I have just finished reading Gerard O'Shea's excellent practical handbook on Catholic Education. I met Dr O'Shea twice when I was in Australia. It was through my first meeting that I heard of the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and, subsequently, became acquainted with it through an "Atrium" in Sydney.
Dr O'Shea's new book is not about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, but is rather a comprehensive presentation of what Catholic Education is. So much has been written about this subject during the past half century, not least by the Magisterium of the Church. The author bases his text upon the Church's actual teaching, and speaks about in in such a way that he reveals that he has been both formed and inspired by it. He also shows that he has integrated the various texts and understands the proper relationships that exists between the great themes that are involved: evangelisation, anthropology, scripture, morality, catechesis, formation of personnel etc.
By the time I had finished reading the whole book, I realised why the author had begun his text by speaking in detail about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. It enabled him to begin his book by proposing the human subject, understood in his or her capacity to grow and be formed, from the earliest age, in his or her full humanity - body, heart, mind, together with all those relationships by which we become persons.
This truly is a practical handbook for parents, priests, teachers, catechists and all those who have any involvement in Catholic education. Moreover, the book is a joy to read because of the beautiful and easy way in which the author writes.
Wednesday, 17 April 2019
Friday, 1 February 2019
On Wednesday of this week, 30th January, I made my definitive Engagement as a member of the Society of St John Vianney. This took place during a Mass in the chapel of the Bon Pasteur, in the John Paul II House at Ars, France, the house of the Society.
Definitive Engagement is the third and final stage of membership of the Society, and was for me the culmination of a process which I can trace back to the year 2000. In the summer of 2000 I returned to the UK from a two-year course at the JPII Institute in Valencia, Spain, and being appointed again as a Parish Priest became aware again of how important it is for priests to be able to share their life and mission with one another. So began a process of exploration and discovery of various priestly associations and societies. In 2006 I encountered the SJMV during the first International Priest's Retreat at Ars and, one year later entered into the first stage of its membership.
30th January 2019 was a day of special joy for me, to be able to commit myself to the Society for the rest of my life. A large part of my seeking full membership comes from a desire to contribute to the Diocesan priesthood, and feeling that I can do that more ably through a priestly movement, than on my own. And I am very happy to contribute to the nurturing of the priesthood within Europe, by belonging to a priestly movement at the heart of Europe.
The strength of welcome that I experienced on Wednesday of this week, from the other members of the SJMV, is the same as that which I have experienced all along since my first engagement with the Society in 2007.
Thanks to Fr Gaspar for taking the photo above.
Thursday, 3 January 2019
Some topics defined:
Religion is the root of all culture and civilization.
The religious impulse is situated within human nature, is the root of religion, and therefore of all culture and civilization.
The root of human life then is not science, economy or culture, but because man is the centre of the natural world, his root is relationship between human nature and God. In Christianity this impulse is revealed in a radical way; that neither power, nor science nor the natural rhythm, governs human life, but rather, that vital centre is the mystical union of man’s human faculties with the Son of God.
Dawson includes some discussion about Religious ideas, for instance Gnosticism, but ideas necessarily develop in the wake of those movements which the religious impulse create, and so would form the content of a separate study.
Science is an intellectual technique; a way by which we know natural reality. Ritual religion was the source of the first form of science. It developed through a seeking to know what governs all life; the divine principle, the Absolute, the Eternal Cycle, the supreme law of Being. Developing science was linked to astronomy.
This ancient outlook is again present in modern scientific determinism.
The ancient forms of science, held no clues to the notion of progress – the idea the people and things could develop. This was because the ancient mind looked at the Cosmos as a whole, whereas today, we look at the particular case. So, for the ancients change was an illusion, whilst for us it leads us into the notion of progress.
The way that science is related to the understanding of human progress is to do with either man’s dominance/control over the laws of nature, or his greater engagement with God.
Science cannot explain reality. On its own it is merely the measurement of the physical world. It needs to be directed by a purpose, eg humanitarianism, and it needs to be supported by morality. Then it can become a good science which genuinely benefits humanity.
Man has always observed that that created nature passes through a process. The ancients thought of this as an eternal cycle. Modern man calls this process evolution. The Gospel reveals that man is the centre of this process and that it can be either progressive or degenerative, depending on whether he acts in accordance with his nature or against it. In Christianity man has a renewed potential for progress.
Christianity is the source of modern science (the way in which a person, who is enlightened by the Gospel, knows reality) and Law.
Contemporary (secular outlook) science is the way in which a person, who is not enlightened by the Gospel, seeks to know reality, seeking a purely rational and empirical knowledge. This form of science developed as a consequence of the Reformation, which focussed men’s minds on what they do, rather than on who they were called to be. In contemporary science observation and experiment supplanted morality, and has led to the desire for success in whatever you seek.
The Church is a social and spiritual force for uniting people, based up the free adhesion of the individual.
The State is a political force for uniting people, based on material power.
Christianity is a radically new outlook which sees great value in humanity and in the natural world. Christianity is the source of modern science (the way in which a person, who is enlightened by the Gospel, knows reality) and Law.
Metaphysics, which has always been a part of man’s reflection, but which became a particular focus with the ancient Greek philosophers, concerns that which transcends change and limitation – what lies behind the things that we see. The ancients called this ‘Being’. Christian metaphysics ultimately calls ‘Being’ God, and involves the History of Salvation – the way that God has acted in history for man’s good. This involves a positive and Realistic outlook on the material order.
For the modern mind, which had set the Gospel aside, metaphysics metamorphosed reality into a mathematical structure. In this system, man is merely a by-product and metaphysics has evaporated, since everything, including man, is part of a vast mechanical order. This state of affairs shows that science has much more difficulty with philosophy and metaphysics than it does with religion.
Progress is either the effect that Christ’s work has on human beings and the created order, or it refers to the belief that human effort will lead to the development of human beings.
Civilisation is the result of social and moral unification.
Christian civilization the unification of peoples through the life and mission of the Church.
The Enlightenment was a period (17th to 19th Centuries) in which there was a fluid mix of two great movements; science and reason, and faith and theology. In England, ever seeking a practical approach, the new Post-Reformation religious impulse of morality and asceticism, produced the Industrial Revolution.
Liberalism, following the Reformation, flowed out of secularization and economic individualism. It is an un-substantiated shadow projected from Christianity and had three, distinct movements; English, American, and French. Liberalism had, at its root, the desire to protect one’s self and one’s material acquisitions. In Liberalism, human beings are defined by property rights, rather than having been created in the image of God. It is economy, not Charity, that shapes our lives. Liberalism, in seeking to secularise people, in fact undermined its own spiritual foundation, the foundation upon which the West had been built. This spiritual collapse, alongside material progress, led to social crises. Liberalism produced Socialism.
Marxism is, at root, a disaffection with the social order and a demand for another one.
Europe arose, in the Dark Ages, as a civilization, based upon ecclesiastical unity, and not upon political unity. Europe did not arise from a place of natural unity The heart of Europe was a spiritual and moral citizenship, knit together with the scientific movement.
Wednesday, 2 January 2019
The second Part of “Progress and Religion” by Dawson is an overview of the history of civilization and culture, written from the central hinge of human life, which is the religious impulse that is situated within all human beings, and the concrete expression of religion, both of which form civilization and culture.
What we read here is history looked at from the central axis of human life – not dates or famous people, not food, or reproduction, or the faculty of reason, or economics, but the relationship between human beings and the divine – which reveals the depth of human identity, much of which we have forgotten, and been distracted from, in the fast-changing age in which we live.
Dawson’s scholarship keenly brings together the major facets of humanity, placing them in their right order, an order that arises from the relationship around which all human life and activity revolve – the relationship that human nature has with the divine. This relationship becomes visible in ritual, in society, in culture and in civilization, and so we see human beings set in relief.
Anthropology is implicit in much of Dawson’s narrative. An anthropology, assuming that it is an adequate one, is the foundation for speaking about human beings in any sense. While the author does speak about anthropology directly in Part One of his book, that understanding lies behind what he says in Part Two, and that anthropological basis can be deduced from the text.
Writing long before the New Evangelsation was envisaged, Dawson was not able to comment on what would be the depth of the Church’s response to the human situation today. That is for us to do, so that we can more fully participate in the New Evangelisation.
Saturday, 22 December 2018
This post completes my notes on the second part of Dawson's book "Progress and Religion". In the New Year I will post giving some final comments on the text and, hopefully, listing in summary the basic elements and factors that Dawson speaks of.
The major religions can indeed be criticised today. Intellectual absolutism, a focus on the metaphysical, and a preoccupation with the Eternal, have all tended to turn men’s minds away from the material world and to devalue natural knowledge. Today’s culture wants a religion which leads to social action and development.
Whether or not we set Christianity aside today in favour of the new movement of evolutionary vitalism, what is present in our culture is firstly, moral idealism. This is the fruit of an age of religious faith and spiritual discipline. Secondly, humanitarianism. This is the fruit of a society that has worshipped the Incarnation – the Divine humanity of Jesus Christ. But if dogmatic Christianity is rejected, this humanitarianism will be divorced from its foundation, and it will not then continue to exist in the same way.
A created, non-organic religion will be neither truly religious nor completely rational, and so it will fail. The West then, has two choices; either to abandon Christianity, and with it faith in progress and humanity, or embrace anew moral idealism and humanitarianism. Whichever takes place the religious impulse needs to be expressed openly and not in furtive ways. Yes, it is true that a religion without Revelation is still attractive, but this is also a religion without history. But one of the great characteristics of Christianity is that it is historical, and is not merely an unprogressive metaphysic, as in Eastern religions. Nor is Christianity purely rational. The discursive reason is arid ground for a dynamic religion; metaphysics is necessary if reason and religion are to meet. On the other hand, the religious impulse finds rich soil in historical reality. All religions, even Oriental ones, need something of this. In Christianity, the historical element is identified with the transcendent and gives humanity its value. Christianity is, in fact, the Religion of Progress. What flows out of Christianity is not an abstract idea, but spiritual values in history. With Christianity something new has entered into history and has created a new order of creative, spiritual progress. This is not grasped by Reason, a faculty which organises the past, but is grasped by Faith, which is the promise of the future.
Christianity is also the source of that movement which genuinely nurtures humanity. A real humanitarianism needs the support of a positive religious tradition. The desire for a just social order, which was once the vision of classical Liberalism (whose root is a religious impulse), will diminish if it is not reinforced by spiritual conviction. In the past society was given moral force by Christianity, enabling it to grapple with and dominate its circumstances. Science does not have that influence; it cannot organize and transform human existence alone. It needs a moral purpose to drive it.
Oriental religions tend to deny the importance of the material world, and thus support the view that religion is incompatible with science. Christianity is different; it does not see the material world as evil. It does not reject nature, but rather, seeks its ennoblement. The way in which Western science and law has organized nature is not alien to Christianity, but is analogous to the progressive spiritualization of human nature by Christianity. The future of humanity depends upon the harmony and co-ordination of these two processes.
Today, the West is absorbed in the task of material organization, to the detriment of moral and spiritual unity. Yet, these two elements – science and religion – have given Europe its distinctive character.
Without religion, society becomes a neutral force – for aimless material activity – which can tend towards either, militarism or economic exploitation, or towards serving humanity in a genuine way.
Without science, society becomes immobile and unprogressive.
Europe has never possessed the natural unity of the other great cultures. A spiritual foundation, rather than a political one, was the uniting factor. And in being that foundation we see that the Church was a much nobler institution than the State.
Today, we take it for granted that it is materialism that unifies society, and that religion is a source of division. However, the marginalization of religion has led to the impoverishment of our culture. The state of society today is an anomaly and is not the normal condition of humanity.
Culture is essentially a spiritual community, which transcends economic and political orders. The genuine organ of culture is the Church, not the State.
The Church is the embodiment of a spiritual tradition, resting not upon a material power (the State), but on the free adhesion of the individual. In the past, the Church co-existed with multiple States, without absorbing or being absorbed by them. This co-existence enabled both material independence and political freedom, and it gave rise to the wider unity of our civilization. This process of spiritual integration is the true goal of human progress.
Thursday, 13 December 2018
In every age religion has expressed man’s dominant attitude to life and to the understanding of reality. It is also the greatest dynamic in social life. The secularisation of society is a sign of social decay. In the West, religious tradition and culture are not identical but express a dualism; both seek to bring order and intelligibility into life and thought.
Today science is regarded as the true European tradition, and Christianity is seen as alien – a tradition that has temporarily deflected the normal development of our culture. But neither science nor Christianity are the result of a natural process of development.
The West was unified by Christianity and, as a consequence, it was able to assimilate Greek thought. Science was never able to be a substitute for religion. Science is an intellectual method, not a dynamic impulse from within the person.
Science and religion are distinct in origin, and so today, a new synthesis may in fact be achieved. This will happen through the integration of science and a non-rational yet naturalistic doctrine, and with the abandonment of Christianity.
Science arose from the ritual of ancient religion, and so a modern ‘religion of science’ would be perfectly in order – provided that it be recognized as belonging to the realm of religion and not to that of science. For instance, Plato regarded science as a religious discipline, and in this way he substituted astronomy for mythology.
Today, such an attitude would be out of tune, particularly with regard to bringing any element of metaphysics into the frame. Today’s religion will have to be based in the here and now.
In this analysis we can see the way that ‘faith’ is understood by the secular mind – ‘faith’ is a quality that can belong to any person, rather than to a religion. And that, as a consequence, there is a new relationship between society and ‘faith’; society welcomes people of ‘faith’, one amongst equals. Society however, will not now be formed and guided by Faith, as it was in the previous Christian age.
Today it is commonly accepted that the development of religion since classical times was a ‘blind alley’ for humanity, and that we need to return to the older attitude to nature and life, which was abandoned by developing civilisations about 3000 ago. This will allow us to have a new paganism, where we can again worship the vital forces of nature in place of having a participation in a transcendent divinity. In this new religion, scientific law will replace religious ritual. Even so, this new form of religion will not be a return to the primitive. Now that man has a certain control over his environment, the attitude of awe and wonder is no longer strong, nor can he now admit the supremacy of a non-rational power – which is just as well, because for 3000 years much of humanity has grown and developed precisely through its relationship with a transcendent divinity.