Enthusiasm

Fr Jonathan has gone and fired up my mind again between getting my “hard bastard” week in my boat ready, rebuilding rotten french windows and biting the bullet with a 8,000-word job last night that I wasn’t counting on. I started at 11 pm and finished it this afternoon having also been dealing with my van (that is another story of serious “bullshit detection” – and I’m getting it worked out). It was an early morning!

I read his new article Mystery, Morals, and Montanism. He description of Montanism immediately brought me to think of the monumental book by Monsignor Ronald Knox, Enthusiasm, which gave me the title of this posting. The first part of this work is dedicated to the various movements of the early Church including Montanism, and then the various movements in the Middle Ages among which the Franciscans were among the most orthodox and acceptable to the Papacy. He then goes on to discuss the movements of the seventeenth and eighteenth century like the Jansenist-inspired Convulsionaries of Saint-Médard. In a final part, he discussed the Methodist movement of John Wesley and various forms of Revivalism in the USA and England in the early nineteenth century. I last read this book when I was up at Fribourg, and leafing through it just now revealed a little greetings card from my liturgy professor which I was using as a bookmark. It made me understand a considerable amount about the Charismatic movement in the RC Church and elsewhere, and brought me to remember an otherwise intelligent priest in Manchester babbling away in no language that I could recognise at a prayer group.

Going through Fr Jonathan’s posting, we are brought to the same struggle between faith and reason. My Fribourg years brought me to a close understanding of Cardinal Ratzinger’s theology, and especially in the discipline called fundamental theology, the relationship between divine revelation, faith and reason. I warmly recommend Tracey Rowland’s Ratzinger’s Faith: The Theology of Pope Benedict XVI, Oxford 2008. This book is beautifully written in an accessible style. Ratzinger has been one of the most profound thinkers on this theme of the synthesis of faith and reason. Faith without reason is as dangerous as reason without faith. It is not a compromise between two extremes, but a true synthesis of knowledge of God.

God is as immanent as he is transcendent. We participate in God through grace and θέωσις. We are God and God is us, in all, though God is absolutely incomprehensible and is more than our world or even the many universes that can be observed with our telescope-assisted eyes, let alone other worlds and universes that we don’t sense or know. God is indeed beyond the observational powers of natural science.

Fr Jonathan comes back to the theme of my calling him a Romantic. What is Romanticism? As Bernard Reardon said in his book Religion in the Age of Romanticism (Cambridge 1985),

Whoever sets out to discuss the Romantic movement will soon be faced with the problem of definition, for romanticism, like religion itself, is notoriously difficult.

Negatively, Romanticism is opposed to classicism, but classicism is also difficult to define. We do better to identify examples of each among the many philosophers, artists, composers and poets. What were the characteristics that marked them. Romanticism is also tied to a precise historical era: the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Traits and characteristics may be found by analogy in later periods including our own. I feel very much in tune with some of the traits of Romanticism but not all. Similarly Fr Jonathan cannot be called a “Romantic”, but he is free also to go through the smorgasbord of traits of both classicism and romanticism in his self-knowledge, as we all are. Like faith and reason, we need to find the synthesis which is above the dialectics of one thing against its nemesis. I also recommend a reading of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance which discusses this difference between the Romantic and the Classicist.

It is a cause for rejoicing that my blog is a place for mature discussion, and that Fr Jonathan and I are both working to get people to think and contribute to discussions. I consider this very much as my priestly ministry other than offering the Mass and Office in union with the whole Church of God.

I have often written about so-called liberalism and modernism, aware that the most nuanced criticism and analysis are not found in papal documents but in the writings of historians and theologians. These questions are very subtle. There is something that really exasperates me (and I am not blaming my confrere in the priesthood for it) – that is some RC polemicist saying something like some “heretic” in the twentieth century is judged by Paul IV or Boniface VIII or Pius IX. This is historical anachronism and sloppy thinking. Problems need to be analysed for what they are. Historical comparison is possible, as we will see in Msgr Knox’s book, but phenomena are quite distinct and discrete for all that they have in common.

Reason is of paramount importance, since we observe in history and in our own times the result of faith without reason. My own epistemology and metaphysics are fundamentally Thomist, but my reading has taken me along new paths, where there is a development. Nothing is complete and perfect. Theology was defined by St Anselm of Canterbury as faith seeking understanding (fides quaerens intellectum). I am a very curious kind of person (a boy with Aspergers will dismantle all his mechanical toys to understand how they work) and I like to try to understand things. I loved the sciences at school, especially physics, because there was a reason behind everything. Likewise in theology, I like to try to understand as much as I can and as much as is accessible to the limited human mind. I believe that it is our duty to wake up and use our brains and minds, but it is also our duty to accept our limitations. Some things are just beyond us, and we can only accept this sense of awe and wonder at something that escapes us and is greater than we are. The sea gives me this experience when I go out in a boat.

Liberalism is also quite undefinable. If it is the aspiration to human freedom from slavery, oppression, etc., then liberalism is noble and great. Unfortunately, the word has been used to describe other ideologies and patterns of thinking. What is now means is something like the “critical theory” of the Frankfurt School, a sort of cultural Marxism largely based on nihilism and anarchism – deconstruction for its own sake. This way of thinking extends into every branch of life including politics and religion. It is expressed in a cult of ugliness and denial. It is also a form of anti-intellectualism, which is often recognised to be a form of post-modernism.

There is also the question of morality, right and wrong. Moral theology is also a complex and profound discipline. I would like to introduce my readers to the Belgian Dominican Fr Servais Pinckaers who taught at Fribourg in the 1980’s. I was privileged to be one of his students. One thing he impressed on us is that moral theology begins from foundational philosophical and theological principles rather than casuistry or legalism. This is of astounding significance. The moral act is judged by its finality and the question of whether it will lead the subject to happiness and holiness – the theme of the Beatitudes. Thus sexual questions are not merely understood in terms of whether human reproduction will result in wedlock, but also that sin brings man to unhappiness. Most of Fr Pinckaers’ written work is in French, but some has been translated into English. These subtleties are often lost on authoritarian conservative minds (again, no fingers are being pointed). His discussion of freedom is fascinating – a distinction between the freedom of perfection (a pianist who practices can become free to play music well) and the freedom of indifference, the notion of having a free choice between right and wrong, the good or the bad. This is where we see the difference between two “liberalisms”, one as a noble aspiration and the other a base ideology of nihilism and anarchism. Again, there is a Christian anarchism, an aspiration of the Russian soul expressed by Berdyaev and others, and the kind of anarchism that led to the Revolution of 1917 and so much evil and suffering.

The Montanists lived in an entirely different culture from our own, but there are points of comparison. The hypocrisy of pastors and priests who molest children and women can be understood in this perspective. They think they are too holy to sin, so their sins are not sins! That is simplistic, but perhaps an expression of the mind that has no moral conscience or empathy for other persons.

Fr Jonathan has a good analysis of things and I have a tremendous amount of esteem for him as a thinker and a priest in our Church. His formation was very different from my own, and that makes for complementarity between us and our approaches. My formation is essentially Thomist, Ressourcement, German Idealism and Slavophile through my own reading. I had little formation in a purely Anglo-Catholic context.

Indeed, Christian life is one of joy, but also one of self-denial and asceticism, of obedience to natural law and the informed conscience. The concert pianist will spend many hours each day of gruelling work, but the result will be sublime music. If we suffer now, it is to rejoice in a higher reality.

Like Fr Jonathan, I look forward to the coming Feast of Pentecost or Whitsun, and join his intentions in praying and working for the unity of our Churches in Christ and the grace of the Holy Spirit.

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3 Responses to Enthusiasm

  1. Stephen K says:

    God is as immanent as he is transcendent. We participate in God through grace and θέωσις. We are God and God is us, in all, though God is absolutely incomprehensible and is more than our world or even the many universes that can be observed with our telescope-assisted eyes, let alone other worlds and universes that we don’t sense or know. God is indeed beyond the observational powers of natural science

    This resonates with me. I don’t see how I can insist on anything else, though I accept that because of cultural upbringing and life experience we may have arrived at or persist in additional thoughts. Rather than spend time giving expression in all sorts of subtle ways to pride or complacency in being a Christian, we might profit in pondering why it is that we are Christian and many people are something else. And lots more in that vein.

    • David Llewellyn Dodds says:

      Me, too – but that ‘in all” got me reading “God is in us” and thinking “God is us” must be a typo: without a threefold “in”, it sounds more boldly… what? ‘paradoxical’? – but not as crisply ‘panentheistic’ (as I have heard Metropolitan Kallistos Ware use that term). There seems to me a proper activity and delight in spending time trying to give expression in all sorts of subtle ways to what being a Christian (and to what a Christian understanding of ‘being’) is, despite the very real and persistent dangers of pride and complacency, without excluding attention to the mysteries of why it is that we are (already?) Christian and many people are (still?) something else.

  2. David Llewellyn Dodds says:

    I’ve only browsed around in Knox’s Enthusiasm, always rather meaning to get back to it (ah, luxury of proximity to good libraries) – and now sharply dreaming of a leisurely visit to one, again, someday… (In the general way of things, he won’t be out of copyright till 1 January 2028 – but, shall I live to enjoy that?)

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