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The Mind That Is Catholic: Philosophical and Political Essays Paperback – November 18, 2008
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From the Back Cover
"Father James V. Schall is one of the few renaissance men still among us. His knowledge of various areas of reality and human endeavor is encyclopedic. Dealing with important abstract ideas, he is able to put flesh on them so that the ordinary reader can grasp easily what he is getting at. Schall is the apostle of truth and reality, since he is always reminding the reader to consult that which is."--Kenneth Baker, S.J., Editor, Homiletic & Pastoral Review.
About the Author
James V. Schall is professor of political philosophy at Georgetown University.
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But, the key is that Schall directs us to the heart of being and brings to our attention the wisdom of the ancients. Thus, in a time when parents may think that loving their children involves indulging them as much as they can so that the parents feel psychologically fulfilled misses the point because "the very idea that we can actually love someone without willing his good is simply contradictory". In a time where people thing human nature is plastic and we can make of ourselves what we wish, he reminds us that " we have a nature, an inner configuration which we did not give to ourselves". And he points out some of the madness of modern philosophy completing lacking in common sense: "unless we are not quite normal, few of us ever maintained that the world was only there because we put it there, or even worse, maintained that nothing was there but our thoughts about what was there". By contrast, "our mind reaches reality, not just itself or its images. As it is we have a million minds knowing the same world. Contrariwise, if all we knew was our own images, we should have a million minds knowing a million worlds with nothing common in between..." But why does modern philosophy propose such nonsense? Schall provides an answer: "What modern philosophy and ideology primarily are, I think, is an effort to provide an alternate world to the one that is, in order to be exempt from any relationship to or obligation to an order to which man is related. It must aggressively formulate and impose its philosophy. Otherwise, the mind, reflecting on what is, does point thought in the direction of what is found in revelation". He alludes to Pieper and Chesterton who "predicted that finally only believers would also philosophise".
And he notes in modernity "a kind of Gnosticism [that] takes political form to treat the body as containing in itself no principles or structures that need to be respected". Immersing us in the wisdom of Aristotle, he notes that "friendship requires a lifetime" and "the desire for many friends then can indeed be a sign of having no friends or of not knowing what is entailed in friendship". In Christianity, we are offered the highest form of friendship, namely friendship with God Himself.
But why is the Universe not created in necessity? The answer is simply this: the "Trinitarian life" where "Person, in its very essence, then is other orientated. "The inner life of God contains diversity and community" and "For Christians, the God who does not possess otherness within Himself is not their God, since God is love, and love requires equality in diversity". Its curious how modernity exalts diversity and we can see the truth of this in the inner life of the Trinity but of course modernity outs diversity in conflict with community. .
And he takes us to a key issue in modern times the tension between faith and reason - a topic which Benedict XVI took up in his Regensberg address, and locates its source: "The famous two truth theory in Arabic and late medieval theory sought to propose a workable solution for any problems between revelation and reason whereby the two could contradict each other; that is, though contradictory both could be true." Whilst the west and Christianity rejected that theory (Aquinas was a big opponent), the Arabs and Islam seem to have embraced it, thus making dialogue founded on reason difficult.
Schall cautions us that we must be aware of what is in the air in our culture including the aberrant ideas. He notes: "If Allah is pure will and piety means submission to Allah, then it is absolutely impossible for there to be any such thing as stable secondary causes or even such a thing as a world itself, since God could make contradictories possible".
But what is the Catholic mind: a mind that has both a "trust in human thought processes and trust that faith is itself addressed to these processes for their own perfection". The Catholic mind is a "mind that is open to all that is, as Aquinas told us"
Anyway, what can one say but that this book is very enjoyable - anyone who enjoys philosophical reflections made known in a gentlemanly and lucid manner will enjoy this wonderful book. If I was asked to choose though, I would say that Schall's other book "The life of the Mind" has the edge - I am not sure why but it exudes a great sense of the joy of knowing - its more infectious.
Fr. Schall, like very few other modern authors, has a gift for making very intellectually challenging ideas accessible without resorting to pedantry. In true gentlemanly fashion, this author shares his mind with us and this is no small thing. The decades of contemplation of the Good the True and the Beautiful and the True nature of our existence spring off the page with a liberality unseen today in academia. Father Schall gifts us with his unusually deep, wide and well cultivated intellect having been oriented toward the source for a gloriously long time in these short days.
This excellent book stands outside the postmodern zeitgeist. Fr. Schall's essays are grounded in permanent things, in the real meaning of human existence. He covers the areas most important for us to orient ourselves to the City of God.
A small warning: Fr. Schall is a good man who directs us to many other good men. Reading a book by the good Father, if read correctly, will surely lead to an increase in your personal library and may precipitate, as is the case with Another Sort of Learning, a small economic crisis in the home when the mind that is alight will go to great measures to secure the tomes(referenced and recommended) and required storage space.
A second small warning: If you are one who is possessed by the zeitgeist, has been taken in by the new and falsely placed virtues of tolerance, multiculturalism, egalitarianism, or feminism, this book will chaff like sandpaper on your face.
If you are seeking the Truth and would like to understand the Catholic Mind better, this book is a wonderful collection of excellent essays. This cannot be too highly recommended.