The power of the true and the goodShould we always presume that to human thoughts and works the same applies as to the basket in which one rotten fruit is enough to spoil the whole bunch? Why should the faulty element in a thought always be the dominant and virulant one, which tomorrow will draw all others in its direction? Why don't we ever believe in the power of the true and the good, in a possible restoration, indeed, in the profound transformation and "conversion" that the lesser parts may undergo under the influence of the better? Francis de Sales stated: "All the defects of a good work cannot vitiate its essential goodness."
Henri de Lubac
Paradoxes of Faith
Dec. 12, 2011, at 9:30pm
The other day we visited Alice von Hildebrand at her apartment in New Rochelle, NY, where she has lived for more than 40 years. Below is an audio clip of her speaking of an article she's been writing on the problem of boredom in modern society. "Gogi" is a nickname for her husband, Dietrich von Hildebrand. (The photo doesn't do her justice, but I wanted you to be able to picture her as you listen to her voice.)
Alice von Hildebrand boredom: click here to listen
We'll post more soon at the member feed. (Hope you'll join us there!)
Dec. 12, 2011, at 10:09am
Over the weekend I expressed to a friend how much I love the re-introduction of "consubstantial" in the creed. Not that I had any difficulties with the previous translation. "One in being with" seems to me about as clear and direct as can be. Still, I like the change, and I think my liking has a lot to do with some passages from Newman's Grammar of Assent that I read and pondered many times while writing my master's thesis.
In the first of these, Newman deals with the charge, also heard today, that the term "consubstantial" is needlessly abstruse and likely to result only in unending, fruitless controversy. Newman shows how this objection has a long history in the Church and also how it …continue reading
Dec. 9, 2011, at 8:41am
An article by Jeffrey Lord in the American Spectator on the demonizing of conservatives reminds us of these lines from William F. Buckley's movement-launching book, God and Man at Yale, written when he was only 25 years old.
I believe that the duel between Christianity and atheism is the most important in the world. I further believe that the struggle between individualism and collectivism is the same struggle reproduced on another level.
He is right, with one important caveat. The answer to collectivism isn't really individualism, but rather personalism. Why? Alice von Hildebrand frequently reminds us of a saying of her husband's: "The truth doesn't lie between two errors, but above …continue reading
Dec. 7, 2011, at 11:10am
Editor’s note: What follows is the first of a 10 part series on the personalist philosophy of Pope John Paul II written some years ago for Lay Witness Magazine. We asked for and received permission to re-publish the series here, to give fresh occasion for discussion of the issues at the center of our mission.
We don't have to listen to Pope John Paul II for long before noticing his fascination with the human person. We are struck by how often and how passionately he speaks about the dignity of the person. He has become a kind of prophet of personal dignity, witnessing to it before the conscience of mankind like no other world leader, indeed, like no previous pope. In fact, this …continue reading
Dec. 6, 2011, at 7:11pm
Searching for personalist gems to add to our quotation rotation, I've been looking through my copy of Raissa Maritain's Journal. This entry (written in 1918) struck a chord, particularly in terms of the person's essential orientation toward others:
21st April, — To Jacques: "Yesterday I had a good morning. Once again when I recollect myself, I again find the same simple demands of God: gentleness, humility, charity, interior simplicity; nothing else is asked of me. And suddenly I saw clearly why these virtues are demanded, because through them the soul becomes habitable for God and for one's neighbour in an intimate and permanent way. They make a pleasant cell of it. Hardness and pride repel, complexity disquiets. But humility and gentleness welcome, and simplicity reassures. These 'passive' virtues have an eminently social character."
Dec. 6, 2011, at 2:33pm
Tebow’s open display of faith offends many on the left because, unlike so many athletes who start press conferences with “First, I just want to thank God” for whatever it is that they have just accomplished, Tebow actually means it. And it drives many on the left — especially the sports media, which is rife with liberals — batty.
Dec. 1, 2011, at 10:04pm
The last chapter of the text for tomorrow's reading circle gathering is about the spirit of communion in the Liturgy. In it, von Hildebrand explains how all genuine values have a twofold unifying power: they unify the individual person from within (interior recollection) and they unify a collection of persons into a genuine communion.
It so happens that Anthony Esolen just published a piece in which this theme of the relation between objective values and interpersonal communion is also central. Like von Hildebrand, Esolen contrasts genuine communion sustained by value with its counterfeit rooted in mere pleasure:
Here we need not consider the sadness at the heart of pleasure seeking—the …
Dec. 1, 2011, at 9:27am
Didion complains that Woody Allen is stuck in the “fairly recent” notion of finding or making or inhabiting the self, as a central obsession. She’s right that it’s recent: those who trace it back to Augustine are exaggerating, a little. But surely the literature of “recent” centuries is richer for the works of people who’ve made this same faux pas. It’s what modern narrative art is mostly about, and Didion is sophomoric (“adolescent?”) in complaining that Woody Allen hasn’t managed to rehabilitate …
Nov. 30, 2011, at 11:10am
This Friday evening we will host the first of our First Friday Reading Circle for Personalist Project members. We'll be discussing the first four chapters of Dietrich von Hildebrand's classic, Liturgy and Peronality. Those who live in the area are welcome to join us at our home. Those who can't make it in person can listen to the podcast of Jules' introductory remarks, which we'll post at the member center over the weekend. There, too, you can comment or raise questions on what you read and hear.continue reading
Nov. 28, 2011, at 9:55am
When Joe Paterno was fired and the streets of the school's town erupted in outrage, my immediate reaction was: "What is the matter with those students?!"
Mary Graw Leary offers some answers over at the Witherspoon Institute's Public Discourse.
She thinks the main reason is the widespread sexualization of children in our culture. I think that's the main reason the abuse of children is so wretchedly commonplace. But the main reason the Penn Students responded as they did, is, I suspect, something different. I suspect it has to do with basic moral immaturity and ego-centrism (likewise lamentably widespread in our culture). They view Paterno according to what he means to them. They like …continue reading
Nov. 27, 2011, at 4:03pm
I find in the latest issue of the Claremont Review of Books a review of a book titled Family Politics: The Idea of Marriage in Modern Political Thought, by Scott Yenor. According to the review, it is "a philosophic reflection on the troubles of the modern family"—a critique of the post-Enlightenment view of marriage in light of John Paul II's teachings on the subject.
Being an intuitive rather than a methodical thinker, I am, I fear, rather prone to snap judgments. Nor is it fair to evaluate a book by a single review. But, with those caveats in mind, let me say that this review inclines me to think I won't much care for the book. I suspect it of being marred by two bad tendencies often …continue reading
Nov. 24, 2011, at 8:06am
Black Friday has been encroaching on Thanksgiving Thursday for many years now, and this year, it seems, will be no different. There are some conflicting reports about the exact opening hours of various retail chains, but the trend is clear. According to one article
Sears will be open on Thanksgiving morning, while Toys 'R' Us will open its doors at 10 pm Thursday, its earliest Black Friday opening ever. Walmart's jumbo-sized supercenters won't close at all.
Many Americans are not happy with this trend, but they seem powerless to stop it. Their objections and petitions are easily brushed aside by an appeal to what consumers want. "Our guests," says a Target representative, as if it is all …continue reading
Nov. 20, 2011, at 10:53am
"Lift up your heads, O gates; be lifted up you ancient doors, that the King of Glory May come in!"
This being, in the Catholic Church, the great Solemnity of Christ the King, a couple of quick reflections—or fragments of reflections, since I am writing on the fly—on its implications for personhood.
The first is a question: Apart from the fact that we are told in Scripture "we are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God," can we establish through philosophical reflection that the very concept of personhood entails royalty?
The second is about justice. I love this verse in Isaiah: "Say to those whose hearts are frightened: fear not, here is your God. …continue reading
Nov. 17, 2011, at 8:29am
On Tuesday Jules and I drove in to New York City for a Dietrich von Hildebrand Legacy Project event. It featured a talk by his widow, Alice, on his life-long fight against relativism: "Relativism in the intellectual sphere and relativism in the moral sphere."
She spoke of her husband's dramatic and often very difficult life. "When I met him, he was a refugee. He had lost everything, because of his fight against Naziism, and yet, he radiated joy." His joy came from his faith, and his total confidence that "truth would win in the end."
She contrasted this joy with the kind of shallow optimism that brushes problems aside, that doesn't take evil seriously, that imagines that everything's …continue reading
Nov. 16, 2011, at 8:50am
In this fascinating segment of Uncommon Knowlege posted at National Review Online today, Peter Robinson asks Hillsdale Professor Paul Rahe what has happened to the American experiment? How is it that the greatest democratic system in history has been systematically subverted? His answer, in a word, is "progressivism", and he identifies Hegel as its source.
Thanks to Hegel, says Prof. Rahe, the idea spreads that government should be conducted by "rational administrators"—an elite whose role it is to caretake the rest. This is of course in direct opposition to the American ideal of self-government.
The administrative state grows by "offering a helping hand" and "with that helping hand, …continue reading
Nov. 16, 2011, at 6:00am
To help prepare the faithful for the new translation of the mass, our parish priests have lately taken some time out of their homilies each week to read part of an official document (I don't know where they got it) explaining what the most significant changes are, and why they were made.
The section read this week included a change made to the words of institution:
The previous translation of the Mass referred to Jesus' blood having redemptive value "for all." The new translation replaces the words "for all" with "for many."
"For many" is apparently closer to the Latin text of the mass, and also in greater continuity with the Tradition. More importantly, it
…remains closer to Jesus' …
Nov. 15, 2011, at 8:52am
Last weekend I visited our daughter, Rose, in Steubenville, where she was stage manager for the drama department's production of A Midsummernight's Dream. As with everything of Shakespeare's, I found the play repleat with personalist significance.
Our professor, John Crosby, who wrote the book on personal selfhood, taught us to think of the "self-possession of the human person" in terms of the right to "dispose over my own existence." (This is not the full "what and how" of personal existence, but it is a defining aspect.)
Since that phrase is ever in my head when thinking about the nature and dignity of the person, I was particularly struck by an early line of the play:
Egeus is …continue reading
Nov. 14, 2011, at 11:46am
Since the Church in the English-speaking world is about to be renewed by the introduction of a new translation of the novis ordo, it seems a good moment to delve into Dietrich von Hildebrand's great classic Liturgy and Personality, which unfolds the unrealized depths and riches in the Liturgy, in the human personality, and in the mysterious relation between the two.
Accordingly, the first four sessions of our newly re-instituted First Friday Reading Circle gatherings for members will be dedicated to it. If you'd like to participate either by coming to our home on December 2, or by reading along and listening to Jules' introduction to the text via podcast, be sure to become a member.
For …continue reading
Nov. 12, 2011, at 1:35pm
Steve Jobs, whose genius I've long admired and whose biography I've been listening to lately, was well known for his desire to simplify products and make them more user friendly. (There is a friendly and funny spoof on this, by the Onion.) "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication," Apple's first brochure proclaimed. But simple is not to be confused with simplistic. True simplicity, Jobs knew, comes "from conquering complexities, not ignoring them."
This put me in mind of a chapter on "True Simplicity" in Dietrich von Hildebrand's classic work, Transformation in Christ—a context about as far removed from computers as can be imagined. Von Hildebrand makes a similar distinction within the …continue reading
Nov. 12, 2011, at 7:08am
Last night, looking for a mom's potluck dinner, I went to the wrong address. I knew it must be wrong when I saw so few cars. But movement at the window gave me the courage to ring the bell. The woman who answered saw me standing there with a bottle of wine and a doubtful look on my face.
"This isn't the Swifts, is it?"
She didn't recognize the name, but she did recognize my perplexity. She opened her door wider and said, "Come on in. We'll figure it out."
I had the street number wrong. But now I was doubting that I was even looking for the right house. Maybe the party wasn't at the Swift's at all. I said to her, "If there's no one there, can I come back and use your phone?" …continue reading