Monday, November 29, 2004


Neuhaus' online column on First Things rehashes some well-trodden insights into the poverty of Trinitarian discourse and practice in the modern Church. But I still have a problem with the late emphasis on "relationality," which seems to be the only way we moderns can get our heads around the dogma. For one thing, it sounds like a convenient spin-off on object relations theory, which begs the obvious question: so what? Why is the dogma of the Trinity so necessary if its main purpose is to teach us that our individual identities are determined by our relations? The strict monotheistic Hasidic and Orthodox Jews have vibrant communities of relationality (arguably more socially "trinitarian" in practice than Christians) without the unwieldy notion of a Trinitarian God.

My question does not refer to any personal discomfort with the dogma itself. And I've had my share of readings from the renaissance of Trinitarian reflection via Zizioulas, et al. I just think we should ease off on trying to find existential relevance for every supra-rational doctrine the Church professes.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Habermasian legitimation

Haven't read Habermas since college. Amazing admission from the great atheistic social theorist on Christianity's special place in the European legacy. Amazing also that I can actually understand what he's saying.
Between the likes of Ratzinger and Habermas, naturally, the distance remains intact. Habermas defines himself as, and is, "a methodical atheist." But to read his most recent essay translated in Italy, "A Time of Transition," published by Feltrinelli and available in bookstores since mid-November, Christianity, and nothing else, is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights, and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization:

"To this day, we have no other options. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source. Everything else is postmodern chatter."

Habermas says he is "enchanted by the seriousness and consistency" of the theology of St. Thomas Aquinas, the opposite of the feeble thinking that pervades current theology:

"Thomas represents a spiritual figure who was able to prove his authenticity with his own resources. That contemporary religious leadership lacks an equally solid terrain seems to me an incontrovertible truth. In the general leveling of society by the media everything seems to lose seriousness, even institutionalized Christianity. But theology would lose its identity if it sought to uncouple itself from the dogmatic nucleus of religion, and thus from the religious language in which the community's practices of prayer, confession, and faith are made concrete."

On relations with other civilizations, Habermas maintains that "recognizing our Judaeo-Christian roots more clearly not only does not impair intercultural understanding, it is what makes it possible."

He contests modern "unbridled subjectivity," which is destined to "clash against what is really absolute; that is, against the unconditional right of every creature to be respected in its bodiliness and recognized in its otherness, as 'an image of God'."

In commenting on "You shall have no gods but me," he writes:

"From a philosophical point of view, the first commandment expresses that 'leap forward' on the cognitive level which granted man freedom of reflection, the strength to detach himself from vacillating immediacy, to emancipate himself from his generational shackles and the whims of mythical powers."

On the relationship between theology and philosophy, he observes:

"I don't resent it at all when I am accused of having inherited theological concepts. I am convinced that religious discourse contains within itself potentialities that have not yet been sufficiently explored by philosophy, insofar as they have not yet been translated into the language of public reason, which is presumed to be able to persuade anyone. Naturally, I am not talking about the neopagan project of those who want to 'build upon mythology.' Today, in the field of anti-rational postmodern criticism, these neopagan conceptual figures are back in fashion: a broad anti-Platonism carelessly spread by fashions inspired by late Heidegger and late Wittgenstein, in the sense of a definitive repudiation of the universalism that characterizes the premises of unconditional truth. I rebel against this regressive tendency of post-metaphysical thought."

He cautions against the anti-human consequences of a relativism without theology:

"The problem of how to bring salvation to those who suffer unjustly is perhaps the most important factor keeping discussion about God alive. If all the paradigms of seeing the world were equal, if the indifference so perversely widespread today took from the yes/no response of each individual's decision the seriousness that is proper to every claim of universal validity, then there must necessarily be the disappearance of the normative dimension that serves to identify the traits, seen as privations, of an unfortunate, deformed life unworthy of man."

And on the contribution of philosophy to the meeting between the Church and other religions, he says:

"In the dialogical dispute among competing religious visions there is a need for that 'culture of recognition' which draws its principles from the secularized world of the universalism of reason and law. In this matter, it is thus the philosophical spirit which provides the concepts instrumental in the political clarification of theology. But the political philosophy capable of making this contribution bears the stamp of the idea of the Covenant no less than that of the Polis. Therefore this philosophy also hearkens back to a biblical heritage."

Saturday, November 20, 2004

RIP, Gerard Bugge (Serafin)

To know someone from nothing but a weblog still seems a highly dubious idea to me. Even the title of the blog couldn't be cheesier. Yet Gerard Bugge succeeded in communicating a real personal presence through his "Catholic Blog for Lovers" and his scrapbook dedicated to the "Praise of Glory."

How many could appreciate the raw beauty, grace, and power of Eastern Orthodoxy and remain a Roman Catholic? He showed me how to remain steadfast in communion with the theological and moral Neanderthals that dominate the Catholic Church, first by reminding me I'm one of them, then by robbing me of the orientalist fantasy I projected onto the Eastern Church, and then by keeping my sights on the true fantasies to be found at the heart of Catholicism. He always held St. Blog's to a higher standard on the way we should speak of our bishops and fellow Catholics. Most of all, he showed us that the Catholic Faith is all about heart, that pulsating Presence that keeps the world humming.

May the bells of Heaven toll for thee, Gerard.