Fr. John Hardon, S.J. in Rome in 1950: A Formative Time For Him Indeed

Dr. Robert Hickson

                                                                                 15 August 2021

The Assumption of the Blessed Mother Mary

            

Epigraphs

“We are witnessing a massive effort to remake our historic Faith.” (Father Hardon, as spoken solemnly, at least thrice, to RDH during our work, in the early 1990s, on the final draft of the New Catechism.)

***

“We are only as courageous as we are convinced. But what are we truly and sincerely convinced of? Meekness is not weakness.” (Father Hardon’s words, as spoken to RDH  many times during our collaborations and research throughout the years 1980-2000.)

***

Before Jesuit John A. Hardon died (on 30 December 2000), he still remembered the formative importance of his 1950 time in Rome during the Jubilee Year—especially three events.

The temporal sequence of these formative momentous events are: 12 June 1950; 12 August 1950; and 1 November 1950 (the Feast of All Saints).

These three sequential dates cited above also substantively disclose, in order, Pope Pius XII’s Canonization of Maria Goretti (d. 1902); then his promulgated Encyclical entitled Humani Generis (a partly updated and still largely effective new  Syllabus of Errors, presented without naming any familiar names, though they often were subtly subversive and evasive writers and speakers, alas); and, finally, Pius XII made his promulgated declaration of the Dogma of the Assumption of the Blessed Mother Mary, entitled Munificentissimus Deus (Most Bountiful God) and he proclaimed it on All Saints’ Day in Rome in 1950. Father Hardon, as he told me often, was profoundly affected by all three.

In 1950, Father Hardon was still a young vivid priest in Rome (having been recently ordained in the U.S. on his 33rd birthday on 18 June in 1947). Father Hardon was born on 18 June 1914, and was now in 1950 studying at the Jesuit Gregorian University for his Theological Doctorate.

Father Hardon told me that he worked personally with Pope Pius XII for  his announcement over Vatican Radio on 12 June 1950, where Pius XII so memorably said that “Maria Goretti is especially to be honored as a Martyr for our Twentieth Century: for she was a Martyr to Purity.”

(Father Hardon said that he thereafter never forgot those words and their implication.)

Father Hardon also remembered well—and with earnestness—his 1950 encounter with the notably trenchant and emphatically brief Humani Generis and its inchoate effects among the Jesuits in the Gesu in Rome. (He later saw some of its longer-range effects in the larger Church, to be seen, for example, in his own three-day Ignatian Retreat which he formulated and personally delivered in the 1980s, and which I also attended.)

One of  its effects was that the 1950 Librarian at the Gesu promptly received an awkward mission which also involved a strict assignment to Father Hardon himself as a human agent and young instrument of the higher papal strategy and its clerical policy. Father Hardon was to go to the individual rooms at the Gesu and gather up formal and informal texts and many concealed Samizdat (covert “self-publishing” in Russian) as composed by the suspect authors alluded to in that brief, authoritative encyclical  Humani Generis—such as still then Jesuit Father Hans Urs von Balthasar, who was soon himself to leave the Society of Jesus, formally and permanently.

Father Hardon told me that he had never expected such bitter, both general and individual responses that he received as the resident clergy very reluctantly yielded up the documents and suspect, often dangerously speculative texts de Ecclesia and de Gratia, for example.

The third formative event was the papal declaration on 1 November 1950 of the Dogma of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven, Body and Soul. This declaration was not just an opinion but an expression of  “Irreformable Doctrine” (in Father Hardons’s formulation): in other words, a Dogma.

As a Dogmatic Theologian himself as he already was, Father Hardon gratefully acknowledged the importance of the Sources of Revelation—both of them—both of which Pope Pius XII proportionately accented, namely “Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition” and “Divinely Revealed Sacred Scripture.” Moreover, the Pope said that it was the Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition that was decisive in his proclamation of a new Dogma, and thus also in opposition to those who believe there to be only one Source of Revelation, Holy Scripture (as was the case with Father Hans Urs von Balthasar according to Father Hardon).

 Father Hugo Rahner, S.J.—the scholarly brother of the Jesuit Father Karl Rahner—also tried in vain to prove (in his essays and in his sincere book) how the Assumption could be found supported in Scriptural Texts alone, or at least pre-eminently so, according to Father Hardon.

Pope Pius XII thereby effectively strengthened the trustworthiness and stability of Sacred Tradition. For example, said Father Hardon, the enduring move of Saint Peter the Pope from Antioch to Rome was a part of Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition.

Moreover, for example, was not the transmitted and differentiated Corpus of Sacred Music also somehow part of Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition, as at least an aid to indispensable Meditations and then also to a fruitful and deeper receptive Contemplation?

FINIS

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

Joseph Ratzinger on the Priesthood and on the Resurrection

The Author’s Introductory Note (Written on 13 July 2021):

The following recent (7 July 2021) comment, composed by Dr. Peter Kwasniewski in his essay for Crisis Magazine, has inspired my decision to publish (along with some of the contributions from my wife Maike) my earlier and searching, if not candid, essay of 18 May 2018. That essay (below) is ten pages in length, with many varied quotations, and it is entitled Joseph Ratzinger on the Priesthood and on the Resurrection.
We may, after some close reading, thereby come to understand much better certain forms of applied Hegelianism active in the Catholic Church. For example, Dr. Kwasniewski has himself observed and said: “Indeed, Benedict XVI’s work is often characterized by an Hegelian dialectic method that wishes to hold contradictories simultaneously, or to seek a higher synthesis from a thesis and its antithesis (‘mutual enrichment’ can be understood in this [Hegelian] framework).” (“Summorum Pontificum at Fourteen: Its Tragic Flaws” (page 6 of 8 pages)my emphasis added)

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Dr. Robert Hickson

18 May 2018

Saint Eric (d. 1160)

Epigraphs

“But the point is that Christ’s Resurrection is something more, something different. If [sic] we may borrow the language of the theory of evolution, it is the greatest ‘mutation,’ absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order which does concern us, and concerns the whole of history.” (The Easter Vigil Homily of Pope Benedict XVI, Holy Saturday, on 15 April 2006, in the Vatican Basilica—my emphasis added)

***

“The Resurrection was like an explosion of light, an explosion of love which dissolved the hitherto indissoluble compenetration of ‘dying and becoming.’ It ushered a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which [integration and new dimension] a new world emerges.” (Pope Benedict XVI’s Easter Vigil Homily on15 April 2006, Holy Saturday)

***

“It is clear that this event [i.e., the Resurrection] is not just some miracle from the past, the occurrence of which could be ultimately a matter of indifference to us. It is a qualitative leap in the history of ‘evolution’ and of life in general towards a new future life, towards a new world which, starting from Christ [a Divine Person?], already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself.” (Pope Benedict XVI’s Easter Vigil Homily, on 15 April 2006, Holy Saturday)

***

“The great explosion of the Resurrection has seized us in Baptism so as to draw us on. Thus we are associated with a new dimension of life into which, amid the tribulations of our day, we are already in some way introduced. To live one’s own life as a continual entry into this open space: this is the meaning of being baptized [sic], of being Christian. This is the joy of the Easter vigil. The Resurrection is not a thing of the past, the Resurrection has reached us and seized us. We grasp hold of it, we grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands are weak.” (Pope Benedict XVI’s Easter Vigil Homily, on 15 April 2006, Holy Saturday)

***

In the latter part of 2006, after the April 2005 installation of Joseph Ratzinger as Pope Benedict XVI, I had occasion to tell a professor friend of mine confidentially that I have always had difficulties reading with understanding the varied writings of his German friend who is now the Pope. In seeking to understand Joseph Ratzinger’s language and his undefined theological abstractions (about relation and mutation and communion and the nature of the Church), I admitted my own incapacity and perduring insufficiency.

Acknowledging my difficulties, my compassionate and learned friend—who is also himself an admirer and personal friend of Joseph Ratzinger—said to me, and quite unexpectedly: “He is often too subtle for his own good.” I promptly replied: “And for our good, too, … or [I added] at least for my own good!”

For example, the arcane language used by Pope Benedict on Holy Saturday — even in his Easter Vigil Homily on 15 April 2006 — should be considered and slowly savored, first of all in the four Epigraphs I have chosen for this essay. But, by way of objection, one might say that these Epigraphs are not at all representative of Joseph Ratzinger’s mind and essential writings, especially not the seeming echoes or optimistic atmosphere of Jesuit Father Teilhard de Chardin (d. 1955) with his own evolutionary and naturalistic language about mankind’s “biocosmic possbilities,” about “an ongoing revelation,” “the evolution of Dogma,” and other purported developments beyond the contingencies of human history and our sinful propensities, and even beyond “the hope of the Christian martyrs.”

However, some well-informed scholars have also said that Joseph Ratzinger’s thought—even the earlier Teilhardian influence — has not essentially changed down the years; and, more importantly to me, Ratzinger has never yet made any public retractions, or formal Retractationes, of his own statements, as Saint Augustine himself had so humbly done in his candidly written and promulgated volumes.

Therefore, before we may more fittingly discuss Pope Benedict XVI’s Easter Vigil Homily on 15 April 2006—Holy Saturday—in Saint Peter’s Basilica of Rome, we should consider what a lauded priest-scholar, Karl-Heinz Menke—who himself specializes in Joseph Ratzinger’s many writings—has to say1 about the special continuity and consistency of Ratzinger’s thought and presentations. This priest and emeritus professor of Bonn University now recapitulates his own observations and reflections, as follows

There is barely any theologian like the retired pope [stepping down as of February 2013], whose thinking has remained constantly the same over decades. What he demanded before and during the Council [1962-1965], he still demands today. […] Joseph Ratzinger has self-critically asked himself whether he has contributed with his theology to the post-conciliar breach of tradition. But it is not known to me that he revised any position of his theology.

However, in Joseph Ratzinger’s 16 March 2016 published Interview with the Jesuit theologian, Father Jacques Servais2—himself a student of the former Jesuit, Hans Urs von Balthasar and a scholar of his voluminous works—the retired pope very forthrightly says (also for the later-published 2016 book, Through Faith, by Jesuit Father Daniel Libanori), as follows:

If [sic] it is true that the [Catholic] missionaries of the 16th century were convinced [sic] that the unbaptized person is lost forever—and this explains their missionary commitment. After the [1962-1965 Second Vatican] Council, this conviction was definitely abandoned, finally. The result was a two-sided, deep crisis. Without this attentiveness to salvation, the Faith loses its foundation. (my emphasis added)

Benedict had first explicitly said: “There is no doubt that on this point we are faced with a profound evolution of dogma.” (Some, like Father Gregory Baum, might have even more subtly called it “a discontinuous development of doctrine.”) But then Benedict’s own integrity here soberly admits: “If faith and salvation are no longer interdependent, faith itself becomes unmotivated”! (my emphasis added)

Benedict, by speaking of a “profound evolution of Dogma” implicitly concerns himself with the Church and with the Dogma “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus,” in contradistinction, for example, to a vaguer and more attenuated formulation, such as “Sine Ecclesia Nulla Salus.” In the retired pope’s eyes, this purported change of dogma (irreversible doctrine) has clearly led to a loss of missionary zeal in the Church. Indeed, he says, inasmuch as “any motivation for a future missionary commitment was [thereby supposedly] removed.” About this allegedly altered new “attitude” of the Church, Benedict poses an incisive question: “Why should you try to convince the people to accept the Christian faith when they can be saved without it?” (my emphasis added)

Moreover, if there are those who can still save their souls with other means, “why should the Christian be bound to the necessity of the Christian Faith [and of the Catholic Church] and its morality?”

On an intentionally more positive note, Benedict then turns to one of his heroes, Father Henri de Lubac, S.J., the now-deceased, and very learned scholar and Jesuit Cardinal who was himself a defender and supportive friend of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. More specifically, Benedict rather arcanely turns to de Lubac’s putatively sound and exploratory insight about Christ’s “vicarious substitutions,” which, says Benedict, have to be now again “further reflected upon.” Benedict optimistically hopes that de Lubac’s own expressed—but quite abstract—idea of “vicarious substitutions” will somehow lead us out of our above-mentioned “two-sided, deep crisis” in the Catholic Church, the fruit of the new attitudes and logic coming out of Vatican II and its Aftermath. (Benedict himself never even defines what de Lubac means by his utopian and unconvincing abstraction, “vicarious substitutions,” as the key criterion!)

In this context, some earlier comments made to me in person by Professor Josef Pieper and by Father John A. Hardon, S.J.—and made to me privately in the mid-1970s and mid-1980s, respectively—will also now help us frame our present inquiry concerning Joseph Ratzinger’s enduringly influential, if not disorienting, thought. That is to say, Ratzinger’s own proposed “Integra Humana Progressio,” as it were: which is usually also officially translated as “integral human development.”

Sometime in 1974 or 1975, and in his own library at his home in Münster in Westphalia, Dr. Pieper showed to me a letter from Joseph Ratzinger that was signed “Dein Ratzinger.” And then Dr. Pieper told me that there was a story behind that letter. It had to do with Father Joseph Ratzinger, a young professor at the University of Münster during the interval 1963-1966; until he went to teach dogmatic theology at the University of Tübingen (where Hans Küng was his colleague).

While Father Ratzinger was in Münster, Josef Pieper had a Catholic Reading Group at his own home at Malmedyweg 4, and Ratzinger was regularly present at those meetings and searching discussions about fundamental things, such as “What is a Priest?” That is to say, what is the essence of the sacramental Catholic Priesthood.

Dr. Pieper told me that he and Father Ratzinger had a serious exchange about the essence of the sacramental priesthood. Dr. Pieper said emphatically that, in order to make his point, Ratzinger even used a very unusual formulation in German. With a challenge, the young Father Ratzinger said: “A priest [essentially] is not a mere Kulthandwerker”—that is, he is not a mere craftsman of the cultus (the Church’s visible and public worship, especially in the Mass).

Dr. Pieper objected to Ratzinger’s claim, he told me, although he also found Ratzinger’s word-formulation exceedingly odd and so abstract as to be largely unintelligible to the ordinary speaker of the German language. However, Dr. Pieper then said that “the essence of a priest was indispensably to be a Kulthandwerker, uniquely offering the sacrificial ‘actio sacra‘ of the Holy Mass, but also sacramental absolution in the unique Sacrament of Penance.”

After Dr. Pieper explained to me the larger context and the aftermath of that discussion, he showed me the mid-1970s handwritten German letter from Ratzinger himself, where he said (in my close paraphrase) that “it is a good thing that we can disagree, and yet still be friends. Your Ratzinger [“Dein Ratzinger”].” For, it was also true that, sometime in the 1970s, Josef Pieper had already published a learned academic article about the priesthood that had—without mentioning Ratzinger by name—strongly criticized Ratzinger’s own limited concept of the priesthood as well as his odd, shallow use of the incongruous conceptual word “Kulthandwerker.”

Dr. Pieper later wrote brief and lucid books on the priesthood, on the meaning of the sacred, and also on the “sacred action” (“actio sacra”) of the Mass. However, I know nothing more of the likely later-written exchanges between Josef Pieper and Joseph Ratzinger; and Dr. Pieper never again brought up that adversarial topic with me over the many years that we knew each other and wrote to each other (1974-1997).

In the late 1980s, some fifteen years after Dr. Pieper’s disclosure to me in his library, I was comparably surprised and deeply enlightened by Jesuit Father John Hardon’s words to me in person and to another Jesuit priest who had telephoned him in my presence. It occurred in Father Hardon’s own room at the Jesuit Residence of the Jesuit University of Detroit, in Michigan. For, I was making a Private Ignatian Retreat with him, having flown out to Detroit from Front Royal, Virginia.

One evening, our retreat was politely interrupted by the editor, Father Joseph Fessio, S.J.’s somewhat lengthy telephone call to Father Hardon from California at Ignatius Press. Straightaway, Father Fessio asked Father Hardon to write some endorsing comments on one of their new English translations, specifically Urs von Balthasar’s short book, Dare We Hope that All Men Be Saved (1988). Father Hardon immediately declined to do so, and gave Father Fessio his reasons: “Joe, there are at least three heresies in that book—despite its title’s allusion to 1 Timothy 2:4.” Father Hardon (“John”) then explicated at length those errors he was referring to, to include von Balthasar’s view on “the Sources of Revelation,” the “Proximate Norm of Faith,”and on “Universal Salvation, Apocatastasis,” and other troubling affirmations or deft equivocations. Father Hardon was himself a Dogmatic Theologian and very attentive to the full Catholic doctrine of “Divine Grace” and, especially, to “Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition,” in addition to “Divinely Revealed Sacred Scripture.”

Although I could say much more about this portion of Father Hardon’s words to Father Fessio, it seems fitting (“conveniens”) now to mention what John Hardon earnestly said to Joe Fessio—after he had once again urged him to be a “settler”and more rootedly come to earn finally, after many years, his own protective and academically acquired “Fourth Vow” in the Jesuit Order—and he spoke not only to an editor, but also to a devoted former student under Joseph Ratzinger: “Joe, why are you now also publishing so many new books by Joseph Ratzinger, especially so many of his earlier writings, such as his 1968 book, Introduction to Christianity? Why does Joseph Ratzinger want to bring up his past?” (Father Fessio then said that Ignatius Press would soon publish, but only in 2000 actually, a second revised version of that 1968 book, Introduction to Christianity, but with no retractions or recantations.)

After the phone conversation—where I had been sitting on a chair close to him—Father Hardon and I had a lengthy memorable discourse about these same matters of subtle Neo-Modernism, to include a consideration of Pope Pius XII’s own short but important 1950 Encyclical, Humani Generis.

Father Hardon also memorably spoke about two closely related errors: an evolutionary “process philosophy” and an evolutionary “process theology.” In the first, “the Geist [Spirit] needs us to complete itself”–as in some forms of “Hegelian evolutionary pantheism.” The claims of emerging “process theology” are more “blasphemous” inasmuch as it boldly claims—or at least implies– that “God needs us to complete Himself.” We also then spoke of some of the evolutionary ideas of Father Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. and their influence in the Church.

In 1987, Joseph Ratzinger published in English, again with Father Fessio’s Ignatius Press, his important and self-revealing 1982 book, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology. (His lengthy, and often viscous, book was originally published in German in 1982—one year after he was summoned to Rome as a Cardinal in order to be the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith—and his German text was itself entitled Theologische Prinzipienlehre.)3 Because of its candid insights and claims—even about Don Quixote—I heartily recommend that a Catholic read, in full, at least Joseph Ratzinger’s “Epilogue: On the Status of Church and Theology Today,” and especially pages 367-393.

In a briefer selection of passages now, we thus propose to present some of the representative sections of that challenging, even stunning, book. For example:

Is anything left but the heaped-up ruins of unsuccessful experimentations? Has Gaudium et Spes [the Vatican II text, i.e., “Joy and Hope”] been definitively translated into luctus et angor [“grief and anguish”]? Was the Council a wrong road that we must now retrace if we are to save the Church? The voices of those who say that it was so are becoming louder and their followers more numerous. Among the more obvious phenomena of the last years must be counted the increasing number of integralist groups in which the desire for piety, for the sense of the mystery, is finding satisfaction. We must be on our guard against minimizing these [“integralist”] groups. Without a doubt they represent a sectarian zealotry that is the antithesis of Catholicity. We cannot resist them too firmly.4 (my emphasis added)

Ratzinger had earlier written these additionally revealing words:

Of all the texts of Vatican II, the “Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Gaudium et spes)” was undoubtedly the most difficult and, with the “Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy” and the “Decree on Ecumenism,” also the most successful.

If it is desirable to offer a diagnosis of the text [of Gaudium et Spes] as a whole, we might say that (in conjunction with the texts on religious liberty and world religions) it is a revision [sic] of the Syllabus [of Errors] of Pius IX, a kind of countersyllabus. This is correct insofar as the Syllabus established a line of demarcation against the determining forces of the nineteenth century: against the scientific and political world view of liberalism. In the struggle against modernism this twofold demarcation was ratified and strengthened. Since then many things have changed….As a result [of these unspecified “changes”], the one-sidedness of the position adopted by Pius IX and Pius X [was] in response to the new phase of history inaugurated by the French Revolution….

Let us be content to say here that the text [Gaudium et Spes] serves as a countersyllabus and, as such, represents on the part of the Church, an attempt at an official reconciliation with the new [revolutionary?] era inaugurated in 1789. (378, 381-382—my emphasis added)

This should remind us also of how Ratzinger himself especially helped to found in 1972 the more moderate progressivist Journal, Communio, so as to be an alternative to the much more radical modernist-progressivist Journal, Concilium, first founded in 1965seven years earlier. One may think of the seemingly more moderate Girondins or Mensheviks. The Communio group appears to propose a “tertium quid”—a more civilized “third way” in the moderate middle; and thus places themselves on a spectrum that is somewhere “between the Integrists and the Modernists.” But without drifting into the new subtleties of Neo-Modernism! (That would itself be a good Quaestio Disputata!)

In his own theological book, Joseph Ratzinger adds another affirmation, as it were:

That means that there can be no return to the Syllabus [of Pius IX; and even to the anti-modernist Syllabus of Pius X, perhaps?], which may have marked the first stage in the confrontation with liberalism and a newly conceived Marxism but cannot be the last stage. In the long run, neither embrace nor ghetto [sic] can solve for Christians the problem of the modern world. The fact [sic] is, as Hans Urs von Balthasar pointed out as early as 1952 [two years after Pius XII’s Humani Generis], that the “demolition of the bastions” is a long-overdue task. (391-my emphasis added)

These passages from Principles of Catholic Theology (1982, 1987) will prepare us to understand Ratzinger’s later (2006) East Vigil homily as the Pope himself, as well as his later 2016 interview touching upon certain qualms of conscience he has, after all, about Vatican II.

See, for example, Benedict XVI’s new interview-book—first released on 9 September 2016 by his German publisher Droemer Verlag and entitled Benedikt XVI: Letzte Gespräche (Benedict XVI–Last Conversations). Dr. Maike Hickson—when the book was still only available in the original German language—wrote a 7-page exposition and general review of the book’s specific Chapter on the Second Vatican Council.5

In Pope Benedict XVI’s 2006 homily in Saint Peter’s on Holy Saturday—at the Easter Vigil Mass with the deacon’s chanted “Exultet”—he resorts to some unusual words and arcane ideas. One might even think that he, too, like his friend Hans Urs von Balthasar, is still interested in carrying out the purportedly needed “task”: the “demolition of the bastions” and the consequential attenuation of traditional boundaries.

From the chosen texts in our “Epigraphs” at the beginning of this essay, we now propose to give some of those specific examples again, and thereby substantiate the estrangement we experience, and the resulting and justified discomfiture of our own “Sensus Fidei.” In any case, one should, by all means, read the entirety of this remarkable 2006 homily, which is still to be found on the Vatican website.6 But let us now consider our chosen representative excerpts:

It [i.e., Christ’s Resurrection] is the greatest “mutation,” absolutely the most crucial leap into a totally new dimension that there has ever been in the long history of life and its development: a leap into a completely new order….The Resurrection was like an explosion of light, and explosion of love which dissolved the hitherto indissoluble compenetration of “dying and becoming.” It [“the Resurrection”] ushered a new dimension of being, a new dimension of life in which, in a transformed way, matter too was integrated and through which [integration and new dimension] a new world emerges….

It is clear [sic] that this event [i.e., “the Resurrection”] is not just some miracle from the past, the occurrence of which could be ultimately a matter of indifference to us [sic]. It is a qualitative leap in the history of “evolution” [as distinct from human “history” in Joseph Pieper’s own differentiated and proper understanding?] and of life in general towards a new future life, towards a new world which, starting from Christ, already continuously permeates this world of ours, transforms it and draws it to itself [sic]….

The great explosion of the Resurrection has seized us in baptism so as to draw us on. Thus we are associated with a new dimension of life [sanctifying grace?] into which, amid the tribulations [sins?] of our day, we are already in some way introduced. To live out one’s life as a continual entry into this open space; this is the meaning of being baptized, of being Christian. This is the joy of the Easter vigil. The Resurrection is not a thing of the past, the Resurrection has reached us and seized us. We grasp hold of the risen Lord, and we know that he holds us firmly even when our hands are weak. (my emphasis added)

If I could, I would say to Joseph Ratzinger: “I don’t understand you at all. This all seems to me an abstract different religion. I wonder how many in your audience were warmly touched to the heart.”

CODA

Offering his reader a Parable involving Cervantes’ Don Quixote, Joseph Ratzinger chooses to conclude his lengthy book allusively, and somewhat symbolically, especially by affirming Don Quixote’s deepest chivalric Code of Honor:

But, as the novel [Don Quixote] progresses, something strange happens to the author [Miguel de Cervantes]. He begins gradually to love his foolish knight….[Something, perhaps Grace] first made him fully aware that his fool had a noble heart; that the foolishness of consecrating his life to the protection of the weak and the defense of truth had its own greatness. [….]

Behind the foolishness, Cervantes discovers the simplicity [i.e., Don Quixote’s sincere “simplicitas” or “oculus simplex”]….He [Don Quixote] can do evil to no one but rather does good to everyone, and there is no guile in him….What a noble foolishness Don Quixote chooses as his secular vocation: “To be pure in his thoughts, modest in his words, sincere in his actions, patient in adversity, merciful to those in need and, finally, a crusader for truth even if the defense of it should cost him his life.” (392—my emphasis added)

Ratzinger acknowledges in Don Quixote “the purity of his heart” (392) and then returns to his manifest “foolishness”: “Indeed, the center of his foolishness…is identical with the strangeness of the good in a world [also in the sixteenth century] whose realism has nothing but scorn for one who accepts truth as reality and risks his life for it.” (392) Such is the nobility of Don Quixote, and of Cervantes too; and may we also come to show and sustain such qualities ourselves, and in our children. For, there must be a vivid “consciousness of what must not be lost and a realization of man’s peril, which increases whenever…[there is] the burning of the past….those things [like Sacred Tradition] that we must not lose if we do not want to lose our souls as well.” (392-393—my emphasis added)

Since Joseph Ratzinger, as well as Josef Pieper, greatly admires Monsignor Romano Guardini, I have thought it good, in conclusion, to present Guardini’s brilliant insight about true tragedy—also affecting the Church, as in the decompositions [or “demolitions”] of Vatican II, to include the aftermath of some of its own openly posed, but untrue, principles:

The true nature of tragedy…lies in the fact that good is ruined, not by what is evil and senseless, but by another good which also has its rights; and that this hostile good [a lesser good] is too narrow and selfish to see the superior right…of the other [the greater good], but has power enough to trample down the other’s claim.7

–Finis–

© 2018/ © 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1See here Menke’s comments in German http://www.kath.net/news/62834;erman: and here some excerpts in English: https://onepeterfive.com/vatican-news-editor-claims-benedicts-gave-approval-to-letter-publication/

2See here a shorter report on this interview: https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/pope-emeritus-benedict-says-church-is-now-facing-a-two-sided-deep-crisis; and here for the full translation of the whole interview: https://insidethevatican.com/news/newsflash/letter-16-2016-emeritus-pope-benedict-grants-an-interview/

3For a fuller presentation of Ratzinger’s thoughts, see also here an earlier essay, entitled: “A Note on the Incarnation and Grace: For the Sake of Fidelity” (2017): http://catholicism.org/the-incarnation-and-grace.html

4Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Principles of Catholic Theology: Building Stones for a Fundamental Theology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1987), pp. 389-390—my emphasis added. All further page references to this book will be placed in parentheses above, in the main body of this essay.

5This important review—with many quoted passages—may now be found at Onepeterfive.com, under the title “Benedict XVI Admits Qualms of Conscience about Vatican II” (26 September 2016): http://www.onepeterfive.com/benedict-xvi-admits-qualms-of-conscience-about-vatican-ii/. Dr. Maike Hickson’s translation from the German shows some of Joseph Ratzinger’s seeming doubts about Vatican II, especially its effects on the Catholic missions and on the faithful conviction about the uniqueness, necessity, and salvific indispensability of the Roman Catholic Church.

6See the text of the entire homily (http://w2.vatican.va/content/benedict-xvi/en/homilies/2006/documents/hf_ben-xvi_hom_20060415_veglia-pasquale.html), and ZENIT News Agency (16 April 2006) has a short report on this homily (https://zenit.org/articles/resurrection-yields-a-new-world-says-pope/). The entire homily may be found and downloaded HERE from the Vatican website itself

7Roman Guardini, The Death of Socrates (Cleveland, Ohio: The World Publishing Company, 1962, first in 1948), p. 44.

Remembering John Vennari

An Author’s Note, on 21 May 2021: After John Vennari (the editor-in-chief of Catholic Family News) had died on 4 April 2017, my wife Maike and I wrote a six-page tribute to him and to his family that is now to be found below. Our tribute was first published, in an abbreviated form and as excerpts of our original words, by Catholic Family News in its May 2017 edition. The fuller presentation of our tribute was then graciously published on 21 May 2017 (exactly four years ago) by the editor of the AKA Catholic website. The tribute below will show that Maike, my wife, also cherished John Vennari, although she never met him in person.

Robert and Maike Hickson

21 April 2017

Saint Anselm (d.1109)

It was only in late August of 2007 in Brazil that I came more intimately to know John Vennari—and thus to perceive his varied high qualities and warmth of heart—especially because the two of us then had a few concentrated days together there in Brazil immediately after Father Gruner’s fine Fatima Conference (20-24 August)—to which I had been unexpectedly invited as a speaker. (Along with Father Gruner, John had invited me to speak selectively on two related, but contrastive, topics: (1) on Catholic Sacramental Literature and the Higher Chivalry a Catholic Centurion Needs Today; and (2) on Perception Management and Strategic Deception in the Growing Forms of Total War We Face.)

In spite of John’s warm invitation, I had not at first thought of accepting this special opportunity, for my wife Maike and I had just been married sacramentally on 11 July in Europe, in Alpine Austria, near Switzerland. And we were understandably somewhat fatigued from the travel and also from our recent talks at another Catholic Conference. Nonetheless, my dear wife earnestly encouraged me to accept John’s invitation and to go promptly to Brazil! I did and I am manifoldly grateful for it.

John Vennari was then forty-nine years of age and robustly exercising the full range of his own manifold faculties and high spirits (and humor) along lines of excellence: intellectual and moral virtue. John was then soon to turn fifty years of age, on 24 February 2008, the Feast of Saint Matthias, the Apostle chosen to replace Judas Iscariot who had mysteriously committed such intimate perfidy and dark deception.

(After our return to the United States in late August, and with his vivacious and smiling encouragement, I sent John a special gift for his upcoming 50th Birthday. The gift brought out in him some fine sparkles and coruscations, I have heard. For, it was something that a man—a strong and cultured man—could and would receive and drink! And would proceed to do so even promptly!)

Since my wife, Maike, never met John in person—but only had telephone exchanges with him as well as a reciprocity of e-mail messages about their own writings and publications and varied interviews—I shall now first try to convey what John shared with me personally during those days in Brazil.

During our time rooming together in Brazil that late August, John excitedly introduced me to what he called a graduate-level—indeed, a doctoral level—of Political Science education, supplemented by some enriching Strategic Studies. For, John had with him on his accompanying computer a complete set of the 1980s British Situation Comedy and Political Satires known as “Yes, Minister” (1980-1984) and “Yes, Prime Minister”(1986-1987)—especially with “Sir Humphrey Appleby,” the “Permanent Secretary” and Sly Counsellor to “the Minister” and then to “the Prime Minister.” One of John’s favorite (and so characteristic) set of words uttered and recommended by Counsellor Sir Humphrey to Minister Jim Hacker himself was: “Let us not bring the truth in at this stage.”

John proceeded to show me, over some three days together, five or six half-hour episodes of this brilliant series of comedy and political satire. For example, the episode on how the Prime Minister would have to choose a new Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury, and whether or not the candidate at least had to believe in God! And have certain other qualifications.

When hearing John laugh and deftly comment on these depictions—also in light of the current Catholic Church—I then knew that I was close there to John’s genuine heart. Over the years—having first met him in 1997—I never saw him utter anything sardonic or harshly sarcastic. His humor and irony were always generous and magnanimous. No bitterness, no constrictedness, no sneer—despite the provocations. He might help the situation by giving a vignette from P.G. Wodehouse, whom he cherished, or one from a short story by Evelyn Waugh, such as “Mr. Loveday’s Little Outing”!

When John had made up lyrics to his then vividly sung song on advancing in “The Chancery,” he was smiling and radiant with tears of laughter. In the late 1990s when I introduced John to the musical Dr. E. Michael Jones in South Bend, Indiana and heard them sing together with their fiddles or guitars, it was a rare festive and antic combination. Mike Jones gratefully told me afterwards—and Jones is no effusive praiser of persons—that “John Vennari is a brilliant lyricist.”

In Brazil, John told me much about his life growing up around Philadelphia (E.M. Jones’ home town, as well.) For, he knew I grew up nearby in South Jersey, less than 60 miles away, in Margate, on an ocean seacoast island (Absecon Island) which is some 6 miles south from Atlantic City—and John had often visited the coast and beaches there as a boy and as a young man—maybe even with one of his “rock bands.”

Later on he attempted to be a monk (along with the Diamond brothers and their lame, but robust, superior) at The Most Holy Family Monastery, a more traditionalist monastery just outside of Berlin, New Jersey, a little to the east of Philadelphia. (That former monastery is now Mater Ecclesiae diocesan Church which celebrates only the Traditional Liturgy.)

While John and I were discussing his time and difficulties there at the monastery, when he was searching for a confirmation of a true and sound religious vocation, he told me a charming story of how he first met his future wife, Susan.

Susan was at that same time, apparently, a Graduate Assistant to a Professor at the University of Pennsylvania—he was a professor of Arabic and of Middle East Studies, as I recall–and somehow Susan was sent by her professor with a large quantity of papers or texts to be copied on the excellent (and fast) copy machines at the Berlin monastery. While recollecting his time as an Aspiring Novice Monk, John then stopped in his longer narration and charmingly said to me with a smile: “Robert, When I first saw her [Susan] I knew I had no religious vocation.”

I am not sure in what year it was that Susan had first visited that Berlin monastery with her learned papers to be copied, but I believe it was after I had first met her in Germany in the early 1990s. It was at Dr. John Haas’ Seminar and three-week summer school in lower Bavaria, in Eichstaett, Germany at which I had also given some invited talks on Catholic Literature. When I later met Susan in the late 1990s at the South Bend Conference (conducted by Mike Chabot) after she and John had married and had at least one child, she was so vividly grateful for her time in Germany and for her dear family, too!

In Brazil, John also told me: “Robert, you are a soldier, and you have probably had a lot of fights growing up, at least at West Point, but likely also so much more later on. But, do you know that I was never even in a fight growing up?! Also, in my marriage with Susan, we have never had a fight! We just fit together so well. Even our temperaments.” The way he recounted all these things was so warm and innocent and affectionate. The beautiful picture of John’s face–as it was posted on the Catholic Family News Website after John’s death on 4 April—reminded me of John’s face in Brazil as he told me of Susan and such matters. His countenance is (and was) so pure and clear and big-hearted. Just look at his eyes! (We now have a copy of that picture of John in the kitchen of our Old Farmhouse near the hearth and our active fireplace.)

John often shared with me short films of his three children’s musical or dramatic performances—to include their rides in home-made wheeled buggies or with sleds in the snow. Often there were the joyful antics of the young children, including young Benedict, his last child and only son.

Over the almost twenty years of our association and friendship (1997-early 2017), we exchanged some deep thoughts and opinions about some challenging subjects: the brilliant and polite pre-Vatican II learned exchanges in the American Ecclesiastical Review itself between Father John Courtney Murray, S.J. (d. 1967) and Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton (d. 1969); the reasons (in addition to weak health) for Msgr. Fenton’s own sad departure from the Vatican Council after the First Session; the extent to which John’s hero Msgr. Fenton ever met or wrote or spoke to Father Leonard Feeney; and the subtle shift made by some SSPX Traditionalists from “Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus” to the vaguer and much more ambiguous formulation “Sine Ecclesia Nulla Salus”; what Our Lady of Fatima specifically meant by “the Errors of Russia”?—Name five!; what did Msgr. Fenton mean by his distinction in his own, often magnificent pre-Vatican II 1958 book, The Catholic Church and Salvation: In the Light of Recent Pronouncements by the Holy See, namely the distinction De Ecclesia about someone’s somehow being “in” the Church, but “not a memberof the Church?; And what are the implications of this claim—without thereby sliding into Karl Rahner’s notion of the putatively “anonymous Christian”?

John was always gracious and thoughtful in our discussions, even when he was unable to find and render a satisfactory answer—satisfactory also to him and to his winsome integrity.

It meant very much to me later—when my wife Maike in 2012 was secretly and so strategically forming up a one-day Academic Conference and a subsequent Festschrift for my upcoming 70th Birthday on 29 December 2012—that John Vennari deftly chose to write something for the book which explicitly looked back, once again, to our time together in Brazil five years earlier, and even to one of the talks on literature I had presented there. The memorable title of John Vennari’s Festschrift contribution was “These Fragments I Have Shored Against My Ruins” (65-68). John remembered the proposed motto of a Catholic Centurion and Soldier—“Blessed be he who has saved a child’s heart from despair”—recalling Georges Bernanos’ own haunting words in The Diary of a Country Priest.

John Vennari’s own “spiritual childhood” always touched me deeply—his docility, humility, and trust. “Sinite parvulos ad Me venire,” said Our Lord. May John now rest truly in peace; and may he now or soon know, at least inchoately, the Life More Abundant promised by the Lord to those of Loyal Love ad Finem. Requiescat in Pace. Abundantius!

A small and hopefuly apt word of gratitude may be fittingly added now by Maike Hickson :

One of the first articles I wrote as a Catholic—on G.K. Chesterton’s What’s Wrong With the World—was published by John Vennari, in 2009. It was an honor for me, since, still in Germany, his name had resonance among traditional Catholics. I remember having seen reprints of his writing about the Alta Vendita document, in German. Down the years, I have gotten to know John for his charity, clarity, and cheerfulness. Our own little children still remember watching, many a time, a little film John once sent to us from a local little pig race which he had attended with his own children. He so clearly was such a loving father and husband.

Unforgettable to me (and my husband) are his and Chris Ferrara’s running filmed commentaries from Rome on the Synod of Bishops on the Family. John and Chris together both made such a contribution in resisting the evil flowing out from those heterodox debates in discussing the events of the day, dissecting the lies then being spread, and then themselves returning, again and again, to the clarity of the Catholic Church’s traditional teaching. For many of us, these video clips were strengthening and uplifting. Certainly my husband and I cherished them.

I always have a sense that these two Synods on the Family must have damaged John’s health. They were life-taking. They were so upsetting and so shaking. We are still shaken to our inner roots. John gave so much in these last years of intensified battle, from articles on the life and work of Cardinal Carlo Martini to the equivocal writings of Cardinal Walter Kasper. John gave his best, and, as it now seems, his last. He exhausted himself, as it seems now, for the greater good of the Church. He gave his all in the defense of the Catholic Faith. I often have compassion for him and his comrades—and I may include my husband in it—because they have had to fight this battle for so long, and often in such a lonely fashion. For us younger Catholic writers, it is only a shorter time that we try to do battle for Jesus Christ. But now, at least the tide is changing a bit, and, though still much disdain we feel, people’s hearts are more open to tradition. People like John Vennari, Arnaud de Lassus, Anthony S. Fraser, and also my husband, had to carry the cross for a very long stretch— even since 1962—without seeing any light. I wish to honor them and to thank them.

John wrote in his contribution to the Festschrift in honor of my husband the following piercing words when speaking about those who try to preserve “Catholic fragments”: “Lone individuals who keep alive forgotten truths are a mark of our time. What was considered normal in Christian Civilization are now oddities extolled by the few who recognize the value of these discarded fragments.” This he wrote in 2012. That was before the papacy of Pope Francis. How much further have we come ourselves into becoming these “lone individuals who keep alive forgotten truths”? It is with a sense of sadness and longing that we will miss John —we miss him as a comrade here on earth, and we long to be with him in Heaven, relieved from this Valley of Tears that seems to become a sadder place by the day. May John Vennari now intercede for us who—to include his dear family—are still Christian soldiers here on earth. May his intercession be now even more powerful than it was while he still walked and wrote among us. May Our Lord have welcomed him with a warm embrace and tears of joy, and with His Mother standing by Him, with a very special smile. You have fought your fight well, John.

Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton on Membership in the Catholic Church: Questions and Discernments De Ecclesia

Dr. Robert Hickson

10 February 2021

Saint Scholastica (d. 543)

Muriel Agnes Hickson (d. 2009)

Epigraphs

“The ecclesiastical magisterium, in teaching and guarding this dogma [as of 1958], insists that there is no salvation outside of the Catholic Church and at the same time likewise insists that people who die without ever becoming members of the Catholic Church can obtain the Beatific Vision.” (Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation, page x—my bold emphasis added)

***

“Ultimately the process [of obtaining salvation in eternal life] is achieved and perfected when the person saved comes to possess the life of grace eternally and inamissibly [i.e., incapable of being lost], in the everlasting glory of the Beatific Vision. There is genuine salvation, however, when the man who has hitherto been in the state of original or mortal sin is brought into the life of sanctifying grace, even in this world, when that life of grace can be lost through the man’s own fault.” (Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation, page 134—my bold emphasis added)

***

In 1958, there was, in lucid prose, a timely and timeless, historical and theological book published just before the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) by Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton. Its main title is The Catholic Church and Salvation and its partly explanatory subtitle is In the Light of Recent Pronouncements by the Holy See.1 From the outset, Fenton makes us aware of one developing accent in modern theology as it would soon again show itself more fully and mercifully—if not vaguely and laxly and even equivocally–at the Second Vatican Council:

Any person who is at all familiar with what the great mass of religious and theological writings of our times [up to 1958] have had to say about this dogma is quite well aware of the fact that, in an overwhelming majority of cases, these writings have been mainly, almost exclusively, concerned with proving and explaining how this dogma [“irreversible doctrine”] does not mean that only members of the Catholic Church can be saved. (ix-x—my emphasis added)

Throughout his searching book, Fenton even discusses the challenging matter of an “implicit desire” as well as the comparable matter of a person’s somehow being “in”—or “within”—the Church, but not “a member of the Catholic Church.”

Therefore, we now specifically ask, even at the outset of our commentary, just how one may be in the Catholic Church, but not be a member of the Church? (We must certainly, and always fittingly, acknowledge that we must never set limits to the Omnipotent Mercy of God!) We must, moreover, always consider how, as professed Catholics, we are practically and prudently to conduct ourselves amidst non-Catholics—especially as a Catholic missionary today. And we should thus be well grounded, but on what kinds of fundamental doctrines and on what theoretical premises, lest we be too superficial and have an incomplete presentation of the proportionate truth?

At one point of his final chapter on “Some Sources of Misunderstanding” (165-189), Fenton says:

The teaching that man could be in the Church only in intention or desire and not as a member and still attain eternal salvation “within” this society is, of course, tremendously important. It is a part of Catholic doctrine about the nature of God’s ecclesia. (170)

In his earlier chapter entitled “Salvation and the Basic Concept of the Church” (145-164), Fenton makes another important note in passing:

If a man really fights for truth and virtue, if he really works to serve and to glorify the Triune God, then he is fighting on the side of, and in a very real sense “within,” the true Church itself. (163)

Shortly afterwards, Fenton clarifies his own deeper opinion, by way of contrast:

If, on the other hand, a man is not working to please God, to glorify and serve Him, this man does not really love with the love of charity.

The situation of the person who is not a member of the Church, but who is “within” it by intention, desire or prayer can be understood best in comparison with the condition of a Catholic in the state of mortal sin. Despite the fact that he is a member of the society which “steadfastly contends for truth and virtue,” this individual’s will is turned away from God and strives for objectives opposed to those sought by the Church. He is one of those “who refuse to obey the divine and eternal law, and who have many aims of their own in contempt of God, and many aims also against God.” In other words, in spite of his membership in the supernatural kingdom of God on earth, he is actually working and fighting for the things the kingdom of Satan seeks.

The ultimate orientation of a man’s activity comes from the supreme intention of his will. For the man in the state of grace, this supreme intention is the love of charity. It is the desire to please God in all things. The man in the state of mortal sin has some other supreme objective. There is some end he seeks in contempt of God. Even though some of his acts are good in themselves, ultimately his life is directed to the attainment of that end, which is the purpose of the kingdom of Satan.

If a member of the Church should die in the state of mortal sin, he will be condemned forever to hell, the homeland of Satan’s kingdom. He will, in other words, be assigned forever to the social unit in which and with which he was fighting at the moment of his passage from this life. In exactly the same way, the non-member of the Church who dies believing God’s message with the assent of faith, loving God with the affection of charity, and sincerely willing and praying to enter God’s ecclesia, will live forever in the social unit within which he willed and prayed to live and for which he was fighting at the moment of his death. (163-164—italics in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Msgr. Fenton had also earlier made two other formulations:

If a man really fights for truth and virtue, if he really works to serve and to glorify the Triune God, then he is fighting on the side of, and in a very real sense “within,” the true Church itself. And, if a man really has divine charity, he is actually fighting this battle for the Church. (163—my emphasis added)

When a man desires or prays for entrance into the true Church of Jesus Christ, even when this objective is apprehended only in an implicit way by the person praying, the first two of these conditions are necessarily fulfilled….In order that this prayer for entrance into the Church may be effective for salvation, the prayer and the intention behind it must be enlightened by faith and motivated or animated by charity. And it must also be a persevering prayer. (162—my emphasis added)

CODA

As exemplified by this short introduction and its serene citations, one would fittingly and very fruitfully read—and read again and closely—and always with a deeply savor—Monsignor Joseph Clifford Fenton’s thorough and well-written 194 pages on The Catholic Church and Salvation (1958). Then contrast the comparable words of the Second Vatican Council. The contrast will clarify the mind.

–FINIS–

© 2021 Robert D. Hickson

1Msgr. Joseph Clifford Fenton, The Catholic Church and Salvation: In the Light of Recent Pronouncements by the Holy See (Westminster, Maryland: The Newman Press, 1958—some 194 pages in the hardback edition). All further references will be to this edition, and placed above in parentheses of the main body of this essay.

Conversations with Father John A. Hardon About the Incarnation of Christ

Dr. Robert Hickson

30 December 2020

Saint Sabinus (d. 303)

Fr. John A. Hardon, S.J. (d. 2000)

Epigraphs

“How many of the three infused theological virtues—faith, hope, and charity—did Christ’s Sacred Humanity possess?” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J. in a conversation with R. Hickson in the late 1980s.)

***

“Christ as well as His Blessed Mother were both morally free, we trust, but were they thus free to sin? In Heaven we too are to be free, but will we in Beatitude thereby be free to sin? These exceptional capacities, limits, and gifts of liberty appear to be higher forms of freedom which are now especially to be aspired to by us, and striven after—with persevering virtue and under Divine Grace.” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J. in a conversation with R. Hickson in the early 1990s.)

***

In the recent public discourse concerning our federal U.S. presidential elections and their ongoing turbulent aftermath, there has been much mention of our seeking after and attaining “more liberty” and “more freedom.” When I first heard these often used but undefined conceptual words, I asked myself a couple of questions: “what do you mean and how do you know?”; secondly, do you also say or imply a “freedom from something”? or, rather, is it especially a “freedom for something”? Is it a liberation from, or a liberation for? Or are we to understand that both forms of freedom are intended to have a purposive accent and resolute orientation, even if they are not always abidingly virtuous? As in a desperate escape from a palpable tyranny.

These posed questions have also caused me to recall some things Father John Hardon, S.J. first told me, and then asked of me, in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It involves some sacred Catholic matters and illuminates for us still some differentiated aspects of freedom and liberty. For example, the traditional words “Libertas Ecclesiae” have not the same meaning as “Libertas Religiosa”—calling for the Liberty of the Church, as distinct from calling for the vaguer modernist and ecumenical sense of “Religious Liberty” which became prominent, but often conveniently equivocal or even intentionally undefined in the discussions and official documents of Vaticanum II (1962-1965) and in the later years.

In the late 1980s, the Jesuit Father John A. Hardon told me about an earlier incident with his Catholic seminary students in New York at Saint John’s College. During one exchange of ideas with his theological students about the Humility of God in the Incarnation, he had surprisingly asked them: how many of the theological gifts did Jesus possess in his Sacred Humanity? Almost all of the seminarians then promptly answered: “All three of these infused gifts!”

To these unexpected words of a more or less common opinion (as lucidly expressed by his seminarians in their theology class), Father Hardon himself promptly made a terse summary critique and began a further commentary about those who had surprisingly thought that Christ’s humanity possessed all three of the Theological Virtues. Father Hardon said: “You do not thus seem to understand the fuller meaning of Christ’s Hypostatic Union.”

Father Hardon then proceeded to say of the Incarnation of Christ that “Christ is a Divine Person Who has assumed a passible Human Nature. That is to say: His Sacred Humanity showed forth that His assumed nature was both passible (able to suffer) and abidingly capable of genuine moral freedom, which thereby also enabled Him to accept and to choose freely His own sacred Passion. Christ was not a Monothelite, one who claimed that Christ had no truly free human will, but only a divine will. If that were so, it would mean emptying out the meaning of His freely chosen Passion, to include His Agony in the Garden, Lacerations, Crucifixion and Death.” (Monothelitism was gradually observed to be the subtlest of all the Christological Heresies. We should still consider this fact.)

Moreover, it was in Virginia a few days later that Father Hardon—himself a Dogmatic Theologian by formation—very slowly and quite sadly said to me in person that he was quite surprised by his mature seminary students: their unexpected and abiding doctrinal errors as they were openly expressed by his advanced seminarians in New York. Father Hardon then even began to examine me, a laymen, before we went together into Father Hardon’s local catechetical class on the Church’s traditional Doctrine of Grace: Divine Grace. That is to say, he also first proposed to me me several pertinent questions on Christology; and he then asked me for my own specific answers, to include my explanation and dogmatic rationale for the Doctrine of the Hypostatic Union along with some of its indispensable unfolding implications. (It is so that I shall not likely forget those solemn tests and answers under Father Hardon’s candid and close scrutiny. They indeed taught me trenchantly how to understand many other doctrinal matters of permanent moment.)

One of those implications Father Hardon also discussed with me presented to me another formidable mystery: “the temptations of Christ” Who suffered acutely and greatly, especially because Our Lord did not have a Fallen Human Nature. That is to say, unlike us with our perduring Fallen Nature, most of us. That is to say, it is so but for a few exceptions, such as with Mary His Mother herself who was, like her Son, also sinless from her Immaculate Conception on, and throughout her lived actions and ponderings of her heart and mortal life.

Father Hardon also asked me another truly searching and challenging theological question: “What do strict Calvinists and faithful Lutherans have in common with Pelagianism – specifically concerning the special Gifts that our Proto-Parents were given and received in their Creation before the Fall?”

Father’s brief answers to my ignorance first spoke of three kinds of gifts received from God before the Fall—as informed and faithful Catholics still affirm—and they were: natural gifts, praeternatural gifts, and supernatural gifts. After the Fall, man lost both the supernatural gifts of Divine Grace and the unique but limited preternatural gifts (e.g., bodily immortality and ordered control of his various passions, and the like), although this latter category of praeternatural gifts, very mysteriously, would never be fully restored, not even after Christ’s Redemptive Passion, Resurrection, and elevating Restoration of the generous life of Virtue and Divine Grace, especially of Sacramental and Sanctifying Graces.

After the Fall, and having been deprived of Grace, man with his natural gifts and his still gifted nature would be nonetheless wounded by ignorance and by our obscuring and disordered passions.

However, as Father Hardon himself accented it, strict Protestants and strict Pelagians both deny the very existence of supernatural and praeternatural gifts generously granted to our Proto-Parents before their Fall. Thus for Protestants, as a consequence, our fallen nature was not just deprived of grace and other prelapsarian gifts, but became even depraved. Man—under these dark premises—was thus thought to be deeply corrupted, not only wounded and deprived; but also depraved. For, it was claimed, that man had now fallen darkly beneath Nature. It was now a matter, not just of a “Natura deprivata,” but also of a “Natura depravata.” A dark view it was of man and his resultant nature, for sure! In contrast to Luther, Catholic theological anthropology shows itself to be more generous and forgiving, I think, but it is not Semi-Pelagian. Therefore, the Catholic way is potentially more joyful, and with supportive good reasons and with hope for a sincere Gaudium et Laetitia.

Father Hardon and I also discussed a note on presumption in relation to hope, as it was first deftly presented by the German Catholic philosopher, Josef Pieper; for it is so that presumption, as a form of pride, is also—at least in the Traditional Catholic Catechisms—one of the two sins against hope, the second one being despair (and its preparatory spiritual sloth). Among his other fresh insights, Josef Pieper says that “presumption is the premature anticipation of final fulfillment [Vita Eternal and its Beatitude]”; “despair is the premature anticipation of a final non-fulfillment.”

On another occasion, when discussing with Father Hardon some non-Catholic ideas (especially 1647 Calvinist ones) about freedom, redemption, grace, perseverance, and salvation, the Jesuit priest also deeply and memorably appreciated another wise and succinct Catholic insight spoken to me by Josef Pieper personally in his home in Germany: “Given the riskful and formidable dowry of our individual freedom—and until the very moment of our death—we retain the permanent possibility of our voluntary defection.”

Lest we fall from humility and lest we then fall into sinful presumption, our own hope of salvation—our own Spes Salutis—must recurrently pray for a certain fear: the Donum Timoris, the Gift of Fear. That special fear is that we ultimately could be finally separated from the Good and the Beloved.

The Gift of Final Perseverance, the Catholic Council of Trent has written, is a “Magnum Bonum”—it is indeed, sub Gratia, a very Great Gift. It certainly allows us to live our morally free and manly lives amidst the challenges of a Great Adventure full of risk, and to do it with humility and without that smooth, insidious and self-assured presumption that is—along with despair—regrettably a grave sin against hope.

Father Hardon also abidingly knew all of these components and aspects of adventure and our obligatory responsibility; and he (along with Josef Pieper (d. 6 November 1997)) has helped me so much, and so well, to savour still many fundamental facts and principles of our historic Catholic Faith.

Father Hardon, S.J. died on 30 December 2000, R.I.P. Every day I still pray for him gratefully.

–FINIS–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

“The Art of Not Yielding to Despair”: Josef Pieper’s 1972 Reflections on Final Hope

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                    5 June 2020

Saint Boniface (d. 755)

Epigraphs

“Whoever does not appreciate the significance of signs and symbols will never understand the essence of a sacrament, and only those who realize what constitutes a sacred action will find the way open to a deeper understanding of the Christian cultus and mystery [as in the Actio Sacra of the Mass].” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), page 164—this is a cited portion of his own “Foreword” to his earlier 1974 book, Über die Schwierigkeit Heute zu Glauben (About the Difficulty of Having Faith Today))

***

“Apparently Immanuel Kant had something like this theological aspect of hope in mind when he said [with his own Prussian Academy of Sciences’ citation to his Vol. ix, 24] that the fundamental philosophical (!) question, ‘What may I hope for?‘ is answered not by philosophy but by religion.” (Josef Pieper, “The Art of Not Yielding to Despair,” in his 1985 book in English, Problems of Modern Faith, page 186—my bold emphasis added; italics also in the original)

***

“And yet… the beginning and the end, the primal Origin of the Creation and the ultimate Consummation of the creative process, meet and touch in Christ; this closing of the ring….[i.e., with] God’s Incarnation….

“Let me repeat once again that anyone who, for whatever reasons, does not accept the historical reality of this primordial event—the Incarnation of God and the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ—must inevitably fail to understand the mystery celebrated in Christian worship [i.e., in the sacred Mass]. For, as I have stated, what ‘happens’ in the liturgical worship [the cultus] of the Church derives from that primordial event [Creation-Incarnation]. It [the public worship] is by nature a secondary phenomenon.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (1989), pages 188-189—my emphasis added)

***

“For example, the idea of the Incarnation of God, in which the ultimate work of the Creation was linked with the Origin of that Creation to form a circle, might appeal to a ‘Gnostic’ philosopher who saw in it the unlooked-for confirmation of a world view based of a single all-embracing principle. But the facts that, within that framework, mankind hated and killed the God-made-man ‘without cause’ (John 15:25) and that yet this same death effected the salvation of man, who had committed the murder: these theological truths explode any tidy formula which anyone might conceive about the world.

“Another example: a philosophy of history which takes into account the possibility of a catastrophic end of history within time and yet, on grounds of the same apocalyptic theology, is opposed to the conclusion, born of despair, that existence is therefore absurd, must inevitably prove [to be] far more arduous, more complex, and, so to speak, ‘less satisfying’ than any philosophy of progress (whether based on idealist [e.g., Kantian or Hegelian], Marxist, or evolutionary conceptions) or any metaphysics of decline and fall. Thus a person who engages in a philosophic act appears to derive a handicap from his collaboration with theology, but simultaneously he derives an enrichment which can be summed up in the term higher truth. For the essential thing in philosophy is neither the avoidance of knotty problems nor the bewitchment of the intellect with plausible or conclusive proofs. Instead the essential thing is that not one single element of reality be suppressed or concealed—not one element of that unfathomable reality the vision of which is synonymous with the concept of ‘truth.’” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (1989), pages 178-179—my bold emphases and italics added)

***

In his 1985 book in English, entitled Problems of Modern Faith, 1Josef Pieper has a seventeen-page essay surprisingly called “The Art of Not Yielding to Despair: Reflections on ‘The End of History,’” which was first published in 1972 in Munich, Germany to honor another professor.

There are portions of this candid and searching essay which—especially toward the end of the essay—are not only timeless, but quite timely in this already eventful year of 2020. Although variously fervent, even destructively revolutionary, hopes (in the plural) may not come to be achieved, there is still—sometimes—a more fundamental, existential hope (in the singular) that remains vividly alive as a gift and, thus, as an infused supernatural virtue. Moreover, despair and presumption are both sins against that virtuous supernatural hope. (However, many persons still do not trust these claims to be a reliable and important part of the truth.)

Briefly now, before Josef Pieper will come to answer a second of two proposed and primary questions, he will fittingly speak of the prior question: “Let us first address the question of what internal evidence exists for the probability or improbability of a catastrophic end to history.” (175-176—mt emphasis added)

Consequently and conditionally, he adds: “If one’s answer to this [first] question [about final catastrophe] is ‘Yes,’ then the second question is: What is to become of man’s hopes for the future, and is not the only appropriate response to human history one of despair?” (175—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

That we may appreciate more fully the methods and tones of his fair-minded enquiries and their spacious unfailing magnanimity, we now consider how he begins his essay:

If one accepts or even is willing to seriously ponder that concept of the temporal end of human history which has been an active feature of Western historical thought from the days of [Apostle-Evangelist] John on Patmos down to the time of [the Russian philosopher] Vladimir Soloviev [d. 1900], who in the final year of the nineteenth century published his myth of the Antichristi.e., the notion that the end of history (we should bear in mind that we are speaking of history within the framework of time!) will be characterized not by a triumph of “reason” or justice or Christianity, but rather by something in the nature of a universal catastrophe for which one of the most appropriate name is “the reign of the Antichrist,” a term implying the worldwide dominion of evil, a pseudo-order [deception] maintained by violence, and so on—if, I say, one regards this concept of history as something which at least merits serious thought, then of course one is immediately confronted by certain questions, and by two questions in particular.

First, does this conception of a catastrophic end to history within time possess any degree of internal probability, given our empirical knowledge of the historical process and of historical trends? In other words, do things [in 1972 or in 2020] “look as if” they might turn out that way? If one’s answer to this question is “Yes,” then the second question is: What is to become of man’s hopes for the future, and is not the only appropriate response to human history one of despair? (175—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

While presenting a set of then-contemporary examples of vaunted material progress and its sometimes ambiguous attainments (as of 1972), Dr. Pieper says:

Most remarkable of all are the great advances which have been made in the sphere of technological domination of nature and the exploitation of its resources. Of course in this area there are a “but” and a “nevertheless” to consider. Technological advances have always possessed the character of opportunities; and as we all know, it is possible to take advantage of an opportunity;….I will cite two examples of the ambivalence of technological progress, both of which relate to the theme of this discussion. The first example is that of research into the psychosomatic or psychophysical reality of man. Never before has investigation in this field revealed as many new techniques for healing man’s ills as it is doing today. However, it is equally true that these same techniques have created unprecedented potentialities for man to seduce, enslave, and forcibly modify the nature of other men.

A second example is that of atomic energy. At this point [in 1972] no one can predict whether the dangers of physical destruction and political abuse inherent in man’s control of atomic energy will eventually be outweighed by the potential of putting it to some meaningful use.

We have asked whether there exist any clues or signs which indicate the possibility, or even the probability, of a catastrophic end of history within time. In attempting to answer this question, I would like, for the time being, to refrain from expressing my own views, and instead present for our consideration statements drawn from other contemporary writers. (178—my bold emphasis added; italics in the original)

After considering, for example, “modern nihilism” (179) and such a man’s “yearning for self destruction” (179) and [as of 1972] the widespread “materialistic hedonism” (181) and even whether it is “no longer possible for man to maintain control over these factors on which his future fate depends” (179), Pieper presents the views of Aldous Huxley and, especially, his 1961 book, Brave New World Revisited.

Huxley himself is now quoted as follows as he is first shown to be explicitly re-examining his original 1931 book “thirty years later” (182):

“In 1931, when Brave New World was being written, I was convinced that there was still plenty of time. The completely organized society…, the abolition of free will by methodical conditioning, the servitude made acceptable…—these things were coming all right, but not in my time, not even in the time of my grandchildren….In this third quarter of the twentieth century…I feel a good deal less optimistic [now in 1961]….The prophecies made in 1931 are coming true much sooner than I thought.”

Then Huxley reviews his earlier [1931] book point by point and, on the basis of his experience of historical events which took place during the intervening years, predicts a future in which one of the most important elements will be a “scientific dictatorship” in which “there will probably be much less violence than under Hitler and Stalin,” and in which individuals “will be painlessly regimented by a corps of highly trained social engineers.” To be sure, “democracy and freedom will be the theme of every broadcast and editorial, but, “the underlying substance will be a new kind of non-violent totalitarianism….“Non-violent totalitarianism” is the most inhuman form of totalitarianism—among other reasons because it can always cite what appear to be valid arguments to prove that it is not what it in fact is. This consummate mendacity must inevitably result in the atrophy of communication between human beings, which is essentially built on trust. (182-my emphases added)

To emphasize this factor of trust and distrust, Josef Pieper adds these insightful words from another experienced and understanding author:

Martin Buber attempted to express this fact [of a consequential atrophy] in the following terms: “In the future we may expect the total reciprocity of existential distrust to develop to a point at which speech will revert to silence [or to muteness].” (Of course [comments Pieper] not only does this breakdown of communication fail to eliminate “idle chatter” and mere verbiage (verbositas), but it actually encourages them.) The possibility of such a breakdown of communication, Huxley says, never for a moment occurred to the early advocates of universal literacy and the freedom of the press. “They did not foresee what in fact has happened….the development of a vast mass communications industry, concerned…neither with the true or the false, but with the unreal, the more or less totally irrelevant.” (182-183—my bold emphasis added)

By way of closure of this preparatory introduction, Pieper assures us of something important: “Of course not one of the authors I have just quoted speaks so much as a syllable about the ‘Antichrist.’” (183) But, as he had earlier reminded us, as well: “Christians have never abandoned apocalyptic prophecy.” (179) Therefore, to such a matter we now fittingly turn—the second and last part of Josef Pieper’s overall and forthright structure.

Dr. Pieper makes the transition to his part two with the following words:

Tradidit mundum disputationi eorum, (Ecclesiasticus 3:11); God has turned the world over to men to do with [it] as they see fit. This is the terrible dowry of freedom, which necessarily involves the possibility of abuse. “Everything clearly indicates,” says Gabriel Marcel [in his The Mystery of Being], “that we ourselves have been given the authority to build the walls of the prison in which we want to live. This is the terrible price we pay for the unfathomable power which has been entrusted to us and which, moreover, is the foundation of our selfhood.” (183-184—my emphasis added)

Framing his final four points to be candidly accented in part two, Pieper then searchingly asks:

At this point we are in a position to experience the full impact of the second question we posed at the beginning of this discussion: What reason do human beings have for hope if we must expect temporal history to end in catastrophe? Would not the acceptance of such a view necessarily paralyze, and deprive of value, all active engagement in the historical process? How, under such conditions, can we expect a young person to “set to work with a will”? I will attempt to answer this question in several [four] successive stages. (184—my emphasis added)

The final [six] pages of this Pieper essay [pages 184-194] ought now to be closely read and savored by the reader, for there are many nuances of his thought that are modestly, yet forcefully and artfully, presented. I shall now attempt to convey the substance of his four main points and conclusion.

In his “Point One,” Pieper first argues for a certain distinction between what we ardently desire and thus hope for, and what we objectively and alone, however, cannot attain; and therefore: “We must learn this distinction from the inherent wisdom of language itself, which tells us that hope is always directed toward something which we cannot achieve ourselves.” (184—bold emphasis added; italics in original) And Pieper adds:

Furthermore—and this is the most important fact to bear in mind—human hope (not hopes, but hope, which is always singular) is directed toward an ultimate and perfect satiation of desire. What we truly hope for is, as Ernst Bloch quite accurately states: fullness of life; the restoration or healing of man; a homeland, “coming home”; a kingdom; “Jerusalem” [a Visio Pacis]; the absolute satisfaction of all our needs; beatitude of a kind we have never known before. (184-185—my emphasis added)

Our modest mentor then poses another sobering question that “we must ask ourselves”:

Does anyone really believe that he has a right [a claim in justice, or an entitlement] to regard all engagement in the historical process as meaningless, or to deny its value, simply because it will not ultimately create a world without suffering and injustice, a heaven on earth? This question clearly parallels the question of whether we can reasonably maintain that everything we do in this corporeal existence is deprived of value by the fact that in the end we all must die. (185—my emphasis added)

In his “Point Two,” he continues with a lengthy and substantive conditional sentence:

If our historical existence in this world is totally defined by hope and possesses the inherent structure of the “Not-Yet”…; if, until the very moment of death, man is really a viator or traveler “on his way” [“in via”] to something; and if, even in the final instant of his life, the essential thing, fulfillment, still lies before him—then either this hope, which is identical to existence, is simply absurd, or the satisfaction of this hope lies on the other side of death! (185-186—my bolt emphasis added; italics in original)

Since this following passage reminds us vividly of some of the professed anarchists and nihilists who are prominent and also in destructive activities today, I propose to present some thoughts from 1972 or so:

Thus anyone who deliberately restricts his vision to the domain which lies of this side of the boundary of death, quite understandably sees nothing but futility and absurdity. C.S. Lewis says that the truly unfortunate man is the high-minded unbeliever who is desperately trying not to lose what he calls is his faith in man. On the other hand, the ability not to yield to despair when confronted with the fact of death, as well as with the prospect of the catastrophic end of temporal history, is a matter of great practical concern to us all. Even in the midst of catastrophe, a person who possesses this ability remains capable of affirmation, which in turn makes it possible for him to engage in activity on the historical plane: to engage, in other words, in “political” activity—activity directed toward the realization of justice—as well as artistic activity, whose purpose is to praise the Creation. As Erik Peterson [a Catholic theologian] has stated, the mouth of the martyr does not utter a word against God’s Creation. Despite everything which befalls him [the Christian martyr] and despite how the world of man must “really” look to him, he still persists in saying: The Creation is good, very good! (186—my bold emphasis added; italics in original)

As to his briefer “Point Three,” Pieper will have us consider that:

Viewed in the context I have outlined, the emphatic conviction of Christians that hope represents a “theological” virtue may appear, if not plausible, at least somewhat more plausible than before. Apparently Immanuel Kant had something like this theological aspect of hope in mind when he said that the fundamental philosophical (!) question, “What may I hope for?” is answered by religion. (186—my emphases added)

Later, moreover, Josef Pieper says that the unique and infused theological virtue of hope “aims at true fulfillment, which, if it happens at all, will take place ‘beyond’ our corporeal and historical existence, and of which we ‘know’ only through faith.” (187—my emphasis added)

The last three pages consider his “Point Four” as he comes to lead us gradually to the acknowledging of a gift, and thus to invite our gratitude.

Pieper begins his “Point Four” with this sentence and then follows it up with a few more considerations:

The object of the theological “supernatural” hope [an infused virtue in the order of Grace] of the Christian must not be conceived as something wholly divorced from the human existence in this world….When apocalyptic prophecy [of Saint John, for example] speaks of the resurrection of the body and of the “New Earth,” it is in fact telling us that not one iota, not one jot or tittle of everything in this life which was good and right, just, true, and beautiful, fine and salutary will ever be lost. (187)

Nonetheless—and now recalling the practical wisdom of one of his own gifted mentors when he was a young man after World War I—Josef Pieper says:

Of course, the mere fact that two groups ‘have something in common’ [as is the case with certain proposed syncretisms, and even currently official “ecumenisms”] does not make them identical, and what Romano Guardini calls the task of ‘distinguishing that which is Christian’ from what is not, is a never-ending one, of particularly pressing importance at the present time [1972].” (189—my emphasis added)

Furthermore, and as a sort of conclusion, Pieper summarizes some substantive distinctions to carry with us, as part of our grateful acknowledgment of another portion of both “ordo et mysterium”:

Two elements are involved in this task [of fitting distinctions]. The first is the need to confirm and maintain awareness of the crucial insight that precisely because of the irrevocable “Not-Yet” structure of historical existence, the ultimate fulfillment of human hope (not hopes) cannot be realized this side of death. Second, it must be made clear that (and why) the object of this hope, which is at bottom identical with our existence itself,…cannot be formulated in terms of clearly defined plans and goals, or eschatological schemata. Instead, the man who hopes, like the man who prays, must remain open to a fulfillment of which he knows neither in what hour nor in what form it will finally come….

The art of not yielding to despair [or to prideful presumption!] is not something which one can simply learn. Like all other arts, and indeed to a far greater degree than any other [art], it is a gift.

Nevertheless, it is possible [for a creature who is Gratiae Capax] to specify certain conditions [and thus receptive dispositions] which, whether by means of conscious reflection or not, must first be fulfilled, if we are to prove capable of receiving this gift. (189-190—my emphases added)

What a challenge and abundance and risk-full adventure Josef Pieper has so deftly offered to us. In addition to our responsive gratitude, which he has elicited, may we now persevere to the end, which is itself a “magnum donum,” as our sound Catholic doctrine teaches us.

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1See Josef Pieper, Problems of Modern Faith: Essays and Addresses (Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1985—originally published in German in 1974). The essay on “The Art of Not Yielding to Despair” will be found on pages 175-191 of this English edition. All future page-reference to this essay will be placed above in parentheses in the main body of this commentary.

Josef Pieper on the Purity of Heart and the Perception of Beauty

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                20 April 2020

Saint Agnes of Montepulciano (d. 1313)

Epigraphs

“A new depth here opens to our view: purity is not only the fruit of purification; it implies at the same time readiness to accept God’s purifying intervention, terrible and fatal though it might be; to accept it with the bold candor of a trustful heart.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989), page 83—my emphasis added.)

***

“Only a chaste sensuality can realize the specifically human faculty of perceiving sensual beauty…and to enjoy it for its own sake,…undeterred and unsullied by the self-centered [i.e., selfish] will to pleasure. It has been said that only the pure of heart can laugh freely and liberatingly. It is no less true that only those who look at the world with pure eyes can experience its beauty.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology, 1989, page 81—my emphasis added.)

***

“It is in such an asceticism of cognition alone that he may preserve or regain that which actually constitutes man’s vital existence: the perception of the reality of God and His creation, and the possibility of shaping himself and the world according to this truth, which reveals itself only in silence.” (Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology, 1989, page 87—my emphasis added.)

***

In the following considerations, I wish to present and discuss briefly some of Josef Pieper’s insights into the matter of purity and beauty, and their interrelations.

First in 1981, Josef Pieper published in Munich, Germany his own authorial anthology by which he personally selected and editorially arranged from all of his writings a fitting representation of much of his deepest thoughts down the years.

In 1984, Dr. Pieper, upon request, then published a second and more ample German edition, also with Kösel Verlag in Munich, and still entitled Josef Pieper: Lesebuch. From this second edition came the 1989 English translation, Josef Pieper: An Anthology,1 a portion of which we shall now consider. On pages 80-87, we shall find these four chapter subtitles sequentially (27-30), as follows:

Only the Pure of Heart Can Perceive Beauty; The Fruit of Purity; Temperance [as the Fourth Cardinal Virtue] Creates Beauty; and “Concupiscence of the Eyes” [1 John 2: 16; 5:19, for example, as a disorder].

Let us now follow the sequence of some of Josef Pieper’s insights and affirmations:

Christian doctrine does not exclude sensual enjoyment from the realm of the morally good (as against [as distinct from being the realm of] the merely “permissible”). But that this [sensual] enjoyment should be made possible only by the virtue of temperance and [disciplined] moderation—that, indeed, is a surprising thought. Yet this is what we read in the Summa theologica [of Thomas Aquinas], in the first question [quaestio] of his tractate on temperance—even if more between and behind the lines than in what is said directly….

Man, by contrast [to a lion, for example], is able to enjoy what is seen or heard for the sensual “appropriateness” alone which appeals to the eye and the ear….For intemperance (like temperance) is something exclusively human….Keeping this distinction in mind the [this] sentence becomes meaningful: unchaste lust has the tendency to relate the whole complex of the sensual world, and particularly of sensual beauty, to sexual pleasure exclusively. Therefore only a chaste sensuality can realize the specifically human faculty of perceiving sensual beauty, such as that of the human body, as beauty, and to enjoy it for its own sake,…undeterred and unsullied by the self-centered will to pleasure. (80-81—my emphasis added)

Thus, Josef Pieper would especially want to convince us now that: “Temperance is liberating and purifying. This above all: temperance effects purification.” (82—my emphasis added) And we recall, as well, his earlier words that “only the pure of heart can laugh freely and liberatingly” and “only those who look at the world [or another sudden person] with pure eyes can experience its [or her or his] beauty.” (81—my emphasis added)

Moreover, says Pieper:

If one approaches the difficult concept of purity…and begins to understand purity as the fruit of purification, the confusing and discordant sounds, which…move it dangerously close to Manichaeism, are silenced. From this [fresh] approach the full and unrestricted concept [and reality!] of purity…comes into view.

This is the purity meant by John Cassian [circa 360-435 A.D.]. when he calls purity of heart the immanent purpose of temperance: “It is served by solitude, fasting, night watches, and penitence.” It is this wider concept of purity which is referred to in Saint Augustine’s statement that the virtue of temperance and moderation aims at preserving man uninjured and undefiled for God. (82—my emphasis added)

Dr. Pieper then asks us a question and answers it at once unexpectedly:

But what does this unrestricted concept of purity stand for? It stands for that crystal-clear, morning-fresh freedom from self-consciousness, for that selfless acceptance of the world which man experiences when the shock of a profound sorrow [like the death of one’s child] carries one to the brink of existence or when he is touched by the shadow of death. It is said in the Scriptures: “Grave illness sobers the soul” (Ecclesiasticus 31:2); this sobriety belongs to the essence of purity. (82—my emphasis added)

Further to clarify his nourishing, though complex, concept of purity, our author adds new insights from the related Greek tragic notion of “Catharsis” and an aspect of the infused “Gift of Fear”:

That most disputed statement of Aristotle: tragedy causes purification, catharsis, points in the same direction. Even the Holy Spirit’s gift of fear, which Saint Thomas assigns to temperantia, purifies the soul by causing it to experience, through grace, the innermost peril of man [i.e., the loss, finally, of Eternal Life, “Vita Aeterna”]. Its [that divine gift’s] fruit is that purity by dint [by means] of which the selfish and furtive search for spurious fulfillment is abandoned. Purity is the perfect unfolding of the whole nature from which alone could have come the words: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” (Luke 1:38) (82-83—my emphasis added)

After this preparation concerning the concept and reality of purity, our modest, though dedicated and resolute, guide will consider more fully the fourth cardinal virtue of temperantia and its inherently moderating discipline:

To the virtue of temperance as the preserving and defending realization of man’s inner order, the [additional] gift of beauty is particularly co-ordinated. Not only is temperance beautiful in itself, it also renders men beautiful. Beauty, however, must here be understood in its original meaning: as the glow of the truth and the good irradiating from every ordered state of being, and not in the patent significance of immediate sensual appeal. The beauty of temperance has a more spiritual, more austere, more virile aspect [and discipline]. It is of the essence of this beauty that it does not conflict with true virility, but rather has an affinity to it. Temperance as the wellspring and premise of fortitude [the third cardinal virtue], is the virtue of mature manliness.

The infantile disorder of intemperance, on the other hand, not only destroys beauty, it also makes man cowardly; intemperance more than any other thing renders man unable and unwilling to “take heart” against the wounding power of evil in the world. (83-84—my emphasis added)

How does one discern, especially from external manifestations, someone who is not just impatient but fundamentally intemperate and inwardly disordered, as we may now wonder about a certain character? But Josef Pieper will help us here again:

It is not easy to read on a man’s face whether he is just or unjust. Temperance or intemperance, however, loudly proclaim themselves in everything that manifests a personality: in the order or disorder of the features, in the attitude, the laugh, the handwriting. Temperance, as the inner order of man, can as little remain “purely interior” as the soul itself [i.e., “anima forma corporis”], and as all other life of the soul or mind. It is the nature of the soul to be the “form of the body.”

This fundamental principle of all Christian psychology [“anima forma corporis est”], not only states the in-forming of the body by the soul [the principle of natural life], but also the reference of the soul to the body….Temperance or intemperance of outward behavior and expression can have its strengthening or weakening repercussion on the inner order of man. It is from this point of view that all outward discipline….has its meaning, its justification, and its necessity. (84—my emphasis added)

Again on the premise that “contrast clarifies the mind,” we shall now conclude our reflections and presentations with Dr. Pieper’s own perceptions about the temptation and grave disorder of “the concupiscence [itching lust] of the eyes” (1 John 2:16).

Once again Pieper approaches his topic in a fresh way, though with some initial obscurity:

Studiositas, curiositas—by these are meant temperateness and intemperance, respectively, in the natural striving for knowledge; temperateness and intemperance, above all, in the indulgence of sensual perception of the manifold sensuous beauty of the world; temperateness and intemperance in the “desire for knowledge and experience,” as Saint Augustine puts it….The is no doubt that the will-to-knowledge, the noble power of the human being, requires a restraining wisdom, “in order that man may not strive immoderately for the knowledge of things.” (85—my emphasis added)

He promptly then asks: “But in what consists such immoderateness?”(85)… and then he adds: “The essential intemperateness of the urge for knowledge is ‘concupiscence of the eyes.’” (86)

Moreover, as Pieper now further proposes to teach us, there is much more to untangle, candidly and even bluntly:

There is a gratification in seeing that [both] reverses the original meaning of vision and works disorder in man himself. The true meaning of seeing is perception of reality. But “concupiscence of the eyes” does not aim to perceive reality, but to enjoy “seeing”….this is also true of curiositas. [According to Martin Heidegger, in his book Being and Time:] “What this [disordered or itching] seeing strives for is not to attain knowledge and to become cognizant of the truth, but [rather] for possibilities of relinquishing oneself to the world.”….

Accordingly, the degeneration into curiositas of the natural wish to see may [also] be much more than than a harmless confusion on the surface of the human being. It may be the sign of complete rootlessness. It may mean that man has lost his capacity for living with himself; that, in flight from himself, nauseated and bored by the void of an interior gutted by despair, he is seeking with selfish anxiety and on a thousand futile paths that which is given only to the noble stillness of the heart held ready for sacrifice…. (86—my emphasis added)

After an intervening four-paragraph presentation—sometimes quite harsh and glaring and coldly chilling—of the “destructive and eradicating power” (86) of the concupiscence of the eyes, along with cupiditas‘ “restlessness” (86), Pieper robustly disciplines his disgust and revulsion, and keenly says:

If such an illusory world [of “deafening noise” and “flimsy pomp” and such (87)] threatens to overgrow and smother the world of real things, then to restrain the natural wish to see takes on the character of a measure of self-protection and self-defense. Studiositas…primarily signifies that man should oppose this virtually inescapable seduction with all the force of selfless self-preservation; that he should hermetically close the inner room of his being against the intrusively boisterous pseudo-reality of empty shows and sounds. It is in such an asceticism of cognition alone that he may preserve or regain that which actually constitutes man’s vital existence: the perception of the reality of God and His creation, and the possibility of shaping himself and the world according to this truth, which reveals itself only in silence. (87—my emphasis added)

What a profound and eloquent selection Josef Pieper has made from the writings of his long life—even in 1984 when he was already eighty years of age. What a harvest and set of gleaning he has given to us here in his unique personal anthology. May his entire Anthology also be contemplated now.

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1See Josef Pieper, Josef Pieper: An Anthology (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1989). All future references will be to this 1989 edition of varied but approved English translations, and placed above in parentheses in the main body of this short essay. We shall be concentrating on pages 80-87, the last part of the first main category, entitled “Human Authenticity.”

Insights on the Philosophical Mixture of Truth and Error: Louis de Wohl’s 1950 Historical Novel The Quiet Light

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                    1 April 2020

Saint Hugh of Grenoble (d. 1132)

Saint Theodora (120 A.D.)

Blessed Karl of Austria (d. 1922)

Maike’s Nativity in Germany

Epigraphs

“The Jews of this period [12th-13th centuries] translated the writings of Aristotle and of the Arabian philosophers into Hebrew, and these, retranslated into Latin, afforded the scholastics an opportunity for becoming acquainted with Greek thought. The most famous of the scholastics, ‘men like Albertus Magnus and St. Thomas Aquinas, studied the works of Aristotle in Latin versions made from the Hebrew’ [S. Munk]….At a time when the Hohenstaufen defended the cause of science against dogma, and showed themselves the protectors of Epicureanism, the Jews occupied the first place among scholars and rationalist philosophers. At the Court of the Emperor Frederick II, ‘that hotbed of irreligion,’ they were received with favour and respect. It was they, as [Ernest] Renan has shown, that created Averroism [Earnest Renan—and hence at least implicitly the subversive doctrine of ‘the double truth’ of philosophy and religion, or of faith and reason, as in Siger of Brabant]. (Bernard Lazare (1865-1903), Antisemitism: Its History and Causes (Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press, 1995—originally published in 1894, in French; and later published in London in English, in 1967, of which the 1995 edition of the main text is a reprint), see page 150—Chapter Thirteen—“The Jew as a Factor in the Transformation of Society”)—my emphasis added)

***

“’Then let me ask you, my son [said the Dominican Albert the Great to his student Thomas Aquinas]: Which is the most important rational faculty of man?

The faculty to discern the truth.’ The answer [of Thomas] came at once.

‘There are those who think man is unable to discern truth….What is it that makes an error so often credible?

The amount of truth its contains in proportion to the untruth.’ ….

Aye,‘ said Albert..’truth and error mixed…that is the danger. That is the danger we are confronted with.‘” (Louis de Wohl, The Quiet Light: A Novel about Saint Thomas Aquinas (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996—originally published in 1950), pages 205-206—my emphasis added)

***

While recently reading aloud to my family another historical novel by Louis de Wohl—one first published in 1950 and entitled The Quiet Light: A Novel about Saint Thomas Aquinas1—I was especially touched by a timely and timeless conversation in Chapter X between Master Albertus Magnus and his gifted and abidingly modest student, Friar Thomas Aquinas. Therefore I have considered selectively presenting now again for the reader what had been so farsightedly depicted and politely conducted at the Dominican convent in Cologne, Germany during the mid-thirteenth century.

Master Albert (the future Saint Albert the Great), while visiting Thomas’ small cell, started their gradually deepening discourse with a searching question: “Which is the most important rational faculty in man?” (205)

After hearing Thomas’ prompt reply (“The faculty to discern the truth” (206)), Albert continues their ongoing exchange of insights, where they soon come to detect some self-refuting propositions, as it were:

“There are those who think that man is unable to discern the truth.”

“They are to be refuted [said Thomas] by the fact that they cannot make such a postulate without contradicting their own hypothesis. If man cannot discern truth, then they cannot state as true that man is unable to discern the truth.”

“Besides, we would never be able to recognize an error as an error,” said Albert, “though at times it can be difficult to recognize it. What is it that makes an error so often credible?”

“The amount of truth it contains in proportion to untruth.” (206)

While Thomas remained serene, Albert proceeded to surprise him, but only after he had reinforced Thomas’ earlier comment in slightly different words:

“Aye,” said Albert, nodding his heavy head, “truth and untruth mixed…that is the danger. That is the danger we are confronted with. That is what threatens to overcome the world, smash all our new [Gothic] cathedrals, and drive the Faith back into the catacombs. Unless…we liberate the giant.”

“Liberate the giant, my Father?” (206)

We again see Thomas’ sincerity and modesty as he proceeds to learn more about the giant.

Magister Albert, O.P. now further reveals his meaning concerning this formidable giant:

“None of those alive in the flesh…not even [Emperor] Frederick the Second, however powerful he may appear [just before 1250] to those whom he is crushing at the moment. He is roaring up and down Italy like a mad beast, seeking whom he can devour. But he and his little wars will be forgotten soon enough….except by those whose kith and kin have lost their lives through his cruelty. I hope this does not concern you, my son? Your family is still in Italy, as far as I know….

“I did not mean Frederick, the soon forgotten. I did not mean Louis of France either [i.e., the reigning King (Saint) Louis IX], though he will not be forgotten. My giant is not flesh and blood, though he was that, once. And those who lured him out of limbo are not flesh and blood either, though once they were, too.” [He was thinking about both Aristotle and his later Moslem interpreter, Averroes, as well as the derivative and subversive phenomenon of “Averroism.”].

Thomas waited, patiently.

“I’ll tell you a fairy tale, my son,” said Albert grimly. (207—the emphatic italics are in the original; my bold emphasis added)

Albert then gave Thomas a compact history of the rise and progress and gradual strategic encirclement of Islam (207-208), ending his summary introduction with these words:

“But still today [circa 1250] the green banner of the prophet Mohammed is raised over Spain, as it is at the very doors of the city of the great Constantine [Constantinople, to be finally conquered in 1453]. The emblem of the new religion is the crescent…and, shaped like an immense crescent, the Mohammedan lands are encircling Christendom, ready to strike at any moment. And some time ago [first in the 12th century], a new danger arose.”

“Now,” thought Thomas. He knew the story of Islam, of course. And he sensed at least some of what was coming. But he knew also that the Master was not telling him this “fairy tale” without good reason.

“The crude faith of Moors and Saracens,” went on Albert, “could never be a spiritual danger for Christendom. But then came the new danger. First Al Kindi in the ninth, then Al-Farabi in the tenth, and Avicenna in the eleventh century of Our Lord began to invoke the shadow of a giant who had died three centuries before Our Lord walked on earth. There was, at the time, no idea of claiming Aristotle as a forerunner of Islam. Al Kindi, Al-Farabi, and Avicenna wanted to know. Nevertheless, under their magic touch the giant [Aristotle] began to change, to be transformed….Then, just about a hundred years ago [in the 12th century], Averroes made his appearance….With Averroes…the birth of Mohammedan philosophy was completed. It was not an original philosophy. It was, to put it bluntly, a garbled and orientalized Aristotelian philosophy.” (207-208— emphasis added)

Still approaching his special and nuanced meaning and proposal—and his hoped-for mission with Friar Thomas, as well—Albertus Magnus repeats himself, nonetheless, for an important emphasis:

“But…but it was a philosophy. And it contained enough Aristotelian truth to carry oriental errors right into the heart and intellect of Christendom. At last, at long last, Islam [now] had a weapon against the Christian Faith, a weapon of such sharpness that it drove our own [Christian] philosophers [such as Siger of Brabant (see page 313—Chapter XVI)] to the terrible admission that there must be two truths …that of revealed faith and that of philosophy [namely, the claim that there is a truth of reason; and an incommensurate, parallel, and often contradictory truth of faith—along with its purported prior revelation!]. (208-209—my emphasis added)

It will be further helpful to our understanding of these grave claims and their implications (even today in the Catholic Church), if we now allow Albert to present with more detail his own fuller understanding of the enduring issues of moment, and his ardent encouragement to Thomas’ own further and fitting projects:

“And in the souls of intelligent Christians doubts are [thus] being raised for which theology has only the one answer: ‘Leave philosophy alone and stick to the faith.’ In other words: the Trojan horse is within our walls, and its name is the philosophy of Islam. What the vast armies of the camel driver could not do may be accomplished from within by the Trojan horse, by the spirit of the giant Aristotle, led by the spirit of Averroes. They say [Holy Roman Emperor] Frederick the Second is aping oriental customs in many ways, swearing by Mohammed and the Caaba, and making all things oriental [even Hebraic?] a fashion. It is a sorry sight. But it isn’t a tenth as dangerous as oriental [hence also Hebraic?] fogging our best ecclesiastical brains. And why is it that they are captivated by this thing? Because because the Averroist error is Aristotelian truth. Truth and untruth mixed…that is the danger. Unless…we liberate the giant.”

“We…” said Thomas incredulously. “We…?” (209—my emphasis added)

Albert promptly explicates to the modest Thomas the meaning of his “we”:

“You and I. I have cast about; I have been casting about for years to find the man who can do it. My own life is dedicated to it. But one life is not enough. No single man can free Aristotle from his chains. The task is immense. It isn’t simply a translation of [the original Greek, or the often dubious later Arabic, and even Hebrew, translations] of Aristotle into Latin.”

“It couldn’t be,” said Thomas breathlessly. “For even Aristotle was not always right.”

Son,” shouted Albert jubilantly, “that sentence alone proves that you are the man to do it.” (209—my emphasis added)

Somewhat stunned by Thomas’ concise words of simplicity and insight, Albert himself not only concurs but he also replies with a warning admonition:

“Aristotle was not always right,” he repeated. “Do you know that there is probably no man alive who’d dare to say that in public? Of those who have read Aristotle, I mean. For the others, and especially a few theologians I could name, are firmly convinced that the whole of Aristotle is the work of Satan himself. Can you imagine that? Good men crossing themselves when the very name of the Stagirite [Aristotle] is mentioned. But you, son,…oh, I love you for it…you have read him, and neither do you shrink from him, nor do you bow to him without reservations.”

He stopped abruptly. “Here is where we enter the fairy story, son…you and I, with our plan to unchain the giant and bring him back to his senses.”

“The great Jews will be of help [but also with reservations?],” said Thomas eagerly. “And especially Rabbi Moses ben Maimon [Maimonides (1135-1204), himself an anti-Christian]. His Guide of the Perplexed…”

“You have read that?” asked Albert, surprised.

“Oh, back in Naples,” admitted Thomas. “They [at the Frederick II-founded secular university] had a good copy [in a language unnamed, however] at the university. Rabbi Moses was a great man and a good one.”

“And he [Maimonides] also does not regard Aristotle as infallible. Son, do you realize where this leads?”

Thomas nodded. “The Christians will be able to say: ‘By the Grace of God, I believe; I have faith. There is much in my faith that surpasses reason but nothing that contradicts it.’” (209-210—my emphasis added)

Again even though very happy to hear the words of Friar Thomas’ succinct insight, Albert still gravely decides to be more explicit in his admonition:

I warn you of one thing, Thomas: our own people are going to make things difficult for you. The most intelligent Franciscan I ever met, Friar Roger Bacon…not the best, mind you, but the most intelligent…laughed at me when I told him my idea. He said it was impossible. It couldn’t be done.”

“We shall find out,” said Thomas.

“But the worst opposition won’t come from him. It will come from the narrow-minded, the chicken-hearted, the sterile…and some of them are very powerful. They are going to besiege you like the bulls of Bashan [see Psalm 22:12, for example]. And they will speak with formidable authority. They’ll quote the great saints against you, aye, and even the Fathers of the Church themselves. They’ll crush you with [Pope] Saint Gregory, with Saint Bernard, and the greatest of all, Saint Augustine…”

“It doesn’t matter who said it,” interposed Thomas. “What matters is what he said.”

Albert stared hard at him.

“By the love of God,” he said hoarsely, “I believe you mean it.”

Thomas stared back, in blank surprise.

I could not say so, surely, unless I meant it.”

The little man [Magister Albert], before whom they all trembled, said in a muffled voice: “Tell me, son…have you ever been intimidated by anyone?

“Oh, yes,” said Thomas.

I don’t believe it. By whom?”

By Our Lord…on the altar [before, during, and after the Consecration at Mass].”

[Thus cometh the memorable conclusion of this Chapter X.] (210-211—my emphasis added)

We may now, I hope, have better come to see and savor Louis de Wohl’s own accurate and reverent presentation of the life and challenges of Saint Thomas and his sincerity and purity and gifted discernments of truth, especially important truth that is properly unmixed with untruth and error. (With his unmistakable humility, Saint Thomas also knew that, as in the case of Aristotle, his opinions were not to be regarded as infallible.)

In any case, the varied wisdom expressed in Louis de Wohl’s book on Saint Thomas and his mentors, especially in Chapter X, could be well applied against Neo-Modernism today, not just those that were afoot around 1250 or in 1950 (under Pope Pius XII).

CODA

Writing about his own life for a scholarly source entitled “CatholicAuthors.com,” Louis de Wohl (b.1903-d. 2 June 1961) said the following:

Then, in May of 1948, I went to Rome, had my first audience with that living saint, the Holy Father [Pius XII], and asked him whom he wanted me to write about next! He said “Saint Thomas Aquinas.” Two years later I gave him the finished book, The Quiet Light, and asked him for his next order. This time he said “Write about the history and mission of the Church in the world.”

Also notably occurring in 1950, Pope Pius XII additionally accomplished three major things in and for the Church and her mission: the 1 November 1950 dogmatic declaration (rooted in Divinely Revealed Sacred Tradition) on the Assumption of the Blessed Mother (Munificentissimus Deus); preceded by the 12 August 1950 propagation of the incisive Encyclical, Humani Generis (a brief, polite update, as it were, of Pius IX’s earlier 8 December 1864 Syllabus Errorum (Syllabus of Errors); and, finally, the moving 24 June 1950 canonization of Maria Goretti whom the Pope warmly called a “martyr to purity.”

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Louis de Wohl, The Quiet Light: A Novel about Thomas Aquinas (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1996—a reprint originally published in 1950). All future references will be to the 1996 edition, and the pagination placed above in parentheses in the main body of this brief essay. The excellent Chapter X itself is to be found in its entirety on pages 198-211 of the 1996 edition, and the reader would do well to read and savor the whole chapter, as well.

Josef Pieper’s Final Portion of his Autobiography 1964-1988: A Story Like a Beam of Light

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                                 7 March 2020

Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274)

Epigraphs

“I was especially pleased to see that the reason for the award [“the February 1982 Balzan Prize”], as I could now see for the first time, was precisely what had always been my greatest concern: namely, expressing myself in comprehensible, non-specialized language ‘which was capable of awakening for a world-wide public a philosophical awareness of the ultimate questions about human existence.’ And no matter how much it may seem like self-praise, I am not ashamed to say it.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega (2020)—or A Story Like a Beam of Light (1988—in German), pages 155-156—my emphasis added)

***

“He [the senior modern German air force officer ]…said immediately: ‘In our training, you must remember, the theme “German Luftwaffe in World War II” was taboo.’ Here again, I thought, is confirmation of the words of my teacher Thomas Aquinas with their manifold implications: ‘Praise of bravery depends on justice.’ The most daring, most intelligent, most dangerous undertakings by soldiers—which are often associated with extreme willingness to make sacrifices—cannot simply be praised when they are performed in the service of a criminal power; but it would be no less false to condemn them summarily and without distinction as likewise criminal [as in the case of the gifted German paratrooper General Kurt Student]; and with regard to the decision to keep silent about these things: it is indeed understandable and possibly even deserving of respect; but it can also thwart the inner cleansing, the catharsis, through which this tragedy [of war], too, could perhaps make even these awful events fruitful.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega–or A Story Like a Beam of Light, page 166—my emphasis added)

***

“But in public I was also silent. Should I have shouted aloud [about certain “naked crimes” targeting the Jews]: there is terrible injustice happening here? Some people did that and paid for it with their lives. Inge Scholl wrote to me shortly after the war [in 1945] telling me that her brother had read my books. And not until the spring of 1986 did the sister of Willi Graf, who also belonged to the “Weiße Rose” group and had been executed, sent me the photo-copy of a piece of paper from her brother’s diary: ‘Read J.P. about the Christian conception of man.’ This affected me in two ways. I heard this news and was ashamed. Some write things and others do them.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega, page 143—my emphasis added)

***

My objections [about some translations of “the texts of the Ordo Missae”] concerned not so much inadequate linguistic formulations but primarily the destruction of meaningwhich is almost always caused by misuse of language.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega, page 37—my emphasis added)

***

“My conclusion was that perhaps under the reign of sophistry and pseudo-philosophy true philosophy as a distinguishable independent discipline would disappear, and the specifically philosophical object—the root of things and the ultimate meaning of existence—would only be considered by those with faith.” (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega, page 68—my emphasis added)

***

The third volume of Josef Pieper’s autobiography, after some considerable delays, has finally been translated into English and just recently published in February of 2020 by St. Augustine’s Press in South Bend, Indiana. This 2020 text is now entitled A Journey to Point Omega—Autobiography from 1964.

The original German text was published in 1988, some fourteen years before Dr. Pieper’s own death on 6 November 1997 at 93 years of age. His original 1988 book in German—as well as his later Volume EB2 of his 2005 Eleven-Volume Opera Omnia–was carefully and more poetically entitled: Eine Geschichte wie ein Strahli.e., A Story like a Beam of Light—and it was originally also modestly subtitled Autobiographische Aufzeichnungen seit 1964 (Autobiographical Notes since 1964-1986).

It is important for us to remember that when Josef Pieper first published the last portion of his autobiography in 1988, he was eighty-four years of age; and when his beloved wife earlier died in 1984 after their almost fifty years together in marriage, Josef Pieper was eighty years old.

A Journey to Point Omega essentially begins with the multiple effects of the sudden death of his son Thomas in Seattle, Washington on 25 July 1964, and ends with the poignant death of his wife Hildegard in Münster, Germany on 25 June 1984. These events shook Josef Pieper and took him to the roots of his faith, hence the permeating atmosphere of his memoir: not just the medley of “notes” and the variety of things to be considered in his final and abiding—and often elegiac—memoir, to include his forthrightness about the sad burden of some recent German history, as well as the loss of his son Thomas and his beloved wife Hildegard in 1964 and 1984, respectively.

Indeed once in February 1964—shortly before he was additionally to face the sudden death of his son in America on 25 July 1964—Josef Pieper said the following after having just met in person General Kurt Student (b. 1890), the gifted and chivalrous German parachute officer of the Luftwaffe in World War II:

As for myself, I went home somewhat and sad. The burden of our destructive history, which was still with me under the surface, had revealed itself to me only too clearly. On that evening [in Münster] in February 1964 I had known very little. The more important things I found out only later….Above all, at this time [in 1964] I did not yet know other things that happened after the war. The planner and leader of the [May 1941] attack on Crete, which was daring and had an unusually high rate of casualties, did not only receive the chivalrous distinction [and an awarded medal!] from his [very courageous] New Zealand foes; it also happened that a British General [New Zealand Commanding Officer on Crete of the 4th NZ Brigade, Brigadier General Lindsay Inglis], acting as a judge in court, absolutely refused to confirm—and thereby prevented—the sentence of five-year imprisonment passed by the victors’ military tribunal against the enemy for alleged crimes. And in a well-documented publication of the Freiburg Military Research Institute in 1982 I read that General Student, condemned to death by a French military court, then first had his sentence commuted to life imprisonment and later passed some time [five years] in humiliating circumstances in a prison.

There was no mention of all that at table on that evening [in February of 1964]. And although perhaps no one had anything to hide, General Student [d. 1 July 1978] was probably not the only one who remained silent about what he had done and what had happened to him.—But for the younger officers, who had still been sitting there together quite at ease [in 1964], the deeds and experiences of the German Luftwaffe in World War II were, as I learned recently [“in this summer of 1987”], ‘quite taboo.’ (Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega (2020), pages 171-172—my emphasis added1)

Earlier in the memoir—at the very beginning of his important Chapter II (“Post-Conciliar Confusion”), Josef Pieper had quietly mentioned in passing the loss of his son and that “The requiem for our son Thomas [was] celebrated at the end of July 1964—about a year and a half after [before!] the end of the Council” [sic—a typographical correction is needed: i.e, “before” instead of “after”: “before the end of the Council” in October of 1965]. (32—my emphasis added)

Throughout his memoir, as he learned it from his mentor Thomas Aquinas, Dr. Pieper is attentive to the combination of “order and mystery”—Saint Thomas’ “ordo et mysterium.” As they understand it, reality is intelligible, accessible, and knowable—and yet unfathomable. And thus “Sapientis Ordinare”: namely, that it is characteristic of a wise man—or a seeker of wisdom—to give order to things.

Here is the way Josef Pieper recurrently alerts us and awakens us to the searching themes of his own writings and invited lectures: by modestly mentioning their substantive titles, such as: “the meaning of ‘God speaks’” (21 and 105); “what distinguishes a priest” (46); “a necessary attempt at clarification” (46); “theology as the attempt to interpret revelation” (29); “a communion chalice” is “full of what?” (52); “the Corpus Christi also as a warning” (52); “abuse of language, abuse of power” (67); “discipline and moderation”—“Zucht und Mass” (76); “courage and hope” (780; “sacred vestments” and “praeambula sacramenti” (101); “memorial Mass for Thomas” (110); “Body Memory”—Latin “Memoria Corporis” (120); “Death and Immortality” and “On Love” (121); “a consecrated priest” and “a non-priest” (132); “the dilemma of a non-Christian philosophy” (148); Saint Thomas Aquinas: “Thomas a Creatore” (G.K. Chesterton) (149); “the current relevance of scholasticism” (153); the moral of the local stories of Münster in Westphalia (152); “praise of bravery depends on justice” (152); “This memoir was too personal for my Westphalian taste” (137); and the gifted General Kurt Student’s own “chivalrous distinction” (171-172).

Now we may better consider Josef Pieper’s representative presentation of a form of mysterium and the veil that properly protects it against coarsening and trivializing language and also against the deeper germs and spreading virulence of de-sacralization.

In his highly differentiated and deeply discerning second chapter on “Post-Conciliar Confusion,” he says, for example:

The defenders of a desacralized way of speakingi.e., a way which even in the Church and in the Mass, approximates as closely as possible to, and is even identical with the average way of speaking—have occasionally, in debate with me, appealed to an official “Instruction” [from 25 January 1969] which [allegedly] allows and even recommends such freedom with language….

With the word mysterium, which is always connected with the language of the liturgy, another aspect of sacred language has been named….I am referring to the element of the veil by which the mystery is protected from the very direct threat of language….

I don’t know how often I have attended the Easter blessing of the baptismal water celebrated by the bishop in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Münster. I remember, above all, Clemens August von Galen, who, with his somewhat dull, tortured sounding voice as he let the Easter candle down into the water, sang on three different notes the words: Descendat in hanc plenitudinem fontis virtus Spiritus Sancti. Hundreds of people listened with deep, silent attention and observed the symbolic action; and I am convinced that here, despite the Latin language, what was mysteriously happening here was brought home to the simplest of Christians present in an incomparably moving way—much more than it could be by the completely clear new new German text, which is sad, impoverished, and cold: “Let the power of the Holy Spirit descend into this water!” [“Es steige hinab in dieses Wasser die Kraft des Heiliges Geistes!”]…

The Bishop of Münster said to me, upset and in shock after the first time he performed the new rite, “If I only had at least been able to sing it!” The Missale Romanum speaks continually of the plenitudo fontis. To say instead “this water” is obviously a wretched abbreviation. But if it is too “poetic” to speak of “this overflowing spring,” why not in this particular case—and it might not be the only one—keep the Latin text and, of course, not speak it but sing it? In any case, here as elsewhere, translating into German giving the true meaning is the real problem, which often enough remains unsolved. (34-36—my emphasis added)

Dr. Pieper later was to show his rootedness and special gratitude to the self-sacrificing previous generation that so nourished his own childhood and the childhood of many others:

In 1979, on a November afternoon when it was already becoming dark, I was to receive in the town hall in Münster, as a somewhat late birthday present, the St. Paul Badge of this city which early in my life had become my home town….

During all this, the thought occurred to me that, on receiving the St. Paul Badge, I should relate all these things which I had witnessed at first hand during my childhood years. I intended in this way to honor and to express my gratitude to the preceding generation….Everyone immediately understood that these [grateful words] were intended as stories with a “moral.” The idea was to show what these simple folk, our fathers and mothers, who had never had such a thing as a holiday in Mallorca and whose almost daily midday meal was stew, paid in order that their children could do more than just make money. They paid with their unquestioning frugality, their uncomplaining, untiring self-sacrifice and the neglect of their own needs. I wanted, above all, to make clear, that it is precisely from these types of people that a nation really lives, and to whom the fine words of the German Jew, Walter Benjamin [d. 1940, in Spain], apply: “Honor without fame/ Greatness without glitter/ Dignity without pay.” Benjamin used these words in introducing his memorial [1936] book about the “German People” (Deutsche Menschen]. (150-152—my emphasis added)

The last section (181-189) of Josef Pieper’s final volume of autobiography is intimately and evocatively entitled “In manus tuas…” and it poignantly depicts his wife’s longstanding sufferings and her final sacraments and moments in this life in the attentive presence of her husband and of their two living children, Monika and Michael. From the very beginning of this final portion ending with her death on 25 June 1984, we may again glimpse and savor Dr. Pieper’s modesty and characteristic tacitness about certain piercing personal matters of moment in his life, to include “Sister Rotrudis, the Icelandic-Westphalian nun” (111) whom he met in Iceland in 1923. Later now, we also learn more about those so close to him:

On Easter Sunday [23 April] 1985 we could have celebrated our golden [50th] wedding anniversary. Our parish priest was willing to celebrate Mass on that occasion in our house [at Malmedyweg 10] at the table at which we had had our family meals until a few years ago—under the Rembrandt painting with the Emmaus disciples, which has been hanging there since our wedding day [on 23 April 1935]. In reality nobody really thought that we should reach that day. For about a year my wife could not have understood what we were talking about when the children and I spoke of this possibility. She died [on 25 June 1984] ten months before the anticipated date. (181)

His beloved wife even learned during her sustained illness to memorize the seven stanzas of Saint Thomas Aquinas’ Eucharistic hymn, “Adoro Te devote…,” though she later came to lose some of her recollection of some of its beautiful words, as well as some of her own Latin grammar as in their prayer “In manus tuas, Domine, commendo spiritum meum” (where she would say “spiritus,” instead).

Josef Pieper uses those last words to say goodbye to his beloved wife and to express a moving gesture, too; and he now introduces us to their final moments, with his two children attentively present:

Near midnight [on 25 June 1984] her breathing became noticeably shallow and, though calm, shorter and shorter—until the last breath came. I stood up, placed my hand around her neck and said with my face very close to her: “Mother, now we can say: ‘In manus tuas…’,” and I repeated her own last prayer including the grammatical error.—I am certain that in this mysterious, timeless moment of passing over from earthly life she did not just hear it but also prayed it with me. (189—my bold emphases added)

CODA

In July 1974, shortly after his 70th birthday on 4 May, Josef Pieper gave a set of lectures in Spain to a group of Catholic Americans at “the University of Maria Cristina” (85) very close to King Philip II’s inspired building of the Escorial in the Guadarrama Mountains northwest of Madrid in the village of San Lorenzo de El Escorial and near General Franco’s well-meant mountain memorial of reconciliation, “Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos” (86), known also as the Valley of the Fallen.

With my wife at the time, I was not only in attendance at Dr. Pieper’s 1974 summer lectures at Maria Cristina where we also met him for the first time in person; but he and I were later kneeling beside one another together at the High Mass sung up at the Valley of the Fallen, which was “under the protection of the Benedictine monks” (86).

Here was one set of Dr. Pieper’s surprising (though partly inaccurate) notes and comments about us (even about my red-headed wife) while also then imagining that I was still on Military Active Duty:

I have seldom found myself so suddenly put into a group of such colorful people. While swimming [after also often playing “pelota” or even a sort of tennis] we constantly encountered a particularly charming couple: a young Vietnam War veteran [a retired captain from U.S. Army Special Forces] with his beautiful red-haired wife Sharon. It was the first time I had heard this name, but he insisted that it came from the Old Testament [as in “the Rose of Sharon”]. The “veteran” seemed more like an active officer on leave from the front. We quickly became engaged in a lively conversation, and naturally I could not hear enough from this “leather-neck” [sic] with the “green beret.” In the newspapers at the time there was talk of a massacre committed in a village by American soldiers on women and children. “Did such things really happen?” My “veteran” answered [in part] by telling a story followed by a question which left me bewildered. “In a village in the middle of the jungle a young woman carrying a child approached my group [another group of three men, not mine own!] smiling and apparently about to ask for something. But suddenly she pulled a pistol [tossed an explosive] from under her child and shot [killed] one of the group [all three of the small group, one of them being my 1964 West Point classmate!]. What do you do when, a second time, a young woman approaches you smiling?” (87)

It should be known, moreover, that so much more could be discussed here, although the current English translation of the Pieper Memoir omits and thereby partly distorts Dr. Pieper’s own reflective words and subtle but gracious meaning.

For example, the following sentences or portions from the original German text are omitted and even somewhat slanted in part: “The ‘veteran’ seemed rather to be an active-duty officer on military leave. We quickly entered into a lively conversation and, of course, I could not tire of hearing stories from this ‘leatherneck’ with the famous ‘green beret’ who had many times [apparently] led his combat team into the jungle.” (“Der ‘Veteran’ wirkte eher wie ein aktiver Frontoffizier im Urlaub. Wir kamen rasch in ein lebhaftes Gespräch; und natürlich konnte ich von dem ‘Ledernacken’ mit dem berühmten ‘grünen Barett’, der viele Male seinen Kampftrupp in den Dschungel geführt hatte, gar nicht genug erzählt bekommen.” (106—the 1988 German text2)

There is one final image of Josef Pieper, at 70 years of age, at the sung High Mass at the Valley of the Fallen that I wish to share with the reader. For, we two were kneeling beside each other at that July 1974 sacrifice of the Mass, ten years after the death of his son Thomas in July of 1964.

At the first elevation of the Host at the Consecration, all of a sudden all the lights in the Benedictine crypt church went out—except for a beam of light that shone on the larger-than-life and manly Crucifix behind the Altar. All of the choir chants (children and monks) were silent and the torch lights on the wall of the large cavern were all at once shut off. Only the Crucifix of the Lord was in the beam of light.

At that sight and light Josef Pieper immediately emitted a wondrous “ah, ahhhhh!” of gratitude and of loyal love. After the Mass, when we were together outside, he kept repeating the fervent words: “that was truly an Actio Sacra of the Mass”—and this Sacred Action “was so fittingly supported by all of the sensory enhancements within the range of the human senses: sound, silence, incense, chants of children, and the sudden light.” (Which he also conveyed in his later-published 1987 words: “welches aber für uns ein, so lange wir leben, unergründliches Mysterium bleibt.3 For us it remains—as long as we live–an Unfathomable Mystery.) Once again there is both the “Ordo” and the “Mysterium.”

Would that you could have seen his grateful eyes then, during and after Mass in July of 1974!

It was an unforgettable Actio Sacra along with an intimate “Memoria Corporis,” a memory of the fuller “Body of Things” as in the humility of the Incarnation and the Sacramental Sacred Tradition.

Eine Geschichte wie ein Strahl: A Story like a Beam of Light

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Josef Pieper, A Journey to Point Omega (South Bend, Indiana: St. Augustine’s Press), pages 171-172—my emphasis added). Henceforth, unless specifically noted as otherwise, all further references to this edition will be place above in parentheses in the main body of this essay.

2Josef Pieper, Eine Geschichte wie ein Strahl (München: Kösel-Verlag, 1988), page 106.

3See Josef Pieper, Eine Geschichte wie ein Strahl (1988), page 8.

Josef Pieper on The Virtues of the Human Heart and the Test of Temptation

Dr. Robert Hickson                                                                                              28 January 2020

Saint Peter Nolasco (d. 1256)

Saint Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274)

Second Feast of Saint Agnes (d. 304)

Epigraphs

***

“A temptation wouldn’t be a temptation if it weren’t attractive.” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J. to R. Hickson)

***

“If we be in the state of grace while also in the face of a grave temptation, we may not always have at that moment the sufficient grace to resist that temptation, but we always then still have the grace to pray for the grace we need.” (Father John A. Hardon, S.J. to R. Hickson)

***

“Virtue is the utmost of what a man can be; it is the realization of the human capacity for being.” (Josef Pieper, A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart, page 9)

***

In “A Retrospective Preface,” Josef Pieper’s historical and moving personal four-page introduction to the 1991 English translation of his little book—A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart—a reader will discover that this reissued German-language book had first been published fifty years earlier, in 1941, during World War II.1

Moreover, says Pieper himself, this little book, despite its being “a persistently exclusive production of plainly Christian religious literature” (7), was somehow allowed and even “provided with the official stamp of the ‘responsible’ political offices and placed on the list of officially permitted literature for mass distribution on the front lines” (9). (Germany, we may recall, was to attack the Soviet Union on Sunday 22 June 1941.)

In this short essay on this fresh and fine work, I therefore propose to concentrate on what Dr. Pieper writes as a young man of 37 about the virtue of courage (fortitude), the virtue of inner discipline, and those aspects of moral purity that aid our perception of reality and of the Christian virtue of hope.

At the end of his discussion of the virtue of justice, and just before young Josef Pieper’s examination of the virtue of fortitude (which itself presupposes the existence of moral evil), we also see how he carefully dares to speak of and to the National Socialist Regime in the midst of War:

In the human world there is hardly any worse or more hopeless calamity than unjust governmental rule….It is good to be forewarned that the mightiest embodiment of evil in human history, the Antichrist, could indeed appear in the form of a great ascetic….The worst corruption of the natural man is injustice….Above all, he [“the deceived natural man”] would be incapable of recognizing the [Antichrist in] the historical prefigures of that final condition; while he [the inattentive natural man] is looking out for the powers of corruption in a mistaken direction, they establish their rule before his eyes. (24—my emphasis added)

So, too, today.

When one cannot overcome at all (or at once) an unjust evil, one must—and should—learn to endure it while one is also learning to suffer well. Such is part of the quality of virtuous fortitude and endurance and the great gift of final perseverance. Thus, Josef Pieper will now prepare us, gradually, to face the meaning of certain virtues, such as the third cardinal (hinge) virtue of Fortitude:

Fortitude presumes vulnerability; without vulnerability there is no possibility of fortitude….To be brave means to be ready to sustain a wound. Since he is substantially vulnerable, man can be courageous. (24-25)

When one attentively reads Josef Pieper’s slowly developing insights in his little book’s final thirty pages (24-54), one gradually notices the artfully intertwined interrelationships between bravery (fortitude, courage) and patience and discipline (moderation, temperance) and purity and hope (as a virtue). It is this progression that I now hope to follow selectively. It is to be recommended that the reader read all of these pages himself, so as even to understand much better the meaning of a feast and the strict meaning of prudentia (the indispensable first cardinal virtue of prudence).

Dr. Pieper is honest and unflinchingly steady in his presentation of inescapable reality:

Every wound of the natural being tends toward death [not only in war]. Thus every brave deed draws its sustenance from preparedness for death as from its deepest root….A fortitude that does not extend to the depth of readiness to fall is rotten in its root and lacking in effective power.

Willingness to be wounded constitutes only the half, [namely,] the forefront of fortitude. The courageous person is not willing to sustain a wound for its own sake. Rather, through it [his willingness] he wants to protect or gain a deeper, more substantial freedom from harm.

To be brave is not the same as to have no fear. To be sure, fortitude excludes a certain kind of fearlessness, namely, when it is based on a mistaken appraisal and evaluation of reality [i.e., a lack of sober and virtuous prudence]. (25—my emphasis added)

Moreover, he says, as he presents some further illuminating nuances:

Anyone who has lost the will to live does not fear death. This dispirited indifference, however, is remote from authentic fortitude….Fortitude apprehends, acknowledges, and protects the natural order of things. The brave person is perceptive: he realizes that the wound he gets is an evil. He does not falsify reality or alter its value: it “tastes” to him as it really is. He does not love death, nor does he despise life.

That person is brave who does not allow himself to be brought by the fear of secondary and transient evils to the point [as in the case of final despair] of forsaking the final and authentic good things [even Eternal Life], and thus [thereby] of taking on himself the ultimate and unlimited horror. This fear of the definitive terror belongs, as the “negative” of the love of God, to the plainly necessary foundation of fortitude (and of any virtue). (26—my emphasis added)

It should be further helpful to our own grateful understanding now—as we also imagine the 1941 German soldiers of World War II in their own savoring of wisdom—to see what Josef Pieper wrote in 1941 concerning the proper order and distinctive purpose of fear, especially “fear of the Lord” (47) as a guard against “presumption” (one of the two forms of hopelessness and sin against hope, along with despair):

One of the scarcely examined principles from which our age’s governing image of humanity is drawn asserts that it is not fitting for man to be afraid. In this attitude the waters from two sources are mingled, The one is Enlightenment liberalism [with its presumption!], which relegates fearfulness to the realm of the unessential, and, in its view of reality, room and place are assigned to fear only in an unessential sense. The other source is an un-Christian stoicism with a concealed link to impudence [and presumption] as well as to despair; it opposes the fearful things of existence, which are clearly seen, with defiant immobility, without fear, but also without hope….

Nonetheless, the Christian inquires after the ordo timoris, the order of fear; he inquires about what is genuinely and ultimately fearsome….What is truly fearsome, however, is nothing else than the possibility that man might separate himself from his Ultimate Ground of Being voluntarily through his guilt…. This fearsomeness, which accompanies as a real possibility the life of every man, including the saints—the fearsomeness and this fear are not surmountable by any mode of “heroism”; on the contrary, this fear is a prerequisite for any genuine heroism….

If this natural human fear, contemplating nothingness, is not fulfilled through the fear of the Lord, then this anxiety erupts “unfulfilled” and destructive into the realm of spiritual and mental existence. (46-47—my emphasis added)

Earlier, the reflective young Pieper had presented his analysis and nourishing affirmations:

Whoever in such a situation of unqualified seriousness [near death or protracted torture], in the face of which…every heroic gesture becomes crippled, nonetheless advances toward the horror and does not allow himself to be prevented from doing the good, specifically for the sake of the good and thus finally for the sake of God, not out of ambition or out of fear of being taken for a coward: that person is truly courageous.

What is essential to the virtue of fortitude is not aggression or self-confidence or wrath but rather steadfastness and patience….because the real world is so structured that it is in the most extreme emergency [like blood martyrdom], where the only resistance possible is steadfastness, that the final and most profound spiritual strength of the person can become manifest….

[He] who is patient…does not allow himself thereby to be drawn into disordered sadness. To be patient means not to allow the serenity and discernment of one’s soul to be taken away….The virtue of fortitude protects a person from loving his life [natural life] in such a way that he loses it [i.e., sanctifying grace and supernatural life and Vita Aeterna].

The Christian prototype of the “heroic downfall” is the testimony of blood, the martyr’s death….The same can be said concerning the foundation of Christian readiness for suffering…asceticism….[which] contains for the Christian believer a mystery-filled opportunity for the affirmation of Being in itself: namely, the opportunity of devotion to the community of the suffering Son of Man. (27-29—my emphasis added)

After this preparation, we may better consider the apt relation between justice and fortitude:

Without a “just cause” there is no fortitude. The decisive element is not the wound but the cause. “A man does not expose his life to the danger of death except in order to secure justice. Therefore the praise of bravery is contingent upon justice,” says Thomas Aquinas. And in his book On Duties, [Saint] Ambrose says, “Courage without justice is a lever of evil.”

For the moral virtue of fortitude, the old tenet of classical Western rules for living holds true: every virtue must always be tied with all others at their core; thus there is no bravery without truthfulness, without justice, or without discipline. It is a bourgeois illusion to think that a person can be just without ever being required to demonstrate this courage as well. It is no less a distortion of meaningful order that one can be brave even though he knowingly fights on the side of injustice; the bravery of the criminal is a contradiction in terms. Likewise, fortitude as a moral virtue can have no bond with indiscipline. In [Wolfram von Eschenbach’s] Parcival [of the early thirteenth century chivalric poem, Parzival ] it is said, “Never have I heard that a man was praised for undisciplined bravery.

Discipline [part of the Fourth Cardinal Virtue of Temperance and Moderation] is selfless self-preservation. Indiscipline is self-destruction through selfish debasement of powers intended for self-preservation. (30-31—my emphasis added)

As we prepare to present Josef Pieper’s mature meaning of hope and the existential structure of the act of hope, we shall also selectively touch upon other encouraging matters: for, example, his treatment of anger, magnanimity and humility, man’s inner order and significant “cheerfulness of heart” (“hilaritas mentis”(32, 35)) in contrast to “hebetudo sensus” (“dullness of the interior understanding in grasping spiritual realities” (36)) and destructive “curiositas,” in contrast to disciplined “studiositas.”

Dr. Pieper further develops his vivid and revealing thoughts—about an inner discipline of human faculties—by first considering the mystery of a certain ordinary fact:

It is an everyday but no less mysterious fact that the inner order of man is not…a merely given and obvious reality but rather that those same powers by which human existence sustains itself could subvert that interior order even to the point of the destruction of the spiritual moral person. It is especially hard to conceive that it is truly the innermost human self that can bring itself to self-destruction in disorder….We ourselves alone are always the agents of discipline and indiscipline, of self-preservation and self-destruction. (32—my emphasis added)

Hence our abiding need for the fourth cardinal virtue (temperance, moderation, discipline).

Indeed, Pieper affirmatively and winsomely adds—and it “especially applies when the love of truth or some other noble virtue is ready and eager to dare the utmost” (32):

Cheerfulness of heart…is the seal of selflessness….Cheerfulness of the heart is the unmistakable sign through which the inner authenticity of discipline as selfless self-preservation becomes manifest. (32—my emphasis added)

Even in this context of “an affirming cheerfulness” (33), Josef Pieper brings up the matter of anger:

The common Christian thinking, whenever there is a question of anger, seeks only to point out the unruly, the unspiritual, and the negative in anger. Still, just like “sensuality” and “desire,” the power of becoming angry belongs to the basic powers of man. In this power of becoming angry the energy of human nature speaks most clearly. This power is aimed at what is hard to achieve, at that which eludes easy grasp; it is always readily available where a bonum arduum [“a steep good”], a difficult good waits to be won….

Precisely with regard to overcoming licentiousness in pleasure, the power of becoming angry assumes particular gravity.

Thomas [Aquinas] is of the opinion that affirmation must be stronger than negation. It is his opinion that the degradation of mental power must be capable of being healed by the still undamaged core of some other power. Therefore it must be possible to overcome and, so to speak, quench the flabby licentiousness of a lecherous desire for pleasure, so that a difficult task might by undertaken by the willing resistance that the full power of anger can engender.

The connection of the licentiousness of the desire for pleasure with the indolent inability to get angry is the distinctive mark of complete and genuinely hopeless degeneration. It shows itself wherever a social class, a people, or a culture is ripe for ruin. (34-35—my emphasis added)

Since true humility might help the recovery of such a situation, Dr. Pieper surprises us again with his insight about magnanimity and robust and generous humility:

Nothing shows the way to a correct understanding of humility so clearly as this: that humility and magnanimity not only are not mutually exclusive but also near to one another and intimately connected; both together and in opposition to pride as well as to faintheartedness. What indeed does magnanimity mean? Magnanimity is the expansion of the spirit toward great things; one who expects great things of himself and makes himself worthy of it is magnanimous….In the Summa Theologica [of Saint Thomas] it is stated, “If one disdains glory in such a manner that he makes no effort to do that which merits glory that action is blameworthy.” On the other side, the magnanimous one is not broken by disgrace; he looks down on it as unworthy of himself….Undaunted uprightness is the distinctive mark of magnanimity, while nothing is more alien to it than this: to be silent out of fear about what is true.

Magnanimity encompasses an unshakable firmness of hope…and the thorough calm of a fearless heart. The magnanimous person submits himself not to the confusion of feelings or to any human being or to fate—but only to God. (37-38—my emphasis added)

Moreover, Pieper again draws up the wisdom and repeated convictions of the Summa Theologica where somewhat surprisingly, for example:

It is stated in the Treatise on Humility several times that humility does not conflict with magnanimity. One can now consider what this sentence, uttered as a warning and a precaution, truly means to say. It means nothing else than this: that a “humility” that would be too narrow and too weak to bear the inner tension of coexistence with magnanimity is no humility. (38-39—my emphasis added)

After his interwoven and sobering set of reasoned affirmations, Pieper presents to us some negative examples, as if to say that “such contrast will further clarify the mind”:

There is a lust for seeing that perverts the original meaning of sight and casts a person into disorder. The meaning of sight is the perception of reality. However, “concupiscence of the eye” does not seek to perceive reality but rather just to see [as is “the itch for innovation”)….The degradation into curiositas [curiosity] of the natural desire to see can thus be substantially more than a harmless confusion on the surface. It can be the sign of one’s fatal uprooting. It can signify that a person has lost the capacity to dwell in his own self; that he, fleeing from himself disgusted and bored with the waste of an interior that is burnt out with despair, seeks a thousand futile ways with selfish anxiety that which is accessible only to the high-minded calm of a heart disposed to self-sacrifice and thus in mastery over itself: [in and towards] the fullness of being. (39-40—my emphasis added)

Moreover, we must also consider the effects of unchastity, not just the destructively “extirpative power” (40) and “restlessness” (40) stirred up by “the concupiscence of the eye”:

In a very particular way, unchastity destroys this self-possession and behaving oneself by man. Unchaste abandonment and prostitution of the soul to the sensual world wound the fundamental capacity of the moral person: to hearken in silence to the call of the real and out of this recollected silence within himself to make the decision appropriate [as in virtuous prudence] to the concrete situation of concrete action.

For us men and women of today, who are of the opinion that in order to know the truth one need more or less strain the brain, and who scarcely regard as sensible the concept of an ascesis of the intellect—for us, the deeply intrinsic connection that links the knowledge of truth to the condition of purity has vanished from our consciousness. [Saint] Thomas notes that the firstborn daughter of unchastity is the blindness of spirit. An impure and selfish degraded will for pleasure ruins both the decision-making power and the inmost resource of the soul to give silent heed to the discourse of reality.

To be open to the truth of real things and to live by perceived truth: these constitute the essence of the moral person. Only one who sees and affirms this objective reality is also able to recognize how deeply the ruin penetrates that an unchaste heart allows to happen within itself. (42-43—my emphasis added)

In his sincere consideration of the deeper meaning of purity, Josef Pieper shows an intimate part of his own heart and elegiac sense of irreparable loss:

Purity means that crystalline, morning-fresh artlessness and selflessness in relation to the world, as it becomes a reality when the shock of a deep pain [such as the death of the beloved] brings him to the the limits of existence or when the nearness of death touches him [as in war]….This sobriety belongs to the essence of purity….Tragedy achieves purification, catharsis. The donum timoris, the spiritual gift of fear, which Thomas subordinates to temperantia [i.e., the fourth cardinal virtue], also cleanses the disposition as the blessed experience of the innermost peril to the person [perhaps one’s damnation]; it has that purity as its fruit in virtue of which one renounces [as in the sacrament of penance] the selfish seeking after deceptive and false fulfillment. Purity is the unreserved openness of the entire being, for which alone the word can be spoken: “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” (Luke 1:38)….This supreme realization of purity is expressed…in an image of immaculate beauty and radiant authenticity: “Untroubled, the undaunted rose/ stays open in hope.” (Konrad Weiss)

Here a new depth becomes manifest: namely, that purity not only is the fruit of purification but also comprises in itself the readiness to accept God’s purifications, perhaps terrible and deadly, with the brave openness of a trusting heart and so experience its fertile and transforming power. (45-46—my emphasis added)

We may now consider the last portion of Josef Pieper’s gracious and modest little book: namely, his youthful and sober treatment of hope: the meaning and effects of hope, as well as the deadly and corrosive two forms of hopelessness (presumption and despair). We may then also better understand how this pure book might well have touched and formed the hearts of the men at war in 1941 who first read its grace-filled words of wisdom.

Before Pieper discusses natural hope and then the indispensable uniqueness of supernatural hope (implanted Christian hope), he more abstractly and theoretically presents his deep understanding of the structure of the act of hope. We shall attempt to convey his more philosophical grasp of hope’s intrinsic structure after we first try to articulate his position about the two forms of hopelessness, which are also the Catechism’s classic two sins against hope:

In the two forms of hopelessness, in despair as well as in presumption, this [distinctive] youthfulness of the hoping person comes to nothing all the same, but in different ways: in despair, in the way of the senile; in presumption, in the way of the infantile. (50—my emphasis added)

After I first met Dr. Pieper in Spain in the summer of 1974, he often compactly expressed to me the essence of presumption and despair. These are his words and as exactly as he incisively taught me:

Presumption is the premature anticipation of final fulfillment. Despair is the premature anticipation of final non-fulfillment.

In The Virtues of the Human Heart, he wrote, moreover:

In despair as in presumption, the truly human [and “youthful”] quality stiffens and congeals, and only hope is able to preserve it in radiant litheness. Both forms of hopelessness are in the real sense inhuman and deadly. “These two things kill the soul: despair and perverted [presumptuous] hope,” says [Saint] Augustine. (50—my emphasis added)

As to the structure of hope, in general, Pieper somewhat densely says the following:

For man who, in statu viatoris [in the condition of a wayfarer], in the state of being on the way, experiences the [his!] essential creatureliness, the “not yet really existing being” of his existence, there is only one appropriate answer to this experience [of dependency and vulnerability]. The answer cannot be despair—for the meaning of creaturely existence is not nothingness but rather is being, which means fulfillment. The response also cannot be the comfortable security [and assurance] of possessions—for the creature’s “being as becoming” still borders in peril on nothingness. Both of these, despair and assurance of possession [i.e., presumption], militate against the truth of real things. The only answer that is suitable for man’s authentic existential situation is hope. The virtue of hope is the first appropriate virtue of the “not yet.” In the virtue of hope, before all others, man understands and affirms that he is a creature, a creature of God.

Human nature and everything that immediately pertains to it have “the structure of hope.” We are viatores [wayfarers, and not yet comprehensores], on our way, “not yet” beings….Who could say that he already possesses the being intended for him, that he has comprehended anything (to comprehend means to know something as much as it is knowable, to perceive something completely), that he has taken the measure of all existing things? (47-48—my bold emphasis added)

And, as usual, Dr. Pieper acutely and candidly presents the darker matter of certain deceptions, self-deceptions, and camouflages of hope and despair:

Yet never can a pagan be tempted to such deep despair as a Christian and, so it appears, precisely [even in] the great Christians and saints.

Hope and despair can each differ in depth. Above a hope that is rooted in the soul’s innermost depth of being, there can be varieties of despair near the surface, so to speak. Yet they [these superficialities] do not touch the more profound hope [espérance, as distinct from espoir], and they have no definitive meaning. Furthermore, a person, who in the final analysis is in despair, can appear to be a thorough-going optimist in the penultimate concerns of existence, such as the naturally cultural, to others and to himself, as long as he is able to seal off radically the innermost chamber of despair, so that no pain can erupt outward (and it speaks volumes that the contemporary man of the world has made a real art of this [concealment]). (50-51—my bold emphasis added)

Reinforcing these sobering insights and psychological truths, Josef Pieper approaches and presents the last two pages of his book, and deftly touches upon nonchalance and complacency (or spiritual acedia), and presumption:

It is easy to flatter oneself [and especially one’s pride!] that one hopes for eternal life; however, it is hard truly to hope while in the midst of temptations to despair. In the situation of utmost bravery it becomes evident whether the hope is authentic. No one knows more deeply than the one who is truly brave that and how greatly hope is “virtue” and thus not “to be be had” casually and, as it were, “without charge”; no one experiences more clearly that the hope for eternal life is a grace. (52-53—my emphasis added)

These matters are so important for Josef Pieper—and for us—that he adds some earnest and manly additions especially helpful for those in war (to include even the valorous Ernst Jünger):

It can happen that, in a period of temptations to despair [for example, in the winter on the Russian Front, and in captivity], all inner prospects for a “happy ending” grow dark. It can also happen that, for a person confined to the natural, nothing else remains than the hopeless bravery of the “heroic downfall.” Indeed, this possibility will present itself as the only one to the true gentleman, since he is just the one who is able to forego soothing self-deception and narcosis along with, as Ernst Jünger notes [who himself later loyally became a Roman Catholic!], “the outlet [or gift] of luck.” In a word, it can also sometimes happen that supernatural hope remains simply the only possibility of hope at all….The sentence from Sacred Scripture [Job comes to mind here]—“Even were he [God] to kill me, I have no other hope that him. (The Book of Job 13:15)….Christian hope is first and foremost an existential direction of man toward the perfection of his being, toward the fulfillment of his essence, thus toward his ultimate realization, toward the fullness of being….

If, then,…at times all natural hopes become meaningless, then that means that, at times, supernatural hope remains simply the only possibility for man to align himself toward Being. The depressing bravery of the “heroic downfall” is fundamentally nihilistic; it looks toward nothingness; it presumes that it is able to endure nothingness. The bravery of a Christian, however, thrives on the hope in life’s abundance of reality, in eternal life, in a new heaven and a new earth. (53-54—my emphasis added)

Would that I (and many others) had had this little book with us in the 1960s in Vietnam and nearby, as the Germans first saw it in 1941 and kept it afterwards.

May we now at least remember anew and gratefully act upon my beloved mentor Josef Pieper’s words, supernatural hope included: “Virtue is the utmost of what a man can be; it is the realization of the human capacity for being.” (9)

–Finis–

© 2020 Robert D. Hickson

1Josef Pieper’s 1988 republication of the earlier 1941 book is entitled Kleines Lesebuch von den Tugenden des menschlichen Herzens (Ostfildern bei Stuttgart: Schwabenverlag AG, 1988). The 1991 English translation is entitled A Brief Reader on the Virtues of the Human Heart (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991). All further page references will be to this translation and placed in parentheses above in the main body of this essay and selective commentary.