Monday, September 17, 2007

J & P; Discernment

On Thursday, before I left to take my daughter to Oregon, I read the following in Iota Unum by Romano Amerio; it gave me much to think about, especially in the process of evaluating the participation of our Dominican LPC in the politics of the world. this is a long read, but quite good. the italics and bolding are my own emphasis.

332. Metaphysical analysis of the crisis.

That there is a crisis in the Church and that it is connected with the crisis in the world at large, is universally admitted except by a few odd voices that insist on saying only what people would like to hear, and that prevent themselves from being taken seriously by the very absurdity of their assertions. It is also universally admitted that the crisis takes the form of an imbalance between what may be briefly described as the material development of the human race on the one hand, and its spiritual development on the other. The truth is that this imbalance is the result of an inability to keep technical developments within the ambit of moral developments, and thus to put things in any coherent order. The root cause of the confusion that has characterized the centuries of the modern era is a lack of unity, that is, the absence of a principle to coordinate and unify the various goods with which man is confronted. Unity is the essential condition for the existence of any being, and also for its perfection. The Good, which is itself supremely One, is reflected in creatures in a multiplicity of ways, but that multiplicity is itself contained within an order, that is, in another unity since order is the coming together of many into one; it is the existence of that unity which makes the multiplicity of lesser goods a true image of the single, primordial, eternal Good.

What then is the reason the modern world has lost this unity? I ought here to point out that the unifying principle can never be one of the elements that has to be unified, but must instead be something external and superior to them all; thus mankind’s problems cannot be resolved from a standpoint within man himself. The modern world, by contrast, attempts to unify its goods on the basis of one of the goods internal to it. But none of them in fact has this unifying capacity, because all of them are partial and they are often at odds with each other: economics, pleasure, personal development, freedom. The good that can unify these multiple goods is that ultimate Good by which all things are made and towards which they all converge. This ultimate Good is external to the order of goods it unifies. It is the thing that makes an ordered series of connected things out of the disordered series of unconnected things of which life apparently consists, in such a way that one answers to another and the whole interlocks in a graded series of goods mounting towards an end.

But to return to the question: why is it that the modern world cannot make these connections, and set things in a definite order? Obviously as has been often, perhaps too often, said in this book, because it has lost the concept of an ultimate goal by shutting itself within an absolute Diesseitigkeit (this-worldliness). Something that disposed men to set aside any last end, but does not force them to do so, is the limitation of the human spirit itself. It is this limitation that tends to make men incapable of doing what needs to be done to grasp the order in the world, and of establishing a scale of values. The task is threefold. First, to appreciate individual goods for that they are; second, to grasp the relation that each good has with the primal Good which is both the world’s first cause and its last end. Third, in the light of that relation, to understand the synthetic connection of each good with every other, and set them all in a unified vision of the good as a whole.

When knowledge of the world was limited and not very detailed, the various goods in life that man was aware of were perceived indistinctly in a unitary whole, informed by a single set of values, which was in fact religious in character. An awareness of the relation of things to ultimate reality dominated the human mind and constituted an all embracing form that unified experience. But although the mind of man can contain the whole range of goods in this way, it cannot do so when they become clearly distinguished and fully developed, each within its own sphere. In such circumstances, the mind can no longer envisage different kinds of goods in a single view, as it could when they were less clearly distinguished, but instead considers them one after another, individually. Thus in the modern world we frequently come across the phenomenon of people who base their existence on some particular kind of good and who live it out as if it were autonomous and could subordinate all other goods to itself; this particular good arrogates to itself the role which properly belongs to the prime transcendent good alone. This is in effect to bestow on one kind of worldly good a sort of religious significance amounting to idolatry. Different kinds of good are artificially separated from each other, torn out of their true settings, and cut off from the primal good that sustains them: la forma universal de questo nodo (Paradiso, XXXIII, 90. “The universal form of this knot.”) is thus lost. Individual goods thus tend to take an unlimited hold upon men, and since their relation to the supreme good is not grasped, their autonomous existence, and the muddying vision that they cause when not harmonized in a religious view of life, tend to produce an anti-religious or at best a non-religious attitude in men. Religion then becomes an element in this world; which is what produces secondary Christianity. A transcendent goal beyond this world is first of all restricted within the bounds of changeable individual minds, under the protection of liberal principles, and then is watered down into a complete this-worldliness, since the force of logic ends up dissolving it into an absolute Dieseitigkeit. The Archbishop of Avignon regards the dissolving of Christianity into this world as the distinctive achievement of Vatican II: “The Church,” he says, “has sought a new definition of itself and has begun to love the world, to open itself to it, to turn itself into a dialogue” (O.R., 3 September 1976). This constitutes an attempt to get away from a plurality of goods, to diverse for the mind to contain, and to return to a unified view of the good. But the return is not to be effected, as it should be, by a restoration of the supremacy of a unifying, transcendent good lying beyond the world, but by setting up a pseudo-principle immanent within the world, that refuses to look yonder for an ultimate explanation or to seek an end for man beyond his life in time. The reef upon which this attempt founders is the impossibility of an independent dependency, which is the key ideal in the whole of our analysis.

it all seemed so simple, so straight forward as I left Idaho and traveled across the central Oregon high desert. It even still seemed to make sense when I arived in Bend, which has now grown to 75,000 from the little town it used to be. Everything seemed so clear, until sitting on the throne in a restroom at Central Oregon Community College, and draped over the handicap rail was, not the sports page, but the COCC eco-news! I discovered that I had to save the world from a variety of threats, and that I could save the world with something called carbon offsets. From the local paper I even discovered that I could offer a starting bid of $500,000 to name a new shark species and save it, as did the Golden Palace casino in Monacco when they saved the monkey their $750,000 bid gave them rights to! The people of Bend seemed so unified in their support of green, as they stood in line to get into expensive restrauants, and drove their huge SUVs around the dozens of new round-abouts. Amazing; exchange eco-guilt for conviction! I took the scenic route back to Boise. Avoiding the dry desert, I wanted to see the big trees; here in the desert I miss them. They were everything I remembered, so I had to go express my gratitude to their magnitude!

Then there were the hunters talking about shooting elk over beer and the OSU game at the Austin Junction; "shooting the bull" has a whole new meaning now...

So, after three days exposure to Oregon, I became, for a brief moment, a tree hugger! Something deep within us certainly yearns for the known and the visible that is, and easily distracts us from the First Cause of that which is. Perhaps the renunciation of living in this desert is a blessing which I'd never counted before.

The memory of something outside to unify that which is within kept drawing me back...


  1. Mark: Glad to see you have embraced the lovely Ponderosa Pine! Ripe for harvesting.

  2. Mark, a tree hugger? Nah, couldn't be! I'm from the land of hippies and tree huggers, (Nelson, BC) and somehow, you don't fit the bill.

  3. This idea of a unifying principle seems to have lots of echoes. Charles Williams' idea of the unity of language comes to mind. In discussions of what constitutes (physical) life, my husband and I have often referred to an "organizing principle" as the criterion which seems determinative. The standard criterion, brain death/life is being called into question more and more these days.