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Confessions II and the Human Will

The thematic center to the second book of the Confessions is the human will (voluntas): our dynamic propulsion towards the good.  It has been asserted that Augustine is the first to give us a theology of the will.[1]  And, his interest in the human will is all-pervasive.  For Augustine’s anthropology, the will is so defining of our identity that it is perhaps more true to say not that you have a will, but that you are your will.  The will is identified with the affective vector of the human person, such that we can say (with insufficient nuance) that, for Augustine, love is the will.  It is the dynamic propensity to seek rest in the object of affection and drives all we do.  Indeed, the entire moral life can be evaluated by one’s loves precisely because you become that which you love.  What we love shapes us and eventually even transforms us into itself.  In his Homilies on the Epistle of John, Augustine writes, “Always as a person loves, so he is.  Do you love the earth?  Then you are of the earth.  Do you love God? Then you are of God.”[2]  Our desires and loves determine where we seek rest.  If we seek rest in created goods—transient and material goods lower than the soul’s own nature—the result is exhaustion, disintegration, and unhappiness.  Conversely, desiring rest in the divine reality for which the soul is fitted brings with it peace, joy, and good fruit.

The dynamism of the will—a vital, driving force—is perhaps the most distinctly Augustinian feature to his account of the human will.  The will necessarily moves; it pulls somewhere.  And, having found the object of its affection, the will takes aim, seeking to unite itself to that which it loves.  Elsewhere Augustine writes that while impure love pulls the soul down, holy love raises the soul to eternal realties: “Every kind of love has its own energy, and in the soul of a lover love cannot be idle; it must lead somewhere.”[3] “I was moving,” recalls Augustine in the second book of the Confessions, “but far from you (irem abs te longius)” (2.2.2).  In Confessions II Augustine uses the narrative of his autobiography—recalling formative unhappy experiences of his youth—to articulate his mature theology of the will.  It is this account of the human will that also underwrites the two dominant theological topics of the book that we will unpack: the nature of evil and the character of friendship.

Not only is the will a dynamic élan, a moving existential force, but, for Augustine, the will is also always—invariably and necessarily—ordered to pursue the good.  This is a fundamental premise.  We cannot will evil.  Objections to this premise arise almost immediately.  A moment’s honest self-reflection reveals countless times our will is drawn to what it should not.  Augustine suggests a slight qualification to this fundamental anthropological premise: East of Eden, in the regime of sin, the will is always—invariably and necessarily—ordered to pursue the perceived good.  Recall the quip attributed to G.K. Chesterton: “A man knocking on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”   Often we misappraise the good: we desire some good at the wrong time, in the wrong way, in the wrong amount, etc.  Taking a fourth generous pour of Scotch with friends last night was not good: I lost mental clarity, my speech was injudicious, I slept poorly and got up late.  But I said “Sure!” because I perceived another dram to be good; I could not have acquiesced if I did not perceive it to be good.

 A common objection to the Augustinian contention that our will invariably and exclusively desires (perceived) goods is that it soft-pedals the gravity of evil.  Sure, the desire for a “perceived good” makes sense of having one too many drinks, but what of vicious crimes—cold-blooded murder?  Even here, insists Augustine, the principle stands.  Even objectively monstrous evils—the 9/11 terrorists plots, for example—germinate in the soul, are cultivated, put into motion, and, finally, realized only as perceived goods.

Why is this the case?  Why can the will not be drawn to evil?  Because evil is a nothing.  Evil is a lack.  There is no “there” there to which the will might be drawn.  In Augustine’s technical articulation, evil is a privatio boni, a privation of the good.  A moral evil—sin—is a defection from the good.  But it is nonsense to speak of the “cause” of defect.  Nothing has no cause.  Famously, Augustine is left with admitting his ignorance about the cause of an evil will: “If you ask this, and I answer that I do not know, probably you will be saddened.  And yet that would be a true answer.  That which is nothing cannot be known.”[4]  Evil entails the absence of some good requisite for the flourishing of the whole.  The definition of evil as privatio boni contains two essential implications, the first in the order of being (ontological) and the second in the order of knowing (epistemological).

First, to hold that evil is a privation entails that the good has ontological priority.  This is a metaphysical claim before it is a moral claim.  We suffer natural evils.  If I am born without an arm, I suffer an evil; a good requisite to the whole of my body is absent.  Evil is always subsequent and parasitical to the good.  It attaches itself to some good thing and sucks the life out of it.  This makes sense: Genesis 3 comes after Genesis 1 and 2.  God first fashions an ordered whole that is “very good,” its corruption is subsequent.  However, our initial instinct is not to think of evil as a privation; we endow evil with an ontological “thickness” and reality it does not possess.  We seem almost instinctively to hold dualistic or Manichaean views of evil—a Star Wars mentality of light versus darkness, each with its own forcefield vying for supremacy both in our souls and in the world.  Consider the classic image of the comic book hero standing at a crossroads, needing to make a decision.  On his right shoulder a cherubic angel is perched, urging our hero to follow the high path, to listen to his better self.  But, on his left shoulder a horned demon grasping a trident temptingly whispers that he take the easy route and put his own desires first.  Here Good and Evil are rendered substantial; each pulls in the opposite direction.  But this is to endow evil with being—with an ontological density—that it does not have.

Second, the fact that evil is a privation entails it lacks intelligibility.  We struggle to make sense of evil.  And, that’s as it should be.  If being and good are convertible, then a lack of goodness entails a lack of being.  But how do you explain a lack?  You can’t.  We can only account for the good; we can only explain being that exists.  We cannot explain nothing.  A dentist can’t actually tell you about your cavity—the absence of your tooth.  To explain a cavity, he needs to speak about the tooth that remains, which is missing something.  Without a tooth there is no cavity.  Or, try to explain the hole in a doughnut, without referring to the substantial good of the doughnut.  I need to apprehend the nature of the “good requisite” before I can speak of evil.  The good as an ordered, integral, created nature needs be intellectually “seen” before I can recognize evil as a corruption of that nature.  I need to know what a whole, healthy human body is before I can recognize that to be deprived of an arm or to mutilate my body in some way is an evil.  I need to know the nature of a loving marriage to perceive that bigamy is evil.  The lack of intelligibility proper to evil is the counterpoint to the truth that being and good are convertible.  Omne ens est scibile, reads a popular scholastic adage: “all being is knowable.” Creation is ordered, structured, harmonious, that is to say, good, and therefore knowable.  Evil is unknowable because there is no-thing to know.  One commentator rightly remarks that, for Augustine, evil is a surd; it is irrational and, ultimately, meaningless.

The privation of the good accounts for life’s many little evils.  For example, I have a flat bike tire because the rubber of the tire has worn away over time, leaving it exposed to sharp glass.  The good requisite for the tire (rubber) is absent.  But great evils—evils in which the attendant good seems so distant and the privation so all-consuming—leave us at a loss.  Perhaps this explains something of our society’s fascination with figures in whom evil seems almost totalizing. (Consider the slew of TV documentaries devoted to psychopathic killers.)  Or, our enduring interest in monstrous historical evils.  (We have whole university programs devoted to holocaust studies.)  We want to understand what cannot be understood.

These two essential claims attendant to the definition of evil as privatio boni—that evil is a lack in the order of being (ontological) and, therefore, a lack in the order of knowing (epistemological)—structure Augustine’s moral analysis of the theft of the pears in the Confessions.  This infamous scene—now recalled years later as a mature bishop—gives Augustine a literary opportunity to articulate his theology of human willing.  Augustine insists it was “nothing” that attracted him.  This absence or privation—“nothing”—is here hypostatized, rendered a substantive noun.  Paradoxically, “nothing” is the thing that Augustine pursues:

I wanted to carry out an act of theft and did so, driven by no kind of need other than my inner lack of any sense of, or feeling for, justice.  Wickedness filled me (sagina iniquitatis).  I stole something which I had in plenty and of much better quality.  My desire was to enjoy not what I sought by stealing but merely the excitement of thieving and the doing of what was wrong.  There was a pear tree near our vineyard laden with fruit, though attractive in neither color nor taste….  We carried off a huge load of pairs.  But they were not for our feasts but merely to throw to the pigs.  Even if we ate a few, nevertheless our pleasure lay in doing what was not allowed (2.4.9).

The inexplicable character of evil is on full display.  Augustine says I wanted (volui) to thieve.  But he cannot really explain this want, because to explain would be to tell of the good he sought in that evil act.  But here the good is so occluded as to seem altogether absent.  It is not the good of food that compels him to reach for the forbidden fruit.  Rather, an absence—a deficiency of justice—drives him.  But how can a nothing have such causality?  As James Wetzel provocatively puts it, “An absence is not an agent … where does an absence get the legs for that?”[5]  Augustine describes himself as stuffed by depravity: sagina iniquitatis—a fascinating, if paradoxical, description of the sated “fulness” of this absence.  The will’s desire for a perceived good explains evil behavior.  Here, however, there is no thing (res) that “I wished to enjoy” (volebam frui).  The fruit is not attractive; what is pilfered is thrown to swine.  It is the theft and sin itself that is sought (ipso furto et peccato).  Augustine is attempting to give an account of what is unintelligible: pure evil.  Augustine’s rhetoric serves to highlight this problem.  He asks himself, “What was I seeking there?” (quid ibi quaerebat) and answers,

I became evil for no reason (causa nulla).  I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself.  It was foul, and I loved it.  I loved the self-destruction, I loved my fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fault itself.  My depraved soul leaped down from your firmament to ruin.  I was seeking not to gain anything by shameful means, but shame for its own sake (2.4.9).

The will is a dynamic propulsion of love for the (perceived) good.  Here, however, Augustine reifies evil, seeming to give it an ontological status.  Evil is presented as a thing and something desired for its own sake.  It is evil itself Augustine seems to seek.  Four times Augustine repeats, amavi—“I loved.”  He loved the foul (foeda amavi), he loved the destructive (amavi perire), he loved the defective (amavi defectum), and tellingly—in case we missed the point—he insists it was not a defective good that he loved (non illud ad quod deficiebam), but he loved the defect itself (defectumipsum).  How can this be?

Ultimately, this cannot be.  It runs counter to the fundamental ontological structures of the universe: God creates good things, to which evil is subsequent and corruptive.  Why does a person do evil?  For the good!  It is the good desired in an evil act that drives a person.  Augustine proceeds to define sin as an “immoderate urge towards those things which are at the bottom end of the scale of the good” (2.5.10).  The will is not static: it either inclines down, desiring goods lower than its own nature, or it is drawn up; the weight of its love lifting it to seek spiritual goods higher than its own nature.  Admittedly, when the will seeks the lowest realities of “inferior goods” (ima), these too have their delight.  The reason is given in Augustine’s prayerful exclamation: Deus meus, qui fecit omnia (“My God, who has made them all” [2.5.10]).

Augustine’s fierce aversion to Manichean dualism leads him to emphasize this point.  No one pursues evil per se; rather, evil is pursued under the formality of the good.  Augustine points out that this is the first thing that any detective worth his salt realizes.  To investigate a crime entails attempting to discover the good that the criminal sought.  This is called the motive.  Augustine imagines a murder scene.  The detective asks, “What motivated a person to commit murder?”  In other words, what is the good the murderer sought?  Many goods could motivate murder: perhaps he desired his victim’s wife or his money.  Or perhaps the murderer acted out of fear.  His desire for the good of safety and stability drove him to murder.  What if he had already suffered at the hands of the person he killed?  The good of (disordered) justice drove him.  Augustine’s point is simple: “No one would commit murder without a motive (sine causa)” (2.5.11).

Even a man so wontedly evil that he seems to delight in killing for its own sake is not in fact so.  In the Roman imagination, the paragon of such unmitigated evil—of terrorist barbarity—is Cataline.  An accomplished Roman solider, Catiline turned traitor and led a violent revolt to overthrow the Roman republic.  Augustine quotes the judgment of the Roman historian, Sallust, who views Catiline as the embodiment of all evil: “It was said of one brutal and cruel man [Catiline] that he was evil and savage without reason” (2.5.11).  But Augustine points out that even Cataline had an “objective.”  The flood of violence and bloodletting he unleashed aimed to secure his own power and prestige, to rule beyond the strictures of Roman law: “No, not even Catiline himself loved his crimes; something else motivated him to commit them” (2.5.11).

We really should not consider vice to be the opposite of virtue, insists Augustine.  The ontological priority of the good and the privative character of evil entail that, instead, vice is a specious imitation of virtue.  La Rochefoucauld famously said that “hypocrisy is a compliment vice pays to virtue.”  What he meant is that a vicious person, debased and besotted by disordered attachments, certainly does not want to be seen as such.  Either such a person denies having such aberrations or simply denies that they are, in fact, aberrations.  Each vice, maintains Augustine, apes at some virtue; vice is unintelligible except as a distorted mirror image of virtue.  Augustine cycles through a catalogue of vices, explaining each as a drab earthly counterfeit of resplendent heavenly virtue—a reality that is, in fact, God’s own (2.6.13).  Pride imitates God’s omnipotence; ambition his divine honor and glory; cruelty seeks to inspire the holy fear due God alone; idleness is a counterfeit to God’s rest; burning rage a parody of divine justice.  Each vice aspires to possess something which in reality is an exclusively divine property and obtains for creatures only by way of participation.  We might say that vice is a creature’s aspiration to possess a divine prerogative in an autonomous manner.  A vicious soul, explains Augustine, seeks transcendence outside of God (extra te); futilely grasping at what can only be had “by returning to you” (redit ad te).  He concludes, “In their perverted way all humanity imitates you” (2.6.14).

As Augustine returns to reflect on his own vicious teenage delinquency he affirms once again that “the theft itself was a nothing (nihil)” (2.8.16).  But there must be something that drove him, some good he sought in his theft.  James O’Donnell remarks, “His principle, after all, is that nothing is nothing save evil, and that there is no thing-ness to evil that could attract even the wickedest of souls.”[6]  If the good sought in his theft was not the pears, what was it?  As Augustine turns the incident over in his mind (“I remember my state of mind to be thus at the time” [2.8.16]) he comes—in the last paragraphs of the book—to identify the good he sought: his desire for comradery and friendship—or, rather, a specious imitation of friendship—drove him.

Friends, for Augustine, act as an accelerant on the will.  They drive the will beyond its typical limitations.  We rightly say that friends bring out the best in us.  When we consider the heroic actions of great saints, we usually discover a dear friend close at hand (St. Gregory and St. Basil; St. Benedict and St. Scholastica; St. Francis and St. Clare; St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier; St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross).  The converse is also true.  Malevolent and base actions, especially if they are contrary to our typical mode of acting, are often incited by friends.  Today we term such malign influence on our will “peer-pressure”—an experience acutely felt by young people whose will is as yet less stable.  Augustine was no exception.  He writes, “Friendship can be a dangerous enemy (o nimis inimica amicitia) a seduction of the mind lying beyond the reach of investigation…. As soon as the words are spoken, ‘Let us go and do it’, one is ashamed not to be shameless” (2.9.17).  Augustine blames the company he kept for his marauding thievery.  Five times he repeats, “Alone I would never have done it” (2.8.16–2.9.17).

Had I been alone I would not have done it—I remember my state of mind to be thus at the time—alone I would never have done it.  Therefore my love in that act was to be associated with the gang (consortium) in whose company I did it…. My pleasure was not in the pears; it was in the crime itself, done in association with a sinful group (consortium) (2.8.16).

Friendship is major theme in Book II and inseparable from Augustine’s theology of the will.  However, it is revelatory that Augustine never once calls his teenage troupe “friends” (amicitia), instead he labels them “associates” (consortium).  This omission highlights Augustine’s understanding of the nature of friendship.

Friendship is a relationship of will; a communion, exclusive to persons—human, angelic, and (as Augustine boldly suggests in one place) divine.  “An exchange of mind with mind,” maintains Augustine, “marks the brightly lit pathway of friendship” (2.2.2).  Only persons, that is, intellectual natures, can jointly will a common good.  In his maturity, Augustine was a great friend and had many friends; a fact attested to by his voluminous correspondence with a host of friends all over the Mediterranean world.  A frequently voiced desire is Augustine’s wish to live in community together with his friends.  Here he lyrically writes, “Human friendship is also a nest of love and gentleness because of the unity it brings about between many souls” (2.5.10).  The love proper to friends impels to “unity.”  Another way to say this is friends possess a common will.  That shared will (in Augustine’s terms, a “bond”) jointly aims at some good.  Thus, for Augustine, friendship is triangular.  It is not simply two (or more) people’s mutual delight in one another, but, rather, their joint delight in a common good.  Augustine terms this third thing (or person) that constitutes a friendship their “common object of love.”  So just as the quality of an individual’s will is determined by what he loves, that is, the good he seeks and delights in, so too, the quality of a friendship is determined by the mutual will or love of the friends, that joint reality which they together seek and delight in.  The “common object of love” is the register by which one can adjudicate the quality of a friendship.  If the common object of love is noble, beautiful, and life-giving, so too is the friendship.  Conversely, if the common object of love is base and slovenly, so too is the friendship.  Imagine friends who do little more than get together for gossip or drinking sessions; such communion hardly rises to the definition of “friendship.”  But people whose mutual object of love consist in joint sport, study, service, etc. possess a union of wills that aims at something beautiful and hence enjoy a beautiful friendship.  In this analysis, then, the highest form of friendship is when friends possess a joint love for God.

Confessions II gives us a profound literary analysis of the human will—the will as a moving, driving force seeking union with the good.  This movement can be focused and direct or distracted and fragmented.  After the fall, we often confuse genuine goods conducive to our flourishing and fulfilment with those that are hollow and ersatz.  Yet, it remains that case that we are hardwired to pursue exclusively that which we perceive to be good.  We cannot will evil.  Augustine’s poignant reflections on the theft of the pears serve to illustrate the principle that the will is never attracted to evil per se.  This is because evil lacks reality; it is a privation of the good, for which reason it also lacks intelligibility.  Pure evil is pure nothingness—there is no-thing to which the will might be drawn and no “there” to explain.  Augustine uses the “pear incident” to illustrate both that evil is a nothing and that it is the good that is sought in any evil act.  The good Augustine sought in thievery was a sense of camaraderie or specious friendship.  A shared love of a good, that is to say, a common will, constitutes authentic friendship.  And, just as an individual’s will is determined by the quality of the good sought, so too the common will or bond of friendship is determined by the quality of the good jointly pursued.

Is Les Miserables Anti-Catholic?

I have at last closed the cover on Victor Hugo’s epic, 1260-page Les Miserables. Its dust-jacket in shreds but the spine intact, this behemoth has made its way back to the shelf after a year (yes, a year) of faithfully enlivening my leisure time and literary imagination. While I was waist-deep in the book, people would notice the book on this table or that, and suddenly a conversation would be born. Catholic friends tend to give an unconscious raised eyebrow while asking curious yet dismissive questions such as: “Oh, hmm… Isn’t he, well, you know, anti-Catholic?” Or, “Interesting…I heard that book’s rather anti-Catholic.” I pause for a moment, unsure of myself in light of this conversation killer. “Are we thinking of the same book?” I wonder. I consider, “Perhaps I’ve seriously misunderstood Hugo. The person I’m talking with is pretty sharp, after all.” After some mental water-treading, I generally come to rest on a thought like this, “Well, I’m only x pages into this beast. Maybe I just haven’t gotten to the anti-Catholic part yet.” Having scaled the rampart, slinked through the sewer, and seen the wonderful ironic resolution, I own an admission of Hugo’s clear jabs at Catholicism. Perhaps despite Hugo’s own efforts, however, the text simply cannot stand up to a facile, anti-Catholic claim. Catholic truth, goodness, and beauty abound in the book, but one section in particular stands out, perhaps because Hugo—despite his best efforts to the contrary—ends up showing forth the glory of the consecrated life. Like so many of the book’s most powerful pericopes, this one has no place in the newest film version nor the musical, though its melodrama strikes me as that type irresistible to Hollywood and Broadway. I speak of Jean Valjean’s two pivotal moments of redemption. We all know the first saving moment for Jean Valjean—the Bishop’s hospitality and then radical forgiveness, which bring about the criminal’s ensuing conversion. The candlesticks “given” to the criminal as tokens of the bishop’s hope in the power of grace to redeem any man given back to God in love. This scene shines for its universal, undeniably attractive Christian pathos. This moment of forgiveness marks the purchase of Jean Valjean’s freedom, even if he does not understand this redemption until later, when reflecting on having stolen a coin from a destitute boy. While this salvation lends a Christian lens to the narrative arc, it is another mini-story of this epic that bears the focus of the uniquely Catholic lens: the largely unknown story of the Convent at Petit Picpus. In desperate flight from the indominable Javert, Jean Valjean scales a wall, raises Cossette over it with himself, and drops down from its height into the depths of the last place he had thought to be: a Catholic cloister, the convent of an astoundingly austere religious order. To be sure, Hugo’s description of this order, their meticulous attention to the rule, their attention to each other (perhaps over-attention), their allergy to men, and their general lack of joy gives him fodder for some strong critique of the religious life, and a Catholic worldview. Catholics, but especially these women, seem to live as though already dead, seem to have committed a kind of suicide, dead to the concrete goods of the world, frozen in a morgue of traditionalism, in the hope of a life they might one day possess eternally. Hugo seems to paint the nuns as leaning toward a kind of hypocrisy and foolishness in their preference for this a living death. Consider the stony words Hugo slings at the religious:
Monastic communities are to the great social community what the ivy is to the oak, what the wart is to the human body. There prosperity and fatness are the impoverishment of the country. The monastic system, useful as it is in the dawn of civilization, in effecting the abatement of brutality by the development of the spiritual, is injurious in the manhood of nations. Especially when it relaxes and enters upon its period of disorganization, the period in which we now see it, does it become baneful, for every reason that made it salutary, in its period of purity… The convent…is one of the gloomiest concretions of the Middle Ages. The cloister…was the intersecting point of multiplied horrors. The Catholic cloister, properly so-called, is filled with the black effulgence of death. A convent is a contradiction,—its object salvation, its means self-sacrifice. The convent is supreme egotism resulting in supreme self-denial. In the cloister they suffer that they may enjoy—they draw a bill of exchange on death…The assumption for the veil…is a suicide reimbursed by an eternity….”
Hugo believes the monastic moment has passed. A life lived on the edge of eternity must die with the birth of enlightenment progress, progress which requires all to participate and be open to its movements, its scouring the hull of society for accretions. The monastic life claims an irresponsible and unjust right to resist the inevitable progress of man. Progress will and must destroy the monastic “dream of the indefinite prolongation of things dead and the government of mankind by embalming…to foist the past upon the present.” Hugo respects the past, “provided it will but consent to be dead. But, if it insist upon being alive, we attack it and endeavour to kill it.” Interestingly, Hugo’s depiction is, at least in part, explicitly supported by Catholic saints. St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata (no. 59), calls the cloister “a way of living Christ’s Passover. From being an experience of ‘death,’ it becomes a superabundance of life, representing a joyful proclamation…” St. John Paul II affirms the cloister as a place of death, but resists Hugo’s claim that the religious somehow confuse the death for life itself. Instead it is more progressive, more forward looking than the most progressive worldly society could be, since the cloister already contains within it a participation in the summum bonum the remainder of the world ceaselessly believes “progress” will bring them alongside. Now, despite Hugo’s open attack, he cannot bring himself to be wholly uncharitable to religious life. After a number of short chapters jabbing religious life, he concedes a patronizing allowance for the convent as “a place of error but of innocence”:
This monastic experience, austere and gloomy as it is…is not life, is not liberty: for it is not the grave, for it is not completion: it is that singular place, from which, as from the summit of a lofty mountain, we perceive, on one side, the abyss in which we are, and, on the other, the abyss wherein we are to be: it is a narrow and misty boundary, that separates two worlds, at once illuminated and obscured by both, where the enfeebled ray of life commingles with the uncertain ray of death; it is the twilight of the tomb. For ourselves, we, who do not believe what these women believe, but live, like them, by faith, never could look without a species of tender and religious awe, a kind of pity full of envy, upon those devoted beings…waiting between the world closed to them and heaven not yet opened; turned towards the daylight not yet seen, with only the happiness of thinking that they know where it is; their aspirations directed towards the abyss and the unknown, their gaze fixed on the motionless gloom, kneeling, dismayed, stupefied, shuddering, and half borne away at certain times by the deep pulsations of Eternity.
Even if this is Hugo’s true opinion, that the Catholic lens brings into focus the dead past while blurring out the progress of the present, he cannot help but allow the beauty and wonder of the true Catholic worldview through the stained glass of Jean Valjean’s meditations. Hugo, even if he is an anti-Catholic, humbly allows Jean Valjean’s insight to lift the haze of any prejudice that might fog his own mind. Because no summary can equal his prose, I give you a generous excerpt here:
God has his own ways. The convent contributed, like Cosette, to confirm and complete, in Jean Valjean, the work of the Bishop. It cannot be denied that one of virtue's phases ends in pride. Therein is a bridge built by the Evil One. Jean Valjean was, perhaps, without knowing it, near that very phase of virtue, and that very bridge, when Providence flung him into the convent of the Petit-Picpus. So long as he compared himself only with the Bishop, he found himself unworthy and remained humble; but, for some time past, he had been comparing himself with the rest of men, and pride was springing up in him. Who knows? He might have finished by going gradually back to hate. The convent stopped him on this descent. It was the second place of captivity he had seen. In his youth, in what had been for him the commencement of life, and later, quite recently too, he had seen another, a frightful place, a terrible place, the severities of which had always seemed to him to be the iniquity of public justice and the crime of the law. Now, after having seen the galleys, he saw the cloister, and reflecting that he had been an inmate of the galleys, and that he now was, so to speak, a spectator of the cloister, he anxiously compared them in his meditations with anxiety. Sometimes he would lean upon his spade and descend slowly along the endless rounds of reverie. He recalled his former companions, and how wretched they were. They rose at dawn and toiled until night. Scarcely allowed to sleep they lay on camp-beds, and were permitted to have mattresses but two inches thick in halls which were warmed only during the most inclement months. They were attired in hideous red sacks, and had given to them, as a favour, a pair of canvas pantaloons in the heats of midsummer, and a square of woolen stuff to throw over their shoulders, during the bitterest frosts of winter. They had no wine to drink, no meat for food excepting when sent upon “extra hard work.” They lived without names, distinguished solely by numbers, and reduced, as it were, to ciphers, lowering their eyes, lowering their voices, with their hair cropped close, under the rod, and plunged in shame.
The reader already sees the mental comparisons stacking up in Valjean’s mind, from the allusion to early rising and little sleep on account of the work of prayer, acetic cold, uncomfortable habits hiding cropped hair, austere diet, new names given at consecration, vows of silence, fear under the rod of God’s wrath, and overwhelming shame at the possession of sexuality or any passions whatsoever. In the following paragraphs he describes the convent’s practices in a manner exceeding the pains of the galleys. We see the hammer of progressive critique about to strike the nail of religious life deeper into the cross of the Christ it purports to honor. By miraculous discipline, however, Hugo cannot bring himself to let fall the blow. He allows Jean Valjean’s wrestling with the juxtaposition of these two forms of imprisonment. The one in guilt, the other in innocence. The one til expiation or escape, the other til death. Valjean ponders the results of each form of slavery—the galley and the cloister:
What resulted from the first? One vast curse, the gnashing of teeth, hatred, desperate depravity, a cry of rage against human society, sarcasm against heaven. What issued form the second? Benediction and love. And, in these two places, so alike and yet so different, these two species of beings so dissimilar were performing the same work of expiation. Jean Valjean thoroughly comprehended the expiation of the first; personal expiation, expiation for oneself. But, he did not understand that of the others, of these blameless, spotless creatures, and he asked himself with a tremor: “Expiation of what? What expiation?” A voice responded in his conscience: the most divine of all human generosity, expiation for others. Here we withhold all theories of our own: we are but the narrator; at Jean Valjean’s point of view we place ourselves and we merely reproduce his impressions.
This last line lays bear Hugo’s own conflicted thoughts on the Catholic worldview. He can’t bring himself to avow Valjean’s position. He must break the fourth wall to disavow the vision that so powerfully raptures the reader, a vision that is ironically borne out by Valjean’s entire life—lived for the redemption, happiness, and expiation of Fantine and Cosette. Let’s allow Hugo (I mean, Jean Valjean) to continue:
He had before his eyes the sublime summit of self-denial, the loftiest possible height of virtue; innocence forgiving men their sins and expiating them in their stead; servitude endured, torture accepted, chastisement and misery invoked by souls that had not sinned in order that these might not fall upon souls which had; the love of humanity losing itself in the love of God, but remaining there, distinct and suppliant; sweet, feeble beings supporting all the torments of those who are punished, yet retaining the smile of those who are rewarded. And then he remembered that he had dared to complain. Often, in the middle of the night, he would rise from his bed to listen to the grateful anthem of these innocent beings thus overwhelmed with austerities, and he felt the blood run cold in his veins as he reflected that they who were justly punished never raised their voices towards Heaven excepting to blaspheme, and that he, wretch that he was, had uplifted his clenched fist against God. Another strange thing which made him muse and meditate profoundly seemed like an intimation whispered in his ear by Providence itself: the scaling of walls, the climbing over inclosures, the risk taken in defiance of danger or death, the difficult and painful ascent—all those very efforts that he had made to escape from the other place of expiation, he had made to enter this one. Was this an emblem of his destiny? This house, also, was a prison, and bore dismal resemblance to the other from which he had fled, and yet he had never conceived anything like it. He once more saw gratings, bolts and bars of iron—to shut in whom? Angels. Those lofty walls which he had seen surrounding tigers, he now saw encircling lambs. It was a place of expiation, not of punishment; and yet it was still more austere, more somber and more pitiless than the other. These virgins were more harshly bent down than the convicts. A harsh, cold blast, the blast that had frozen his youth, careered across that grated moat and manacled the vultures; but a wind still more biting and more cruel beat upon the dove cage. And why? When he thought of these things, all that was in him gave way before this mystery of sublimity. In these meditations, pride vanished. He reverted, again and again, to himself; he felt his own pitiful unworthiness, and often wept. All that had occurred in his existence for the last six months, led him back towards the holy injunctions of the bishop; Cosette through love, the convent through humility. Sometimes, in the evening, about dusk, at the hour when the garden was solitary, he was seen kneeling, in the middle of the walk that ran along the chapel, before the window through which he had looked, on the night of his first arrival, turned towards the spot where he knew that the sister who was performing the reparation was prostrate in prayer. Thus he prayed kneeling before this sister. It seemed as though he dared not kneel directly before God. Everything around him, this quiet garden, these balmy flowers, these children, shouting with joy, these meek and simple women, this silent cloister, gradually entered into all his being, and little by little, his soul subsided into silence like this cloister, into fragrance like these flowers, into peace like this garden, into simplicity like these women, into joy like these children. And then he reflected that two houses of God had received him in succession at the two critical moments of his life, the first when every door was closed and human society repelled him; the second, when human society again howled upon his track, and the galleys once more gaped for him; and that, had it not been for the first, he should have fallen back into crime, and had it not been for the second, into punishment. His whole heart melted in gratitude, and he loved more and more.
So, is Les Miserables anti-Catholic? Yes, explicitly it would seem so. Hugo’s sainted bishop shines as a brilliant Christian only despite his institutional Catholicism. The religious life is excoriated as a blockade to progress, allowed only on account of the good will of those entering such an erroneous life. At the same time, no, Hugo’s work is profoundly pro-Catholic. Hugo’s critiques feel insipid, forced, pallid in the face of Jean Valjean’s vivid meditation on the religious life and the second redemption it has offered him and, indeed, offers the world at large. His wooden philosophizing cannot stand up to the winds of his sweeping narrative. For not only does he allow Jean Valjean’s astounding meditation upon religious life onto the page, but he shapes the entire narrative around Jean Valjean’s life of vicarious expiation on behalf of Fantine, Cosette, and Marius. A consideration, I suppose, for another long-winded blog about the Catholic masterpiece of an even longer-winded (anti-Catholic?) author.

How to Read the Bible like Aquinas & Dante

St. Jerome states, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (CCC 112). In other words, we come to know the reality of Jesus Christ by reading Holy Scripture. Yet, what if we read the Bible incorrectly? If the Scriptures are a source of knowledge about our Lord, would not a wrong reading of the text twist our understanding of Christ? We, especially as moderns, are always in danger of distorting the Gospel to meet our own ideological standards. As Bishop Konderla teaches, “We are called to measure ourselves against the teaching of Christ and His Church, not our own imaginations or standards.” He continues, “We must receive the Jesus Christ who came two-thousand years ago, not create a ‘Jesus’ who meets the fashions and fads of this age” (God Builds a House, 6). If we are to discipline ourselves to receive Jesus—and not manufacture a “Jesus”—then a vital part of that reception is a proper understanding of how to know Christ in Holy Scripture. How then does the Church teach us to read Holy Scripture? In the 1300s, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote a letter to his patron, Lord Cangrande della Scala, regarding how one should read the Divine Comedy.  His answer was simple: you read the Comedy the same way you read the Bible. In summary of Sacred Tradition, Dante explains that there are four senses or ways to read Holy Scripture: literal and three spiritual ways, i.e., allegorical, moral, and anagogical. These four senses were also taught by St. Thomas Aquinas (STI.1.10) and are contained in the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC” 115-19). They represent the time-tested wisdom of the Church on how to come to know and love Jesus Christ through the Holy Scriptures. Let us examine each “sense” of biblical interpretation, how it relates to the others, and how they all draw us into a deeper relationship with our Lord. The literal sense of Scripture is also known as the “historical sense.” St. Thomas notes the literal sense is the meaning the author intended. For example, Dante gives the simple illustration of the passage: “When Israel went out of Egypt.” He observes, “If we look at it from the letter alone it means to us the exit of the Children of Israel from Egypt at the time of Moses.” The literal is simply the intended, historical meaning of a text. It is important, however, to interpret the literal correctly, because “all other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal” (CCC 116). Similarly, Aquinas states that the spiritual sense of Scripture—allegorical, moral, and anagogical—is “based on the literal and presupposes it.” The importance of the literal sense of Scripture as foundational to all other senses emphasizes how vital it is that Catholics read commentaries that are faithful to the magisterium. Like a broken foundation of a home, a slanted literal sense can distort the greater spiritual senses built upon it. The allegorical sense is the first of the three types of the “spiritual sense.” In the allegorical sense, Dante teaches that the aforementioned verse about Israel exiting Egypt “means for us our redemption done by Christ.” But what does the exodus of Israel have to do with Christ? A lot. In the allegorical sense, the reader is always looking for types or signs of how one thing in Scripture signifies another. For example, Israel in bondage to Egypt is similar to us in bondage to sin. Here, Moses would be a type of Christ. He leads the People of God out of Egypt to the Promise Land, as Christ leads us out from sin and into grace and salvation. Moses serves as a sign pointing forward to the reality of Christ. Moreover, both Israel and the Christian faithful find the portal of their salvation through water: the Red Sea and Holy Baptism (CCC 117). In their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites are given bread from heaven, mana; and in our earthly journey toward our Promised Land, heaven, we are given the Bread of Angels, the Holy Eucharist. Christ himself makes this allegorical comparison in the Eucharist Discourse (John 6). The relationship between the allegorical and the literal gives rise to a fundamental principle of reading the Bible: the Old Testament foreshadows the New, and the New Testament perfects the Old. This dynamic between the Old and New Testament, as expressed in signs, serves as an allegorical foundation to both the moral sense and the anagogical sense. The moral sense answers the question: how should I act? It is arguably the spiritual sense with which we are most familiar when trying to read Scripture. The Church teaches, “The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly” (CCC 117). What moral lesson does Dante draw from Israel leaving Egypt? As noted, the moral sense is informed by the allegorical. For example, Dante presents Israel leaving Egypt as “the conversion of the soul from the struggle and misery of sin to the status of grace.” We take the comparisons drawn from the allegorical sense and apply them to our own pursuit of holiness. If Israel leaving the bondage of Egypt is like humanity being delivered by Christ, then how can I apply this lesson to my own moral life? How can I leave behind sin and pursue holiness? St. Thomas says the moral sense focuses on “things done in Christ,” and “what we ought to do.” The allegorical can help the moral dimension of Scripture unfold into a beautiful guide to our earthly pilgrimage. The anagogical sense is arguably the most foreign to modern readers of Scripture. The Catechism expresses that the term anagogical comes from the Greek term anagoge which means “leading” (CCC 117). What is the Scripture ultimately leading us toward? The Church teaches that in the anagogical sense: “We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland” (CCC 117). If the moral is how should I act? then the anagogical is what does this teach me about my final end, i.e., eternal happiness with God in heaven? Like the moral, the anagogical draws from the allegorical to find types and signs. As St. Thomas observes, the anagogical looks for signs that “signify what relates to eternal glory.” For example, Dante notes that the anagogical lesson of Israel leaving Egypt is the final salvation of “the blessed soul from the slavery of this corruption to the freedom of eternal glory.” The anagogical sense always points us toward our heavenly home. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” The four senses of Holy Scripture are a gift from our Sacred Tradition to delve deeper into the mystery of the Bible and thus, in turn, into the mystery of Jesus Christ. Interpreting Scripture aright allows us, as Bishop Konderla instructed, to receive the Jesus Christ that entered into history and not manufacture a “Jesus” out of the fads and fashions of our age. The literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical senses are an invitation to configure ourselves to Jesus Christ and inoculate us against the errors of the present. May we, like Aquinas and Dante, come to love Jesus Christ in the Holy Bible.

“Stick to the Boat:” Moby Dick on Man’s Deepest Fear

Meet Pip, a slight, nervous fellow, yet “at bottom very bright, with that pleasant, genial, jolly brightness peculiar to his tribe; a tribe which ever enjoy all holidays and festivities with finer, freer relish than any other.” With music and dance and joviality, Pip added light to this crew’s heavily burdened mission of death. Despite his being a minor character from Melville’s Moby Dick, Pip’s role on the Pequod’s tragic stage dramatizes a fear closer to the soul than that of death…the fear of being utterly, entirely, and forever alone, a castaway. On account of a crew member’s injury, the lowly Pip finds himself lowering down into a whale-chasing boat, with its plenitude of perils: from the sharks that accompany them in gore’s anticipation; to the ropes encircling the crew; to the razor-sharp harpoons and lances dancing about; to the whales themselves, crashing the hull to pieces or capsizing the party entirely. The first whale his party harpoons makes a run, rapping on the boat right under poor Pip’s seat. Pip involuntarily jumps from the boat, paddle in hand, and entwines himself with the rope, which happens to be attached to both the whale and the boat, mercilessly dragging him along. The chief mate, Stubb, with no little hesitation, finally cuts the rope (“Damn him, cut!”)—releasing the whale to save Pip. After an informal cursing by the crew, and a formal cursing by the chief mate, we hear some sage advice: “Stick to the boat, Pip, or by the Lord, I won’t pick you up if you jump; mind that.” Doubtless, you’ve guessed what happens next: “But we are all in the hands of the Gods; and Pip jumped again.” The difference—this time he avoided the rope. When the whale ran, taking the boat with him, “Pip was left behind on the sea, like a hurried traveller’s trunk. Alas! Stubb was but too true to his word…Out from the centre of the sea, poor Pip turned his crisp, curling, black head to the sun, another lonely castaway, though the loftiest and the brightest.” Such a fate not uncommonly occurs “almost invariably in the fishery, a coward, so called, is marked with the same ruthless detestation peculiar to military navies and armies.” Though his being left behind would have been no surprise, poor Pip was “by merest chance” seen and rescued at the Pequod’s hands. “But from that hour [Pip] went about the deck an idiot; such, at least they said he was.” Pip, in fact, no longer inhabits his own personality but spoke always as if Pip the coward had died, and he was but someone else entirely. How does such psychological destruction happen? What befalls a man bobbing in the sea, entirely alone? How does something as soft as the sea crush a soul? Melville’s focus falls not on the prospect of drowning but the specter of the isolated self. I cannot say it better than he: “the awful lonesomeness is intolerable. The intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! Who can tell it? Mark, how when sailors in a dead calm bathe in the open sea—Mark, how closely they hug their ship and only coast along her sides.” The sea, endless, bottomless, boundless threatens to overwhelm surely the bounded, finite body of man, but even more his boundless immortal soul. Again, I will let Melville speak: “The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.” The Wisdom Pip discovers gains only the name of foolishness among his shipmates. His encounter with the God creating out of the depths annihilated him. Descending toward the nothingness from which God created, he found nothing over-against which to prop up himself, to define himself. In the face of God he became as nought, knew he was as nought. In proclaiming his own death to his shipmates, the death of Pip the coward lies a truth spoken in only slight hyperbole. Perhaps Pip calls himself nought because he has realized that in his smallness, even the awful waters that enshrouded him are themselves encircled by the awesome God who brought them into being, whose Spirit hovered over them in the beginning and sustains them now. What is man’s fear of loneliness? Why does man fly to society? Why does he tremble at being without any other? As Pip’s insane wisdom shows, man flies to society as a means to run from himself, from being forced to confront himself, small coward that he is. The joys of society, with its others to define oneself against and with, and its façade of control in the face of the unfeelingly powerful cosmos, draw us in. The fear of being alone is not that I am absent, no, for in society I become absent. The fear in being alone is not absence but presence—that I am never more present to myself. Despite being surrounded by nothing but open space and no one chasing me, there is nowhere to run. With Pip, either I survive the confrontation with self and own my smallness, or my personality is obliterated in the sweep of the waves of self-presence, a self-presence that leads to an encounter with the one, ironically, most “other”: God himself. Either way, I return from the experience of self a man insane. Glory to God for such wise fools as we might become, each of us a Pip.

The Spirit of the Lord: Romano Guardini

Romano Guardini is one of the most important voices in Catholic intellectual discussions of the last century. This is most evident in the significant influence his works have had on the last three popes. While a student at the University of Munich, Pope Francis started to write a dissertation on him and recently stated, “I am convinced that Guardini is a thinker who has much to say to the men of our time, and not only to Christians.” Some scholars have argued that much of Pope Benedict XVI’s theological work is a lengthy mediation on his thought. When Benedict XVI resigned his papacy, he cited the above quote from Guardini. And Guardini’s 1918 work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, became the subject of a dialogue with Max Scheler, who was the focus of Pope St. John Paul II’s doctoral dissertation.

Moreover, Guardini’s writing and thought was considered a significant influence on the Second Vatican Council, even though personally he was dissatisfied with its implementation. Pope Paul VI even offered to make him a cardinal in 1968, but he declined. As the author of 75 books, his influence on Catholic thought continues to this day. In commemoration of his faithful life and ministry, he was declared a Servant of God in 2016. The gravity of Romano Guardian’s theological and philosophical reflections continue to impact the life of the Church and its faithful nearly 140 years after his birth.

Romano Guardini was born in Italy in 1885. A year later, his father moved the family to Mainz, Germany where he raised the family as devout Catholics. Guardini was an excellent student, but during his university years his faith was challenged by the pervasive agnosticism and atheism. He suffered from depression and experienced a spiritual crisis. When he was home on vacation, he was engaged by this passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

“It became clear to me that there exists a law according to which persons who ‘find their life,’ that is, remain in themselves and accept as valid only what immediately enlightens them, lose their individuality. If they want to reach the truth and attain the truth in their very selves, then they must abandon themselves…,” he later reflected.

After resolving his own crisis of faith, Guardini studied for the priesthood at the University of Mainz. He entered Holy Orders in 2010 and then spent the next decade serving in various parish assignments while he pursued doctoral studies in theology. Guardini's real desire was to teach in the academy so that he could explore the impact of modernity in the life of the Church and the culture. This relationship between faith and culture was central to much of his theological thought.

“The task of Christian culture is twofold: on the one hand, to penetrate and transfigure nature by grace; on the other, to unlock revelation and take possession of it by means of nature,” he wrote in his essay, Thoughts on the Relation between Christianity and Culture.

While doing his doctoral studies at the University of Freiburg, Guardini chose to focus his attention on St. Bonaventure, which was unusual since Thomism dominated theological discussions in the Church at the turn of the last century. Guardini, however, found the rigid Thomism of the day to be cold and impersonal. His decision to write his dissertation on the Soteriology of St. Bonaventure even caused conflict with his clerical superiors and prevented him from obtaining a teaching position at the seminary.

After finishing his dissertation in 1915, Guardini served in the military as a hospital orderly and directed Juventus, a Catholic organization of students. He also became close friends with Ildefons Herwege, the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach, which was the center for liturgical renewal in Germany. The centrality of the liturgy became a key theme in Guardian’s faith and thought. He published The Spirit of the Liturgy in 1918 and it became a best-seller in Germany and popular work for Catholics everywhere.

He believed that the liturgy was a means to overcome the cold rationalism in the Church. He argued that the liturgy had a sort of playfulness, writing, “The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity; it must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with saying and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking ‘why?’ and ‘wherefore?’”  The liturgy is, to be sure, serious play, with set rules and complex symbols, but these are all in service of a deeper experience of God.

 For Guardini, the spirit of the liturgy is above all a spirit of community, uniting the faithful with each other even as it unites them to God. This theme of community in the Mass and the Church was further developed in his 1922 work, The Church and the Catholic. Against the prevailing individualism of the day or the increasing popularity of communism, both of which destroy true community, Guardini contended that the Church as the Body of Christ is a community made possible by the voluntary association of people with “free personality,” which is necessary for any true community.

After writing his second dissertation on St. Bonaventure at the University of Bonn in 1924, Guardini earned a position as the chair of Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Worldview at the University of Berlin, which was largely Protestant and anti-Catholic. This academic position at a non-Catholic university left him outside the dominant intellectual circles of the period. Also, his focus on liturgy and community was unique. He avoided Thomistic language and categories as well as the popular focus on apologetics. Further, he engaged with classic literature and world religions, areas that few Catholic thinkers dared to explore during that period.

While he was not popular in Catholic academic circles, he began to attract the attention of some of the brightest young Catholic minds, including Josef Pieper, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Hannah Arendt. Yet even as Guardini was willing to dialogue with modern thought and other religions, there was no doubt that Jesus Christ was the unique center of all truth. But Christianity was more than a set of rigid dogmas, it was a personal engagement with the person of Jesus Christ. This explains his focus on the Church as a community and the liturgy as the pinnacle of life in the Church.

One of Guardini's earliest and most influential works offers an insight into his thought. His Letters from Lake Como is a collection of his observations about the relationship between technology and humanity. Guardini reflected on “the manner in which human beings, through their architecture and craftsmanship, interacted non-invasively and respectfully with nature.” But he noticed that this interaction had started to change in the modern world and humanity had become more aggressive and domineering toward the creation through its architecture.

Guardini argued that technology “has become a destiny that subjugates its human creators as much as their creations” and believed that the modern person “must recover a sense of the sacred before the sacred name can be heard again.” He contended that technology had introduced an artificiality of existence, abstracting the person from reality and reducing the human experience to concepts, formulas and sentiments. While acknowledging the potential benefits of technology, he said we must receive it “yet with incorruptible hearts remain aware of all that is destructive and nonhuman in it.”

The most popular work in his extensive corpus is The Lord, first published in Germany in 1937 and introduced to English readers in 1954. In The Lord, Guardini offers reflections and commentary on the life and person of Jesus Christ and what faith in Him requires. Still popular with the Catholic faithful, Pope Benedict XVI commented, “The Lord has not grown old, precisely because it still leads us to that which is essential, to that which is truly real, Jesus Christ Himself. That is why today this book still has a great mission.”

Romano Guardini reflects on the nature of faith in The Lord, “Understanding of Christ requires a complete conversion, not only of the will and the deed, but also of the mind. One must cease to judge the Lord from the wordly point of view and learn to accept His own measure of the genuine and the possible; to judge the world with His eyes. This revolution is difficult to accept and still more difficult to realize, and the more openly the world contradicts Christ's teaching, the more earnestly it defines those who accept it as fools, the more difficult that acceptance, realization. Nevertheless, to the degree that the intellect honestly attempts this right-about-face, the reality known as Jesus Christ will surrender itself. From this central reality, the doors of all other reality will swing open, and it will be lifted into the hope of the new creation.”

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Confessions II and the Human Will

The thematic center to the second book of the Confessions is the human will (voluntas): our dynamic propulsion towards the good.  It has been asserted that Augustine is the first to give us a theology of the will.[1]  And, his interest in the human will is all-pervasive.  For Augustine’s anthropology, the will is so defining of our identity that it is perhaps more true to say not that you have a will, but that you are your will.  The will is identified with the affective vector of the human person, such that we can say (with insufficient nuance) that, for Augustine, love is the will.  It is the dynamic propensity to seek rest in the object of affection and drives all we do.  Indeed, the entire moral life can be evaluated by one’s loves precisely because you become that which you love.  What we love shapes us and eventually even transforms us into itself.  In his Homilies on the Epistle of John, Augustine writes, “Always as a person loves, so he is.  Do you love the earth?  Then you are of the earth.  Do you love God? Then you are of God.”[2]  Our desires and loves determine where we seek rest.  If we seek rest in created goods—transient and material goods lower than the soul’s own nature—the result is exhaustion, disintegration, and unhappiness.  Conversely, desiring rest in the divine reality for which the soul is fitted brings with it peace, joy, and good fruit.

The dynamism of the will—a vital, driving force—is perhaps the most distinctly Augustinian feature to his account of the human will.  The will necessarily moves; it pulls somewhere.  And, having found the object of its affection, the will takes aim, seeking to unite itself to that which it loves.  Elsewhere Augustine writes that while impure love pulls the soul down, holy love raises the soul to eternal realties: “Every kind of love has its own energy, and in the soul of a lover love cannot be idle; it must lead somewhere.”[3] “I was moving,” recalls Augustine in the second book of the Confessions, “but far from you (irem abs te longius)” (2.2.2).  In Confessions II Augustine uses the narrative of his autobiography—recalling formative unhappy experiences of his youth—to articulate his mature theology of the will.  It is this account of the human will that also underwrites the two dominant theological topics of the book that we will unpack: the nature of evil and the character of friendship.

Not only is the will a dynamic élan, a moving existential force, but, for Augustine, the will is also always—invariably and necessarily—ordered to pursue the good.  This is a fundamental premise.  We cannot will evil.  Objections to this premise arise almost immediately.  A moment’s honest self-reflection reveals countless times our will is drawn to what it should not.  Augustine suggests a slight qualification to this fundamental anthropological premise: East of Eden, in the regime of sin, the will is always—invariably and necessarily—ordered to pursue the perceived good.  Recall the quip attributed to G.K. Chesterton: “A man knocking on the door of a brothel is looking for God.”   Often we misappraise the good: we desire some good at the wrong time, in the wrong way, in the wrong amount, etc.  Taking a fourth generous pour of Scotch with friends last night was not good: I lost mental clarity, my speech was injudicious, I slept poorly and got up late.  But I said “Sure!” because I perceived another dram to be good; I could not have acquiesced if I did not perceive it to be good.

 A common objection to the Augustinian contention that our will invariably and exclusively desires (perceived) goods is that it soft-pedals the gravity of evil.  Sure, the desire for a “perceived good” makes sense of having one too many drinks, but what of vicious crimes—cold-blooded murder?  Even here, insists Augustine, the principle stands.  Even objectively monstrous evils—the 9/11 terrorists plots, for example—germinate in the soul, are cultivated, put into motion, and, finally, realized only as perceived goods.

Why is this the case?  Why can the will not be drawn to evil?  Because evil is a nothing.  Evil is a lack.  There is no “there” there to which the will might be drawn.  In Augustine’s technical articulation, evil is a privatio boni, a privation of the good.  A moral evil—sin—is a defection from the good.  But it is nonsense to speak of the “cause” of defect.  Nothing has no cause.  Famously, Augustine is left with admitting his ignorance about the cause of an evil will: “If you ask this, and I answer that I do not know, probably you will be saddened.  And yet that would be a true answer.  That which is nothing cannot be known.”[4]  Evil entails the absence of some good requisite for the flourishing of the whole.  The definition of evil as privatio boni contains two essential implications, the first in the order of being (ontological) and the second in the order of knowing (epistemological).

First, to hold that evil is a privation entails that the good has ontological priority.  This is a metaphysical claim before it is a moral claim.  We suffer natural evils.  If I am born without an arm, I suffer an evil; a good requisite to the whole of my body is absent.  Evil is always subsequent and parasitical to the good.  It attaches itself to some good thing and sucks the life out of it.  This makes sense: Genesis 3 comes after Genesis 1 and 2.  God first fashions an ordered whole that is “very good,” its corruption is subsequent.  However, our initial instinct is not to think of evil as a privation; we endow evil with an ontological “thickness” and reality it does not possess.  We seem almost instinctively to hold dualistic or Manichaean views of evil—a Star Wars mentality of light versus darkness, each with its own forcefield vying for supremacy both in our souls and in the world.  Consider the classic image of the comic book hero standing at a crossroads, needing to make a decision.  On his right shoulder a cherubic angel is perched, urging our hero to follow the high path, to listen to his better self.  But, on his left shoulder a horned demon grasping a trident temptingly whispers that he take the easy route and put his own desires first.  Here Good and Evil are rendered substantial; each pulls in the opposite direction.  But this is to endow evil with being—with an ontological density—that it does not have.

Second, the fact that evil is a privation entails it lacks intelligibility.  We struggle to make sense of evil.  And, that’s as it should be.  If being and good are convertible, then a lack of goodness entails a lack of being.  But how do you explain a lack?  You can’t.  We can only account for the good; we can only explain being that exists.  We cannot explain nothing.  A dentist can’t actually tell you about your cavity—the absence of your tooth.  To explain a cavity, he needs to speak about the tooth that remains, which is missing something.  Without a tooth there is no cavity.  Or, try to explain the hole in a doughnut, without referring to the substantial good of the doughnut.  I need to apprehend the nature of the “good requisite” before I can speak of evil.  The good as an ordered, integral, created nature needs be intellectually “seen” before I can recognize evil as a corruption of that nature.  I need to know what a whole, healthy human body is before I can recognize that to be deprived of an arm or to mutilate my body in some way is an evil.  I need to know the nature of a loving marriage to perceive that bigamy is evil.  The lack of intelligibility proper to evil is the counterpoint to the truth that being and good are convertible.  Omne ens est scibile, reads a popular scholastic adage: “all being is knowable.” Creation is ordered, structured, harmonious, that is to say, good, and therefore knowable.  Evil is unknowable because there is no-thing to know.  One commentator rightly remarks that, for Augustine, evil is a surd; it is irrational and, ultimately, meaningless.

The privation of the good accounts for life’s many little evils.  For example, I have a flat bike tire because the rubber of the tire has worn away over time, leaving it exposed to sharp glass.  The good requisite for the tire (rubber) is absent.  But great evils—evils in which the attendant good seems so distant and the privation so all-consuming—leave us at a loss.  Perhaps this explains something of our society’s fascination with figures in whom evil seems almost totalizing. (Consider the slew of TV documentaries devoted to psychopathic killers.)  Or, our enduring interest in monstrous historical evils.  (We have whole university programs devoted to holocaust studies.)  We want to understand what cannot be understood.

These two essential claims attendant to the definition of evil as privatio boni—that evil is a lack in the order of being (ontological) and, therefore, a lack in the order of knowing (epistemological)—structure Augustine’s moral analysis of the theft of the pears in the Confessions.  This infamous scene—now recalled years later as a mature bishop—gives Augustine a literary opportunity to articulate his theology of human willing.  Augustine insists it was “nothing” that attracted him.  This absence or privation—“nothing”—is here hypostatized, rendered a substantive noun.  Paradoxically, “nothing” is the thing that Augustine pursues:

I wanted to carry out an act of theft and did so, driven by no kind of need other than my inner lack of any sense of, or feeling for, justice.  Wickedness filled me (sagina iniquitatis).  I stole something which I had in plenty and of much better quality.  My desire was to enjoy not what I sought by stealing but merely the excitement of thieving and the doing of what was wrong.  There was a pear tree near our vineyard laden with fruit, though attractive in neither color nor taste….  We carried off a huge load of pairs.  But they were not for our feasts but merely to throw to the pigs.  Even if we ate a few, nevertheless our pleasure lay in doing what was not allowed (2.4.9).

The inexplicable character of evil is on full display.  Augustine says I wanted (volui) to thieve.  But he cannot really explain this want, because to explain would be to tell of the good he sought in that evil act.  But here the good is so occluded as to seem altogether absent.  It is not the good of food that compels him to reach for the forbidden fruit.  Rather, an absence—a deficiency of justice—drives him.  But how can a nothing have such causality?  As James Wetzel provocatively puts it, “An absence is not an agent … where does an absence get the legs for that?”[5]  Augustine describes himself as stuffed by depravity: sagina iniquitatis—a fascinating, if paradoxical, description of the sated “fulness” of this absence.  The will’s desire for a perceived good explains evil behavior.  Here, however, there is no thing (res) that “I wished to enjoy” (volebam frui).  The fruit is not attractive; what is pilfered is thrown to swine.  It is the theft and sin itself that is sought (ipso furto et peccato).  Augustine is attempting to give an account of what is unintelligible: pure evil.  Augustine’s rhetoric serves to highlight this problem.  He asks himself, “What was I seeking there?” (quid ibi quaerebat) and answers,

I became evil for no reason (causa nulla).  I had no motive for my wickedness except wickedness itself.  It was foul, and I loved it.  I loved the self-destruction, I loved my fall, not the object for which I had fallen but my fault itself.  My depraved soul leaped down from your firmament to ruin.  I was seeking not to gain anything by shameful means, but shame for its own sake (2.4.9).

The will is a dynamic propulsion of love for the (perceived) good.  Here, however, Augustine reifies evil, seeming to give it an ontological status.  Evil is presented as a thing and something desired for its own sake.  It is evil itself Augustine seems to seek.  Four times Augustine repeats, amavi—“I loved.”  He loved the foul (foeda amavi), he loved the destructive (amavi perire), he loved the defective (amavi defectum), and tellingly—in case we missed the point—he insists it was not a defective good that he loved (non illud ad quod deficiebam), but he loved the defect itself (defectumipsum).  How can this be?

Ultimately, this cannot be.  It runs counter to the fundamental ontological structures of the universe: God creates good things, to which evil is subsequent and corruptive.  Why does a person do evil?  For the good!  It is the good desired in an evil act that drives a person.  Augustine proceeds to define sin as an “immoderate urge towards those things which are at the bottom end of the scale of the good” (2.5.10).  The will is not static: it either inclines down, desiring goods lower than its own nature, or it is drawn up; the weight of its love lifting it to seek spiritual goods higher than its own nature.  Admittedly, when the will seeks the lowest realities of “inferior goods” (ima), these too have their delight.  The reason is given in Augustine’s prayerful exclamation: Deus meus, qui fecit omnia (“My God, who has made them all” [2.5.10]).

Augustine’s fierce aversion to Manichean dualism leads him to emphasize this point.  No one pursues evil per se; rather, evil is pursued under the formality of the good.  Augustine points out that this is the first thing that any detective worth his salt realizes.  To investigate a crime entails attempting to discover the good that the criminal sought.  This is called the motive.  Augustine imagines a murder scene.  The detective asks, “What motivated a person to commit murder?”  In other words, what is the good the murderer sought?  Many goods could motivate murder: perhaps he desired his victim’s wife or his money.  Or perhaps the murderer acted out of fear.  His desire for the good of safety and stability drove him to murder.  What if he had already suffered at the hands of the person he killed?  The good of (disordered) justice drove him.  Augustine’s point is simple: “No one would commit murder without a motive (sine causa)” (2.5.11).

Even a man so wontedly evil that he seems to delight in killing for its own sake is not in fact so.  In the Roman imagination, the paragon of such unmitigated evil—of terrorist barbarity—is Cataline.  An accomplished Roman solider, Catiline turned traitor and led a violent revolt to overthrow the Roman republic.  Augustine quotes the judgment of the Roman historian, Sallust, who views Catiline as the embodiment of all evil: “It was said of one brutal and cruel man [Catiline] that he was evil and savage without reason” (2.5.11).  But Augustine points out that even Cataline had an “objective.”  The flood of violence and bloodletting he unleashed aimed to secure his own power and prestige, to rule beyond the strictures of Roman law: “No, not even Catiline himself loved his crimes; something else motivated him to commit them” (2.5.11).

We really should not consider vice to be the opposite of virtue, insists Augustine.  The ontological priority of the good and the privative character of evil entail that, instead, vice is a specious imitation of virtue.  La Rochefoucauld famously said that “hypocrisy is a compliment vice pays to virtue.”  What he meant is that a vicious person, debased and besotted by disordered attachments, certainly does not want to be seen as such.  Either such a person denies having such aberrations or simply denies that they are, in fact, aberrations.  Each vice, maintains Augustine, apes at some virtue; vice is unintelligible except as a distorted mirror image of virtue.  Augustine cycles through a catalogue of vices, explaining each as a drab earthly counterfeit of resplendent heavenly virtue—a reality that is, in fact, God’s own (2.6.13).  Pride imitates God’s omnipotence; ambition his divine honor and glory; cruelty seeks to inspire the holy fear due God alone; idleness is a counterfeit to God’s rest; burning rage a parody of divine justice.  Each vice aspires to possess something which in reality is an exclusively divine property and obtains for creatures only by way of participation.  We might say that vice is a creature’s aspiration to possess a divine prerogative in an autonomous manner.  A vicious soul, explains Augustine, seeks transcendence outside of God (extra te); futilely grasping at what can only be had “by returning to you” (redit ad te).  He concludes, “In their perverted way all humanity imitates you” (2.6.14).

As Augustine returns to reflect on his own vicious teenage delinquency he affirms once again that “the theft itself was a nothing (nihil)” (2.8.16).  But there must be something that drove him, some good he sought in his theft.  James O’Donnell remarks, “His principle, after all, is that nothing is nothing save evil, and that there is no thing-ness to evil that could attract even the wickedest of souls.”[6]  If the good sought in his theft was not the pears, what was it?  As Augustine turns the incident over in his mind (“I remember my state of mind to be thus at the time” [2.8.16]) he comes—in the last paragraphs of the book—to identify the good he sought: his desire for comradery and friendship—or, rather, a specious imitation of friendship—drove him.

Friends, for Augustine, act as an accelerant on the will.  They drive the will beyond its typical limitations.  We rightly say that friends bring out the best in us.  When we consider the heroic actions of great saints, we usually discover a dear friend close at hand (St. Gregory and St. Basil; St. Benedict and St. Scholastica; St. Francis and St. Clare; St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis Xavier; St. Teresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross).  The converse is also true.  Malevolent and base actions, especially if they are contrary to our typical mode of acting, are often incited by friends.  Today we term such malign influence on our will “peer-pressure”—an experience acutely felt by young people whose will is as yet less stable.  Augustine was no exception.  He writes, “Friendship can be a dangerous enemy (o nimis inimica amicitia) a seduction of the mind lying beyond the reach of investigation…. As soon as the words are spoken, ‘Let us go and do it’, one is ashamed not to be shameless” (2.9.17).  Augustine blames the company he kept for his marauding thievery.  Five times he repeats, “Alone I would never have done it” (2.8.16–2.9.17).

Had I been alone I would not have done it—I remember my state of mind to be thus at the time—alone I would never have done it.  Therefore my love in that act was to be associated with the gang (consortium) in whose company I did it…. My pleasure was not in the pears; it was in the crime itself, done in association with a sinful group (consortium) (2.8.16).

Friendship is major theme in Book II and inseparable from Augustine’s theology of the will.  However, it is revelatory that Augustine never once calls his teenage troupe “friends” (amicitia), instead he labels them “associates” (consortium).  This omission highlights Augustine’s understanding of the nature of friendship.

Friendship is a relationship of will; a communion, exclusive to persons—human, angelic, and (as Augustine boldly suggests in one place) divine.  “An exchange of mind with mind,” maintains Augustine, “marks the brightly lit pathway of friendship” (2.2.2).  Only persons, that is, intellectual natures, can jointly will a common good.  In his maturity, Augustine was a great friend and had many friends; a fact attested to by his voluminous correspondence with a host of friends all over the Mediterranean world.  A frequently voiced desire is Augustine’s wish to live in community together with his friends.  Here he lyrically writes, “Human friendship is also a nest of love and gentleness because of the unity it brings about between many souls” (2.5.10).  The love proper to friends impels to “unity.”  Another way to say this is friends possess a common will.  That shared will (in Augustine’s terms, a “bond”) jointly aims at some good.  Thus, for Augustine, friendship is triangular.  It is not simply two (or more) people’s mutual delight in one another, but, rather, their joint delight in a common good.  Augustine terms this third thing (or person) that constitutes a friendship their “common object of love.”  So just as the quality of an individual’s will is determined by what he loves, that is, the good he seeks and delights in, so too, the quality of a friendship is determined by the mutual will or love of the friends, that joint reality which they together seek and delight in.  The “common object of love” is the register by which one can adjudicate the quality of a friendship.  If the common object of love is noble, beautiful, and life-giving, so too is the friendship.  Conversely, if the common object of love is base and slovenly, so too is the friendship.  Imagine friends who do little more than get together for gossip or drinking sessions; such communion hardly rises to the definition of “friendship.”  But people whose mutual object of love consist in joint sport, study, service, etc. possess a union of wills that aims at something beautiful and hence enjoy a beautiful friendship.  In this analysis, then, the highest form of friendship is when friends possess a joint love for God.

Confessions II gives us a profound literary analysis of the human will—the will as a moving, driving force seeking union with the good.  This movement can be focused and direct or distracted and fragmented.  After the fall, we often confuse genuine goods conducive to our flourishing and fulfilment with those that are hollow and ersatz.  Yet, it remains that case that we are hardwired to pursue exclusively that which we perceive to be good.  We cannot will evil.  Augustine’s poignant reflections on the theft of the pears serve to illustrate the principle that the will is never attracted to evil per se.  This is because evil lacks reality; it is a privation of the good, for which reason it also lacks intelligibility.  Pure evil is pure nothingness—there is no-thing to which the will might be drawn and no “there” to explain.  Augustine uses the “pear incident” to illustrate both that evil is a nothing and that it is the good that is sought in any evil act.  The good Augustine sought in thievery was a sense of camaraderie or specious friendship.  A shared love of a good, that is to say, a common will, constitutes authentic friendship.  And, just as an individual’s will is determined by the quality of the good sought, so too the common will or bond of friendship is determined by the quality of the good jointly pursued.

Is Les Miserables Anti-Catholic?

I have at last closed the cover on Victor Hugo’s epic, 1260-page Les Miserables. Its dust-jacket in shreds but the spine intact, this behemoth has made its way back to the shelf after a year (yes, a year) of faithfully enlivening my leisure time and literary imagination. While I was waist-deep in the book, people would notice the book on this table or that, and suddenly a conversation would be born. Catholic friends tend to give an unconscious raised eyebrow while asking curious yet dismissive questions such as: “Oh, hmm… Isn’t he, well, you know, anti-Catholic?” Or, “Interesting…I heard that book’s rather anti-Catholic.” I pause for a moment, unsure of myself in light of this conversation killer. “Are we thinking of the same book?” I wonder. I consider, “Perhaps I’ve seriously misunderstood Hugo. The person I’m talking with is pretty sharp, after all.” After some mental water-treading, I generally come to rest on a thought like this, “Well, I’m only x pages into this beast. Maybe I just haven’t gotten to the anti-Catholic part yet.” Having scaled the rampart, slinked through the sewer, and seen the wonderful ironic resolution, I own an admission of Hugo’s clear jabs at Catholicism. Perhaps despite Hugo’s own efforts, however, the text simply cannot stand up to a facile, anti-Catholic claim. Catholic truth, goodness, and beauty abound in the book, but one section in particular stands out, perhaps because Hugo—despite his best efforts to the contrary—ends up showing forth the glory of the consecrated life. Like so many of the book’s most powerful pericopes, this one has no place in the newest film version nor the musical, though its melodrama strikes me as that type irresistible to Hollywood and Broadway. I speak of Jean Valjean’s two pivotal moments of redemption. We all know the first saving moment for Jean Valjean—the Bishop’s hospitality and then radical forgiveness, which bring about the criminal’s ensuing conversion. The candlesticks “given” to the criminal as tokens of the bishop’s hope in the power of grace to redeem any man given back to God in love. This scene shines for its universal, undeniably attractive Christian pathos. This moment of forgiveness marks the purchase of Jean Valjean’s freedom, even if he does not understand this redemption until later, when reflecting on having stolen a coin from a destitute boy. While this salvation lends a Christian lens to the narrative arc, it is another mini-story of this epic that bears the focus of the uniquely Catholic lens: the largely unknown story of the Convent at Petit Picpus. In desperate flight from the indominable Javert, Jean Valjean scales a wall, raises Cossette over it with himself, and drops down from its height into the depths of the last place he had thought to be: a Catholic cloister, the convent of an astoundingly austere religious order. To be sure, Hugo’s description of this order, their meticulous attention to the rule, their attention to each other (perhaps over-attention), their allergy to men, and their general lack of joy gives him fodder for some strong critique of the religious life, and a Catholic worldview. Catholics, but especially these women, seem to live as though already dead, seem to have committed a kind of suicide, dead to the concrete goods of the world, frozen in a morgue of traditionalism, in the hope of a life they might one day possess eternally. Hugo seems to paint the nuns as leaning toward a kind of hypocrisy and foolishness in their preference for this a living death. Consider the stony words Hugo slings at the religious:
Monastic communities are to the great social community what the ivy is to the oak, what the wart is to the human body. There prosperity and fatness are the impoverishment of the country. The monastic system, useful as it is in the dawn of civilization, in effecting the abatement of brutality by the development of the spiritual, is injurious in the manhood of nations. Especially when it relaxes and enters upon its period of disorganization, the period in which we now see it, does it become baneful, for every reason that made it salutary, in its period of purity… The convent…is one of the gloomiest concretions of the Middle Ages. The cloister…was the intersecting point of multiplied horrors. The Catholic cloister, properly so-called, is filled with the black effulgence of death. A convent is a contradiction,—its object salvation, its means self-sacrifice. The convent is supreme egotism resulting in supreme self-denial. In the cloister they suffer that they may enjoy—they draw a bill of exchange on death…The assumption for the veil…is a suicide reimbursed by an eternity….”
Hugo believes the monastic moment has passed. A life lived on the edge of eternity must die with the birth of enlightenment progress, progress which requires all to participate and be open to its movements, its scouring the hull of society for accretions. The monastic life claims an irresponsible and unjust right to resist the inevitable progress of man. Progress will and must destroy the monastic “dream of the indefinite prolongation of things dead and the government of mankind by embalming…to foist the past upon the present.” Hugo respects the past, “provided it will but consent to be dead. But, if it insist upon being alive, we attack it and endeavour to kill it.” Interestingly, Hugo’s depiction is, at least in part, explicitly supported by Catholic saints. St. John Paul II, in his Apostolic Exhortation Vita Consecrata (no. 59), calls the cloister “a way of living Christ’s Passover. From being an experience of ‘death,’ it becomes a superabundance of life, representing a joyful proclamation…” St. John Paul II affirms the cloister as a place of death, but resists Hugo’s claim that the religious somehow confuse the death for life itself. Instead it is more progressive, more forward looking than the most progressive worldly society could be, since the cloister already contains within it a participation in the summum bonum the remainder of the world ceaselessly believes “progress” will bring them alongside. Now, despite Hugo’s open attack, he cannot bring himself to be wholly uncharitable to religious life. After a number of short chapters jabbing religious life, he concedes a patronizing allowance for the convent as “a place of error but of innocence”:
This monastic experience, austere and gloomy as it is…is not life, is not liberty: for it is not the grave, for it is not completion: it is that singular place, from which, as from the summit of a lofty mountain, we perceive, on one side, the abyss in which we are, and, on the other, the abyss wherein we are to be: it is a narrow and misty boundary, that separates two worlds, at once illuminated and obscured by both, where the enfeebled ray of life commingles with the uncertain ray of death; it is the twilight of the tomb. For ourselves, we, who do not believe what these women believe, but live, like them, by faith, never could look without a species of tender and religious awe, a kind of pity full of envy, upon those devoted beings…waiting between the world closed to them and heaven not yet opened; turned towards the daylight not yet seen, with only the happiness of thinking that they know where it is; their aspirations directed towards the abyss and the unknown, their gaze fixed on the motionless gloom, kneeling, dismayed, stupefied, shuddering, and half borne away at certain times by the deep pulsations of Eternity.
Even if this is Hugo’s true opinion, that the Catholic lens brings into focus the dead past while blurring out the progress of the present, he cannot help but allow the beauty and wonder of the true Catholic worldview through the stained glass of Jean Valjean’s meditations. Hugo, even if he is an anti-Catholic, humbly allows Jean Valjean’s insight to lift the haze of any prejudice that might fog his own mind. Because no summary can equal his prose, I give you a generous excerpt here:
God has his own ways. The convent contributed, like Cosette, to confirm and complete, in Jean Valjean, the work of the Bishop. It cannot be denied that one of virtue's phases ends in pride. Therein is a bridge built by the Evil One. Jean Valjean was, perhaps, without knowing it, near that very phase of virtue, and that very bridge, when Providence flung him into the convent of the Petit-Picpus. So long as he compared himself only with the Bishop, he found himself unworthy and remained humble; but, for some time past, he had been comparing himself with the rest of men, and pride was springing up in him. Who knows? He might have finished by going gradually back to hate. The convent stopped him on this descent. It was the second place of captivity he had seen. In his youth, in what had been for him the commencement of life, and later, quite recently too, he had seen another, a frightful place, a terrible place, the severities of which had always seemed to him to be the iniquity of public justice and the crime of the law. Now, after having seen the galleys, he saw the cloister, and reflecting that he had been an inmate of the galleys, and that he now was, so to speak, a spectator of the cloister, he anxiously compared them in his meditations with anxiety. Sometimes he would lean upon his spade and descend slowly along the endless rounds of reverie. He recalled his former companions, and how wretched they were. They rose at dawn and toiled until night. Scarcely allowed to sleep they lay on camp-beds, and were permitted to have mattresses but two inches thick in halls which were warmed only during the most inclement months. They were attired in hideous red sacks, and had given to them, as a favour, a pair of canvas pantaloons in the heats of midsummer, and a square of woolen stuff to throw over their shoulders, during the bitterest frosts of winter. They had no wine to drink, no meat for food excepting when sent upon “extra hard work.” They lived without names, distinguished solely by numbers, and reduced, as it were, to ciphers, lowering their eyes, lowering their voices, with their hair cropped close, under the rod, and plunged in shame.
The reader already sees the mental comparisons stacking up in Valjean’s mind, from the allusion to early rising and little sleep on account of the work of prayer, acetic cold, uncomfortable habits hiding cropped hair, austere diet, new names given at consecration, vows of silence, fear under the rod of God’s wrath, and overwhelming shame at the possession of sexuality or any passions whatsoever. In the following paragraphs he describes the convent’s practices in a manner exceeding the pains of the galleys. We see the hammer of progressive critique about to strike the nail of religious life deeper into the cross of the Christ it purports to honor. By miraculous discipline, however, Hugo cannot bring himself to let fall the blow. He allows Jean Valjean’s wrestling with the juxtaposition of these two forms of imprisonment. The one in guilt, the other in innocence. The one til expiation or escape, the other til death. Valjean ponders the results of each form of slavery—the galley and the cloister:
What resulted from the first? One vast curse, the gnashing of teeth, hatred, desperate depravity, a cry of rage against human society, sarcasm against heaven. What issued form the second? Benediction and love. And, in these two places, so alike and yet so different, these two species of beings so dissimilar were performing the same work of expiation. Jean Valjean thoroughly comprehended the expiation of the first; personal expiation, expiation for oneself. But, he did not understand that of the others, of these blameless, spotless creatures, and he asked himself with a tremor: “Expiation of what? What expiation?” A voice responded in his conscience: the most divine of all human generosity, expiation for others. Here we withhold all theories of our own: we are but the narrator; at Jean Valjean’s point of view we place ourselves and we merely reproduce his impressions.
This last line lays bear Hugo’s own conflicted thoughts on the Catholic worldview. He can’t bring himself to avow Valjean’s position. He must break the fourth wall to disavow the vision that so powerfully raptures the reader, a vision that is ironically borne out by Valjean’s entire life—lived for the redemption, happiness, and expiation of Fantine and Cosette. Let’s allow Hugo (I mean, Jean Valjean) to continue:
He had before his eyes the sublime summit of self-denial, the loftiest possible height of virtue; innocence forgiving men their sins and expiating them in their stead; servitude endured, torture accepted, chastisement and misery invoked by souls that had not sinned in order that these might not fall upon souls which had; the love of humanity losing itself in the love of God, but remaining there, distinct and suppliant; sweet, feeble beings supporting all the torments of those who are punished, yet retaining the smile of those who are rewarded. And then he remembered that he had dared to complain. Often, in the middle of the night, he would rise from his bed to listen to the grateful anthem of these innocent beings thus overwhelmed with austerities, and he felt the blood run cold in his veins as he reflected that they who were justly punished never raised their voices towards Heaven excepting to blaspheme, and that he, wretch that he was, had uplifted his clenched fist against God. Another strange thing which made him muse and meditate profoundly seemed like an intimation whispered in his ear by Providence itself: the scaling of walls, the climbing over inclosures, the risk taken in defiance of danger or death, the difficult and painful ascent—all those very efforts that he had made to escape from the other place of expiation, he had made to enter this one. Was this an emblem of his destiny? This house, also, was a prison, and bore dismal resemblance to the other from which he had fled, and yet he had never conceived anything like it. He once more saw gratings, bolts and bars of iron—to shut in whom? Angels. Those lofty walls which he had seen surrounding tigers, he now saw encircling lambs. It was a place of expiation, not of punishment; and yet it was still more austere, more somber and more pitiless than the other. These virgins were more harshly bent down than the convicts. A harsh, cold blast, the blast that had frozen his youth, careered across that grated moat and manacled the vultures; but a wind still more biting and more cruel beat upon the dove cage. And why? When he thought of these things, all that was in him gave way before this mystery of sublimity. In these meditations, pride vanished. He reverted, again and again, to himself; he felt his own pitiful unworthiness, and often wept. All that had occurred in his existence for the last six months, led him back towards the holy injunctions of the bishop; Cosette through love, the convent through humility. Sometimes, in the evening, about dusk, at the hour when the garden was solitary, he was seen kneeling, in the middle of the walk that ran along the chapel, before the window through which he had looked, on the night of his first arrival, turned towards the spot where he knew that the sister who was performing the reparation was prostrate in prayer. Thus he prayed kneeling before this sister. It seemed as though he dared not kneel directly before God. Everything around him, this quiet garden, these balmy flowers, these children, shouting with joy, these meek and simple women, this silent cloister, gradually entered into all his being, and little by little, his soul subsided into silence like this cloister, into fragrance like these flowers, into peace like this garden, into simplicity like these women, into joy like these children. And then he reflected that two houses of God had received him in succession at the two critical moments of his life, the first when every door was closed and human society repelled him; the second, when human society again howled upon his track, and the galleys once more gaped for him; and that, had it not been for the first, he should have fallen back into crime, and had it not been for the second, into punishment. His whole heart melted in gratitude, and he loved more and more.
So, is Les Miserables anti-Catholic? Yes, explicitly it would seem so. Hugo’s sainted bishop shines as a brilliant Christian only despite his institutional Catholicism. The religious life is excoriated as a blockade to progress, allowed only on account of the good will of those entering such an erroneous life. At the same time, no, Hugo’s work is profoundly pro-Catholic. Hugo’s critiques feel insipid, forced, pallid in the face of Jean Valjean’s vivid meditation on the religious life and the second redemption it has offered him and, indeed, offers the world at large. His wooden philosophizing cannot stand up to the winds of his sweeping narrative. For not only does he allow Jean Valjean’s astounding meditation upon religious life onto the page, but he shapes the entire narrative around Jean Valjean’s life of vicarious expiation on behalf of Fantine, Cosette, and Marius. A consideration, I suppose, for another long-winded blog about the Catholic masterpiece of an even longer-winded (anti-Catholic?) author.

How to Read the Bible like Aquinas & Dante

St. Jerome states, “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ” (CCC 112). In other words, we come to know the reality of Jesus Christ by reading Holy Scripture. Yet, what if we read the Bible incorrectly? If the Scriptures are a source of knowledge about our Lord, would not a wrong reading of the text twist our understanding of Christ? We, especially as moderns, are always in danger of distorting the Gospel to meet our own ideological standards. As Bishop Konderla teaches, “We are called to measure ourselves against the teaching of Christ and His Church, not our own imaginations or standards.” He continues, “We must receive the Jesus Christ who came two-thousand years ago, not create a ‘Jesus’ who meets the fashions and fads of this age” (God Builds a House, 6). If we are to discipline ourselves to receive Jesus—and not manufacture a “Jesus”—then a vital part of that reception is a proper understanding of how to know Christ in Holy Scripture. How then does the Church teach us to read Holy Scripture? In the 1300s, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote a letter to his patron, Lord Cangrande della Scala, regarding how one should read the Divine Comedy.  His answer was simple: you read the Comedy the same way you read the Bible. In summary of Sacred Tradition, Dante explains that there are four senses or ways to read Holy Scripture: literal and three spiritual ways, i.e., allegorical, moral, and anagogical. These four senses were also taught by St. Thomas Aquinas (STI.1.10) and are contained in the modern Catechism of the Catholic Church (“CCC” 115-19). They represent the time-tested wisdom of the Church on how to come to know and love Jesus Christ through the Holy Scriptures. Let us examine each “sense” of biblical interpretation, how it relates to the others, and how they all draw us into a deeper relationship with our Lord. The literal sense of Scripture is also known as the “historical sense.” St. Thomas notes the literal sense is the meaning the author intended. For example, Dante gives the simple illustration of the passage: “When Israel went out of Egypt.” He observes, “If we look at it from the letter alone it means to us the exit of the Children of Israel from Egypt at the time of Moses.” The literal is simply the intended, historical meaning of a text. It is important, however, to interpret the literal correctly, because “all other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal” (CCC 116). Similarly, Aquinas states that the spiritual sense of Scripture—allegorical, moral, and anagogical—is “based on the literal and presupposes it.” The importance of the literal sense of Scripture as foundational to all other senses emphasizes how vital it is that Catholics read commentaries that are faithful to the magisterium. Like a broken foundation of a home, a slanted literal sense can distort the greater spiritual senses built upon it. The allegorical sense is the first of the three types of the “spiritual sense.” In the allegorical sense, Dante teaches that the aforementioned verse about Israel exiting Egypt “means for us our redemption done by Christ.” But what does the exodus of Israel have to do with Christ? A lot. In the allegorical sense, the reader is always looking for types or signs of how one thing in Scripture signifies another. For example, Israel in bondage to Egypt is similar to us in bondage to sin. Here, Moses would be a type of Christ. He leads the People of God out of Egypt to the Promise Land, as Christ leads us out from sin and into grace and salvation. Moses serves as a sign pointing forward to the reality of Christ. Moreover, both Israel and the Christian faithful find the portal of their salvation through water: the Red Sea and Holy Baptism (CCC 117). In their journey to the Promised Land, the Israelites are given bread from heaven, mana; and in our earthly journey toward our Promised Land, heaven, we are given the Bread of Angels, the Holy Eucharist. Christ himself makes this allegorical comparison in the Eucharist Discourse (John 6). The relationship between the allegorical and the literal gives rise to a fundamental principle of reading the Bible: the Old Testament foreshadows the New, and the New Testament perfects the Old. This dynamic between the Old and New Testament, as expressed in signs, serves as an allegorical foundation to both the moral sense and the anagogical sense. The moral sense answers the question: how should I act? It is arguably the spiritual sense with which we are most familiar when trying to read Scripture. The Church teaches, “The events reported in Scripture ought to lead us to act justly” (CCC 117). What moral lesson does Dante draw from Israel leaving Egypt? As noted, the moral sense is informed by the allegorical. For example, Dante presents Israel leaving Egypt as “the conversion of the soul from the struggle and misery of sin to the status of grace.” We take the comparisons drawn from the allegorical sense and apply them to our own pursuit of holiness. If Israel leaving the bondage of Egypt is like humanity being delivered by Christ, then how can I apply this lesson to my own moral life? How can I leave behind sin and pursue holiness? St. Thomas says the moral sense focuses on “things done in Christ,” and “what we ought to do.” The allegorical can help the moral dimension of Scripture unfold into a beautiful guide to our earthly pilgrimage. The anagogical sense is arguably the most foreign to modern readers of Scripture. The Catechism expresses that the term anagogical comes from the Greek term anagoge which means “leading” (CCC 117). What is the Scripture ultimately leading us toward? The Church teaches that in the anagogical sense: “We can view realities and events in terms of their eternal significance, leading us toward our true homeland” (CCC 117). If the moral is how should I act? then the anagogical is what does this teach me about my final end, i.e., eternal happiness with God in heaven? Like the moral, the anagogical draws from the allegorical to find types and signs. As St. Thomas observes, the anagogical looks for signs that “signify what relates to eternal glory.” For example, Dante notes that the anagogical lesson of Israel leaving Egypt is the final salvation of “the blessed soul from the slavery of this corruption to the freedom of eternal glory.” The anagogical sense always points us toward our heavenly home. “Ignorance of the Scriptures is ignorance of Christ.” The four senses of Holy Scripture are a gift from our Sacred Tradition to delve deeper into the mystery of the Bible and thus, in turn, into the mystery of Jesus Christ. Interpreting Scripture aright allows us, as Bishop Konderla instructed, to receive the Jesus Christ that entered into history and not manufacture a “Jesus” out of the fads and fashions of our age. The literal, moral, allegorical, and anagogical senses are an invitation to configure ourselves to Jesus Christ and inoculate us against the errors of the present. May we, like Aquinas and Dante, come to love Jesus Christ in the Holy Bible.

“Stick to the Boat:” Moby Dick on Man’s Deepest Fear

Meet Pip, a slight, nervous fellow, yet “at bottom very bright, with that pleasant, genial, jolly brightness peculiar to his tribe; a tribe which ever enjoy all holidays and festivities with finer, freer relish than any other.” With music and dance and joviality, Pip added light to this crew’s heavily burdened mission of death. Despite his being a minor character from Melville’s Moby Dick, Pip’s role on the Pequod’s tragic stage dramatizes a fear closer to the soul than that of death…the fear of being utterly, entirely, and forever alone, a castaway. On account of a crew member’s injury, the lowly Pip finds himself lowering down into a whale-chasing boat, with its plenitude of perils: from the sharks that accompany them in gore’s anticipation; to the ropes encircling the crew; to the razor-sharp harpoons and lances dancing about; to the whales themselves, crashing the hull to pieces or capsizing the party entirely. The first whale his party harpoons makes a run, rapping on the boat right under poor Pip’s seat. Pip involuntarily jumps from the boat, paddle in hand, and entwines himself with the rope, which happens to be attached to both the whale and the boat, mercilessly dragging him along. The chief mate, Stubb, with no little hesitation, finally cuts the rope (“Damn him, cut!”)—releasing the whale to save Pip. After an informal cursing by the crew, and a formal cursing by the chief mate, we hear some sage advice: “Stick to the boat, Pip, or by the Lord, I won’t pick you up if you jump; mind that.” Doubtless, you’ve guessed what happens next: “But we are all in the hands of the Gods; and Pip jumped again.” The difference—this time he avoided the rope. When the whale ran, taking the boat with him, “Pip was left behind on the sea, like a hurried traveller’s trunk. Alas! Stubb was but too true to his word…Out from the centre of the sea, poor Pip turned his crisp, curling, black head to the sun, another lonely castaway, though the loftiest and the brightest.” Such a fate not uncommonly occurs “almost invariably in the fishery, a coward, so called, is marked with the same ruthless detestation peculiar to military navies and armies.” Though his being left behind would have been no surprise, poor Pip was “by merest chance” seen and rescued at the Pequod’s hands. “But from that hour [Pip] went about the deck an idiot; such, at least they said he was.” Pip, in fact, no longer inhabits his own personality but spoke always as if Pip the coward had died, and he was but someone else entirely. How does such psychological destruction happen? What befalls a man bobbing in the sea, entirely alone? How does something as soft as the sea crush a soul? Melville’s focus falls not on the prospect of drowning but the specter of the isolated self. I cannot say it better than he: “the awful lonesomeness is intolerable. The intense concentration of self in the middle of such a heartless immensity, my God! Who can tell it? Mark, how when sailors in a dead calm bathe in the open sea—Mark, how closely they hug their ship and only coast along her sides.” The sea, endless, bottomless, boundless threatens to overwhelm surely the bounded, finite body of man, but even more his boundless immortal soul. Again, I will let Melville speak: “The sea had jeeringly kept his finite body up, but drowned the infinite of his soul. Not drowned entirely, though. Rather carried down alive to wondrous depths, where strange shapes of the unwarped primal world glided to and fro before his passive eyes; and the miser-merman, Wisdom, revealed his hoarded heaps; and among the joyous, heartless, ever-juvenile eternities, Pip saw the multitudinous, God-omnipresent, coral insects, that out of the firmament of waters heaved the colossal orbs. He saw God’s foot upon the treadle of the loom, and spoke it; and therefore his shipmates called him mad. So man’s insanity is heaven’s sense; and wandering from all mortal reason, man comes at last to that celestial thought, which, to reason, is absurd and frantic; and weal or woe, feels then uncompromised, indifferent as his God.” The Wisdom Pip discovers gains only the name of foolishness among his shipmates. His encounter with the God creating out of the depths annihilated him. Descending toward the nothingness from which God created, he found nothing over-against which to prop up himself, to define himself. In the face of God he became as nought, knew he was as nought. In proclaiming his own death to his shipmates, the death of Pip the coward lies a truth spoken in only slight hyperbole. Perhaps Pip calls himself nought because he has realized that in his smallness, even the awful waters that enshrouded him are themselves encircled by the awesome God who brought them into being, whose Spirit hovered over them in the beginning and sustains them now. What is man’s fear of loneliness? Why does man fly to society? Why does he tremble at being without any other? As Pip’s insane wisdom shows, man flies to society as a means to run from himself, from being forced to confront himself, small coward that he is. The joys of society, with its others to define oneself against and with, and its façade of control in the face of the unfeelingly powerful cosmos, draw us in. The fear of being alone is not that I am absent, no, for in society I become absent. The fear in being alone is not absence but presence—that I am never more present to myself. Despite being surrounded by nothing but open space and no one chasing me, there is nowhere to run. With Pip, either I survive the confrontation with self and own my smallness, or my personality is obliterated in the sweep of the waves of self-presence, a self-presence that leads to an encounter with the one, ironically, most “other”: God himself. Either way, I return from the experience of self a man insane. Glory to God for such wise fools as we might become, each of us a Pip.

The Spirit of the Lord: Romano Guardini

Romano Guardini is one of the most important voices in Catholic intellectual discussions of the last century. This is most evident in the significant influence his works have had on the last three popes. While a student at the University of Munich, Pope Francis started to write a dissertation on him and recently stated, “I am convinced that Guardini is a thinker who has much to say to the men of our time, and not only to Christians.” Some scholars have argued that much of Pope Benedict XVI’s theological work is a lengthy mediation on his thought. When Benedict XVI resigned his papacy, he cited the above quote from Guardini. And Guardini’s 1918 work, The Spirit of the Liturgy, became the subject of a dialogue with Max Scheler, who was the focus of Pope St. John Paul II’s doctoral dissertation.

Moreover, Guardini’s writing and thought was considered a significant influence on the Second Vatican Council, even though personally he was dissatisfied with its implementation. Pope Paul VI even offered to make him a cardinal in 1968, but he declined. As the author of 75 books, his influence on Catholic thought continues to this day. In commemoration of his faithful life and ministry, he was declared a Servant of God in 2016. The gravity of Romano Guardian’s theological and philosophical reflections continue to impact the life of the Church and its faithful nearly 140 years after his birth.

Romano Guardini was born in Italy in 1885. A year later, his father moved the family to Mainz, Germany where he raised the family as devout Catholics. Guardini was an excellent student, but during his university years his faith was challenged by the pervasive agnosticism and atheism. He suffered from depression and experienced a spiritual crisis. When he was home on vacation, he was engaged by this passage from St. Matthew’s Gospel: “Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

“It became clear to me that there exists a law according to which persons who ‘find their life,’ that is, remain in themselves and accept as valid only what immediately enlightens them, lose their individuality. If they want to reach the truth and attain the truth in their very selves, then they must abandon themselves…,” he later reflected.

After resolving his own crisis of faith, Guardini studied for the priesthood at the University of Mainz. He entered Holy Orders in 2010 and then spent the next decade serving in various parish assignments while he pursued doctoral studies in theology. Guardini's real desire was to teach in the academy so that he could explore the impact of modernity in the life of the Church and the culture. This relationship between faith and culture was central to much of his theological thought.

“The task of Christian culture is twofold: on the one hand, to penetrate and transfigure nature by grace; on the other, to unlock revelation and take possession of it by means of nature,” he wrote in his essay, Thoughts on the Relation between Christianity and Culture.

While doing his doctoral studies at the University of Freiburg, Guardini chose to focus his attention on St. Bonaventure, which was unusual since Thomism dominated theological discussions in the Church at the turn of the last century. Guardini, however, found the rigid Thomism of the day to be cold and impersonal. His decision to write his dissertation on the Soteriology of St. Bonaventure even caused conflict with his clerical superiors and prevented him from obtaining a teaching position at the seminary.

After finishing his dissertation in 1915, Guardini served in the military as a hospital orderly and directed Juventus, a Catholic organization of students. He also became close friends with Ildefons Herwege, the abbot of the Benedictine monastery of Maria Laach, which was the center for liturgical renewal in Germany. The centrality of the liturgy became a key theme in Guardian’s faith and thought. He published The Spirit of the Liturgy in 1918 and it became a best-seller in Germany and popular work for Catholics everywhere.

He believed that the liturgy was a means to overcome the cold rationalism in the Church. He argued that the liturgy had a sort of playfulness, writing, “The soul must learn to abandon, at least in prayer, the restlessness of purposeful activity; it must learn to waste time for the sake of God, and to be prepared for the sacred game with saying and thoughts and gestures, without always immediately asking ‘why?’ and ‘wherefore?’”  The liturgy is, to be sure, serious play, with set rules and complex symbols, but these are all in service of a deeper experience of God.

 For Guardini, the spirit of the liturgy is above all a spirit of community, uniting the faithful with each other even as it unites them to God. This theme of community in the Mass and the Church was further developed in his 1922 work, The Church and the Catholic. Against the prevailing individualism of the day or the increasing popularity of communism, both of which destroy true community, Guardini contended that the Church as the Body of Christ is a community made possible by the voluntary association of people with “free personality,” which is necessary for any true community.

After writing his second dissertation on St. Bonaventure at the University of Bonn in 1924, Guardini earned a position as the chair of Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Worldview at the University of Berlin, which was largely Protestant and anti-Catholic. This academic position at a non-Catholic university left him outside the dominant intellectual circles of the period. Also, his focus on liturgy and community was unique. He avoided Thomistic language and categories as well as the popular focus on apologetics. Further, he engaged with classic literature and world religions, areas that few Catholic thinkers dared to explore during that period.

While he was not popular in Catholic academic circles, he began to attract the attention of some of the brightest young Catholic minds, including Josef Pieper, Hans Urs von Balthasar, and Hannah Arendt. Yet even as Guardini was willing to dialogue with modern thought and other religions, there was no doubt that Jesus Christ was the unique center of all truth. But Christianity was more than a set of rigid dogmas, it was a personal engagement with the person of Jesus Christ. This explains his focus on the Church as a community and the liturgy as the pinnacle of life in the Church.

One of Guardini's earliest and most influential works offers an insight into his thought. His Letters from Lake Como is a collection of his observations about the relationship between technology and humanity. Guardini reflected on “the manner in which human beings, through their architecture and craftsmanship, interacted non-invasively and respectfully with nature.” But he noticed that this interaction had started to change in the modern world and humanity had become more aggressive and domineering toward the creation through its architecture.

Guardini argued that technology “has become a destiny that subjugates its human creators as much as their creations” and believed that the modern person “must recover a sense of the sacred before the sacred name can be heard again.” He contended that technology had introduced an artificiality of existence, abstracting the person from reality and reducing the human experience to concepts, formulas and sentiments. While acknowledging the potential benefits of technology, he said we must receive it “yet with incorruptible hearts remain aware of all that is destructive and nonhuman in it.”

The most popular work in his extensive corpus is The Lord, first published in Germany in 1937 and introduced to English readers in 1954. In The Lord, Guardini offers reflections and commentary on the life and person of Jesus Christ and what faith in Him requires. Still popular with the Catholic faithful, Pope Benedict XVI commented, “The Lord has not grown old, precisely because it still leads us to that which is essential, to that which is truly real, Jesus Christ Himself. That is why today this book still has a great mission.”

Romano Guardini reflects on the nature of faith in The Lord, “Understanding of Christ requires a complete conversion, not only of the will and the deed, but also of the mind. One must cease to judge the Lord from the wordly point of view and learn to accept His own measure of the genuine and the possible; to judge the world with His eyes. This revolution is difficult to accept and still more difficult to realize, and the more openly the world contradicts Christ's teaching, the more earnestly it defines those who accept it as fools, the more difficult that acceptance, realization. Nevertheless, to the degree that the intellect honestly attempts this right-about-face, the reality known as Jesus Christ will surrender itself. From this central reality, the doors of all other reality will swing open, and it will be lifted into the hope of the new creation.”