Category Archives: book review

Guardini’s “End of the modern world”

by Augustinus

A favorite book of all of post world war II Popes right up to Benedict and Francis has been Romano Guardini’s “The End of the Modern World” written by Guardini during the second world war but first published in America in 1956.  In that prophetic work Guardini goes through the list of theories concerning the modern world, as it was exemplified in the mass slaughters of the 20th century. Those slaughters were caused by the modern heresies of capitalism, communism, fascism and Islamism but Guardini argues that we cannot understand those slaughters or the modern condition with all the old theories….History is not some gradual decline from a golden age like the philosophies of India and of the ancient world contended. History is also not the narrative favored by modern liberals of gradual progress and emancipation rooted in science and technology. History is not cyclic and it is not merely a “nightmare from which I am trying to awake” as Stephen Daedelus exclaimed in James Joyce’s Ulysses. All these common understandings of where the world is going are incorrect according to Guardini. Instead the modern world we find ourselves in is in utter discontinuity with anything experienced by human beings in the past. We are as a species embarked on something completely new and there are as of yet no categories that can capture the great rupture that began in the 20th century.

Even the traditional Christian view of history will need deepening (not revision or “updating”). The Christian view of history involves a pivot point that occurred 2000 years ago in Palestine with the birth of Christ and then the scandal of the Cross and then a long period of expectant hope, based on the resurrection and the looking forward to the final revelation. While these dogmatic truths remain true in our current situation, most nominal Christian no longer believe these truths. Instead they have bought into one of the 20th century heresies. Yet it is these and other dogmatic truths of the Catholic church that will give us the categories to understand what is occurring to human beings in the modern era.

We live now, according to Guardini, in the era of the mass man; a frightening creature who knows more and more about less and less and into whose hands are concentrated enormous powers. Science has delivered Nature into the hands of the anonymous mass man-an utter mediocrity who because of the heresies he is taught in schools and via media is capable of the greatest crimes—all the while believing that he is serving “progress” or “emancipation” of some kind. A single individual infected with heresy who acts from the mass can press the button on a nuclear device or release into the air a pathogen that will annihilate hundreds of millions of people. Science and ‘democracy” and capitalism has delivered into the hands of the imbecilic mass man these and other awesome powers.

Needless to say the anonymous mass crushes true individuality and excellence which can only come about when the individual is oriented to God and Church. But Guardini does not merely catalogue the horrors of the mass man. Instead he asks what should the church do given this is what we have to work with? It as if the Church now has to develop a ministry or theology for working with autistic savants only because modern education is designed to create mere mediocrities who can nevertheless crunch numbers competently in a huge corporate or government bureaucracy. The imbecilic mass man has immense technical skills but no wisdom. Each individual is therefore a truncated individual with hypertrophied tech skills and absolutely no spiritual awareness. Or better his spiritual awareness is driven only by one of the modern heresies that accommodate the mass man: Islamism, democracy, capitalism, progressivism, liberalism or communism etc…

What happens to the church is such as mass society?  True doctrine and true belief begins to disappear. The church will need to respond to the rapid decline of true belief: “The rapid advance of a non- Christian ethos will be crucial for the Christian sensibility. As unbelievers deny revelation more decisively–as they put their denial into more frequent practice it will become more evident what it really means to be Christian…”

“Christianity will once again need to prove itself deliberately as a faith which is not self-evident; it will be forced to distinguish itself more sharply from a dominantly non-Christian ethos. At that juncture the theological significance of dogma will begin a fresh advance…I emphasize its absoluteness, its unconditional demands and affirmations. Dogma in its very nature surmounts the march of time because it is rooted in eternity….In this manner the Faith will maintain itself against animosity and danger.”

In order to withstand the onslaught of dehumanizing heresies thrown at the church from all sides the thing that will save the church is its reliance and its adherence to the ancient and ex cathedra defined dogmas. In addition, since human beings cannot live long without these life affirming dogmas the culture of the unbeliever will begin to die out. He with then flail about looking for anything but those dogmas to generate meaning and culture.

“At the same time the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will eventually cease to reap benefits from the values and forces developed by the very revelation he denies. He will have to lean to exist honestly without Christ and without the God revealed through him. He will have to learn to experience what this honesty means…The last decades (meaning the world wars) have suggested what life without Christ really is. The last decades are only the beginning…”

The modern man is really a child who nonetheless has access to nuclear weapons. So how does the church deal with this situation. The church needs to be there to offer to mass man the old dogmas thus giving him an alternative to the heresies which will only lead to mass slaughters again.

Guardini claims that aside from the horrors of mass man the phenomena of mass man points to the need for a new theology and a new ‘personalism’ that can lead mass man away from the lure of the heresies. The new person has to be born out of the mass man. Indeed mass man makes possible the birth of the new person: “The new “Person” is destined to stand forth with a spiritual resoluteness never demanded of man before. Strangely the very mass which carries the dangers of totalitarianism also offer the fullest range of spiritual maturity to the new human person. Such a challenge demands an inner freedom and strength of character which we can scarcely conceive. Nothing else however can withstand the powers of anonymity which grow more immense day by day.”

 

Review of: Benedict XVI Last Testament. In his own words with Peter Seewald

By Augustinus

Peter Seewald is a German journalist who has interviewed Pope Benedict several times and published these interviews in the past. The current book contains transcripts of interviews conducted shortly before, but mostly after the Pope’s resignation. So the questions were all designed to have the Pope emeritus look back on his life and his service to the church and thus we get Benedict’s reflective perspective on many things from Vatican II to the “Gay Lobby” scandal in the Vatican. The things he most regrets are his lifting of the excommunication on Bishop Williamson of SPXX due to the claims that the Bishop was a holocaust denier; his inability to handle the narrative the press was constructing after Vatican II and the priest sex abuse scandal that began under Pope John Paul’s reign but lingered into Pope Benedict’s reign as well. His, regrets, however, do not in any way dominate his reflections.

I always thought–and these interviews confirm for me, that the thing that most characterized Pope Benedict’s service to the church was his constant insistence that the revelation of Christ was that the GODHEAD or the deity or God was the WORD or the logos, and thus that the inner nature of Christ and Christianity was essentially reason/rationality-not just love. That was the message of Benedict’s 2006 Regensburg address which touched off fanatical muslim riots all over the world –namely that Christianity was not like other religions; that it was not a religion at all since it was so wedded to reason at its foundation…

Benedict’s parents were devout Bavarian Catholics. His father passionately opposed Hitler and subscribed to a paper/journal that was Catholic and anti-Hitler so these sentiments were passed onto to his son. His two sons went into the priesthood with the future Pope doing his dissertation on Augustine-not Aquinas. He rose rapidly through the clerical ranks becoming Bishop of Munich near his hometown in Bavaria while his theological works were attracting attention far and wide. When Vatican II arrived the future Pope became an advisor to some of the most “liberal” Bishops attending but neither he nor they thought of themselves or the council as “progressive”, “liberal” or “innovative”.  They saw themselves as re-expressing traditional positions of the Church. For example the council fathers recommended an expansion, not the elimination of Latin in the church and in the liturgy. He blames the subsequent disastrous effects of Vatican II on “progressives” outside the church who controlled media interpretations of what the council documents were otherwise saying.

“The bishops wanted to renew the faith, to deepen it. However, other forces were working with increasing strength, particularly journalists, who interpreted many things in a completely new way. Eventually people asked, yes, if the bishops are able to change everything, why can’t we all do that? The liturgy began to crumble and slip into personal preferences. Since 1965 I have felt it to be a mission to make clear what we genuinely wanted and what we did not want.” (p. 141)

but for Benedict, Vatican II was not disastrous, it was a world historical landmark for the church and the world. Its effects were not only disastrous. In the theological realm they were fruitful and revelatory. Reading these interviews, one gets the sense that Benedict’s first vocation was as a thinker and a theologian. Like every great philosopher he loved to take long walks especially walks alone. From his perspective the landmark’s in his life were not career markers like when he became Bishop, then Prefect, then John Paul’s right hand man and then Pope. No his landmarks, were his intellectual breakthroughs. The things that gave him strength despite his many and serious health issues and the crushing responsibilities of his offices was his theological work. that was how he prayed.

His explanation and description of his abdication was succinct and convincing: he was not laying down the cross associated with the papacy just the work. He could not perform the functions of a Pope given his brain hemorrhage and other very serious health issues.

Remarkably, people see this intellectual Pope as a traditionalist who opposed all things progressive and modern. While it is certainly true that he opposed all versions of the modernist heresy he did not oppose modernity per se. In these interviews he talks about the good things modernity has brought humanity including science, wealth for many, better health, global communications etc but especially the philosophical and theological insights. Like any reasonable person he wants to accept and use these good things for the betterment of humanity while opposing the well-known bad things modernity brings in its wake. its up to us to own the theological insights into the original Christian revelation that modernity gives us but no-one has yet been able to do that convincingly. There is a new world trying to be born but it has not found its midwife yet.

Do you see yourself as the last Pope of an old era?

“Between the times I would say…I don’t belong to the old world anymore, but the new world isn’t really here yet” (p. 232)

 

Review of Storck’s “From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond”

By Augustinus

Review of Thomas Storck’s “From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond: The long jagged trail to a postmodern void.” Angelico Press, Kettering OH, 2015.

Thomas Storck is a familiar name among hard identity Catholics. He has served as a contributing editor for Caelum et Terra from 1991 until the magazine closed in 1996 and the New Oxford Review from 1996 to 2006. Since 1998 he has been a member of the editorial board of The Chesterton Review. He is the author of three previous books, The Catholic Milieu (Christendom Press, 1987), Foundations of a Catholic Political Order (Four Faces Press, 1998) and Christendom and the West (Four Faces Press, 2000). The current book, under review here,”From Christendom to Americanism and Beyond” is a collection of previously published essays written for various Catholic journals over many years up to about 2015. You can read many of his excellent essays at www.thomasstorck.org

Any Catholic concerned about the current Church crisis should read Storck. In Storck you will find insights into everything from why Christendom has declined in Europe and then throughout the world; what happened at Vatican II, how Catholics should think of America; how to evaluate the 60s; Catholic social teaching, what to think of the catholic intellectual rennaissance of the early 20th century, the nature of modernity and post-modernity, the role of Church vis a vis culture, philosophy of history, political theory and what the relation should be between church and state. He is an astute observer of the political world and has a discerning eye for long term historical trends.

In “From Christendom…” we get essays on all these topics and so it is a must read for any Catholic seeking to rebuild the church and the surrounding decadent culture. In what follows I will summarize what I took away from reading these essays. My “take” on Storck’s ideas will necessarily over simplify his positions. The reader is advised to read Storck directly. But I need to summarize his positions and some of his insights so that the reader can gauge my critique of those positions. In fact I agree with most of what Storck says but will disagree on some key and very fundamental claims he makes concerning the root of the problem and the solution to the crisis.

So lets begin with Storck’s insights or claims: Storck agrees with many Catholic intellectuals who claim that the root source of modernity and the unremitting hostility to the Church in the modern period lies in nominalism or the idea of late medieval philosophers that universals do not exist, only particulars exist. If there are no universals, then there are no standards against which we can compare particulars. The loss of standards leads inevitably to a loss of intellectual rigor and ultimate truths. Similarly, if individuals or particulars or instances are the only realities then individuals should be free and unconstrained. The nominalists also overly valorized the will of God putting it before God’s other attributes (such as his logos). God’s will and power according to the nominalists has no limits—he is utterly unconstrained. This idea had the effect of portraying God as arbitrary and absolutely free. Freedom understood as no barriers became the primary value for an emerging modernity at the waning of the middle ages and the birth of the renaissance and enlightenment.

The nominalist rejection of standards and universals and its elevation of freedom as the primary characteristic of God had the effect of severing the link between reason and faith that the Church had labored to build over many centuries via the syntheses of Athens and Jerusalem by the early Church Fathers and in the work of Thomas Aquinas in the high middle ages.

Once reason was severed from faith a Luther could claim that faith was primary and that only scripture contained God’s word—not the logos inherent in reality. Sola scriptura meant that scriptures were interpreted not by the church but by the individual conscience and thus the individual conscience  (not the mystical body of Christ) was the route to God. Protestantism was born and largely facilitated the cultural conditions for modernity.

i will return to a critique of these claims below.

What should Catholics think of Church and state and America according to Storck? Storck sides with Aquinas who takes the common sense approach that some combination of monarchy, democracy and republicanism is probably best. Storck sees these elements in the American polity but argues America and every other political system needs to be guided by the Church. He holds up the 1922 Irish constitution as an example of a Church guided democratic republic with a strong executive. That Irish constitution outlawed divorce and abortion, explicitly placed itself under God’s protection, provided absolute protections for religious liberty and so forth.

In America the church, according to Storck never really influenced American government. The New Deal coalition was the height of Church influence on America as catholics were key to the coalition. It gave us all the presidents from FDR to Nixon and enacted a pro Vatican and Catholic policy internationally and all the great social legislation domestically…from social security to civil rights to environmental protections—all consistent with catholic social doctrine according to Storck. The peak of the New Deal influence culturally came in the 1950s. The New Deal coalition ended when the other groups in the coalition accepted abortion legislation in the early 70s. The catholics then gravitated to the republicans but the republicans were never effective defenders of catholic positions. Today Catholics are not included in any stable political coalition in America. the Church’s social positions on some issues such as immigration and the environment are “leftist” while its cultural positions are “rightist” and its international positions unclassifiable on a right left spectrum.

Storck takes his philosophy of history from the Bible seeing the incarnation as the key event in world history. He takes the line in revelation that the apostasy of the gentiles will signal the beginning of the end of history. He sees modernity as this beginning of the end of history.

Storck says that in order to reverse the decline in Church influence and to rebuild Christendom we need to recall Pope Leo XII political and social teachings. There is NO INHERENT RIGHT to error. Only the church can preserve a polity from error so the Church has a right and duty to be the preeminent leader in a culture and polity. That does not mean we have to have a theocracy as Islam proposes. But it does mean that we need to work for political conditions that obtained in countries such as the 1922 Ireland before its recent apostasy; Spain before its apostasy, the Latin American countries before their apostasy and so forth to serve as models.

There is much else in Storck’s essays than these few remarks convey. I strongly recommend this book to every concerned catholic. It is a must read in order to think clearly about the current crisis.

Now what are my criticisms of Storck? I do not agree with Storck and the many other Catholic intellectuals who argue that nominalism was the source of the intellectual errors of modernity. This vastly overstates nominalisms influence. While Protestantism and many of the modernist philosophers share some nominalist assumptions, it is just not accurate to think that nominalism shaped their entire philosophies or even major portions of their philosophies.

The sources of modernity are complex. I think Storck is on firmer ground when he argues that severance of the link between faith and reason was characteristic of Protestantism and Protestantism was the major cultural force that ushered in modernity.

When science came on the scene during later stages of the renaissance and the beginning stages of the reformation it encountered a Christendom that either exalted irrationality (Protestantism) or could present only a hackneyed version of Aristotle’s philosophy as a guide to investigation of reality. Science, in short, found no partner among official Christian circles when it was struggling to be born.

The enmity between science and Christendom was briefly relaxed when the Jesuit order emerged in the 1500s and produced some of the best scientists in the world. The counter-reformation church had re-seized the cultural leadership during this period but it was not to last. The Jesuits were suppressed by the Pope (under pressure from despotic monarchies) in 1750 right when the enlightenment was emerging. With the Jesuits out of the picture secular intellectuals in alliance with scientists (who had previously aligned with the Jesuits) now took center stage and they have yet to be challenged for cultural leadership.

In short, Storck, like most other Catholic intellectuals has not yet grappled with science as key to modernity. For the Church to recover its cultural leadership its needs to assimilate science and it needs to produce the best scientists in the world….just as it did with the early Jesuits.

 

 

Review of “Phoenix From The Ashes” by H.J.A. Sire

By Augustinus

In “Phoenix From The Ashes: The making, unmaking and restoration of Catholic tradition” (Sire, Angelico Press, Keterring, OH 2015), the historian H.J.A Sire has produced a near masterpiece and exhaustive review of the sources of the crisis in the church today. If I am reading him correctly he traces those sources to 2 main events: the defeat of the Catholic cause during the religious wars of the 16th century and the rise of modernism which culminated in Vatican II in the 2oth century. The defeat of the Catholic cause during the 30 years war of the 16th century was engineered largely by a Catholic cardinal: Cardinal Richelieu in France who was a real servant of French royal power rather than the church. The passive Pope Urban VIII did little or nothing to help the Hapsburg Catholic power (centered in Spain and parts of Austria/Germany and other smaller nations in eastern Europe) so France in alliance with the protestant nations of Europe (the Nordic countries, Britain and parts of what is now Germany) devastated Germany, exhausted the Hapsburg power, enfeebled the Papacy and and set back the Catholic counter-reformation. What was left of the Catholic civilization which had flowered during the High Middle Ages exhibited a final cultural renaissance under Hapsburg rule in what remained of the Holy Roman Empire until its last emperor the saintly Charles was dethroned during the first world war.

Sire gives a negative account of Conciliarism as a phenomena supposedly inimical to Church tradition, although he himself shows how it helped to save the Church (along with St Catherine of Siena) during the crisis of the three popes. one does not have to endorse the view that councils have more authority than the Pope to see the virtues and the dangers of Concilarism. Obviously some sort of balance is required between the councils and the Popes to steer the Church rightly.

After Sire discusses the downfall of the Christian order in Europe (due to the 30 years war and the rise of capitalism wedded to a mechanical materialist version of science which he ties to protestant ideologies) he devotes the second half of his book to the dismantling of Catholic tradition. He provides a detailed review of the proceedings and documents of the Second Vatican Council and then devotes a separate chapter each to the destruction of the mass, the priesthood and the repudiation of the Kingdom of Christ. The destruction of the mass and priesthood was linked in Sire’s view to the protestant theological bias placed into Vat II documents by a cadre of cardinals and their advisors who were desperately devoted to their idea of ecumenism. For them ecumenism was to make catholicism more palatable to protestant theologians…so the mass was not a true sacrifice but instead a commemoration meal or a gathering of friends.  The Eucharist was not truly  the body and blood of our Lord as there was no real sacrifice. The priest was not overseeing a sacrifice but instead celebrating a meal with friends so his sacredness and role accordingly switched into being a presider or entertainer etc etc

Sire quotes Msr Bugnini who spearheaded implementation of the liturgical reforms after Vatican II as saying: “The Lord’s supper or the mass is the sacred assembly or gathering together of the people of God with a priest presiding to celebrate the memorial of the lord. for this reason…where two or three are gathered in my name I am there in their midst”(Art 7, original Gen Instruction, Novus Ordo).  Sire comments “We see here a compendium of modernist doctrines regarding the mass: the acceptance of the protestant notion of the Eucharist as the Lord’s supper…the spurious concept of the priest’s presiding at the mass instead of offering the the sacrifice by his priestly power in personae Christi, the presentation of the mass as a memorial instead of the reenactment of the sacrifice of Christ, the implication that the essence of the mass resides in the assembly of the people and not in its character as a sacrifice of Christ and worst of all the suggestion that Christ is present by virtue of the people’s gathering and not through his real presence in the Blessed sacrament” (p. 277)…One of the writes at this blog Stephen Shields OFS has argued that the crisis in the Church today can be traced to fall in belief in the real presence in the Blessed sacrament.

Sire also argues in the chapter on the Kingdom of Christ that Vatican II tended to adopt premises from modernist humanism and thus tended to the error that freedom of conscience protected outright error. There can be no right to belief in heresies but of course we have to beware using this principle to harm people with beliefs different from the Church. They are in error. There is no inherent human right to error but the Church needs humility and prudence to avoid persecution of others due to their errors.

There are many gems in this book and anyone wanting a fully argued case concerning the errors of Vatican II will find it in this book. Sire makes the interesting observation, for example, that the 60s did not produce Vatican II but Vatican II either produced the 60s or really contributed to some of its disorders. i did not know that the traditionalist Archbishop Lefevbre actually voted for most of the Vatican II documents including the one on Liturgy. It was the implementation of these documents that he at first was concerned with…I think Sire is too hard on John PaulI’s efforts to reach our to world religions but I understand the dangers in doing so. Sire’s assessment of Pope Benedict and Francis are mixed but I largely agree with them.

Review of “Robert Cardinal Sarah; God or nothing: A conversation on Faith with Nicolas Diat” Ignatius Press; San Francisco: 2015).

By Augustinus

 

In God or nothing French journalist Nicolas Diat has a wide ranging conversation with Cardinal Sarah about the church in the 21st century. Cardinal Sarah was almost elected Pope after Benedict stepped down. Sarah has had a remarkable life history. Born in 1945 in a remote village in Guinea in Africa his family was exposed to the missionary work of the Holy Ghost fathers who then sent him to seminary when he was 12. He was ordained a priest at age 24 in 1969 during the persecution of the church under the communist regime then in power in Guinea. He was made archbishop of Conarky Guinea in 1979 and has steadily risen in the Church since then. He is considered a conservative in the current culture wars because he has opposed any slackening of traditional church teaching on homosexuality, marriage, and divorce.

Both in the current book and in the past he has frequently chided the church in western countries for their insistent focus on issues of women’s rights, divorce, and the like while their fellow Catholics in the middle east, Africa and Asia are being jailed, tortured, burned alive, and massacred for their faith.

Despite his putative conservative and traditionalist stances on church issues Pope Francis appointed Sarah to the position of Head of the Congregation of the Divine Worship and Discipline of the sacraments. Judging from his responses to questions by Diat concerning the Latin mass Sarah appears to take the same position Pope Benedict took: The Latin mass and the Novus Ordo are two version of one divinely inspired rite. The Latin mass should be encouraged as it is in many ways superior to mass in the vernacular but the two versions are equally valid. Sarah believes that a new version of the rite will emerge organically over the next century. This new version will combine the best of the Tridentine and the Novus Ordo versions.

Diat asked Sarah repeatedly about the crisis in the modern church and his consistent answer was the sources of the crisis are multiple and the solution is one: prayer. Prayer is the solution because it is saints and doctors of the church who will save the church and prayer is what makes people saints.

I was enormously impressed by Sarah as he comes across in these interviews as eloquent, wise, well-spoken, intelligent, administratively competent, deeply rooted in Church documents and in holy scripture (it seems he can quote hundreds of docs and all of scripture from memory) and most of all it was clear that he was first and foremost a man of prayer.

Sarah quotes Pope Francis approvingly when Francis says that prayer must be a kind of struggle with the Lord. We are advised by the Lord himself to keep knocking on the door until we rouse the owner within. But Sarah also says that prayer must be a kind of resting in the Lord and listening. We must rest and wait until the Holy Spirit prays within us. Then we really “pray without ceasing”. “We must often nestle close to the Virgin of silence to ask her to obtain for us the grace of loving silence and of interior virginity, in other words, a purity of heart and a willingness to listen that banishes any presence except God’s” (p. 207).