FAITH Magazine March – April 2011
Augustine of Hippo: His Philosophy in a Historical and Contemporary Perspective
by Virgilio Pacioni, OSA, Gracewing, 348pp, £14.99
Virgilio Pacioni OSA, Visiting Professor at the Augustinianum, Patristic Institute of the Pontifical Lateran University, is to be congratulated for this remarkable work, first published in Italian in 2004. The translators are also to be congratulated for what is mostly an easily readable text. I am particularly grateful to Pacioni for exposing my superficial (and frequently mistaken) understanding of St. Augustine's thought, whilst at the same time granting me a greater appreciation of the North African Father's abiding contribution to the Church and contemporary culture.
Although over 300 pages long, this book's abundant quotations and references manifest Pacioni's encyclopaedic and in-depth knowledge of all of St. Augustine's 120 works; so too Pacioni's impressive familiarity with the history of the critical study of these works and the diverse interpretations of them right up to the present.
The book is divided into nine thematic chapters covering St. Augustine's: route to conversion; hermeneutical circle between faith and reason; initial speculations; anthropology; theory of knowledge; understanding of free will and morality; doctrine of the nature and existence of God; conception of time and history; and political philosophy. The enlightening appendix of critical interpretations of Augustinian philosophy ought not to be overlooked. The extensive bibliography offers an excellent guide for further reading.
Pacioni himself tells us that throughout his book he has "tried to reconstruct the framework of Augustine's speculation in all of its most original philosophical traits, following philosophical and logical-linguistic suggestions performing a point by point analysis of the texts not only from a philological but also a historiographical, cultural and logical-formal point of view" (p. xix).
Particularly noteworthy is that, although recognising St. Augustine's indebtedness to Platonism and Neo-Platonism, Pacioni convincingly demonstrates the limits of labelling St. Augustine a Platonist or Neo-Platonist. "This is what those who do not have a knowledge of the Augustinian historiography of the last few decades or a first-hand knowledge of the opera omnia of the African Father of the Church do" (p. xvii).
At the risk of doing a grave disservice to the richness of Pacioni's comprehensive study, I wish to focus solely on what it reveals to us of St. Augustine's anthropology. Augustine's anthropology is frequently deemed Platonic, hence dualist, whereby soul and body are conceived as two loosely associated substances - even that the soul is the man. However, drawing significantly on the research of Nello Cipriani, Pacioni persuasively argues for an alternative interpretation. Pacioni reads St. Augustine as conceiving of the soul and body in a relationship of reciprocal influence whereby the soul, though superior to the body, enjoys a natural and intrinsic appetite toward the body as an essential condition of its being. Hence, far from conceiving of body and soul as dualistically opposed, St.Augustine considers soul and body as dimensions of man which integrate with each other, forming a bond which is not merely accidental. For St. Augustine body and soul, although distinct metaphysically, are two principles that constitute one necessary unit - even to the extent that he can hold that there is no such thing as man without the body and without the soul.
According to Pacioni, it was the philosophy not of Plato but of Terentius Varro, including some of its Aristotelian elements, which inspired St. Augustine's positive view of the relationship between soul and body. So too, though, was it the Christian Faith that shaped St. Augustine's vision of humanity. To say that that the whole human nature is not composed of soul and flesh - good flesh, whose union with the body is not the cause of sin - insults the Creator!
St. Augustine's appreciation of friendship and community also reflects his Christianity. He defends, against the Neoplatonists, the Christian understanding of human nature as intrinsically open to sociability such that the life of virtue should be a social life. For the Bishop of Hippo, the capacity for friendship and the social dimension of man's existence are goods written into his very nature.
Pacioni's impressive challenge to those who judge Augustinian anthropology to be a dualistic individualism is alone enough to recommend this book enthusiastically. However, there are many other reasons for so doing; but I invite you the reader, be you a relative newcomer to St. Augustine's thought or an accomplished scholar - to discover these for yourself.
Fr. John O'Leary
Our Lady & St. Joseph Kingsland
Blessed John Henry Newman, who reputedly prayed for four hours each day, spoke of the difficulty of getting down to this vital task. Lamenting that there was almost any amusement he would rather take up than dwelling on God he cried out "Give me grace, my Father to be utterly ashamed of my own reluctance."
For those of us familiar with Newman's anxiety, our immediate ambition should be to pray more often. Time spent reading about prayer can often be a means of avoiding prayer itself. But in this book Fr James Tolhurst has produced a useful guide to getting started. And even those who have been on the journey for some time will find plenty here to sustain them.
Tolhurst begins with practicalities. He suggests set times and places for praying and encourages us to stick to them. Like the Church Fathers he sees the spiritual life as being a battle with ourselves. Part of this is learning detachment from sin - not just serious sin, but the little comforts and indulgences which weaken our capacity for God. There is a place for mortification in life - the "resolution to say 'No' from time to time when we are inclined to say 'Yes'". He also raises the problem of distractions in prayer and suggests ejaculatory prayers or "spear-thrusts" as a remedy.
The central section of the book is dedicated to saints and spiritual writers. The two giants of spirituality, St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross, are well presented along with other guides both familiar and less well-known. The no nonsense wisdom of St. Josemaria Escriva is wonderfully captured in the phrase "You have an obligation to sanctify yourself. Yes, even you!" Escriva then admonishes those tempted to slacken with the devastating words "Be a man".
Just as powerful is the advice of Abbot Columba Marmion suggesting our prayer must not "degenerate into vague reverie, without depth or fruit".
Although the author is wary of appearing technical, he does outline some methods of prayer. There is a useful appendix which lists some traditional forms of meditation. He also gives a high priority to the use of Scripture and in the manner of St. Teresa encourages reflective reading to guide and direct wayward thoughts. There is a sense of meditation being the "spadework" of prayer which should naturally lead to a conversation with Christ and true contemplation. None of this can be rushed, and the daily task of constant prayer involves a faithful embracing of dryness and aridity.
The final chapters deal with the journey as it starts to develop. We are given an indication of what to expect if we persevere in this great challenge. Good use is made of St. John of the Cross who speaks of the three "nights" through which we must pass. Prayer now becomes a stripping away of the senses. Needless to say it is painful, and although consolations may occur along the way, the real work is done in darkness. Finally we are given a glimpse of the summit - the union of the soul with God. We are presented with the experiences of those blessed souls who have tasted such sweetness.
"Climbing the Mountain" is a solid guide for those attempting the journey of prayer. It is a treasure chest of spiritual wisdom which draws on the practical experience of those who have travelled ahead of us. The real guides in this book are the saints themselves and Tolhurst reveals a deep respect both for them and for the Catholic spiritual tradition. The extracts from their writings, although brief, are well selected, and if anything we are left eager for more. An impressive bibliography is included for those who want to delve more deeply. In a sense
this book is a spiritual appetiser. It tickles our taste buds and tantalises us with rich pickings. But rather like a map it can only point us in the right direction. Beginning the journey is eventually down to us. If we persevere in this task then "Climbing the Mountain" will have served its purpose.
Jon Haught does not agree with the creationists, nor with the related American theory of Intelligent Design. He totally accepts modern science and the theory of evolution. He wishes to debate with the likes of Professor Dawkins who believe that science disproves God. Such foundations place him so far in the same camp as this magazine. But like so many Catholic thinkers today who share these premises he departs massively from our classical Christian doctrine.
This is a book inspired by the visions of Paul Tillich, Alfred Whitehead, Teilhard de Chardin and Karl Rahner. I would humbly refer the reader to the Faith pamphlet series, Reasons for Believing, to show where we and this school of thought diverge.
As the pamphlet "Can we be sure God exists?" puts it: "Modern cosmology, the study of the universe as a whole, and the biology of evolution have given us amazing proof of God". Haught totally disagrees: "Analysis alone leaves the world incoherent, scattered about in unconnected bits. Scientific reduction can lead to a clear sense of the world's elemental units, but not to any inkling of its possible coherence" (p.79).
This is a constant theme of the book. He uses the analogy of ink on the printed page. He compares natural selection's production of adaptive design to the printing press that produces the page. The divine influence in creation is comparable to the words on the page. As you find no evidence of the will of the writer at the level of chemistry that bonds the ink to the paper, so you will find no evidence of divine influence in science. "Science is not wired to pick up any signals of divine transcendence, nor could it express such awareness in a measurable way." Haught accepts a scientific standpoint that there is only incoherence in creation, evolution is blind and aimless.
And yet: Scientists are coming up with theological questions because science has led them there. They can do science precisely because it is an ordered universe. And the various levels of science from physics through biology and zoology to psychology are surely enough to show that science is not reductionist. And Haught even gets the science wrong, because an increasing number of scientists, not least Dawkins himself, acknowledge that natural selection is a profoundly ordered process.
Another area of disagreement concerns the "First Cause". A heading in the above-mentioned Faith pamphlet is "The need for a first cause". Haught is not interested in arguments for design. He sees the argument of 'first cause' as theologically misguided and leading only to a misunderstanding of God's relationship to the world. If our pamphlet is right, such denial will lead to fideism. The whole point of such arguments is to make sure that we do not invent God.
The pamphlet "What makes Man Unique" comments that nature, from its own internal laws, should not produce an animal which is beyond environmental control, as it in fact does in the case of man. This forms the basis for the argument for the soul, which was well presented by Kevin Douglas in the January issue of this magazine. Haught believes it beyond the capacity of science to reach such a conclusion. He does not see the existence of the soul as the solution to the question of the uniquely creative behaviour of man. He feels such a view diminishes the importance of the human body.
In contrast the pamphlet proposes that far from diminishing the relevance of the human body, matter-energy has its fullest meaning and highest dignity in its relation to the soul. Haught speaks of animals having souls, and sees the soul as "emerging horizontally from an evolutionary past that only gradually changes into living and thinking tissue". Evolution leads to the human capacity for self-awareness. Nature gradually evolves from matter to mind. Thus the soul does not come directly from God, nor is it a distinct principle in man in relation to matter.
It has been argued many times in this magazine that such a view leads to monism. For a coherent, not to say doctrinally faithful, Christian understanding of man, the soul must be a principle distinct from the body. Haught cannot explain what happens at death, nor the meaning of the sacraments as taught by the Church, nor the human need for true interior life.
In the Faith pamphlet "The Disaster of Sin", the existence of suffering and evil is confronted, and the doctrine of original sin outlined. The pamphlet deals with a fundamental issue of human experience and human history. Haught does not confront the real evil of sin in our world. This is a significant omission.
Haught deals with the issue of suffering, but in a very disquieting way. Evil is downplayed as simply related to the fact that things perish and die. Death and suffering are seen as a natural consequence of creation. Victory over death has been won for us by Christ on the cross: "In the context of Christian faith, the drama of evolution merges inseparably with the (abysmal) death and (grounding) resurrection of Jesus and, in him, with the eternal drama that is the Trinitarian life of God." Haught clearly sees Jesus' death on the cross as a natural event in the order of creation.
It is difficult to conceive of a God whose horrific death is simply an inherent part of the development of creation. One viewing of the film The Passion of the Christ should be enough to show that God's death was the ultimate blasphemy, the ultimate opposition to God. Real evil is fundamentally opposed to goodness, not a necessary part of God's plan, let alone part of his life.
At the root of the difficulties with this book is Haught's view of the relation between God and creation. He sees a drama being acted out in the world which is not visible on the scientific level. To see this drama we need a more refined kind of "seeing". God is the ground of all being. As such, creation is in constant contact with the divine. Creation is drawn towards an infinite and uncomprehended goodness, which is the world's ultimate environment, God. It is a God of promise, as we can never find full meaning to this drama. Creation has the freedom to go in many diverse ways, intensifying its freedom, consciousness and beauty, but all within the life of God.
I am sure Fr Holloway, the founder of the Faith movement, would immediately have pointed out that there is real confusion here about what is matter and what is mind in creation. We can also see the root of why Haught finds it difficult to account for moral evil. If God is the ground of all being, everything is graced. Nothing can be fundamentally evil. While Scripture is quoted and Jesus Christ plays a part in this system, Haught seems to deny that in Him we have found the fullest meaning to our universe. Contrary to what Haught believes, we are no longer a people of hope. God has been revealed to us in Jesus Christ, and we find full meaning in Him.
Fundamentally Haught agrees with Dawkins that science cannot lead us to find meaning and purpose in the universe. Given this, Dawkins would rightly have little time for someone telling him that he needs a more refined kind of seeing, to see that God does exist and is part of our world. This book does not take science seriously, and it made me even more appreciative of the Faith pamphlets. There we can truly make sense of evolution from a theological point of view.
Fr Stephen Boyle
The Good Shepherd, New Addington
The Heresy of Formlessness -The Roman Liturgy and its Enemy
by Martin Mosebach, Ignatius Press, 210pp, £12.5O
I could not wait to read a book of literary essays on the liturgy which, one was told, "had taken Germany by storm". The author is a German award-winning novelist, poet, librettist, dramatist and essay writer. The collection should carry a warning: "Careful: this book could change for ever the way you regard the liturgy."
Since the book demonstrates so powerfully the case for the return to the pre-Conciliar liturgy, Fr Joseph Fessio, S.J., Editor-in-Chief, Ignatius Press has to temper his own enthusiastic Forward by putting the position of "those who advocate a rereading and restructuring of the liturgical renewal intended by the Second Vatican Council, but in light of the Church's two-thousand-year tradition."
Yet the book is not polemical. A polemic advances an argument and then produces evidence why it is true. These essays provide insights and illustrations and, at the end, one finds that it all amounts to a most convincing argument. The style is that of the author, with the various essays (ten altogether) adopting different approaches, almost different genres: one is a chapter of a novel. Mosebach applies the eye and language of a great author to looking at the liturgy -what it has been over the centuries, what it ought to be and what it has become. One whole appendix of 17 pages is devoted just to the words, "This is My Body." He can match from Germany the incidents we know in Britain, Ireland and America of the wilful destruction of great and beautiful works of art, acts oficonoclasm and vandalism. It is appropriate for a German to be profound on Church music, and, like many of us, he cannot explain why the clear order of the Second Vatican Council on music has been turned on its head: "Gregorian chant should be given pride of place in liturgical services." (Sacronsanctum Concilium n. 116). As we know, in most Catholic churches in Europe this has become, "Gregorian Chant will never be heard; the most common will be pop music of the 1960s."
Mosebach deals with the canard, that to be active at Mass we must be physically moving around, by a thoughtful essay that poses the simple but cutting question, "What active role did the apostles play at the Last Supper?" He is good at putting a simple point that demolishes the whole edifice of an argument. This is how he disposes of Holy Communion in the hand: it is "inappropriate, not because the hands are less worthy to receive the Host than the tongue, or because they might be dirty, but because it would be impossible to rinse every participant's hands after Communion (that is, to make sure no particles of the Host are lost)."
He finds the idea of the priest's facing the people a most disedifying factor of the modern liturgy: "How wise the old liturgy was when it prescribed that the congregation should not see the priest's face - his distractedness or coldness or (even more importantly) his devotion and emotion." He stresses the importance of posture and, especially, kneeling which signifies adoration and which is why it was attacked by the reformers, of the actual reformation and of 1968, and why many kneelers have actually been removed from churches.
He sees the new liturgy as a fracture, quoting the then Cardinal Ratzinger (a friend, apparently) in 1992: "a liturgy that had grown organically had been pushed aside in favour of a fabricated liturgy." He regrets the omitting from the new Mass of the orations -"the Collects, Secrets and Postcommunions - particularly those of Sunday. It seems that only secular philologists are in a position to see the literary and artistic value of these prayer formularies, which are certainly among the oldest constituent elements of the liturgical heritage." Do read this wonderful book. I fear that I have not done it justice, rather as if I had said, "There are some interesting facets of English and Roman history, and many details of world geography," when writing of the plays of Shakespeare.