the sense that there’s something to repent of.
Janet Smith runs into the same problem, as she explains in Are We Obsessed?, at First Things:
Oct. 1, 2013, at 8:22pm
A few days ago, this improvised prayer was going around facebook (where I do much of my philosophical research):
Heavenly Father, Help us remember that the jerk who cut us off in traffic last night is a single mother who worked nine hours that day and is rushing home to cook dinner, help with homework, do the laundry and spend a few precious moments with her children. …
Remind us, Lord, that the scary looking bum, begging for money in the same spot every day (who really ought to get a job!) is a slave to addictions that we can only imagine in our worst nightmares.
Help us to remember that the old couple walking annoyingly slow[ly] through the store aisles and blocking our shopping …
Oct. 1, 2013, at 7:46am
I usually have an audio book playing low beside me during the night. Improbable as it may sound to those unafflicted with insomnia issues, I find it helps me sleep. My favorite is Whittaker Chambers' Witness. The narrator has a clear, calm, steady voice, and the content of the book is worth pondering and re-pondering.
Last night, during a period of wakefulness, a particular passage leaped out at me afresh.
At this point in the narrative, Chambers is around 40 years old. He has left the Communist party and embraced Quakerism. Living for the first time a conscious and discipled religious existence, he experiences a human completeness that had eluded him to that point. Looking around him, he …continue reading
Sep. 24, 2013, at 10:25pm
When my husband mentions that he teaches business ethics, one occasional comeback is, “Isn’t that an oxymoron?”
In fact, it’s not. Business is not an intrinsic evil. And, as the Occupy movement unintentionally made clear, it’s incoherent to bash corporations in general while gobbling up the goods and services they offer so as to enhance your anti-business hipster chic.
But teaching ethics to MBA types has its challenges. It’s not that they can’t understand truths about good and evil, virtue and vice. It’s just that they can’t hear those truths at all—unless you express them in a language they can understand. You can’t be preachy,
but not only that—you can’t express anything in a way …continue reading
Sep. 24, 2013, at 4:34am
We are traveling. Our plan had been to post about our trip as we go, but so far this has proven too much. We'll try again next week, when we're in Holland and a bit more settled.
Meanwhile, a member wrote in to ask our thoughts about the Pope's interview. I'm hoping Devra will address it. She is much more qualified than I am, having read it in full and having helped translate a book of Cardinal Bergoglio's addresses and sermons. But I can offer a thought in response to the reaction to the interview among so many conservative Catholics.
My thinking centers on an insight from Newman and Wojtlya both—one I find myself pondering more and more in recent years. Newman wrote of the "infinite …continue reading
Sep. 17, 2013, at 3:42am
It seems strange to be talking about beauty as a temptation. Isn’t beauty a ladder to God, a reflection of the good, and a dangerous trap only for those wishing to remain atheists? The “blue flower” (so termed by the Romantics), which is, among other things, the longing for the re-occurrence of a momentous experience of beauty, became an important step, for example, in C. S. Lewis’ conversion-process. Yet it didn’t speak to him in an obvious way of God, and it was tempting for him to seek that experience again, though it (happily) eluded him. For the experience of beauty cannot be forced, or artificially created or be obtained by one’s own free will; it comes as a gift, suddenly, …continue reading
Sep. 14, 2013, at 10:20pm
When Pope Francis was first elected, and people weren’t really used to him yet—wait, are we used to him now?—the air was thick with wild, vaguely alarmed speculation. Having just helped to edit a translation of a collection of homilies and addresses of his,
I was anxious to lay everyone’s fears to rest. So I wrote Why You Shouldn't Worry About What Pope Francis Might Do Next.
Six months down the road, some people’s fears are still not resting easy. (“Doesn’t he realize how he sounds?” “Doesn’t he know how the media is going to spin that?” “Wait, did he just say fornication is OK now but celibacy is forbidden?”)
Nor does Papa Francis show signs of subsiding into a harmless, predictable …continue reading
Sep. 10, 2013, at 11:31pm
Like many people in many countries, I prayed and fasted on Saturday for peace. I tried, and failed, to be even-tempered with my family on a (comparitively) empty stomach. And I tried, without much success, to feel my theoretical belief that prayer and fasting are a practical and effective response to real-life problems.
I should have known better. We prayed and fasted just a few weeks ago for a friend’s teenage daughter who was struck by a car while riding her bicycle.
She was in an induced coma in the hospital then, and the doctors were not sanguine about her living through the night. Today we got word that she’s sitting up, responding, and steadily being detached from more …continue reading
Sep. 5, 2013, at 1:50pm
Last week I mentioned how pleasantly surprised I was by Eugene Boylan’s book, Difficulties in Mental Prayer. Much of his very helpful advice centered on avoiding artificial formality and stiffness with God.
Another pitfall Boylan addresses is being needlessly systematic and methodical. Prayer is not a procedure to be marched through with correct technique for maximum efficiency.
It’s supposed to be something as simple and beautiful as the “elevation of the mind and heart to God.” Yet we manage to turn it into a mindless or an obsessive and joyless reeling-off of particular words in a particular order a particular number of times. Boylan elaborates:
For example, a visit to the …
Sep. 2, 2013, at 5:14am
NB: I posted this article last week on the Member Feed at Ricochet, a site dedicated to discussion within a "center/right" perspective. It was partly in response to several comments and posts over the months since Pope Francis was elected expressing worry that he appears to be a lefist. I'm re-publishing it here, since it touches on personalist themes and questions too.
Argentine Cardinal Bergoglio’s election to the papacy has caused some consternation on the right. He has been known to criticize capitalism, decry excessive disparities in wealth, and tout “social justice”—things American conservatives and libertarians naturally associate with a disastrous political and economic leftism. …continue reading
Aug. 30, 2013, at 7:48pm
Here I am, a Christian for more than four decades, still trying to figure out how to pray.
One of the sillier obstacles I’ve placed in my own path, it turns out, is avoiding Difficulties in Mental Prayer, by Eugene Boylan. I'm not certain why I did this. Maybe the title wasn’t sufficiently scintillating. Maybe I was prejudiced against people named Eugene. But I’d gotten it into my head that this was one of those pedantic but edifying books, and that my most palatable option was to continue feeling guilty for not having read it.
I’m happy to report I was wrong, This is a very helpful book.
Boylan has a gift for demolishing self-imposed, imaginary obstacles that can stall a person’s …continue reading
Aug. 27, 2013, at 11:45am
A post on the member feed by James Barclay has me thinking. He raises the question of "personalism in action," as opposed to personalism in theory. This distinction is of particular interest for what we might call "the French school" of personalism—the personalism articulated by the likes of Emmanuel Mounier, Simone Weil, and Jacques Maritain, and heroically championed in social action by people like Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Speaking in very broad lines, we can say that the French school of personalism seems to have been driven especially by concern over social injustice, which it sought to remedy by emphasis on the dignity of work and workers, and protest against the wrongs …continue reading
Aug. 23, 2013, at 9:36pm
My brother, Joseph Prever,
is a faithful Catholic who came out publicly as a celibate gay man the other day. (He says he got more flak for coming out as celibate.)
He'd told me and a few other relatives and friends a while ago, which prompted me to think very hard about things I'd scarcely ever considered at all. My thoughts about the entire subject before it touched me personally amounted to "Objective disorder!" and "Love the sinner, hate the sin!" I haven't changed my mind about either one; but it turns out there's a lot more to say. What follow are just the impressions of someone who's still working out what it all …continue reading
Aug. 22, 2013, at 10:34am
Not many are called to a voluntary life of absolute poverty such as St Francis of Assisi, or Mother Teresa and her sisters. However, everybody is called to be in some respect poor with the poor in order to exercise true caritas on which, after all, we will be judged (Christ tells those who fed, clothed or helped him in some way in the poor, that they will go to Heaven, while those who didn’t, are cast out). How are we supposed to reach the hungry, thirsty, the suffering, the psychologically wounded, and feed their hearts rather than just their bodies, if we are unable to meet them where they are? The poor, of course, are not merely those who are in material want, but all those who are …continue reading
Aug. 21, 2013, at 10:45am
We have friends visiting for a few days and lots to do to get ready before we fly to Europe for our sabbatical next week, so I don't have much leisure for writing posts. But I had to share this. It's an interview with a Protestant psychologist who specializes in therapy for victims of sexual abuse. A friend and PP member, who admired its deep personalist wisdom, forwarded it to me. I find it amazing. Tell me what you think.
Aug. 16, 2013, at 9:31am
The other day Jules and I had the rare privilege of getting to spend some hours visiting with three of the Carthusian monks at the Charter House of the Transfiguration in Vermont. They are the only Carthusians in North America. They had invited Alice von HIldebrand, who asked us to bring her. (I so regret not taking a picture! I will see if I can record the beautiful story of her connection to the monastery later today.)
To be with them was to be renewed in faith and hope for the Church. Their serenity was palpable. It was impossible not to feel how attuned they are to God and to humanity, despite their almost unthinkable physical isolation.
One of the three, Fr. Philip, a Norwegian, who …continue reading