FAITH Magazine January – February 2011
Beauty for Truth's Sake: On the Re-enchantment of Education
by Stratford Caldecott, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Bratfps Press, 2009, U6pp, £12.99
In their struggles with Christianity, the pagan philosophers of late antiquity presented Pythagoras as their answer to Jesus: here was a good and spiritual man whose knowledge and wisdom became foundational for all later philosophy. In this fascinating manifesto on the re-enchantment of education, Stratford Caldecott also appeals to Pythagoras, but to a baptised Pythagoras, his thought about mathematics and music transposed into a Christian key, something already under way in writers such as Boethius and Augustine.
Taking as his starting point Benedict XVI's appeal for a liturgical understanding of human existence, Caldecott shows how the rationalism that has reduced western education to something purely utilitarian will be overcome through a fresh appreciation of the transcendentals of truth and goodness, but only where the neglected transcendental, beauty, is allowed to work its influence. The perception of form is fundamental if the elimination of meaning is to be reversed.
A first chapter considers how the medieval quadrivium of arithmetic, geometry, astronomy and music became separated from the study of philosophy and theology, as if the quadrivium was an end in itself rather than the way in which a person was made ready for the study of philosophy and theology. A true appreciation of 'liberal' education was thus lost, as was a strong sense of the rootedness of the higher disciplines in the study of number and its relationship to physical time and space. The Pythagorean inspiration of the vision proposed is clear and so too is the liturgical destination of education, where time and space are made holy in the worship of God. Caldecott is not making a romantic or antiquarian proposal: ancient and medieval understandings need to be adapted to where we find ourselves now in the story of human understanding.
A second chapter argues for the education of the heart and imagination not just to feel but to know. This is crucial for science too as C.S. Lewis, Charles Taylor, and others, have argued. There follow two chapters developing this theme of the reintegration of science with the poetic mode of knowledge. This requires appreciating anew the nature of symbolism, the analogy of being which it presupposes, and an alternative vision of mathematics, what Caldecott calls 'the lost wisdom of the world'. He speaks about the symbolism of numbers, the 'golden ratio' or 'golden section' that is found throughout nature, and symmetry, in which complexity and unity converge. Mathematics connects directly with theology, he continues, showing (following Augustine) how pointers to the Trinity are to be found everywhere. Much of this is inspiring and convincing though some of it feels contrived: Caldecott acknowledges that some of the speculations he records may appear forced.
The fifth chapter considers harmony, another element in the classical definitions of beauty, and he reflects on it in music, architecture, ecology, and astronomy. There are many beautiful thoughts and applications here as he sketches a Christian cosmology whose principles and values are at once scientific, practical, moral, aesthetic, and theological. He is happy to call the one who subscribes to such a vision a 'Christian Pythagorean' (p. 115).
A final chapter considers 'the liturgical consummation of cosmology'. The philosophical and theological roots of 'secular modernity' continue to be exposed and examined, and Caldecott calls on many contemporary thinkers in support of his diagnosis. The way forward, he believes, is in recovering a sense of revelation and worship, in particular in recovering the ability to pray. This cannot be done wilfully, of course, but emerges spontaneously from a particular way of appreciating the world: as an objective and beautiful thing, a symbolic reality whose fabric reveals, in a great variety of ways, the forms or archetypes of the world's order (pp. 13,125). A sense of the sacred, celebration of the liturgy, wonder and gratitude: these are the things in which we need to be re-educated not just for the joy of living in an enchanted 'Liturgical City' but because it is the only way to keep our education humane and our life civilised.
Like all manifestos this book is relatively short, but clear in its diagnosis and in its prescriptions, as well as being pregnant with many suggestive lines of thought. Anyone concerned about the condition of the perennial philosophy, or the future of Christian civilisation, ought to read it.
Vivian Boland OP
Behold the Lamb of God
by Pope Benedict XVI, Family Publications, 112pp, £8.95
This selection of Pope Benedict's reflections on the Eucharist ranges from 2005 to 2009. It contains various homilies and addresses and concludes with extracts from the Apostolic Exhortation Sacramentum Caritatis (2007).
The meaty part is in the homilies. Because the Eucharist is a fact that the priest lives with, it is helpful to be reminded that "the purpose of this partaking is the assimilation of my life with his, my transformation and conformation into the one who is living Love (p. 11)." "We cannot live without joining together on Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist...How will we be able to live without him ?" (pp 13.17) "We need this Bread to face the fatigue and weariness of our journey (p. 14)."
There are also his scriptural/theological insights. He explains that the Last Supper was celebrated in accordance with the Qumran calendar the day before the Temple Passover, "Jesus celebrated the Passover without a lamb - no, not without a lamb: instead of the Lamb he gave himself." (p. 26) He points out that the Eucharist can never be a private event: "The Eucharist is a public devotion that has nothing esoteric or exclusive about it. Here too, this evening we did not choose to meet one another, we came and find ourselves next to one another, brought together by faith and called to become one body, sharing the one Bread which is Christ. We are united over and above our differences of nationality, profession, social class, political ideas: we open ourselves to one another to become one in him (p. 34)."
He reminds the Canadians that we must not trivialise the Eucharist because "It is not a meal with friends. It is the mystery of a covenant." At the same time, "it can never be just a liturgical action. The liturgy does not belong to us. It is the Church's treasure, (pp. 39, 41,49)
As in the Gospel there will be those who cannot accept such a great mystery: "One might say that basically people do not want to have God so close, to be so easily within reach or to share so deeply in the events of their daily life (p. 15)." He adds, "Today we run the risk of secularisation creeping into the Church (p. 61)." It is because of this that he emphasises that we should "shun idols, guard our eyes from 'vanities/nothings' (pp. 44, 48) so that we can "adore the God of Jesus Christ who out of love made himself bread broken, the most effective and radical remedy against the idolatry of the past and of the present." (p. 36)
This short book reminds us once again of the breadth of scholarship displayed by Pope Benedict, which reminds us of the great gift of Jesus, our food of Life for the journey which we all hope to accomplish in and with Him.
Fr James Tolhurst
How God Acts: Creation, Redemption, and Special Divine Action
by Denis Edwards, Edinburgh: Augsburg Fortress Press/Alban Books, 2010, 207pp
Edwards begins his book with a classic question in response to natural disasters: "Why is God doing this?" (p. xi) He suggests that the question has renewed importance today in view of the tremendous suffering which seems to be an essential feature of our evolutionary world: predation, mass extinctions, and so on. Edwards' response is to advance a noninterventionist theory of how God acts in the world. God acts exclusively through created, secondary causes, always respecting these natural processes, never overturning the laws of nature nor setting them aside, suffering with creation when disasters occur, rejoicing as these processes bring forth new realities.
Edwards is admirable in his recognition that theology should take science seriously, and shows a good understanding of the universe as a multi-layered unity, constituted by patterns of relationships between realities at all levels from fundamental particles to galaxies. He is surely right to see God's work of creation and providence in these natural processes. He also commendably puts forward a vision of the unity of all God's actions as fundamentally one work, but differentiated in its many aspects of creation, evolution, personal providence, salvation and redemption in Christ and eschatological fulfilment.
However, it is Edwards' insistence that God works only through natural, secondary causes alongside this sweeping vision of the scope of God's work that led me repeatedly to questions and difficulties. Perhaps the most obvious is the question of miracles. Edwards explicitly rejects Aquinas' view of miracles as works where God acts directly instead of through secondary causes (p. 84), preferring to see them as explained by features of the natural world which science has not yet discovered. One wonders whether he thinks an aeroplane would have been a miracle in the past. More seriously, one wonders whether he really believes in miracles at all: he quotes J. P. Meier with approval as questioning whether Lazarus was clinically dead and suggesting that Jesus' walking on the water was an invention of the early Church (p. 80).
Jesus' resurrection proves to be another difficulty. Edwards declines to comment on the process of resurrection itself, following the Gospels' own silence on the matter. This in itself is perfectly acceptable, but he should have followed his conviction through to the end and refused to assert (even "tentatively") that it can be accounted for in a noninterventionist way. He also declines to comment on the empty tomb, but cites Rahner to the effect that finding a corpse in a tomb does not refute the resurrection (p. 99). Edwards is happier to speculate about how the resurrection appearances do not overturn the laws of nature, suggesting that they may be mediated by the assembly, the Word of God, the Eucharist, personal love, and so forth.
Enough of such comments - although I could continue regarding his views of the atonement, intercessory prayer and the general resurrection; the latter including, it would seem, the animals, since all creation will be renewed (although the plants and viruses are not considered!). Worthier of some pondering were his ideas about original sin. He notes that in the higher animals genetic evolution of social behaviour will be a key factor. Sinful choices amongst the first human beings could conceivably provide a mechanism by which, for instance, violent tendencies were preferentially selected and passed on to future generations. Clearly this is not an adequate explanation of original sin - inter alia it does not account for inherited guilt - but perhaps there is something of value here.
In the end, it was the lack of clear distinction between the material and the spiritual, between the immanent and the transcendent, and between the natural and the supernatural, which again and again prompted me to bafflement. However, I wonder how far that was inevitable given Edwards' underlying intention to provide a theology in response to the fate of the animals in evolutionary history. Perhaps the truth lies elsewhere, as Vatican II seems to indicate: "man is the only creature on earth that God has wanted for its own sake," (GS 24) since we alone have spiritual souls and are called by God to the supernatural end which is the beatific vision.
Fr Stephen Dingley
St John's Seminary, Wonersh
Blessed John Henry Newman: A Richly Illustrated Portrait
by Kathleen Diet^FSO and Mary-Btrgtt Dechant FSO, eds., Leominster: Gracewing, 2010, 160pp, £12.99
John Henry, Cardinal Newman, Meditations and Devotions
London: Baronius Press, 2010, 448pp, £24.9J
The historic visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Britain will undoubtedly bring many blessings to the Church in these lands, and not the least will be the rediscovery in many quarters of Blessed John Henry Newman as one of the great figures of English Catholicism. The two books under review will, in different ways, assist this process of rediscovery and promote a renewed appreciation of his gifts.
We begin with 'A richly illustrated life' edited by two Sisters of the Spiritual Family 'The Work', who are custodians of Newman's shrine at Littlemore. This book essentially does what it says on the cover: it assembles a fine collection of paintings, photographs and other images illustrating Newman's long life (many of which will be new to most readers) and accompanies these illustrations with a short but comprehensive sketch of Newman's life and work. There are six chapters, taking us from The Beginnings' up to 'The Cardinal' and ending with a brief epilogue focusing on Littlemore itself as it has developed since Newman's day. For someone discovering Blessed John Henry Newman for the first time, this book provides an admirable outline of his life and achievements, while even long-term Newman devotees will admire the profuse and well-selected images. As the great Newman scholar Ian Ker notes in his foreword to the volume, this book 'is beautiful both in the simplicity of the text and in the accompanying pictures'.
The Baronius Press edition of Newman's 'Meditations and Devotions' is a worthy volume specially produced to celebrate the great Cardinal's beatification. As a proudly 'traditional' Catholic publisher Baronius habitually takes care to produce its works to a high standard, and this book is no exception. Handsomely bound, with marbled end-papers, silk ribbons and gilded edges it is certainly a pleasure to look at and to handle. The text too, well printed on high quality paper, will repay many years of use.
Happily, Baronius have chosen to reproduce the full text of the 'Meditations and Devotions', as opposed to the reduced version of 1907, subsequently reproduced in various editions up to present times. This abbreviated version missed out many gems, not least Newman's Litanies and in particular the Meditations for Eight Days. This new edition is prefaced with a helpful introduction by Fr Jerome Bertram Cong. Orat, which succinctly reminds us of the spiritual tradition which Newman represents. Fr Bertram notes that Newman died just before the great rediscovery of 'contemplative prayer' in the early twentieth century - the Cardinal owned the works of St John of the Cross but the pages remain uncut. Instead Newman's devotion found expression in vocal prayers (such as the Litanies) and in the more formal Meditations which make up a large part of this book. As Fr Bertram suggests, those who have never felt drawn to the 'contemplative' spiritual tradition may find Newman's work especially helpful - but in truth, there is something in these pages for everyone to treasure.
Many of Newman's Meditations have for their subject matter the doctrine of the Church. As Fr Bertram remarks, 'Doctrine, for Newman, is the expression of Truth, and above all things he longed to bear witness to Truth, as his Master before him'. One feels that Pope Benedict XVI might share very similar sentiments. Be that as it may, for the people of our age, likewise seeking Truth amidst the shallowness and relativism of the day, these solid and substantial meditations on the dogmas and doctrines of our Catholic Faith may well come as a refreshing change amidst so much that passes for 'spirituality' in the contemporary Church. The prayers in this book are above all Christ-centred, often referring to Newman's deep love of the Blessed Sacrament and profound attachment to Our Lady, as well as his devotion to other saints, not least his own spiritual father, St Philip Neri, founder of the Oratory. These prayers remind us of the deep inner life which sustained Newman on his pilgrim journey, and together with the illustrated biography from Gracewing, this book will surely be welcomed by all devotees of Newman's life and thought.
Fr. Richard Whinder
St. Mary Magdalene, Mortlake
The beginning of our Nov-Dec review of the CTS Bible stated that this Bible had been presented to the Pope during his latest visit. This false timing was added at sub-editing and was not the mistake of the piece's author Fr Andrew Byrne. We apologise for the confusion.