The new president of Catholic University of America, John Garvey, gave the keynote speech at the New York Encounter cultural festival, which opened last night at the Manhattan Center in New York. After a thirty-five year career as a lawyer, last year he took up reins at the Catholic university founded in 1887 by all the bishops of the U.S. to offer graduate degrees in the pontifical faculties of theology, philosophy and canon law.
One year after President Obama was offered an honorary degree at Notre Dame, Garvey dissected the issue which created a firestorm in the Church and the university community. To the accusation of the hierarchy limiting academic freedom in this case, Garvey drew the distinction between allowing debate and dialogue on one hand, and on the other conferring an honor or award as happened at Notre Dame. The U.S. bishops had offered clear guidelines that politicians who did not support the moral principle of life could not be offered a platform or an award. Because of the magnitude and seriousness of abortion, it could not be put on a par with other favorable stands such as on universal health care or ending the war in Iraq. The problem arises from the symbolic meaning of conferring the honorary degree which creates scandal. In any case, Garvey suggested that both sides still needed to "tone it down a bit".
Garvey also discussed lawsuits involving student groups in both public and private universities. In Gay Rights Coalition vs. Georgetown, the D.C. Court of Appeals decided that while not required to offer official recognition, the school did need to give the student group a variety of services. In Christian Legal Society vs. Hastings, the students lost official status due to a required statement of faith and morals for its officers. While claiming to be neutral, these decisions favor a particular dominant opinion, restricting the freedom of both colleges and student groups to offer a distinct intellectual and moral view.
As opposed to the modernist theory that the best way to find truth is through many voices, Garvey emphasized that academic freedom must offer the possibility of carving out a distinct culture. For examples, he gave institutions like the New York Times or Fox News, or movements like the Chicago School of Economics or the Oxford Movement. Universities can foster such intellectual ferment only through the freedom to selectively hire faculty, admit students and offer lectures and courses. For Garvey, this is the "essence of intellectual construction." Although it is little appreciated, in fact, universities are "first amendment actors creating public culture".
The New York Encounter is indeed unlike any other cultural event in the United States in its approach and content, totally transcending the cultural divisions that threaten the future of our society. It also escapes the search for a “common ground” that maintains and feeds the relativism that is paralyzing us. The purpose of its discussions, exhibits, concerts and theatrical performances is to build new friendships, to learn, and to celebrate life’s beauty. All of its events are open to the public and are free, with the exception of the theatrical performance (this year it will be Paul Claudel’s play The Tidings Brought to Mary on Saturday night).
"The New York Encounter: a Different Cultural Event", Msgr. Lorenzo Albacete
The New York Encounter festival runs from Friday, January 14 - Monday, January 17, 2011
Manhattan Center - Hammerstein Ballroom 311 West 34th Street at 8th Avenue - New York, NY 10001
You have the presumption of being useful to the Kingdom of God assuming as far as possible the saeculum, its life, its words, its slogans, its way of thinking. But reflect, I beg you, what it means to accept this world. Perhaps it means that you have gradually lost yourselves in it? Sadly, it seems you are doing just that. It [is] difficult these days to find you and recognize you in this strange world of yours. Probably we still recognize you because in this process you are taking your time, because you are being assimilated by the world, whether quickly or slowly, but late all the same. We thank you for many things, or rather for almost everything, but we must distinguish ourselves from you in one thing. We have much to admire in you, so we can and must send you this warning.
"Do not conform to this world, but transform yourselves by the renewal of your minds, so that you will be able to recognize the will of God, what is good, what is pleasing to him, what is perfect" (Rom. 12:2). Do not conform! Me syschematizesthe! How well this expression reveals the perennial root of the verb: schema. In a nutshell, all schemas, all exterior models are empty. We have to want more, the apostle makes it our duty, "change your way of thinking, reshape your minds" metamorfoùsthe tè anakainósei toù noós. Paul's Greek is so expressive and concrete! He opposes schèma or morphé – permanent form, to metamorphé – change in the creature. One is not to change according to any model that in any case is always out of fashion, but it is a total newness with all its wealth (anakainósei). [It's] not the vocabulary that changes but the meaning (noùs).
So not contestation, desacralization, secularization, because this is so little compared with Christian anakainósis. Reflect on these words and your naïve admiration for revolution, Maoism, and violence (of which, in any case you are incapable) will abandon you.
Your critical and prophetic enthusiasm has already borne fruit, and we cannot indiscriminately condemn you for this. We simply realize, and tell you sincerely, that we have more esteem for St. Paul's calm and discriminating invitation, "Examine yourselves, to see whether you are holding to your faith. Test yourselves. Do you not realize that Jesus Christ is in you?" (2 Cor. 13:5).
We cannot imitate the world precisely because we have to judge it, not with pride and superiority, but with love, just as the Father loved the world (Jn. 3:16) and for this reason pronounced judgment on it.
Do not phroneîn – think, and in conclusion hyperphroneîn- but sophroneîn, think with wisdom (Cf. Rom. 12:13). Be wise, so that we can discern the signs of the will and the time of God. Not the fashion of the moment, but what is good, honest, and perfect.
We write as unwise to you who are wise, as weak men to you who are strong, as wretched men to you who are even more wretched! And this is stupid of us because there are certainly among you some excellent men and women. But precisely for this reason we need to write foolishly, as the Apostle Paul taught us when he took repeated Christ's words that the Father has hidden wisdom from those who know a lot about these things (Lk. 10:21).
This translation of Fr. Zvěřina's letter is taken from pages 110-112 of the book Generating Traces in the History of the World: New Traces of the Christian Experience, by Luigi Giussani, Stefano Alberto, Javier Prades.
In an article collected in What Counts is the Wonder, Gianni Valente makes this comment about Péguy: "He has nothing to do with the restoration-minded lobby who propose that the way out of the modern disaster is to go back to a utopian regime of Christianity" ("Péguy on the Threshold"). Valente says in another article that "it was this experience, real and physical, of the action of grace as the sole source of the Christian life [...] that made Péguy a Christian who would be foreign to the Christendom constituted by his time and ours ("Péguy, Poet of Wonder").
A Christian foreign to the Christendom of our time – this is an extraordinary position for a modern Catholic. For Protestants, however, wariness toward Christendom is more common. For example, here's a response from Peter Leithart to John Nugent, a defender of John Howard Yoder's anti-Constantinism. Christopher Dawson, in his concise book, The Historical Reality of Christian Culture quotes one of the great Protestant voices against Christendom, Kierkegaard: "Christendom has mocked God and continues to mock Him — just as if to a man who is a lover of nuts, instead of bringing him one nut with a kernel, we were to bring him tons and millions of empty nut-shells." Dawson comments that "what Kierkegard attacked with such passion, however, was not Christendom but the secularization of Christendom, and especially that particular form of secularization which he found in the Danish State Church of the mid-nineteenth century" (p 69-70). For Dawson, the student of history, Christendom was not a single historical synthesis brokered by Constantine, but instead "a historical reality which had actually come into the world and had transformed the societies with which it had come into contact" (70). In short, Christendom is not a historic relic, but in fact a dynamism of Christian existence. And it happened not only once, but as Dawson delineates it six times so far (being, as he reckons it, in the sixth age of the Church).
Christendom, as Dawson defines it, is the impact of the unique event of Jesus Christ on the totality of human culture. Such a Christendom, such a new humanity, is not satisfied with family values, Christian values, tradition, cultural victories, or brightening the patina of Christianity on once-Christian institutions. Such a Christendom looks to renew the person, the human being, and from that point the rest will follow – in whatever form it may take. For the ages of the Church demonstrate differences with regard to particular challenges, strengths, weaknesses, accomplishments.
Christopher Dawson knows the formative influence that education has on society, so he does indicate some ways forward in confronting "the Leviathan" of secularism:
"The modern Leviathan is such a formidable monster that it can swallow the religious school system whole without suffering from indigestion.
But this is not the case with higher education. The only part of Leviathan that is vulnerable is its brain, which is small in comparison with its vast and armored bulk. If we could develop Christian higher education to a point at which it meets the attention of the average educated man in every field of thought and life, the situation would be radically changed" (88-89).
Well, almost. Dawson underestimated the Leviathan's ability to even swallow up higher education. The university has abandoned its pretense of forming persons toward totality. The humanities are no longer even of much scientific interest to the university, which is now concerned with driving revenue and 'vocational' training. Dawson is essentially right however, in seeing in the sleeping intelligence of modern man a chink in the scales of the secularist beast. The new humanity, the new Christendom, has no universities of its own, almost no schools of its own. For now, the new Christendom is a diaspora which can be found in any of the institutions of the old Christendom, or the aging and tired secularism. What forms it will take is not so much our concern. It could be a salesman who attends a play and judges it afterward, gets up in the dead of night to see the moon turn red, or spends his lunch studying more diligently than most college students. Or it could be an entrepreneur, a college professor, a biologist, a parent, who knows? What's essential to authentic Christendom is not power, not institutions, not formal education — but humanity, an affection generated by the gaze of One who loved us so much He came to share our condition. He's still here. Look for the green buds on the leafless trees. Or come to New York City in January.
"While Jonas watched, the people began one by one to untie the ribbons on the packages, to unwrap the bright papers, open the boxes and reveal toys and clothing and books. There were cries of delight. They hugged one another.
The small child went and sat on the lap of the old woman, and she rocked him and rubbed her cheek against his" (The Giver, Lois Lowrey, 123).
"The great majority of people will go on observing forms that cannot be explained; they will keep Christmas Day with Christmas gifts and Christmas benedictions; they will continue to do it; and some day suddenly wake up and discover why" ( G.K. Chesterton in Generally Speaking, via Quaerere Deum via gkchestertonquote).
"there is a way of being together that is not Christian communion. And what is the clearest indication of this? That it does not liberate us, that there is no liberation; that is, it is not Communion and Liberation. Fr. Giussani told us that this happens due to a lack of memory, due to a lack of existential depth in the awareness of belonging. [...] When St. Paul says, 'Yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me,' he defines exactly the content of the new self-awareness. Without this new awareness, there is no Christian communion, because we are not letting into our life the gaze that made us become part of this communion." (Living is The Memory of Me, 54).
May you live Christmas and the Christmas season filled with the memory of Christ!