Tuesday 17th July 2018

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Trump, Benedict, And Remembering Thought Quarterly

July 17, 2017 Featured Today No Comments

By JUDE DOUGHERTY

Thought was the title of a highly respected Fordham University quarterly, published from 1926 to 1992. During that period, its website tells us, it published 267 issues containing over 5,000 English-language contributions by philosophers, theologians, literary intellectuals, and others. Among its well-known contributors were Dietrich von Hildebrand, Bernard Lonergan, Jacques Maritain, Walker Percy, and Karl Rahner.
The journal was named appropriately for it carried essays that could not be classified strictly as theology or philosophy in spite of their subject matter, and others that fell short of the scholarly apparatus demanded by technical journals such as The Modern Schoolman or Speculum.
As a student I valued my subscription. Many years later I was sad to see the periodical go, although I was never a contributor.
“There are in history highly respectable works that we would not call philosophical but which we could describe as ‘wisdom literature’,” writes Rémi Brague in his study of Arabic philosophy in The Legend of the Middle Ages. He adds reinforcement for his point of view by reminding the reader that Heidegger places “thought” on a higher plane than philosophy.
Brague is particularly sensitive to the broad cultural context in which philosophy in any period develops. He finds that opinions generally admitted within a given community provide the basis on which philosophy is built. Those opinions are historically conditioned, and they come in the final analysis from the legislator of the community. He could point to Constantine, Justin, and Charlemagne as examples.
The Arab world, as Brague notes, makes room for something between Falsafa and Kalam. The problem is how much credibility is to be assigned to “thought” or true opinion, as in Plato. Absent demonstration, can we acknowledge truth?
Plato in the Meno, after introducing the notion of “true opinion,” has Socrates speak of the value of such knowledge. True opinion, although supported by fact, falls short of demonstrative knowledge but is nevertheless required by him who would govern. “Men,” says Socrates, “become good and useful to the state, not only because they have knowledge, but because they have right opinion.”
Pope Benedict XVI said much the same thing in an address he gave to the World Culture meeting in Venice in 2008. Rejecting the notion that European culture is “liquid,” Benedict affirmed that judgment in matters culture and economic depend not only on one’s assessment of the present but largely on one’s historical insight. He recognized that any argument based on history falls short of demonstration, yet knowledge of history enhances one’s ability to make informed judgments.
“Men and women are free to interpret and give meaning to reality, but in doing so they must not be afraid of the Gospels,” he said, aware of the tendency on the part of the European intellectual elite to ignore the Christian sources of Western culture as they advance their progressive agenda.
The Wall Street Journal, in an editorial commenting on President Donald Trump’s recent speech in Warsaw, noted that “Mr. Trump is clearly aligning himself with the same warning issued to Europe some years ago by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.”
Cardinal Ratzinger’s argument, the editorial went on to say, was that Europe needs to recognize that its turn toward aggressive secularism poses a threat to its survival. In Trump’s formulation of that threat, we are obliged to “confront forces, whether they come from inside or out, from the South or the East, that threaten over time to undermine these values and to erase the bonds of culture, faith, and tradition that made us who we are.”
Anyone who has followed the lectures and essays of Joseph Ratzinger from his years as professor of theology in Regensburg to his discourse as Pope Emeritus, or Fr. Benedict, as he prefers to be addressed, will find in them a wisdom, ”true opinion,” one may say, rooted in both scholarship and experience. His is the type of knowledge that Plato prescribed for those who would govern.
To return to my theme, much of Professor Ratzinger’s work could have been published in Thought, but one will not find it there. One will find it instead in Communio, a journal he founded with Hans Urs von Balthasar and Henri de Lubac in 1972, shortly after he became professor of theology at Regensburg.

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Catechism

Today . . .

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