What a great group of folks representing our fair city at the American Chesterton Society Conference to celebrate “The Democracy of the Dead”. Thanks to all of you for making the effort and we look forward to hearing about it on the 18th (see next meeting on the right hand side bar).
Posted just today by Maggie Gallagher on “The Corner”:
The Chicago Tribune has a story on a new Chesterton Academy school opening in Chicago, one of the schools in the new Chesterton Academy schools network spawned from the success of the original Chesterton Academy in Minneapolis.
I hope the inks work so you can read up on the great work being done. Anyone interested in exploring the options for St. Louis?
[Chesterton] may be the first and truest of the postmoderns. Or perhaps not the first. We assume that God gives us the best gifts possible. And in Scripture, God gives us not a catechism to be memorized, but a narrative to be lived. He gives us first the story of Israel’s relationship with God, and then the story of God’s own Son on earth; in other words, He gives us history and biography; He gives us narratives. Where we might prefer a Summa, He gives us a sermon; where we might expect a syllogism, He gives us a psalm. Prayer, prophecy, poetry, and parable are the means of truth. This is not to reject the tools of logic, which are indispensable in understanding the narratives we have been given. But it is to establish the proper order between the narratives and their explication, an order that is surprisingly postmodern because it is eminently pre-modern. In the last analysis, we are not interested in analysis for its own sake, but only for the sake of following more closely in His footsteps.
This is taken from a terrific article by one writer I regularly read. Click Here to read the whole thing.
Got this from Doug; an article about the “Democracy of the Dead”; no original source is referenced—
A Vindication of Tradition
JULY 9, 2014
Modern times don’t like the authority of tradition, any more than they like prejudice or deeply rooted social stereotypes. We know more today than people did in the past, so why should we view the unreflective habits and attitudes they happened to fall into as somehow binding?
People today believe in science, which relies on observations that can be repeated and checked; expert bureaucracies, which base their decisions on the latest objective studies; and free markets, which determine prices by reference to current supply and demand. Those methods have been enormously successful in many important settings, and they don’t care what people did or thought last year, 200 years ago, or in the days of Gregory the Great.
So if that’s what people want to rely on today, what should the Church do? The obvious answer is that she should adapt to her setting. If the Church wants to impress people, especially those at the top and the ever-growing and ever-more-influential ranks of the miseducated, she has to do things the way that makes sense to her audience. Modern methods work better in many connections, and people have come to expect them, so they won’t take anything seriously that doesn’t follow them even if the advantages don’t carry over.
Perhaps for that reason, there has been a tendency in recent decades to downplay tradition and traditional observances in the Church. Traditional devotions are less used today, liturgy has been brought in line with popular culture, and the angularities of Catholic doctrine are softened where possible. Such tendencies have been accompanied by demands for greater scope for theological innovation, more popular influence on Church governance, and other supposedly progressive reforms.
Unfortunately, the apparent effect of the changes has been growth of bureaucracy, loss of focus and influence, and loss of interest among ordinary believers. So it’s worth considering the function served by past attitudes in the Church. In Pascendi Dominici Gregis, his encyclical against modernism, Pope Saint Pius X summarized those attitudes as he saw them:
For Catholics nothing will remove the authority of the second Council of Nicea, where it condemns those “who dare, after the impious fashion of heretics, to deride the ecclesiastical traditions, to invent novelties of some kind … or endeavor by malice or craft to overthrow any one of the legitimate traditions of the Catholic Church” … Wherefore the Roman Pontiffs, Pius IV and Pius IX, ordered the insertion in the profession of faith of the following declaration: “I most firmly admit and embrace the apostolic and ecclesiastical traditions and other observances and constitutions of the Church.”
That kind of traditionalism is out of favor today, but there’s something to be said for it. Revelation and conversion aren’t a matter of neutral scientific analysis. Religion deals with the transcendent, with aspects of reality that observation may point to but doesn’t contain. The methods of modern science and scholarship, which restrict themselves to what is observable, can’t deal with such matters. For that reason religion evaporates where modern methods have supreme authority. If only naturalistic explanations are admissible, for example, it becomes impossible to understand the Bible and Church history as vehicles of revelation.
Nor is religion a simple matter of authority. Authority is necessary, but a movement of resistance to radical modernity that (for example) simply relies on papal leadership is not adequate to the situation. Such a movement fights an over-emphasis on what is explicit and demonstrable by emphasizing something explicit and demonstrable, and that’s not enough.
What’s needed is for the faithful to feel spiritual truths as concretely real. The sensus fidei fidelium—the sense of the Faith on the part of the faithful—can seem a bit mysterious, and indeed the Catechism refers to it as supernatural. Still, grace completes nature, so the sensus fidei has something in common with other forms of knowledge. It is a grasp of transcendent reality that goes beyond clear demonstration in somewhat the way recognition of beauty goes beyond objective measurement and analysis of proportions. As such, it has a great deal to do with the ability, an ability that can be cultivated, to recognize and respond to patterns and what they express.
That ability is extremely important. We can’t deal with many actual situations scientifically, by measuring all their aspects, reducing them to their elements, and applying principles of mechanical causation. There are too many uncertainties, subtleties, and complications. Instead, we must deal with them through recognition of patterns and their implications. “What sort of situation is this,” we must ask ourselves, “and what does it point to?”
Modern tendencies of thought degrade our ability to do so by reducing assertions either to will, which ignores realities because it looks only to itself, or modern scientific objectivity, which makes meaningful patterns disappear because it abolishes meaning and downplays patterns in favor of immediate mechanical causation. The result is that we become less able to deal with the world. Modern tendencies have made evaluation and belief seem a matter of individual choice, so that people are convinced that beauty is simply in the eye of the beholder, and orthodoxy and heterodoxy are just “my doxy” and “your doxy.” The result is that decisions become arbitrary. Those tendencies have also resulted in the disappearance of common sense in public life, for example with regard to abandonment of natural moral law, and with regard to adoption of “zero tolerance” policies that on principle reject common-sense exceptions.
Common sense, it seems, is just not demonstrable enough to accept today. To get beyond that situation we need to develop what Pascal called the intuitive mind (esprit de finesse) and Newman the illative sense, the ability to grasp complex matters through sensitivity to multiple indications, each of them ambiguous in itself, and the patterns of converging probabilities to which they give rise. That ability is partly a matter of natural talent—some people will always be better at picking stocks or horses than others—but it can be greatly developed through attention and experience.
The latter sources of knowledge are not merely individual: writ large and made social they become tradition. When a symbol, practice, or belief, a devotion or way of making music perhaps, grows up and fits the patterns of experience people become attached to it. As it gathers support and becomes widespread and habitual it becomes a tradition. When a network of such things forms a structure sufficient to order the life of a community it becomes not a collection of single traditions but the overall tradition of the community.
So tradition is not simply a matter of doing what’s been done before. It is a way of dealing with the world that allows fleeting insights, successful accidents, half-understood implications, and a huge variety of experiences to accumulate and take concrete form in symbols, practices, and beliefs that respond to the obscure patterns found in life, put them in usable form, and carry them forward so a community can live consistently with them. A tradition of cooking, to take a simple example, takes the patterns of human need, function, and response relating to the availability, preparation, and consumption of food, and brings them into a concrete but flexible system that enables people to make that side of life far more civilized and rewarding than it would be otherwise.
Tradition and traditionalism have their critics, and the criticisms are familiar: traditions differ by time and place, and they are sometimes wrong or misleading, so they are not altogether reliable. The problem today though is not over-reliance on tradition, but its neglect. Traditions sometimes conflict, and they may need to be tested and corrected by other sources of knowledge, but the same can be said about expert opinion, popular consensus, conscientious decision, and every other way of deciding an issue. Tradition is necessary to knowledge, to the arts, and to any remotely satisfactory way of life, because it is uniquely able to make insights and experiences available that would otherwise be lost because they relate to matters that are difficult to state explicitly. Without it, we will never succeed in acquiring a true sensus fidei. With that in mind, we can’t toss it out or treat it as a mere collection of suggestions.
From member Carmen, who seems to be reading a lot of really neat things lately:
From THE HERESY OF FORMLESSNESS; The Roman Liturgy and Its Enemy, Martin Mosebach, Ignatius Press, 2006, p. 91: In an essay discussing the post-conciliar liturgy and the campaign against images, Mosebach speaks of the need for a return to the pre-conciliar liturgy of the Mass. “The greatest liturgical writer of our century was the Russian priest Pavel Florensky who was shot under Stalin’s regime in 1938. He is not a saint of the Orthodox Church, nor is his canonization in view, but I regard it as one of the greatest signs of hope that Pope John Paul II installed Florensky’s picture in his private chapel. Chesterton reminds us that a hope that is based on the least probability cannot actually be described as a Christian virtue. So while it may be naive to hope that a pope who reads Florensky might revitalize the ancient Christian liturgy, there is still plenty of room for a great and absurd Christian hope of this kind.”
From “First Things,” journal of religion and public life, December 2013 issue, the article “The Catholic Writer Today” by Dana Gioia, poet and critic, former chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, current Judge Widney Professor of Poetry and Public Culture at the University of Southern California: in a paragraph describing the cultural prominence of mid-century American Catholic letters being amplified by international literary trends, Gioia states that “The British ‘Catholic Revival’ led by writers such as Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, J.R.R. Tolkien, Edit Sitwell, Ronald Knox, Hilaire Belloc, David Jones, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Jennings, and Anthony Burgess provided a contemporary example of how quickly a Protestant and secular literary culture could be enlivened by new voices. (G. K. Chesterton had died in 1936, but he continued to exercise enormous influence on both British and American writers.)” The paragraph ends with the quotation from Chesterton, “The crowded stars seem bent upon being understood.” In a further paragraph Gioia discusses the current collapse of Catholic literary life and his belief that it reflects a “. . . larger crisis of confidence in the Church.” He then goes on to say, “Needless to say, for Catholicism, this cultural retreat — indeed, this virtual surrender — represents a radical departure from the Church’s traditional role as patron and mentor to the arts. In only fifty years, the patron has become the pariah.” This paragraph ends with the quotation from Chesterton, “It is the test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.”
Good things for Chesterton fans to check out and comment on!!!
This comes to us courtesy of member Carmen H.:
In the meantime, I just finished Ceremony of Innocence by Dorothy Cummings McLean, Ignatius Press, 2013, p.144, and came across this reference: Two characters are discussing present-day dysfunction in German society and one says, “That is how it goes, does it not? ‘Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold . . . The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.'” “Who is best?” I asked. “We here?” I shook my head. “Chesterton said that the worst spiritual illness is thinking that we are all right.”
The President of the American Chesterton Society will be in St. Louis for the Marian Conference at the Millennium Hotel downtown. He will be speaking Friday January 10 at 9 PM and Saturday January 11 at 1 PM. Sorry for the late notice, but “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly”. $40.00 will get you in the door and you will also have the opportunity to hear Mark Brumly, Fr. Mitch Pacwa, attend Mass, etc. See www.stlmarianconference.net for more information.
Dale has also arranged to be at Hodak’s Restaurant (2100 Gravois Avenue, the intersection of Gravois & McNair) just south of downtown Friday from about 5 to 6:30 to enjoy a St. Louis meal and fellowship with Chestertonians from the area, so if you can make that it would be great!!
And don’t forget out regular monthly meeting January 20th at Helen Fitzgerlds to discuss “Chesterton and Mary”. Should be fascinating!!