The Personalist Project

Accessed on September 27, 2023 - 12:54:54

A Benedictine way of philosophy

Katie van Schaijik, Jul 12, 2014

July 11 is the Feast of St. Benedict, whose deservedly famous Rule is the basis of virtually all rules in all monastic orders to this day. I first learned about it from Alice von Hildebrand, who drew my attention to the affinity between Benedictine spirituality and the phenomenological method of philosophy her husband had espoused. The prologue to the Rule begins like this:

Listen carefully, my child,
to your master's precepts,
and incline the ear of your heart (Prov. 4:20)

It's the emphasis on listening that stands out, and then, a listening of the heart. Philosophy is all too often a construction of the mind. Clever thinkers elaborate theories. The aim of phenomenolgy, as Husserl originally taught it and von Hildebrand practiced it, though, was to set aside prejudices and preconceptions, so that reality could disclose itself as it is, in itself.

For that to happen, a right moral disposition is essential. We have to be humble, attentive, and receptive. 

The next lines, too, have their philosophical application:

Receive willingly and carry out effectively 
your loving father's advice, 
that by the labor of obedience 
you may return to Him 
from whom you had departed by the sloth of disobedience.

It was especially in her classes on Plato and on Kierkegaard that Alice von Hildebrand taught us that it is not enough to grasp truth intellectually. Philosophical truth (most especially moral truth) has to be assimilated and lived. 

That's the kind of truth-lovers Jules and I want to be. Which reminds me of the words of another great saint. "Come, let us begin. For until now we have done nothing."