Friday, April 29, 2016

Friday BookReview: "Bonds of Affection" by Matthew Holland

(first published July 6, 2012)

"We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies..."
                         (John Winthrop, governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony)

Some excerpts from a review by Dr. Pence of BONDS OF AFFECTION:

With most thinkers, Matthew Holland does not find eros in political life but neither does he build civic bonds on the philia of fraternal friendship. When he says 'civic charity' he means a civic life animated by agape -- that distinctive Christian love that "includes concern for another's standing before God even when others mean us harm." This of course has implications for how we treat our enemies and our fellow citizens...

Professor Holland finds agape informing the language and political goals of American leaders for two centuries by studying several key authors and texts: John Winthrop ("A Model of Christian Charity," 1630); Thomas Jefferson (rough draft of the "Declaration of Independence," 1776, and his "First Inaugural Address," 1801); and Abraham Lincoln ("Second Inaugural," 1865). Holland takes seriously Christian charity as a realistic way to deal with public life. He convincingly argues, that for both Lincoln and Jefferson, it was the realistic crucible of office which forged a deeper sensibility of the necessity of the bonds of charity in civic life. Holland's treatment of Jefferson is especially careful. Holland does not play the Christian alchemist turning Enlightenment rights into Christian love, but he reminds us that even the most rights-oriented of Jefferson's writings ends with a bond: "we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor." Holland reminds us this was no idle pledge. To secure that bond, one out of every hundred Americans lost their lives.
Jefferson Memorial

If Holland finds "bonds to the death" where others only found rights, he also finds analogical political forms in the New Testament where others tend to look for political narrative in the Old Testament alone. He quite rightly locates the sacrificial duties of soldiers in a pivotal moment in the Christian narrative -- Christ's Last Supper when he commands mimesis [imitation] and then sets out to lay down his life for his friends. Christian military men have always seen this obvious link -- political scientists almost never do. This is one of the great strengths of the book: Holland is both attentive to religious sensibilities and appreciative of military sacrifice. In fact, quite unlike the pagan warrior crowd, he shows that the patriotism of soldiers and the sacrificial love of agape are interlocking constituents of civic charity...

Here are four important ideas I learned... I may have heard variants on these ideas before, but Holland's charity theme clarifies and deepens the political union of men as fellow citizens:

1) All men possess rights but the point is to exercise them. This can only be done if we secure rights; and this is done by entering into a bond of agreement -- for this, we institute governments. No agreement, no rights. No civic love, no individual liberty. Possessing rights might be universal but exercising rights only occurs where rights have been secured by forming a real government in some time and place. Because of evil in the world this can only happen when men pledge their lives to protect these liberties. This is not a contract calculation by an individual, but an entry into a community of shared affections pledging personal honor and lives to each other and a new corporate entity.

2) Secular tyranny does not fear religion because it separates people but because it might unite us. Holland taught this by reminding us of Tocqueville's insight: "A despot will forgive his subjects that they do not love him as long as they do not love each other."

3) Lincoln's 1838 speech to the young men in the Springfield Lyceum was about giving up hatred and passions by living inside the law. Men must be united by civic affection to governance as well as each other. I was newly struck in that speech (having read it at least twice before) how much Lincoln felt he had to deal with men's hatred. Thus his language is built on authority and affection more than rights. At the Lyceum, Holland emphasizes that Lincoln does not soothe, but is demanding of the assembled young men. See the brave acts of the ancestors -- you benefit from this but as of yet you have done nothing to continue their work. (If only leaders, especially so-called conservatives, would so speak to young men at our elite universities and think-tanks with such demands.)

4) Here is Holland's eloquent description of political prudence in Lincoln: "To do this effectively meant for Lincoln assiduously gathering facts, contemplating history, anticipating implication, working out an argument against its best counterattack, and allowing time, circumstance, public promotion and private negotiation to settle things into a workable solution. His self-chosen metaphor was pilots on a western river who knew they wanted to get downstream but only steered from point to point as they could see, which was often not far."

[Professor Holland also provides] a powerful and sympathetic treatment of the much-neglected, but most important, novel in American history: Uncle Tom's Cabin.

    John Winthrop, who died in 1649, served as governor for twelve years

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Christian Realism: Christianity and Civilization, NOT the West against the Rest

Mankind is engaged in a continual struggle to live in ordered communities under God. The spread of Christianity nourished the 18th and 19th century epiphany of nations leading to Woodrow Wilson’s 20th century advocacy for the self-determination of all peoples and nations against empire, tyranny, and the disorder of statelessness. History has a direction and a Director. There are certain forms which manifest the deepest communal order of the Trinity and build toward the culminating communal order of humanity as the Body of Christ. Every people and nation has some role to play in this unfolding of Providence. We have argued that Christian intellectuals and American foreign policy must free themselves from the lifeless paradigm of the West as a larger entity that we should defend. We don’t accept the temporal scheme that names the century which crowned Reason the sovereign over religion as an age of "Enlightenment." Nor do we advocate the spatial shrinking of worldwide Christendom and the erasure of particular nations in some entity called "the West." One of our favorite critiques of the "Grand Narrative of the West" was Plato to Nato by David Gress published in 1998. He critiques the post-WWII narrative of the West as distorting the earlier narrative (what he calls the 'Old West') which synthesized the Christian Religion and freedom tradition of German warriors. The university professors who crafted the post-WWII narrative of the West had little time for serious religion. and no time for Germanic warriors in their new tale. Greek philosophers and intellectuals replaced the priest/warrior archetypes of the old synthesis. Andrew Lynch reviews the book here. A few excerpts:
Gress writes: “The liberal Grand Narrative produced a Western identity that was modern, secular, and liberal and that rested on an imaginary direct line connecting the modern West to the ancient Greeks, an imaginary line from Plato to NATO, in which everything in between formed an orderly sequence culminating in liberal modernity.” 
Gress laments the derivative way in which the Grand Narrative treated religion, valuable only insofar as it spoke in favor of human dignity, rights, and equality. If Christianity were given any positive treatment, it would only be insofar as it supported the soft virtues of kindness and generosity and defending the rights of individuals. Proponents of the Grand Narrative generally treated religion as a hindrance to progress and therefore could not see Christianity’s contribution to the work of the Greeks and Romans.

If Christianity was overlooked in the Grand Narrative, the Germanic contribution to the “Old Western Synthesis” has been forgotten altogether. For Gress, “the West” is “truly defined” by “the ancient philosopher, the Christian priest, and the Germanic warrior.” The Germanic contribution to “the West” was popular for many years, especially among the WASPs. It was even held by some that the Germano-Aryan-Caucasian warrior must have comprised the majority of Greeks and Romans and that marriages with “lesser races” brought about a loss of martial vigor and decline. The early Grand Narrative also cited Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote that the German chief and his warriors would gather in grand assemblies to discuss and vote on important matters. Thus from the Germans came both the strong warrior and the democratic statesman.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

CATHOLIC SOCIOBIOLOGY: Religion and Natural History -- a Catholic narrative

by Dr. David Pence

Francis Fukuyama (shown here), in the first of his two-volume work on Political Order, began by weaving the evolutionary history of primates to the development of political states.

E.O. Wilson, the world’s leading 'myrmecologist' (student of ants), is also the father of sociobiology. He, too, has sought  to base the social sciences of history and sociology in the natural sciences of evolutionary biology.

Neither man believes in God. Both are intellectually dismissive of Divine Providence WHO reveals the bond of nature and history.  Both came from backgrounds deeply entwined in Christian belief. Both men are conversationally approachable as teachers and stunning intellectuals in their fields. They are honest prodigious thinkers. But they have lost the transcendent horizon. We attempt their task informed by religion: Natural Selection and Reproductive success: Catholic Culture as the Strategy for Life.

Monday, April 25, 2016



by A. Joseph Lynch

71% of the world's surface is covered by water. The map above depicts seven geostrategic choke points along waterways that are vital links for commerce and military seafaring. Controlling access to waterways in war and peace often involves attacking or defending these chokepoints.

Despite being thousands of miles from Europe, the Strait of Malacca, for example, has been significant for European powers dating back to the Portuguese and British. The Japanese naturally sought control of the strait in December 1941. Russia looks to the Danish Straits in its north and the Bosporus to its south for its fleets from St. Petersburg and Crimea to access the open waters. Fleets from the Crimea still have to pass through either the Suez Canal and the Strait of Bab El-Mandeb if they wish to reach the Arabian Sea or through the umarked Strait of Gibraltar to enter the Atlantic. About 35% of the world's shipped oil passes through the Strait of Hormuz, making it a vital choke point for many nations' energy demands. Any conflicts between Sunni (Saudi Arabia) and Shia (Iran) will have that narrow seaway as a major military concern. Finally, the Panama Canal allows shipping to cross through central America rather than around the southern tip of South America. The canal is a vital point of communication and military sea transport for the United States Navy.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Religion and Geopolitics Review: Saturday, April 23

by Dr. David Pence and A. Joseph Lynch


THE POPE’S MESSAGE TO THE WORLD AND MUSLIMS: Bringing several Muslim refugee families from Syria to Rome with him (where a Christian community will take them in) was the Pope’s dramatic and orderly way of sending the Christian message. God does have companions, and we who are made in His image are also the companions to those who have lost their homes.

THE POPE AND CONSERVATIVE CATHOLIC INTELLECTUALS - CHARITY DOES NOT ABIDE: Alan Jacobs (a non-Catholic) concludes from the outside that for many "orthodox Catholics" Pope Francis will never get it right. He doesn't blame the Pope. There seems to be an adolescent inability of academics to show respect (much less piety) toward the men who hold or compete for positions of authority in civic and religious life. That seems true of the pristine critics of "not Catholic enough" Pope Francis, and the effete and stringent pro-life academics who shriek at the more blatantly imperfect Mr. Trump.

POPE FRANCIS AND CHINA - GETTING IT RIGHT: A good explanation of the Pope's approach to China at Foreign Affairs by Victor Gaetan.

SANDERS AND THE POPE: Bernie Sanders went to the Vatican for a conference on Centissimus Annum. Senator Sanders favors a lot in Catholic teaching that is "much more left than right," no doubt. Sanders' lifelong ideological commitment to socialism is deeply atheistic. His concept of human dignity denies the human soul and demonizes the wealthy. That is a problem. On the other hand, he is genuinely taken with the Pope and even spoke of the human soul in later remarks.

Sanders' talk at Vatican Conference.

A Brief Meeting Outside the Breakfast Room (FROM ROBERT MOYNIHAN LETTER #31 INSIDE VATICAN):
In the end, Bernie Sanders met Pope Francis, briefly.

It happened at about 6 a.m. this morning, outside the dining room of the Domus Santa Marta, where the Pope lives, and it lasted for "about five minutes," one onlooker said.

"A real honor"

Pope Francis met Bernie Sanders and his wife, Jane, briefly this morning outside the breakfast room of the Domus Santa Marta, where the Pope lives.

Bernie and his wife Janet had both been invited to be guests for the night in the Domus.

They reportedly stayed on the same floor as the Pope.

The two were seen in the reception area, carrying their own bags.

Sanders advisor Prof. Jeffrey Sachs, also a guest in the Domus for the night -- he frequently stays in the Domus when he attends conferences of the Holy See's Pontifical Academy for Social Sciences, where Bernie gave his 10-minute talk yesterday afternoon -- was also present nearby, and estimated that the meeting lasted "for five minutes."

There are no photos of the meeting.

"We had an opportunity to meet with him this morning," Sanders told Ken Thomas of the Associated Press later in the morning. "It was a real honor for me, for my wife and I to spend some time with him. I think he is one of the extraordinary figures not only in the world today but in modern world history."

Sanders said it was a brief meeting. "I told him that I was incredibly appreciative of the incredible role that he is playing in this planet in discussing issues about the need for an economy based on morality, not greed.”
Robert Royal at The Catholic Thing is not happy with Socialism at the Vatican.



THE SAUDIS, ISRAEL, AND EGYPT:  Israel was in on the transfer of islands - watch the choke points.

IF YOU CAN'T RUN FOR PRESIDENT - BE A SENATOR AND SAVE US FROM THE SAUDIS: Senator Rand Paul and Democrat Chris Murphy join to start putting limits on the Saudi arms bazaar. This is one way to begin disengaging ourselves from the religious persecution of Yemen's Shiiites and begin a true reappraisal of our alliance with the Wahabbis.

More good news from the Senate - Al Franken and Ted Cruz on the same side of an important initiative against the Kingdom.

SAUDI ARABIA AND THE MUSLIM BROTHERHOOD: While Wahhabi-led Saudi Arabia and the Muslim Brotherhood share an "Islamist" outlook, there are several essential differences between them that made them rivals. The Muslim Brotherhood is much less kin and tribe-oriented, allowing many more men social recognition and opportunities for leadership. The MB has an emphasis on Jerusalem as a Holy City rivaling Mecca. The MB is willing to make alliances with non-Muslim groups in order to create states in which they are free to pray and teach. This article is an invaluable historical explanation of this important divide in the Sunni world.

THINKING THEOLOGICALLY ABOUT THE LAND OF ISRAEL AND THE THEOLOGICAL IMPORT OF TERRITORIAL CIVIC BONDS: From the new Providence magazine (devoted to Christianity and American foreign policy), an article on A new Christian Zionism:
The Land continued to be at the heart of the biblical story: “Of all the promises made to the patriarchs it was that of the land that was the most prominent and decisive.”[viii] Elmer Martens estimated that eretz (land) is the fourth most frequent noun or substantive in the Hebrew Bible, and is more dominant statistically than the covenant.[ix] By my own counting, the eretz of Israel is either directly referred to or implied more than one thousand times in Tanakh, the canon of the Hebrew Bible. Of the 250 times that covenant (b’rit) is mentioned, in 70% of those instances, 177 times, covenant is either directly or indirectly connected to the land of Israel. Of the 74 times that b’rit appears in Torah, 73% of those times, or 54, include the gift of the land, either explicitly or implicitly. According to the Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, “Next to God himself, the longing for land dominates all others [in the Hebrew Bible].”[x] In other words, when the biblical God calls out a people for himself, he does so in an earthy way, by making the gift of a particular land an integral aspect of that calling.
"SCIENCE" TAKES A GUESS AT WHEN THE BIBLE WAS WRITTEN: This paper was published in a reputable scientific journal purporting to offer a possible dating for biblical texts based on literacy rates among Jews about 600 BC. From a few inscriptions, they deduce that five different people wrote them and posited that most forts had maybe 30 soldiers and, so, there was a high rate of literacy. Written texts need high literacy rates they tell us. (No one knows who made up that rule). Thus, one possible time of Bible authorship was 600 BC. This is called reasoning from empirical evidence. This is actually more coherent than some of the wild theories that can spring from discovering a broken shard in an old village site. If only theologians would look with a sense of humor and common sense at some of these "social science studies." They would not be so cowed by the conceits of Modern Science.


WHEN ALLIES (LEANING ON AMERICA) PICK FIGHTS WITH THEIR BIGGER NEIGHBORS: Pat Buchanan on dangers of war with entangling alliances. Why they endanger our future by precipitating possible wars and precluding new relationships with more significant actors.

CHINA, ASIAN NATIONS, AND THE SOUTH CHINA SEA: A review of the present alignment of forces.

POKING RUSSIA; POKING BACK: Build up in Baltic Sea by U.S. and saber rattling by Russia - A new policy desperately needed. Are they buzzing our ship or is our warship in the Baltic Sea menacing their port of Kaliningrad?

UNDERSTANDING RUSSIA: A critic of American Conservative writer Rod Dreher suggested to him that he did not understand Russia. Dreher often joins in the mainline criticism of Putin as a bully or thug. Mr. Dreher was intellectually honest enough to highlight these resources which his critic suggested.
1. "Casino Moscow" by Andrew Brezinski (Zbigniew Brzezinski's nephew who dropped a ‘z’ from his surname). It’s about his time as a reporter in Russia during the Yeltsin Era, where he saw upfront the insanity that accompanied the plundering of the country, including by Nemtsov.

2. "Godfather of the Kremlin – Boris Berezovsky and the looting of Russia" by Paul Klebnikov. Here you’ll learn about the building of the oligarchy during that era, and how men like Berezovsky used the Chechen Mafia to eliminate rivals through bombings and assassinations. Klebnikov, a writer for Forbes magazine, paid for this book with his life, as even the UK Telegraph accuses Berezovsky of ordering the hit.
EUROPEAN OFFICIAL REPENTS: Maybe it isn't all Islamophobia. The new German Right. Here are paragraphs about two thinkers who are replacing the guilt-ridden German post-WWII social consensus. The German nation will rise again. Will it be within a Christian sensibility? This will not happen if a concern for thymos and love of nation is left to a godless intellectual right. Germany has already lived that story. A major cultural problem is that so much of the paid Catholic hierarchy is besot with the gender ideology of feminism and homosexuality. The very large homosexual subculture among Catholic clergy is matched by the state-paid Lutherans, except they are open and flagrant in their profanation. For now, the young men in German streets looking for the nation as a sacred disciplined covenant will not find it among Church men.
AfD intellectual, Marc Jongen, who is a former assistant of the well-known philosopher Peter Sloterdijk. Jongen has not only warned about the danger of Germany’s “cultural self-annihilation”; he has also argued that, because of the cold war and the security umbrella provided by the US, Germans have been forgetful about the importance of the military, the police, warrior virtues—and, more generally, what the ancient Greeks called thymos (variously translated as spiritedness, pride, righteous indignation, a sense of what is one’s own, or rage), in contrast to eros and logos, love and reason. Germany, Jongen says, is currently “undersupplied” with thymos. Only the Japanese have even less of it—presumably because they also lived through postwar pacifism.

Sloterdijk has distanced himself from Jongen’s self-declared “avant-garde conservatism.” But the “psycho-political” perspective Jongen adopts is one of Sloterdijk’s philosophical trademarks. In his 2006 volume Rage and Time, in which he also takes his cues from Nietzsche, Sloterdijk argued that in the West thymos had been largely forgotten because of the dominance of eros in consumer capitalism, with the result that envy and resentment dominate the inner lives of citizens. He echoed Francis Fukuyama’s argument in his The End of History and the Last Man that pacified liberal democracies generally fail to find a proper place for “thymotic energies,” and Sloterdijk has said explicitly that, in confrontations with Islam, the West needs to rediscover the role of thymos. Just like Jongen, who criticizes the EU for being “post-thymotic.”

Friday, April 22, 2016

Friday BookReview: tribute to Fr. Alexander Schmemann

Father Schmemann and wife visiting with Solzhenitsyn

From a 2001 essay of appreciation by 'First Things' editor Father Richard Neuhaus:

Father Alexander Schmemann (1921-1983) is one of the very important people in my life. It is not simply that he helped form some of my ideas, especially about liturgy, or gave me a feel for realities about which I knew little, such as Orthodoxy. He was a great spirit; he lived robustly; he had a confident but not corrosive disdain for the banalities of fashionable thought. He was older and more cosmopolitan than I. He was fun to be with, and one left every meeting with the sense that life could be more, and the resolve to let it be so.

As a young man I first encountered Fr. Schmemann through his books, especially For the Life of the World, Of Water and the Spirit, and The Historical Road of Eastern Orthodoxy (all published by St. Vladimir’s Press). Later we would occasionally share the platform at ecumenical conferences, but I did not get to know him well until the days in Connecticut that produced "The Hartford Appeal for Theological Affirmation" of 1975. After that, I cherished Fr. Alexander as a friend and we would occasionally get together for lunch when he had business in the city, although not often enough, at least in my view. At our last lunch, on Lexington near 60th, not long before his final illness, he noted with disapproval the anorexic waitresses and expatiated engagingly on why the fashions of androgyny are part and parcel of the propensity for abstraction that is the fatal flaw of Western culture. I found the argument entirely convincing. There was for Fr. Alexander no divide between the sacred and secular, between the subjects of, for instance, unisex fashions and baptismal grace. Reality was all of a piece, and all charged with the presence and promise of Christ. In his case Tom Wolfe’s phrase applies: He was a man in full. Or so he seemed, and so he seems, to me.

St. Vladimir’s has now published The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann, 1973-1983. It is a big book of some 350 pages and, after I had finished reading it, I wished for more. Much of it is very intimate, and there is always the matter of the ethics of publishing a private journal. But his wife Juliana (the beloved “L.” who appears on almost every page, Liana being the diminutive of her name) made the right decision in translating the journals from the Russian and French and putting them into book form... 

Russian Orthodoxy in the U.S. he found incorrigibly quarrelsome. “The function of a quarrel is in allowing people to feel principled, to serve the cause, i.e., to feel alive. . . . And free time can be filled with a quarrel. The law of émigré life: those who don’t like to quarrel organize balls and can also keep busy—endlessly—reconciling those who quarrel. And those who enjoy quarrels quarrel! But the function of both is the same.” He writes, “I mainly feel like a stranger in the midst of the typically Russian ‘cozy’ atmosphere of the Church: Russian piety, complete self-assurance, the absence of any anxiety, any doubt, any questioning..." 

Again and again, he returns to what is intellectually and culturally stifling in Orthodoxy. “To change the atmosphere of Orthodoxy, one has to learn to look at oneself in perspective, to repent, and if needed, to accept change, conversion. In historic Orthodoxy, there is a total absence of criteria for self-criticism. Orthodoxy defined itself: against heresies, against the West, the East, the Turks, etc. Orthodoxy became woven with complexes of self-affirmation, an exaggerated triumphalism: To acknowledge errors is to destroy the foundations of true faith.” On December 23, 1976, after a series of difficult meetings at the seminary, Fr. Alexander writes: “My point of view is that a good half of our students are dangerous for the Church—their psychology, their tendencies, a sort of constant obsession with something..." 

A year earlier he had written: “What used to be an organic, natural style became stylization, spiritually weak, harmful. The main problem of Orthodoxy is the constraint due to style, and its inability to revise it; a prevalent absence of self-criticism, of checking the tradition of the elders by Tradition, by love of Truth. A growing idolatry.” Seminarians and clergy, he said, wear their cassocks and beards as an armor against life and thought... 

Fr. Alexander had a somewhat grudging admiration for the energy and vision of John Paul II, but doubted that he could reverse the “collapse” of Catholicism following the Second Vatican Council. November 24, 1980: “According to human reasoning, the whole of our Orthodoxy hasn’t got a chance. If the Pope cannot cope, what about us? So, to worry about the Church that so obviously does not want to be saved by my recipes, by our recipes, is sinful in the final analysis: It comes from pride. For God has chosen what is totally meaningless and worthless” (1 Corinthians 1:26ff.). A month earlier, he notes that it is only in the Liturgy that things come together: “I become filled with disgust for the role I have been playing for decades. I have fear and apprehension at having to immerse myself in the affairs of the seminary and the Church. I feel that everybody around me knows what to do and how and what for, but I only pretend to know. In fact, I don’t know anything; I am not sure of anything; I am deceiving myself and others. Only when I serve the Liturgy am I not deceitful. And I will say it again: all of life flows out of—and is connected with—the Liturgy! I feel a collapse of any energy—especially spiritual. I would like to leave!”...

The regularly recurring periods of dissatisfaction are just as regularly broken, usually by the Liturgy. February 25, 1974: “‘Clean Monday’—first day of Great Lent. I spent Saturday and yesterday in Endicott, New York. Joyful impression from the services and the people. After days of inner rebellion, such a clear indication: stop rebelling, there is nowhere to go. The Church is your body and blood; you are wedded to the Church through your priesthood”...

Among his greatest frustrations, and satisfactions, was his relationship with Alexander Solzhenitsyn. During the years of the Cold War, Fr. Alexander’s sermons were broadcast into the Soviet Union by Radio Liberty, making him an enormously popular figure in Russia. Solzhenitsyn was a great fan, and when he was exiled in 1974, one of the first things he did was to ask Fr. Alexander to visit him in Zurich, his temporary home. In the following years, Fr. Alexander was often with Solzhenitsyn, including a long drive up to the Ottawa Valley of Canada in search of a place to establish a “piece of Russia” in the West, which turned out to be in Vermont. On that first visit, he and Solzhenitsyn were alone for a few days in a mountain cottage forty minutes outside Zurich. “S. is obviously a Russian intelligent. No comfort, no armchair, no closet. Everything reduced to a strict minimum. His clothes are those he wore when he came out of Russia. Some sort of cap, officer’s boots. ‘I have so many questions’—our conversation is prepared, he has a list of questions.” Upon Fr. Alexander’s return from Zurich, June 17, 1974: “Only much later will I be able to sum up what were these most significant days of my life.”

The friendship with Solzhenitsyn was often rocky. Solzhenitsyn was single-minded, obsessed, and something of a fanatic, although Fr. Alexander does not use that word. He unceasingly defended Solzhenitsyn publicly from his many detractors. His private thoughts were frequently very different. January 10, 1975: “The rapport with Solzhenitsyn made obvious for me our essential difference. For him there is only Russia. For me, Russia could disappear, die, and nothing would change in my fundamental vision of the world. ‘The image of the world is passing.’ This tonality of Christianity is quite foreign to him.” “I know that S. himself does not hesitate to offend people right and left in the rudest manner. I personally think that to defend him would be to tell him the truth. I really do not want to take part in that struggle. . . . As for Solzhenitsyn, I will defend what I heard through his creative art, but I remain free of his ideology, which for me is quite foreign.” March 4: “I am thinking about Solzhenitsyn and his idolizing obsession with Russia.”

In May, after just the two of them had spent every hour together for four days, Fr. Alexander reflects on the words of Jesus, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” He writes of Solzhenitsyn: “His treasure is Russia and only Russia; mine is the Church. He is devoted to his treasure in a way that none of us is devoted to ours. His faith, I think, will move mountains, while ours—mine in any case—will not. . . . A great man! In the obsession with his vocation, his mission, in the total identification with it—without doubt a great man. Truly, out of him flows strength!” Then this insight on the chemistry, so to speak, between them: “In these days spent with him, I had the feeling that I was the older brother dealing with a child, capricious and even spoiled, who will not ‘understand’—so better for me to give in (‘you are older, so give in!’) for the sake of peace, agreement, and in the hope that ‘he might grow up and understand.’ I am a student from a higher grade dealing with a younger one for whom one needs to simplify, with whom one has to speak 'at his level.'"
Russian Cathedral of Paris

Fr. Alexander and I discussed whether he had ever thought of becoming Roman Catholic. As a young man in Paris, he said, he mused about it, but it probably had more to do with Paris being a city of the Catholic West than with the Catholic West. My impression is that there was never a serious wrestling with the question, as in a crisis, although he drew deeply on the Catholic theology that informed the Second Vatican Council. In these journals of his mature years, interest in Western Christianity is very limited. He was intensely engaged ecumenically—lecturing and consulting everywhere, it seems—but these were travels in another country. Catholicism, especially in its Jesuit expression, he found distasteful for its preoccupation with rules, whether in enforcing them or breaking them. He cites favorably this from Leon Bloy: “It seems to me that St. Ignatius’ Exercises correspond to the ‘Method’ of Descartes. Instead of looking at God, one looks at oneself. . . . Psychology invented by Jesuits: a method consisting in continually looking at oneself in order to avoid sin. It is contemplating evil instead of contemplating goodness. The devil substituting for God. This seems to be the genesis of modern Catholicism.”

In 1976 he lectures for eight days at the Lutheran seminary in Chicago. “In all our conversations with students and professors I am struck by their unconscious tendency to follow fashion, to achieve success. They seem to need to ‘dress like everybody else’—the same in theology.” A few days later, he lectures at the Liturgical Institute of Valparaiso University, another Lutheran center. This moves him to try to formulate the difference between Orthodoxy and Western Christianity. “Put simply: the Orthodox man begins with the ‘end,’ with the experience, the breakthrough, the very reality of God, the Kingdom, Life—and only afterwards does he clarify it, but in relation to the experience he has had. The Western man rationally arrives at and evokes the ‘end’ from a series of premises. The Orthodox often expresses that ‘end’ quite poorly in theology. For the Westerner, the end somehow disappears, is diluted in elaborate constructions. (I need to express this problem better.)”

A year later, March 15, 1977: “Religion needs a temple, not the Church. The temple’s origin is religion. Thus in the Gospel: ‘I will destroy this temple. . . .’ The Church has a Christian origin. However, our Church has identified itself long ago with the ‘temple,’ has dissolved itself in the temple, and (this means) has returned to the pagan temple as its religious sanction. Protestantism was an attempt to save the faith, to purify it from its religious reduction. But the Protestants have paid a heavy price for denying eschatology and replacing it with personal individual salvation; and therefore, essentially, denying the Church. The greatest anachronism, on a natural level, was to be found in the Catholic Church. Catholicism was possible only while one was able to deny and limit the freedom of the person, the basic dogma of the new times. While trying to change its course, to merge with freedom, Catholicism simply collapsed, and I do not see how its revival could be possible (unless fascism can get hold of the human race and deny the explosive synthesis of freedom and the person).” Packed into that paragraph are, I believe, Fr. Alexander’s core convictions about Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Protestantism, and they reward reflection, whatever one’s ecclesial allegiance...

April 6, 1977, and he has been reading about courses in Great Western Ideas: “It would be useful to teach a course entitled ‘Great Western Errors,’ following approximately this plan: Rousseau and ‘Nature,’ with a capital N; The Enlightenment and ‘Reason,’ capital R; Hegel and ‘History,’ capital H; Marx and ‘Revolution,’ capital R; and finally, Freud and ‘Sex,’ capital S—realizing that the main error of each is precisely the capital letter, which transforms these words into an idol, into a tragic pars pro toto.” The protest of Fr. Alexander’s life and thought was against the closures of totalism—whether political and ideological totalism, as in totalitarianism, or the total explanations proposed by theology or philosophy. Only Christ is total, he insisted, and Christ is unlimited openness.

In February 1979, Fr. Alexander is entranced by the appalling fanaticism of Ayatollah Khomeini in Iran, and at the same time thinking about John Paul II’s visit to New York. “So at the end of the twentieth century, here is the power of religion! What else could mobilize so many millions of people; provoke such expectation, such enthusiasm? The power, and, at the same time, the ambiguity of the Ayatollah; not one word about love, peace, the transcendence in God of all petty divisions. And the threat of a holy war. The Pope, in a sense, speaks only about love. Frightening face of Islam . . . hence, this Khomeini in the end will give nothing to his people (who are so happy with him) except grief, hate, and suffering. Whereas from the Pope’s visit, only joy, only hope—even if nothing comes of it.” And in the end Fr. Alexander suspected that not much would come of it—for the renewal of Catholicism, of the West, of the world.

Later that year, in October, he is lecturing at the Catholic Union in Chicago. He comments on the determinedly fashionable Jesuits and Franciscans, other priests and nuns, all in glaringly multi-colored lay clothing, all demonstrating that they are “with it,” and all quite indifferent to the renewal for which the Pope is calling. He reflects that in 1870, when infallibility was defined, there was the schism of the Old Catholics. “But at that time, the great majority of theologians were ultramontane and the schism was hardly noticed. Whereas now, it is not just a majority but theology as a whole, the whole thought in Catholicism that is against the monolith, against the papacy as it is now. After only a week of the unheard of triumph of the Pope and the papacy [during the New York visit], these Jesuits and nuns look and behave as if ‘nothing was the matter,’ as if all of it had nothing to do with them. They are not even angry, or sad, or hopeless.” On the one hand, the spiritual resurgence led by the Pope; on the other, the complacent progressivism of the Catholic theological establishment. One or the other would prevail, thought Fr. Alexander, leading to a schism that would make 1870 pale by comparison...                                
                          (Jesuit priest Daniel Berrigan, constantly in "prophetic" overdrive, epitomized the 1960s)

Then, on October 13, 1977, perhaps as succinct a statement of Fr. Alexander’s theology as is to be found: “I realized that ‘theologically’ I have one idea—the eschatological content of Christianity, and of the Church as the presence in this world of the Kingdom, of the age to come—this presence as the salvation of the world and not escape from it. The ‘world beyond the grave’ cannot be loved, cannot be looked for, cannot be lived by. Whereas the Kingdom of God, if one tastes it, be it a little, cannot be not loved! Once you love it, you cannot avoid loving all creation, created to reveal and announce the Kingdom. This love is already transfigured. Without the Kingdom of God being both the beginning and the end, the world is a frightening and evil absurdity. But without the world, the Kingdom of God is incomprehensible, abstract, and in some way absurd.”

In the afterword to the journals, Fr. John Meyendorff, Fr. Alexander’s successor as dean of St. Vladimir’s, writes that Fr. Alexander’s theological worldview was essentially shaped during the Paris years, and under the influence of Catholic thinkers such as Jean Danielou and Louis Bouyer. “It is from that existing milieu,” writes Fr. Meyendorff, “that Father Schmemann really learned ‘liturgical theology,’ a ‘philosophy of time,’ and the true meaning of the ‘paschal mystery.’ If the legacy [of these French Catholics] was somewhat lost within the turmoil of postconciliar Roman Catholicism, their ideas produced much fruit in the organically liturgical and ecclesiologically consistent world of Orthodoxy through the brilliant and always effective witness of Fr. Schmemann.” The journals leave no doubt that Fr. Alexander was not nearly so confident of the effectiveness of his witness, and certainly had no illusions about his vision flourishing in Orthodoxy.

Throughout Fr. Alexander’s books, and especially the journals, is a running polemic against religion, as distinct from authentic Christianity centered in the revelation of God in Christ. The unspeakably tragic error, he insisted, was to think that Christianity is a subcategory of “religion,” when in fact Christ explodes from within history all human constructions of reality, religious or otherwise, thus illumining with the divine the world of which we are part. I have not gone back to check out all the books, and I never asked him about it, but it is striking that in the journals there is no reference to Karl Barth. In twentieth century theology, that running polemic that pits Christ against religion is most closely associated with Barth. One wonders if there was not some significant influence, or, quite possibly, Fr. Alexander arrived at these insights on his own. He clearly had no use for the proponents of “religionless Christianity” who had their fifteen minutes in the 1960s, but he just as clearly wanted to distance Christ and Christianity from what he viewed as the stifling habits and thought forms of “religion.” Even “piety” is regularly dismissed as a distortion, and he rails against those who came to confession with all sorts of complicated “spiritual problems.” (He spent endless hours hearing confessions, and hated it.) His answer to the scrupulous and the spiritually self-preoccupied was, “Live!” Which is to say, his answer was, “Christ!” Although Barth is not mentioned, and maybe was never seriously read, Fr. Alexander’s thought was, in important respects, strikingly Barthian. Barthianism with a real Church and a real Liturgy...

After walking by the Seine in Paris: “Europe’s dream is ending; its ground is breaking. Europe is becoming a pitiful caricature of America, unable to become the ‘original,’ but an imitation denying its own originality. . . . The real France wants to become America. America does not want to become Europe, therefore it is genuine, whereas Europe is steadily losing its genuine character.” He admires the simplicity of a presidential inauguration (Jimmy Carter’s) and the peaceful transfer of power. “But what delights me is America, its deep essence, America which has found—alone in the whole world—a formula, almost miraculous, of government and society not turned into idols, but combining living tradition with life. I thought again of Solzhenitsyn: Here is what he should look at, research, humbly learn from. But no! only they can teach the world from under the rubble, only they know! Neither S. nor, in general, Europeans will ever try to understand.”

But then there is the American principle of equality, also between the sexes. “In that sense, our culture is demonic, for at its basis is comparison. Since comparison always, mathematically, leads to the experience and the knowledge of inequality, it always leads to protest. Equality is based on the denial of distinctions, but since they exist, the wish for equality calls to fight them, to force equalization on people, and, what is even worse, to refuse these distinctions, which are the essence of life. The person—man or woman—who hungers for equality is already emptied and impersonal because a personality is made of what distinguishes it from others and not submitted to the absurd law of equality. To the demonic principle of comparison, Christianity opposes love. . . . Equality cannot exist in this world because the world was created by love and not by principles. And the world thirsts for love and not equality.” At another place: “Man looks for rules; a woman knows exceptions. But life is a continuous exception to rules. Wherever there is genuine life, there reigns not a rule but an exception. Man fights for rules. Woman has a living experience of the exception.”

Another afternoon in the confessional: “Students’ confessions. Always sex. I am beginning to think that this sin is useful; otherwise they would consider themselves saintly and plunge into guruism. As it is, they are half convinced [of their spiritual achievements]. So this sting in the flesh is useful. It cuts us down to size.” He could not work up in himself the outrage against homosexuality that some thought appropriate, but it seemed to him very sad. “The question is not at all whether it is natural or unnatural, since this question is generally inapplicable to fallen nature, in which—and this is the point—everything is distorted, everything, in a sense, has become unnatural. . . . Homosexuality is a manifestation of the ‘thorn in the flesh’ which tortures in various ways, but tortures every one. In the fallen world nothing can be ‘normalized,’ but everything can be saved.” He reads Proust, Gide, Julien Green, and reflects on “the frightening burden of homosexuality.” “I think what matters most is the sense of a dead end, of insatiable thirst which cannot be transformed into life. At the end, there is not only a wall but a mirror. In the fallen world, everything strictly sexual is ugly, distorted, base. In a ‘normal’ human being, there is at least the possibility of transforming the ugliness and thus eliminating it. For homosexuals, this possibility, this promise, this appeal, this door—do not exist”...

I could go on, and I have. But I do hope others will want to read the journals, although perhaps not with an interest as intense as those who received the gift of knowing him personally. I am grateful that he was part of my life, and I, at least in a minor way, part of his. His son, the distinguished journalist Serge Schmemann, writes in the foreword: "Fr. Alexander was diagnosed with terminal cancer on September 21, 1982. After several months of silence in the journal, he made one final entry on June 1, 1983, describing how even those months became, in the end, almost a celebration. Six months later, he died at home in Crestwood, New York, with his family and colleagues around him. His last words, after receiving Holy Communion a day earlier, before lapsing into a coma, were ‘Amen! Amen! Amen!'"

In that final entry of June 1983, Fr. Alexander wrote, "For eight months I have not written in this journal. Not because I had nothing to say; on the contrary, never, I believe, did I have so many thoughts and questions and impressions; but because I was constantly afraid of the height where my sickness had lifted me, afraid of falling from it." There follow words of gratitude for family and friends, and then this final line of The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann:
"What happiness it has all been!"

UPDATE:  "On 30 December 1922 the Bolshevik government expelled some 160 prominent intellectuals on the so-called Philosophers' ships." 

Among the group were Orthodox Christian philosophers Sergei Bulgakov and Nikolai Berdyaev (below right), both of whom ended up living in Paris:




To situate this in time, the expulsions occurred roughly a year before Lenin died -- and a year after the birth of Alexander Schmemann (into a family of Russian émigrés in Estonia).

Check out this fascinating web-page, by the author of a book on the subject.                 

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Christian Realism & Christopher Dawson: WHAT IS CHRISTIAN REALISM?

(first published February 4, 2016)

by David Pence

AOA begins a weekly series considering thinkers in religious history and geopolitical military strategy. We will try to faithfully record and introduce thinkers such as Samuel Huntington, Francis Fukyama, Walter Russell Mead, or realists in international relations. Our goal is to engage the best thinking in international relations, military history, and geopolitical strategists with the religious/cultural/historical approach of Christopher Dawson. We understand that "realism" in international relations is a fairly well-defined school of thought. We do not concede, however, that such a spiritually nihilist materialism and Social Darwinism can ever give a true description of REALITY. There are many particular present-day events which the Darwinist professors explain very well and we want to learn from them. Their clarity makes even more striking the absence of serious Christian thinkers addressing the realities of life among the nations. There are many Catholic  intellectuals who write about the thought and aesthetics of Dawson. But Dawson worked with the material of nations, men, wars and the rise and decay of civilizations. To illuminate the interrelations of men and nations by the light of Christ necessitates knowing geography,  military history and the religious cultures  of many peoples. Dawson worked in this difficult medium -- he was a realist. His true progeny will not write about him as a thinker but will help explain  the life of nations, the history of cultural civilizations and the present purposes of war and diplomacy in terms of the unfolding of Divine Providence.  

The term "Christian Realism" has been used before to describe the thought of Reinhold Niebuhr chastising  Christian pacifists during the wars of the 20th century. Our project is not his. We are not erecting philosophical arguments for just-war theory. We believe state violence is a biblical given which raises significant moral dilemmas -- but much more of prudence than justice. All discussions of international relations must be grounded in an understanding of physical ecology, communal loyalties, military history, and biographies. But these physical realities can only be interpreted in terms of the deeper reality of our final destiny as spiritual beings. Our Catholic thinkers are long on philosophy and short on geography, military history and the spiritual role of nations. The international realists are long on the conflicts of nations and their competing interests, but blind to the spiritual nature of nations, men, and history.

Professor Dawson said it best:
"The mystery of the Incarnation is the birth of a new humanity through which man is incorporated into the unity of the Divine Body... All temporal events and all changes in culture are in some way to be related to this central reality."