IntroductionWinter 2001: Revelation and History
The Winter, 2001 issue of Communio recalls two pioneers of the theological ressourcement that prepared the way for the Second Vatican Council: Henri de Lubac (1894-1991) and John Henry Newman (1801-1890). As the dates suggest, anniversaries provide the occasion for commemorating these two theologians and men of the Church--it is the 10th anniversary of de Lubac's death and the 200th of Newman's birth--but the essays presented here, two on de Lubac and three on Newman, circle around a theme that, characteristic of the work of both, has lost none of its timeliness: "Revelation and History."
Meeting John Paul II's challenge to recover an adequate account of truth as an indispensable basis of the intellectus fidei will require an ongoing deepening of the work of (among others) Newman and de Lubac, both trustworthy guides along the middle path between the twin perils of a-historical rationalism and anti-dogmatic historicism.
Stressing de Lubac's contribution to fundamental theology, Rudolf Voderholzer's "Dogma and History: Henri de Lubac and the Retrieval of Historicity as a Key to Theological Renewal" documents his recovery of the historical character of revelation beyond both Neo-scholastic manualism (whose lack of historical sense was so contrary to the "great Scholastics, ‘who did not abandon. . . history'") and" Modernism. De Lubac succeeded in reopening theological awareness to the fact that "‘Christianity not only takes history seriously; it is the religion that gave birth to historical thinking in the first place.'" But it is De Lubac's "decisive Christocentrism," says Voderholzer, that ultimately norms his retrieval of historicity: "In Christ, the ‘universale concretum,' spirit and history definitively meet." Eric de Moulins-Beaufort's "Henri de Lubac: Reader of Dei Verbum" underscores this Christocentrism as the key to the reading of Dei Verbum that de Lubac presents in his 1968 commentary on the foreword to, and first chapter of, the conciliar constitution.
For de Lubac, Dei Verbum's great insight is that revelation is primarily the historical communication of the eschatological plenitude in Christ. This insight enables a resolution of the vexed question of the "two sources"--as well as an account of doctrinal development as the unfolding of the inexhaustible fruitfulness of the abiding unity of the Tradition, an unfolding whose authenticity is guaranteed by the Church's Magisterium.
The three essays on Newman explore his understanding of the historical character of revelation and its transmission. Martin Brüske's "Is Newman's Essay on the Development of Christian Doctrine a Theory of the Development of Dogma?" offers a qualified "No" to the question of his title. The Essay is not primarily a theory of the development of dogma; its main intent is to sketch a "historics," a method for investigating the identity of Christianity in its ecclesial form with its historical origin. This "historics," written out of "the necessity of clarifying definitively his relationship with the Roman Catholic Church," is the theological expression of Newman's own quest, which, in obedience to the voice of conscience, led him to "the existential certainty--typically, for him, in the sense of converging probabilities: I can trust the Church."
Ian Ker's "Newman, the Councils, and Vatican II" offers not only an overview of Newman's developing understanding of ecumenical councils, but, particularly through an examination of the English cardinal's reaction to the First Vatican Council, a timely reflection on the resilience of the Catholic tradition, which, in its vitality, is able to regain time and again the equilibrium of the whole. In the wake of Vatican I, Ker shows, Newman, aware of this resiliency, was confident that the Council's definitions of papal primacy and infallibility, while irreformable, would nonetheless be gradually integrated into the ecclesial whole--to the discomfiture of both the Ultramontanes and the "progressive" followers of Dollinger.
Finally, Jules van Schaijik's "Newman and Otto on Religious Experience" argues that Newman, while agreeing with Rudolf Otto on the importance of religious experience (for Newman, above all the experience of conscience) for knowing God, parts company with Otto in seeing the need to integrate such experience with rational reflection. "In contrast to Otto," van Schaijik argues, Newman "shows that not only is there no real conflict between experiential and rational knowledge of God, but, in fact, each aspect can be genuinely what it is only in intrinsic union with the other."
Central to the three essays on our second theme, "Practices, Ethos, and Human Flourishing,"is the notion of practice, meaning "a typical undertaking in which the goods to be possessed depend for their acquisition on the inner development of the capabilities and character traits of the person engaged in the enterprise" (Alasdair MacIntyre, "Interview with Dmitri Nikulin," Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 44 , 674). Such practices, of which the whole texture of social existence is woven, embody an ethos, an anthropology-in-act that, when communities and institutions are healthy, is the pattern of human flourishing enfleshed. The essays presented here offer the occasion to reflect on often unnoticed "logic" of many institutions shaping our daily lives.
Tracey Rowland, drawing on Alasdair MacIntyre, takes up the relation between practices, institutions, and ethos in "The Authority of ‘Experts' and the Ethos of Modern Institutions." Rowland insists that "all human behavior worthy of the name of a ‘practice' will have some form of virtue-requiring and virtue-engendering capacity." Judged by this standard, the "ethos of modern institutions, including the deference to the authority of ‘experts' and to bureaucratic criteria, acts as a barrier to the flourishing of virtuous, and, in particular, Christian practices." Rowland concludes with a critique of capitalist economic practices, which she reads in the light of MacIntyre's "Aristotelian-Marxism"--an approach Rowland sees as convergent with John Paul II's emphasis on the "subjective dimension" of human labor as an intransitive activity whereby humans "participate in the transcendentals."
M. Cathleen Kaveny's "Living the Fullness of Ordinary Time: A Theological Critique of the Instrumentalization of Time in Professional Life" offers a similar critique of the account of time embodied in the practices of the legal profession (and of the "much broader capitalist culture"). While the method of calculating fees on the basis of arbitrary time increments (the "billable hour") is relatively new in the legal profession, the almost universal adoption of this method has quickly established an ethos in which "time's value is purely instrumental; it is a commodity with an identifiable price; it is fungible . . . and it is often experienced . . . as an endless, colorless extension." The Church's liturgy, on the other hand, offers an "integrated set of resources" for challenging the "hegemony" of the billable hours mentality, inasmuch as it embodies an account of time that resists. . . the account dominant in the legal profession," thus fostering a personal and social integration that the billable hours mentality frustrates.
In "Habits of Holiness: The Ordering of Moral-Mystical Living," James Keating and David M. McCarthy argue, like Kaveny, for an integration of the moral virtues, participation in the mystery of Christ, and the ordinariness of the everyday. "Practices precede virtue," even as practices cannot be sustained without virtue; for the same reason, there is no dichotomy between the moral virtues and the theological virtues, but a single "moral-mystical call" mediated by, and sustained within, the practices of the Church and its sacramental life. Holiness is to be found, within, not apart from, the "day-to-day activity of . . . work and its institutional context."
The remaining articles mark anniversaries of figures who, like Newman and de Lubac, are of continuing significance for Church and culture. Outstanding among these is Nicholas of Cusa (1401-1464), the sexcentenary of whose birth we celebrate this year. Peter Casarella's "Cardinal Nicholas of Cusa: An Introduction" recalls to our attention this fifteenth-century churchman who offered a "uniquely Christian approach to speculative reason" that von Balthasar could compare to that of St. Thomas Aquinas. Pope John Paul II's "Letter on the Occasion of the 600-year Anniversary of the Birth of Nicholas of Cusa" presents Cusanus as a "great figure of the Church" whose ecclesial sense was reflected in his speculative enterprise: "God, who has fully revealed himself in Jesus Christ, was from the beginning the central axis, as it were, of Cusanus' reflection. Two focal points emerge in the ellipse of his philosophical and theological efforts: the trinitarian God and Jesus Christ, the incarnate Son."
In "Why We Need Nicholas of Cusa," Hans Us von Balthasar shows how Cusanus "affords us the rare opportunity of becoming acutely conscious of human thought as a unity." The "reward for Nicholas of Cusa's superhuman speculative effort" is precisely the "ability to gather up humanity's greatest thoughts about God and, by exceeding them, to justify them all." It is because of "this immense, truly unique passion for the idea of God which he sustained throughout his life," Balthasar argues, that we need Cusanus today.
Retrieving the Tradition also recalls anniversaries: the 25th anniversary of the death of scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi (1891-1976) and the 100th of the birth of political philosopher Eric Voegelin.
Polanyi's "Faith and Reason," originally a review of Josef Pieper's Scholasticism, offers a concise sketch of Polanyi's own account of "personal knowledge." Knowing, Polanyi argues, is comprehension--a grasp of the whole within a tacit "dwelling in" the particulars that constitute it by a kind of extension of our embodied consciousness. The resulting convergence of what Polanyi calls the "personal" and the "objective" dimensions of knowledge secures the "close similarity of . . . structure" between faith and reason. "The discoverer," Polanyi concludes, "works in the belief that his labors will prepare his mind for receiving a truth from sources over which he has no control. I regard the Pauline scheme therefore as the only adequate conception of scientific discovery."
The two pieces by Eric Voegelin shed light on his conception of the fundamental contrast between order and disorder. In "Why Philosophize? To Recapture Reality!," Voegelin notes that the "methodologically first, and perhaps most important, rule of my work is to go back to the experiences that engender symbols." The fundamental experience is the "consciousness of existential tension" towards the "divine ground." By the same token, "[t]urning toward, and turning away from, the ground become the fundamental categories descriptive of the states of order and disorder in human existence." In "Order and Disorder," Voegelin reflects on the ideological nature of the "turning away" from the divine ground of existence. In modern ideologies, in fact, "the state of alienation, rather than the state of existence in tension toward the divine ground, is used as the experiential basis for understanding. . . . One cannot revolt against God without revolting against reason and vice versa."
In Notes and Comments, Philip Mango, a psychotherapist and Jazz trumpeter in New York City, finds the aspiration for infinity that marks man as a God-seeker in the work two Jazz masters, both born 75 years ago, whom he commemorates in the spirit of Communio's ongoing dialogue with contemporary culture: trumpeter Miles Davis (1926-1991) and saxophonist John Coltrane (1926-1967). "The lasting power of such works as Miles' ‘Kind of Blue' and Coltrane's ‘A Love Supreme,'" Mango writes, "is due . . . to these artists' radical commitment to artistic authenticity and their openness to God's inspiration."
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