Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Victor White on Converts

I wonder if there's a good book to read about converts to the Catholic faith. I don't mean a book of conversion stories, or a book about particular converts, but a book about conversion in general, in our time.

Consider the vocabulary of conversion. Sometimes a refined sense of "convert" is used for those who come from outside Christianity, while people baptized outside the Church are not said to convert but to be received into full communion. Sometimes people are said to become Catholic, to convert to Catholicism, to join or enter the Church, and so on. Each expression has a different ring to it.

I recently read two texts about conversion. One turned out to be by someone who left the Church for Orthodoxy: he claimed that nothing upsets and baffles zealous converts like the lack of ecclesial enthusiasm in people who grew up Catholic; and that nothing tires intelligent Catholics-from-infancy like the hey-look-what-I-found excitement of those same converts. These observations hold not just for energetic converts, though, but for anybody excited by faith--how could the believers be so tepid, and how could the new guy be so presumptuous?

The more interesting passage is from the English Dominican (convert) Victor White (1902-1960), quoted in the newly published Jung-White correspondence. White writes:

"The trouble for so many of us converts-in-adolescence is something awfully difficult for you cradle Catholics to understand! The trouble is that, one fine day, we find that we did  (unconsciously) pose when we became RCs. It is more a matter of culture, of our picture-of-the world, than of religion! We revolted from the whole "protestant-materialist" world and values in which we were brought up: probably threw out the baby with the bath-water. For that we substituted a beautiful, romantic "Ages of Faith" medieval world--perhaps helped by Chesterbelloc, Gill, Pepler etc. The Church was central in that pretty picture; and after playing with High Anglicanism of course we became Catholics.... Perhaps we had never had much to do with the "real" Church of the average Catholic, and we never did feel much at home in it. We found "home" in the rather exceptional Catholicism of Blackfriars, Oxford...."

White is grim, and wrote at one point at least that his faith was no longer that of Catholics--though he got over this and persevered. Still, he's got a point: there is a difference between Catholicism and the Catholic Church and faith. Even the word, Catholicism(e), is modern, a reformations-era term of identity.  (Coined, as somebody says, around the same time modern Catholic missionaries gave India's religions the name Hinduism.) 

And, for all this--so what? Is it OK to have a blog of notes and asides? Pretty boring, I guess, for other people. But maybe useful to me. Sorry to disappoint the avid millions who check this page.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

From all their afflictions

Since I'm not teaching this spring, I'm going to try to write a book on the Baianist heresy.

Whether I'll finish the Jan 14 posting on Baius remains to be seen!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Michael de Bay

One of my confreres has suggested that I write a book about Baianism, the heresy named for the 16th-century Louvain theologian Michael de Bay (a.k.a., Baius). Nobody, as far as I know, has written about Baianism since the 1800s, and that was in French and German (or Latin).

Baius was a zealous Catholic reformer steeped in the ressourcement of Renaissance classicism--in his case, more a return to patristic sources, of course, than to pagan letters. He was a man without sympathy for medieval theology or philosophy. His proposal, which ought to sound trite to everyone by now but doesn't,  was to recover the pure vigor of patristic Christianity by bypassing scholastic thought and grasping Biblical and patristic Christianity with the tools of critical scholarship. In philosophy he was apparently a less-than-reflective nominalist.

The errors that were condemned as Baianism stand in an uncertain and uneven relationship to what Baius actually wrote and taught. (This makes writing about Baianism easier, since it lets me put aside the quest for the historical Baius.) It seems to me that the 76 propositions rejected by Pope St Pius V in Ex omnibus afflictionibus (1567) can be boiled down to seven errors.

1. Baianism treats moral good and evil exclusively in terms of obedience to the will of God. There's nothing morally intelligible for us to consider in human acts themselves, such that we could conclude that an act is intrinsically or objectively good or evil. The appeal, for Baianists and others, is that this leaves God absolutely free to command whatever He wills; it also rids us of moral theology.

2. Baianism identifies the voluntary with whatever we will without external compulsion. Internal compulsion is not only A-OK, it is inevitable: everyone is a slave, either of charity or concupiscence. If God moves anyone to act in charity, He imposes the necessity of charitable action on the creature. Baius could have used St Thomas's clarification here, to distinguish between the unfailing effectiveness of God's will and it's imposition of necessity.

3. (I'll have to take this up later...)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

St Raymond of Penyafort

Tomorrow is the feast of the Dominican St Raymond of Penyafort, who was Master of the Order, outstanding as a canonist and theologian of confession, and lived to be 100. There is a marvelous second reading for the feast in the Roman office, part of a letter in which St Raymond writes:

"May you never be numbered among those whose house is peaceful, quiet, and free from care; those on whom the Lord's chastisement does not descend; those who live out their days in prosperity, and in the twinkling of an eye will go down to hell."

I like this line because it's a smack in the face to most "political theology"--and also to our (my) preference for personal peace and prospering. "Your purity of life must be made purer still," says St Raymond, "by frequent buffetings." That this is a comforting thing to hear (if you're feeling buffeted) is nice; but it also challenges the buffeted to realize that being comforted isn't enough, isn't something to set one's heart on. Instead the business of our life is purity of heart, which is the beatitude rewarded with seeing God. A comfy, lazy life doesn't purify--that's why such a life is tragic and undesirable. A life with upsets and difficulties is better, not because it is pitiable or poor (that would still be way too much about us), but because it can, with grace, purify. And that gets us ready for GOD.

Cue Handel's "Messiah," "And he shall purify..."

Life and Times

I learned yesterday that I will have the Spring 2011 semester as a kind of scholar-in-residence at the priory here in Providence. So getting my dissertation turned into a book becomes my top job. Next I mean to read Ayres new book on St Augustine, and turn out an article responding to that book with some findings from my STL work on the Tractates. Next, there's the possibility of working on the Jung-White correspondence, on recent Vatican II literature, on the evils of political theology, on historical consciousness, or even on Thomism and CL. (Tin Tin Thomisme must wait for another day!)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

What is Physical Premotion?

In this case, it's a blog title that nobody else has taken. The blog, if I keep up with it, will be about various things sub specie aeternitatis, with a special interest in the theology of grace--and, that, particularly in relation to nature.

For the record, though, physical premotion is a kind of divine causality. The root idea is that no created nature (nature=physis, hence "physical") moves unless it is moved by the First Mover. And, yes, this holds true even for creatures who move themselves to action (hence pre-motion.) An awful lot of trouble in the theology of grace comes from neglect of this principle.