Saturday, 7 December 2013

Milbank's rejection of unilateral gift

So: Milbank rejects ethics as unilateral gift and sacrifice, in favour of ethics as gift-exchange and openness to divine grace. He will make more explicit the grounds for this rejection by dealing with each of the four notions:

1. Unilateral gift. Such an idea, by making absolute one's inalienable self-possession of a will to sacrifice, preserves the Hellenic notion of the ethical as the overcoming of moral luck. This is true even if, or especially if, as for Derrida, this belonging or identity is secured only when one is dead. [Milbank also takes issue here with Marion, but I cannot make sense of what he says.] The point is that there is no true respect for the other here. The gesture which allows the other to persist outside of his communication with you is seen as more defnitive of the good than living communication. [This also is not clear, unless it takes off from the remark about Marion.] It is not surprising, says Milbank, that Levinas sees the other as only genuinely present in 'trace,' not in present image [why image?]. (122)

Milbank instead insists that if we truly value the other, we must value meeting him in his specificity, [and therefore in living interaction]. He admits / that such encounter might require, in certain circumstances, the sacrifice of oneself, even to death. We can even say that in a fallen world the path to the recovery of mutual giving will always pass through an element of apparently unredeemed sacrifice and apparently unilateral gift. [This is - good!] But the point is that this gesture is not in itself the good. It is not good at all outside the hope for a redemptive return of the self [= resurrection] - even though this is an eschatological hope "which never permits us to expect a return at any particular place or specific moment of time, or to elicit any specific mode of return." [Again, perfect.] (122-3)

To speak of such a return is not to fall from gift to contract: actual life is not a mode of self-possession that we then surrender in the sacrifice unto death. [The argument about the fall from gift to contract presupposes the understanding of life as self-possession. M rejects that presupposition] Rather, when we give, sometimes with sacrificial pain, we receive ourselves back as true abundant life. The resurrection preserves this logic at its limit: it is not an extrinsic super-added reward for the giving up of an (illusory) self-possessed life. It is the final surrender of an isolated life which issues in a better more abundant life. (123)

What distinguishes gift from contract is not the absolute freedom and non-binding character of the gift, but the surprisingness and unpredictability of gift and counter-gift, their character as asymmetrical reciprocity, and as non-identical repetition. Gift as absolute freedom and as non-binding is the Western counterpart to the reduction of exchange to contract. Mauss seems to have criticized this; according to Milbank, Derrida and Marion have not assimilated this critique. [More probably in Milbank's ... See n22 here.] Derrida of course regards the free unilateral gift as an impossibility: short of death, one always cancel's one's giving in receiving something back, be it only the consciousness that one is a giver. Thus only the dead person [who has sacrificed himself] can be a true giver. So also the only disinterested gift is to an absolutely anonymous other - the enemy, at the limit, as Marion says. And such a gift cannot possess any content beyond the gesture of giving, because, on this construal, there is nothing in an object that makes it in itself a gift. [It is the intention or else the gesture of giving that makes it gift.] Milbank instead argues that it is the content alone that determines whether a gift is appropriate, and therefore gift at all. (123)

So for Derrida, the gift is only ever a promise of a gift, perpetual postponement. And Marion's attempt will not work. A reduced gift which is no identifiable object, derives from no known source, and passes to no known / recipient can only be recognized in a way that makes no difference to actual ethical life. Such recognition involves only the idol of an abstract God. and where there is no intimation whatsoever of the source, gift is simply an impersonal intrusion. Its lack of content makes it arbitrary on our part to interpret it as gift. And where there is no knowledge of a recipient, and one assumes even that he is hostile, there cannot be a gift. A true gift must be appropriate to a donee; one must have already entered into an exchange with her. Gift-giving is a mode of social being. Ignoring this, both Derrida and Marion remain trapped in Cartesian subjectivity. At least Derrida, against Marion, deconstructs his Cartesian starting point when he insists that such a pure unilateral gift can never occur. "If there is a gift that can truly be, then this mut be the event of reciprocal, but asymmetrical and non-identically repeated exchange." (123-4)

2. Death as the necessary condition of the ethical. This celebrates something negative as the precondition of something positive in a way that is self-contradictory. [he says he has already shown how this is so.] A self-surrender without hope of self-return gives up on hope for ecstatic communication, for feasting and marriage, which is the only viable paradigm of the good. [again, already shown].

This paradigm is fully articulated only by Christianity, but is anticipated by Plato in the Phaedo. Socrates rejects the idea of warriors dying out of fear for loss of honour: this virtue as coinage, an exchange which is exemplified in the market economy, which is a sacrificial economy. The philosopher, instead, begins with absolute confidence, with the vision of the Forms, with positivity, without fear. The philosopher is good as first merely knowing, as receiving the vision of the Forms, not as acting or sacrificing in the sense of giving up something. Only in a secondary moment, out of plenitude of vision, if there is need, does he offer himself entirely, as it happened to Socrates. Nothing is lost here; instead, there is passage from lesser to greater, from weak participations to the fuller reality. / The Christian martyrs similarly begin from plenitude of paradisal vision in their acceptance of suffering. (124-5)

3. The reduction of God, lest his reward damage the purity of the gift

4. The gift as unilateral can only be realized in a secular sphere. This notion tries to occlude from our view the role of the city or state intervening to maintain civic order. This role can be seen in the way 'sacrifice' transmuted from practice to metaphor. Two moments in this shift:

4.1 Greek sacrifice involved a 'giving up,' offering, or sacrifice of material passion in favour of its sublimation. This is seen in the way the same scents and spices were involved in both erotic play and in religious sacrifice. After Pythagoras, e.g. among the Neoplatonists, we have not so much the offering of passion as the transmutation of passion into a higher passion. Sacrifice here is initiatory passage rather than gift or offering. It is only perhaps with Paul that we get the language of 'sacrifice of passions' in the sense of internalization of sacrifice. Here there is no vertical deviation of horizontal scents and spices. Rather, Paul is talking about an offering of self to a personal God, implicitly trusting in the return of self in a more abundant way. (125)

4.2 The death of the hero for the city was considered by Greeks and Romans as equivalent to sacrifice. (125)

In both these instances, there is the subsumption of something real into a greater whole, be it the city or the cosmos. There is loss without return, though there is the possibility of posthumous glory [see Achilles]. (125)

Modern / secularity gets rid even of such shadowy intimations of after-life, and so perfects pagan logic. Nineteenth century positivism spoke of altruism or self-surrender for the future, for science, for the state. 'Postmodern' or else Levinasian thinkers speak of the good, the moral act, or self-giving sacrifice as perpetual postponement. (See this notion as involved in the death of the hero, or in dying for the city, or for future generations: since every generation is subject to the same imperative, the consummation is perpetually postponed. [But: isn't there some betterment that we all experience, precisely because someone was brave enough to sacrifice himself?]) (126)

Milbank finds a surprising counterpoint to the above in John Buchan's novel Midwinter, where the hero puts the salvation of a young girl whom he loves before his political cause. He sacrifices (an idolatrous and finally merely nominal) all to the singular, "and so affirmed the resurrection hope for the return of each and every one, beyond the aporia of sacrificial options." [Hence the title of Milbank's essay: "The Midwinter Sacrifice". Not Shakespearean, as I assumed, despite the fact that M does make use of Shakespeare.] (126)

Milbank's claim: "the idea of self-sacrifice unto death without return for the sake of 'the whole,' even if that be the rule of moral duty to an unspecified other, is not at all the true moral kernel of the Jewish and Christian legacy." (126) He acknowledges a tension even in the NT. Derrida, he says, chooses to favour tedts like not inviting to feasts those who can invite you back (Lk 6:32-5) as the Christian essence. But Milbank stresses John's gospel, where there is no mention of loving enemies, where love circulates among friends, where there are erotic gestures, where the disciples are described as the Father's gift to the Son, just as the Son is his gift to the disciples. [The stress on mutuality, exchange, even if asymmetrical.] (127)

Someone might argue that Christianity has combined both perspectives on giving [non-reciprocal, and exchangist]. Milbank says it might have, but the higher perspective is that of reciprocity, "even though the eschatological character of this goal requires a 'quasi-unilaterial' moment for the gift in our fallen present time." The gift from the divine is to be returned from below, as the return of humanity to the Father. The gift of the Holy Spirit results from and manifests the mutuality of Father and Son. The Son offers himself not for the earthly city, not as giving up something for a greater something else, but 'for his friends.' Even this giving / dying is not so that they might live their self-possessed lives while he has lost his - as if he were saving them from drowning. It is rather in defence of the truth he has taught, the absolute creative power of the Father, maintained and fully taught in his resurrected return. (127)

This return is commemorated in the eucharist: we offer bread and wine, and immediately receive them back as God's flesh and blood. In the eucharist we enter in advance into the eschatological banquet and nuptials, "into the realm where once again we can entirely trust our every act as good precisely because we know that it will not merely follow our intention but be transformed and given back to us in a different and surprising mode." (127)

In the eucharist we see the only possible paradigm for gift and therefore for ethics, "not as one-way sacrifice but as total surrender for rereception." (128) Within this paradigm we can realize that, to the degree we are involved in some sense at some time in feast and marriage, we already participate in the resurrection. Here we give up everything, not for the earthly city, not even primarily for others, but 'absurdly' to God, in order to confess our inherent nothingness and to receive life as created anew. "Here we hold on to nothing, here we possess nothing securely, in contrast with exclusively ethical models which are also sacrificial. here instead we render ourselves entirely prey to the mere good fortune that it might turn out that we have been ethical. But the name of this fortune is secretly grace, the gift or the Good...." (128)


Friday, 6 December 2013

Unilateral gift as unethical

The unredeemed, unilateral gift, according to Milbank, is not in itself the good, and, indeed, not good at all outside the hope for resurrection, for a redemptive return of the self. (123) Why, I need to ask. Because perhaps "there is no true respect for the other involved here" (122). Because in the end it makes absolute "one's inalienable self-possession of a will to sacrifice and so preserves the Hellenic notion of the ethical as the overcoming of moral luck." (122)


Reading Milbank on gift, the ethical, and so on, I feel quite excited, but also choked: there is so much to get into here, such complexity, so many things I have never quite entered into, not mastered at all. The ethical and what it might truly be. The ethical and the religious. The ethical and the Christian. And then so much to master also in Lonergan. The ethical certainly; but also the realm of cognitive interiority, especially the early notions of operation, perhaps in Gratia Operans. The whole area of the Latin theology. the Trinity. Essential and notional love. Causality. Meaning. 

This is one of the roots of my dis-ease with Milbank: that he has chosen to take issue with Lonergan in his book on Aquinas. So either he has misunderstood Lonergan, or he is right. Either way, the dis-ease. Or perhaps, the dis-ease is because of not having got to the bottom of this question. 

Milbank excites me like the complex of ideas brewing in the Gregorian and in Rome in the early 1990s did. A complex that excited my imagination, but which I never did get to the bottom of. A complex involving somehow Henrici, and perhaps von Balthasar, and certainly Blondel; and John Paul II; and somehow suspecting Lonergan as cognate. Action - being - the primacy of the existential - love - Trinity - unity - marriage - eschatology - feast - resurrection. There was a book there, and there is a book here. And what if all this is set into motion against the background of Sankara, for example. 

What excited me about Plascencia was the way he was able to turn upside down received notions, one of them being that of disinterested love: God's love is a love that looks for and longs for return. Don Bosco intuited that. And so our model cannot be disinterested love. Even if love does not stop being love for lack of (immediate) response. Milbank intuits these complexities well on his p. 123. 

The ethical, grace and resurrection

Milbank's own summary of his argument:

1. The ethical "is only genuinely imaginable as a mutual and unending gift-exchange, construed as an absolute surrender to moral luck or absolute faith in the arrival of the divine gift, which is grace."
2. The sustaining of such an exchange "requires a notion of resurrection and faith in the reality of participation in resurrection." (121)

The complex of ideas: the ethical as gift-exchange, feast, marriage, resurrection. The first element, gift-exchange is figured by the feast or by marriage. It is appropriately combined with the second, resurrection, in terms of the heavenly banquet or the eschatological marriage of God and humanity. [And here, all the echoes of John Paul II's Theology of the Body.]

[I suspect that Milbank is doing a phenomenology of the notion of the ethical, and he finds that this notion collapses without 'total exposure' to grace and the notion resurrection and participation in resurrection. If this be true, I would think that morality would still be possible for atheists and in general for people who do not have proper and consistent notions of the ethical and who do not believe in grace and resurrection. Simply because, whatever the explicit pole of the horizon, what matters ultimately is the reality of grace given.]

Milbank is seeking to deliberately oppose a recent consensus "which would try to understand the ethical as primarily self-sacrifice for the other, without any necessary 'return' issuing from the other back to oneself." [Note the idea of return or response: Benedict XVI surprisingly stressed response as a constitutive element in love, in Deus Caritas Est and then in his Message for Lent 2007, noting that, in the bible, even God ardently desires our response, 'like a bridegroom that of his bride.' Jose' Luis Plascencia had picked up and highlighted this idea in his retreat talks to the 26th General Chapter of the Salesians of Don Bosco in 2008.] [Note also that Milbank does not discount self-sacrifice completely. What he is setting aside is the idea of the ethical as primarily or purely self-sacrifice.]

[The way Milbank is proceeding reminds me of I.M. Crombie's response to Flew, the way he invoked central ideas in Christianity, including resurrection, if I recall right. - The point is that I am trying to sort out the methodological question. Perhaps: what is philosophy and what theology? Milbank is certainly blowing up received ideas of the distinction. In a manner analogous to that of Lonergan? Or radically different?]

This consensus itself involves a complex of ideas:

1. That only an entirely self-sacrificial giving without expectation of a counter-gift distinguishes the gift from a form of self-interested contract. [I.e., gift does not involve response; such a response, or expectation of response, would destroy it as gift and turn it into a contract or exchange.] [Milbank is blowing up the idea of gift as completely disinterested, and, probably, of love and of the ethical as completely disinterested.]

2. That death, "far from being complicit with evil, is the necessary condition for the event of the ethical as such." The reasons for this are two:

2.1 Only our vulnerability, the possibility that we might die, allows us to make an appeal as needy people to our neighbour. Our vulnerability is therefore the condition for the ethical demand.

2.2 Only the capacity of the ethical subject "to respond to the needy person if necessary with his own death, guarantees his deed as truly ethical, as truly disinterested gift." (122)

3. 'God' must be reduced to "a shadowy hypostatized other," because any God who interfered to reward the disinterested giver would be damaging the purity of this disinterest and of the ethical.

4. The true nobility and purity of religious self-sacrifice [and of the ethical] is only realized in a secular realm.

This consensus involves Patocka, Derrida, and probably Levinas. The first point [pure disinterested gift] is espoused by Marion though he does not see that it leads logically to the other three. [Ciglia described Marion yesterday as a Catholic 'a modo suo.']

Francesco Paolo Ciglia

I met Francesco Paolo Ciglia yesterday, at Beit Jala, at the Interseminary Meeting there. Ciglia is professor of philosophy at Pescara, and is currently teaching at the Redemptoris Mater seminary in Galilee. He specializes in twentieth century Jewish thought, I believe, especially that of Levinas. He is on the editorial board of Archivio di Filosofia, the review founded by Enrico Castelli and continued by Olivetti. He has been in contact with people like Ricoeur, Panikkar, Henrici, and now Jean-Luc Marion, who seems to be the current president of the association that runs the Castelli conferences. He said he had met Giovanni Sala, SJ, who had once presented something on Kant (and Lonergan). 

Milbank, Christianity and the ethical

If ethics were conceived as not possessing something - not even one's good deed - but receiving the gift of the other "as something that diverts one's life," and offering one's life "in such a way that you do not know in advance what it is you will give but reclaim it retrospectively," then ethics becomes "a total exposure to fortune, or rather to grace." (116)

If it were simply a total exposure to fortune, then one heads to nihilism. All aporias of the ethical sketched by Milbank would still stand [would they?], "but one would simply embrace the impossibility of the ethical and yet the necessity of temporary ethical conventions." [An ethnocentric ethics, borrowing from Rorty?] With Derrida and perhaps Levinas, one might qualify this "with a mysticism of infinitely postponed hope for the arrival of the good." (116)

"However, the Christian construal of the total sway of moral luck is to understand fortune, as always, however disguisedly, the personal gift of grace: to believe therefore that only utter exposure constitutes the ethical." (116) [This is the complete opposite of ethics as autonomy and self-governance.]

No secularization of Christian ethics along the lines proposed by Patocka is therefore possible. The mere attitudes of patience, humility, etc. as things we ourselves can perform can turn out to the not ethical at all. They only assume an ethical complexion as a waiting on God: as a "meta-ethical trust that it will (beyond perpetual postponement) be given to us to be ethical, given to us again to receive and again to give in such a way that a certain 'asymmetrical reciprocity' or genuine community, will ceaselessly arrive (for now in part and eschatologically without interruption)." (116)

[The arguments seem seamless, but I am finding it difficult to accept the basic thesis here: no true ethical without Christianity, or at least the hope of resurrection.]

Original sin and death together prevent the ethical from coming to pass. We are all either wounded [original sin] or complacent or both, "capable only of valuing what is lost, obliged therefore to take measures to prevent future loss, congratulating ourselves on these measures (law) and so secretly celebrating loss as the occasion for our greatness, and instead of festively enjoying present loved ones, subject to boredom with them tending always to suspicion." (117) [Leontes King of Sicily is wounded, is faced with loss, and begins to love only in the face of this loss. Others may be complacent, and so incapable of truly enjoying loved ones.]

Loss is ineradicable. Milbank says he has shown that so long as there is loss, there cannot be any ethical, not even in any degree. (117) [Recapitulate this argument. I have forgotten what it was.] And concludes: "Hence hope, hope that it may be given to me in the next moment to act well, is inseparable from hope that there may be universal acting well, and at last a non-futile mourning: to be ethical is therefore to believe in the resurrection, and somehow to participate in it. And outside this belief and participation there is, quite simply, no 'ethical' whatsoever." (117) [The belief, if Milbank is right, is constitutive of the notion of the ethical: without it, no ethical. But is belief a necessary precondition to practice, to acting well? Is it, in other words, not sufficient "to somehow participate in it"?]

Thus there are three aspects to ethics:

1. The mundane, everyday hope that community is possible. Community: that people and objects "can analogically blend beyond identity and difference." [This is good! This is Trinitarian, and non-dual.] Both the living out and the search for community is neither simply eudaemonistic nor 'other-regarding', but 'ecstatic' (Spaemann). Such ecstasy is neither self-sacrificial nor sado-machochistic (both these are courses unto death), but rather passes through death, in hope of our return along with the return of others. "Thus to look for our collective participation in divine fullness of being is to transcend in an 'objective' and self-less manner either egotistic or self-sacrificial concerns." This ecstasy is epitomized by the feast, where we eat only because and when others eat, and yet we do not renounce ourselves, for we eat also. Thus the everyday ethical hope naturally leads to hope for resurrection.

2. The fall as suspicion rather than misdeed, as refusal of the field of action defined as giving with joyful uncertainty in faith. Christianity recognizes the fall - the universal tragic condition - but refuses to ontologize it, making the extraordinary move "of seeing the universal itself as but a contingent narrative upshot." Original sin is not necessarily deed, or misdeed. In Leontes' case, it is first suspicion of misdeed on the part of the other (his wife Hermione). "Here the fall is not an act, but rather a first mistrusting of the joyfully confident 'risk' and uncertainty constitutive of the field of action." Original sin is "refusal of the field of action itself, defined as giving with joyful uncertainty in faith, a refusal which commences in the suspicion that one does not, after all, receive a good gift from the other." (118) Original blessedness here is understood, not as deliberately 'doing good,' but as a state of good moral luck or reception of grace. (119)

3. The hope of resurrection.

Mercantile reality does reveal the raw truth of life in fallen time, but, unlike Derrida, Milbank refuses to ontologize this truth. He insists instead on the possibility "of imagining the counter-reality of resurrection, and the possibility that this world already mysteriously participates in that reality." (121) "Embracing this possibility leads us to hope, even now, after the fall and before the end, for the gracious arrival of something better and to act within this hope." (121)

Should our polity be restored by grace, the anxiety about our necessary preference for some not others, and our apparent sacrifice of some for others, would be eased "in the knowledge that we are to love our neighbors, because we know that others are loving theirs". (121) This means that even agape can only be fulfilled within a polis [community] where each of us has a particular role. Further, "if we lived in an economy of gift we would not be indifferent to the consequences of our acts... but we would 'go' with our gifts, and others in receiving them creatively would continue to care for us in this employment. Joyfully estranged from ourselves, we should sometimes find in this loss our gain, and always know that it would finally be so." (121)

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Milbank's critiques of eudaemonism and altruistic ethics

According to Milbank, our two inherited notions of the ethical (he is of course speaking of the West) are both linked to the supremacy of self-possession and self-government. The first is classical eudaemonism, the other is 'other-regarding ethics'. Drawing on Spaemann, Derrida and Williams, he shows that both are subject to inner dialectical collapse or deconstruction, precisely in their attempts to manage and control fortune. (111)

1. Classical eudaemonism (111-2)

One cannot secure happiness in an abiding way. At most we have only 'virtual happiness.' Four reasons:
1. To open ourselves to the most happiness involves risk and so sorrow. For self-protection we must remain to a degree self-enclosed; and we are never free from the anxiety of what balance of adventure and security we must espouse. [And this is true.]
2. Happiness is not punctual. / It is rather the course of a whole life (Aristotle). [This, on the other hand, is a defining of the meaning of happiness. Perhaps in the East one might choose to regard happiness precisely as punctual. But that needs probing. I am thinking of the man being chased by a tiger: he falls off a cliff; manages to catch the branch of a bush; sees two mice gnawing at the roots; knows he must soon fall; and in this situation, reaches out and enjoys the berries on the bush.] Yet we never get to the end of our lives; we die 'before our time'; and only others will read our lives as a whole [and so determine whether or not we have been happy?]. (111-2)
3. Happiness is comparative. [This argument seems specious to me.] The shepherd in Arcadia does not know he is happy [but is that not his charm, as Vernet would say, quoting the spanish poet: the charm of a bowl full of beautiful roses is that they do not know they are beautiful]. His happiness is known only by another, and that knowledge in itself is not happiness. So happiness is nowhere in space.
4. Happiness is nowhere in time. The past is always contaminated by loss and mourning; the future by fear and anxiety.
In these ways, not only ordinary joys remain illusive, but also our enjoyment and realization of a consistent ethical excellence. (112)
Antiquity therefore underrated the contamination of morality by luck or fortune.

2. Other-regarding ethics (Kant - Bentham - Levinas - Parfitt)

2.1 As soon as we act with patience, humility, forgiveness, suffering unto death, we are liable to misinterpretation and abuse (Hegel's critique of Kant). It is no use considering such derelict, abandoned acts as 'perfect gifts' with Marion, who takes the content of a gift as a mere sign of the real ethereal gift of intention, or the self-giving itself. Milbank holds that intentions and passages have always instantiated in signs and gestures and are therefore always somewhat particular, content-specific. A duty that fails to make the other happy ceases to be a moral act. Milbank's point: "Other-regarding ethics cannot ignore happiness, [i.e., it has to take into account its content, and the result] yet happiness is often the child of whim and circumstance." (112) There other-regarding ethics is also undermined "by the self-implosion of the notion of pure duty."

2.2 Following this loss of duty comes loss of self. We cannot possess ourselves as ethical through a sacrificial self-offering in death, because this would mean that we need the misfortunes of others to demonstrate our worth. [This again seems specious to me - though perhaps I must not ignore the qualification "if this alone proves the good".] But this destroys the morality of the ethical self.  (113)

2.21 And again, till we are martyrs, we can never be sure of possessing ourselves as ethical; and there is always the uncertainty, the possibility that in the last gasp we may despair and recant. The uncertainty - luck - continues having a part in being ethical. (113)

2.22 If the dying self is subject to uncertainty, much more so is the living self. The contingencies here are the needs of others. We are subject to "limitless persecution by the needs of others" who are regarded as somehow enjoying themselves. Such a 'bad infinite' haunts the ethics of both Kant and Levinas. "Modern ethics, just because it enthrones altruism, is pathological in its degree of obliteration of the possibility of consummation" - or at least of the beginning of beatitude. (113)

2.3 [Loss of the other.] Insofar as the other is alive, I will tend to take her for granted. Her otherness will emerge in her absence, especially in her death. (113)

Those who are wounded see (or learn to love) too late, and only through loss of the other - like Leontes of Sicily after the death of his wife, his heir, and the loss of his daughter. Those who are apparently innocent, on the other hand, are always infected by complacency, the non-realization of the fragility of the gift (of love that they have received and are in some way able to pass on) in its passage through time. "And since all are either wounded and complacent, or rather all are relative mixtures of both, since this is an exhaustive human typology, there exist no potential moral subjects at all." Neither the living beloved nor the dead can adequately fulfill the role of the other. (115)

3. There are no criteria to prioritize either the pursuit of self-fulfilling happiness or regard of the other. So when to live and when to give? (115)

A further dimension of luck enters the picture. (The example Spaemann gives of Gauguin, who chose his painting over his family.) / The giving of ourselves to one person or purpose frequently involves sacrificing other goods or people, and often without reason. There are no "publicly stateable reasons for lavishing devotion on one person rather than another  - to the public gaze this will always appear excessively aesthetic or erotic." 

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Does being good involve a measure of good fortune?

Do we require 'moral luck' or good fortune if we are to be good? I've never really thought of this kind of connection, and I do not think that it has been reflected upon in any of the courses of ethics or moral theology that I have attended, or, for that matter, in the history of philosophy courses and readings - the idea seems to be Greek in its provenance.

John Milbank engages in a sustained reflection on this idea in the first part of his essay, "The Midwinter Sacrifice."

First of all, something that still might need to be debated or at least discussed, chewed, and appropriated: Morality for the Greeks concerned the attainment of the truly happy life. (108) Here we define one imponderable with the help of another, 'morality' by means of 'happiness.'

So what is happiness? "True happiness was regarded as secure, abiding happiness, impregnable to assault." (108-9) Happiness here is, or at least involves, self-possession and 'autarchy' or self-government, whether of the city or of the self, and increasingly of the immaterial soul, deemed to be free of need. (109)

The dominant notion here is happiness as the security of self-possessed good.

But, Milbank points out, there is an inherent and perhaps hidden tension. Since happiness "usually concerns reception of gifts from without," a total immunity would lock a person within a tower where neither sorrow nor joy would be able to enter. So Aristotle works out a compromise: the ethical life is to be found in the relative security of the city, and within the city, in the relative security of the well-born, good-looking man, owning a sufficient store of goods to allow him to exercise a virtuous generosity, and through this to sustain his relative power and independence.

So while the Greeks defined the ethical in opposition to fortune or luck, they were prepared to admit a degree of fortune or luck as a necessary precondition for the ethical. (Martha Nussbaum called this the 'fragility of goodness'.) For Aristotle, we need good fortune to begin to be good; we also need continued good fortune if we are to remain good.

At this point, Milbank mentions the radicalization of the above kind of thinking in Stoicism (in times of greater political turmoil, which means the inability to take the security of the polis for granted, and hence greater dependence on fortune): the Stoics and others sought a more absolute total security in the inner citadel of the soul. Such security, in fact, precludes both joy and sorrow; so the goal of happiness was redefined as 'passionless tranquillity.'

So how does Christianity stand w.r.t. this? Here Milbank outlines a position which is not his own, and then goes on to demolish it. First, the position. Christianity does not exalt Stoic security, nor does it regard an utterly passionless emotion-less life as desirable. Instead, 'to be good' is clearly dependent on 'fortune' in the guise of grace. Not only is such grace externally mediated in part, it also affects the inner citadel of the soul. The element of uncertainty here is excluded by the consideration that every person in every situation can respond [to grace? by grace?] in a moral fashion. But, it might be asked, does one not need the initial fortune to belong to the community of grace? This requirement also can be obviated by the consideration that "the church through typology and prolepsis is a universal reality." (109-10)

Milbank's demolition of this stance involves pointing out that it retains and even maximizes the requirement of security, yet wrenches it away from its original foundation in the pursuit of happiness, to the point of logical collapse. On a superficial level it seems to exalt pure altruism, to the point of self-surrender unto death. But this stance is really a maximization of the requirement of security, immunity to moral luck or good fortune: in order to be itself, such an ethical stance does not really require the other, or anything outside of oneself.

The problem, Milbank points out, is that if this is the Christian stance par excellence, it can be readily secularized, as Patocka seems to have argued: for the omission of any hope for resurrection will only purify the other-regarding motive. [I recall Sartre saying somewhere - in Existentialism is a Humanism? - that the true heroes and saints are the atheists, because they do good without hope for any reward.]

So Milbank's question: "Should one read Christian ethics as abandoning the antique concern with happiness, and yet sustaining its requirement for secure self-possession (even if this is now reduced to the will to the gesture of absolute non self-possession)?"

Milbank's response is to argue that Christianity retains the goal of happiness "through a novel abandonment of the goal of self-possession, even in its mode of ethical reduction," and that, along with self-possession, it abandons also self-achievement, self-control, and above all self-government. This, he says, will challenge "nearly all our inherited ideas of what is ethical." (111) 

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Lonergan in India

Lonergan people in India:

  • Valentine Ekka, SJ, PhD, Boston College. 
  • Thomas Chacko, SVD. PhD, Dharmaram, Bangalore. 
  • Thomas Naickamparambil, Through Self-Discovery to Self-Transcendence: A Study of Cognitional Self-Appropriation in B. Lonergan
  • Robert Pen, SDB. PhD, Universita Pontificia Salesiana, Rome. 
  • Maria Arul Anthuvan, SDB. PhD (ongoing), Universita Pontificia Salesiana, Rome. 
  • A number of students who have done Master's Theses, esp. at Divyadaan, Nashik.

Lonergan events in India:

  • The Fred Lawrence Confernce on Hermeneutics, Divyadaan, Nashik.
  • The Conference on Economics, with Philip McShane, Divyadaan, Nashik.

Articles and books:

  • See Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education
  • Ivo Coelho, Hermeneutics and Method
  • Robert Pen, Communication as Mutual Self-Mediation


From the 'dialogue' (not only interreligious) panel at the recent Gregorian International Lonergan Workshop in Rome: one of the questions, if I remember right, was: here we are, elites, speaking about high minded matters; but does all this affect the simple people in the bush? - And my response was: no, but yes. In a sense, no, because most people live in the world of undifferentiated consciousness (which is not to assume that we, just because we are 'scholarly', live in the world of theory). But in other ways, yes, because, first of all, even simple people do not live in a world of pure immediacy, but rather always in a world mediated by and constituted by meanings and values; and, secondly, because we just cannot assume that this world in which they live is 'innocent.' There is no first innocence anymore. Everyone, even the people in the bush, are somehow 'contaminated' - think of dominant cultures, the Selbstverstaendlichkeiten that seep down to every level, the influence of the media, and so on. There came to mind the Nicholas who I knew in Bosco Boys Home of long ago: so simply he told me, as he was going to see Ganpati: But brother, all religions are equal. 

Monday, 2 December 2013

Being ethical

A byte-sized reflection on Milbank's "The Midwinter Sacrifice": I am recalled to Azzopardi's observation, the only reason for doing good is that it is good to do good; or to reading Sartre somewhere to the effect that the true heroes are the atheists, who do good without hope of any reward. Milbank counters this kind of thinking - or at least certainly Sartre - vigorously. To quote Milbank:
"This complex of ideas, or characterization of the ethical as gift-exchange, feast, marriage, and resurrection, I am seeking to set in deliberate opposition to a recent consensus which would try to understand the ethical as primarily self-sacrifice for the other, without any necessary 'return' issuing from the other back to oneself." (122)
Not even a reflection, really, but merely an observation, that Milbank vigorously contradicts what I have taken so far as - a piece of wisdom. Undigested, fully, certainly. But then - I do recall having found texts in the gospels that echo this piece. Which I do not now recall.

Milbank, in fact, extends the ideas he is opposing to arrive explicitly at the position of Sartre. The consensus (mentioned above), he says, involved a complex of ideas:

  1. The notion that only an entirely sacrificial giving without any expectation of counter-gift distinguishes the gift from a form of self-interested contract.
  2. Death, far from being complicit with evil (as Milbank would understand it to be), is the necessary condition for the event of the ethical as such.
  3. God must be reduced to a shadowy hypostatized other lurking behind the human other, because any God who interfered to 'reward' the disinterested giver would undo the purity of this disinterest and the purity of the ethical realm.
  4. Hence the paradoxical conclusion: the true nobility and purity of religious self-sacrifice is only realized in a secular sphere. 
These positions, observes Milbank, are common to Patocka, Derrida, and probably Levinas, while the first point is espoused by Marion without seeing that they logically lead to the other three. 

Friday, 20 September 2013

A new Machiavelli book

Chris Patten. "Prince of Renaissance Realpolitik." Review of Philip Bobbitt, The Garments of Court and Palace: Machiavelli and the world that he made. Atlantic Books. The Tablet (20 July 2013) 18.

Patten is far more positive in his approach to Machiavelli than anyone else I have read - but I must say I have read very little on Machiavelli: some pieces by Fred Lawrence, and recently that other review that seemed quite neutral. See Harvey C. Mansfield, Review of Corrado Vivanti's Niccolo' Machiavelli, Princeton, The Wall Street Journal (1 July 2013) 29, and my blog entry 

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Edith Stein and Heidegger

One of our students, Minh Dang, has indicated to me some not so pleasant interactions between Edith Stein and Heidegger. See On Human Being: A Dispute between Edith Stein and Martin Heidegger
Rafał Kazimierz Wilk, at

Saturday, 7 September 2013

Scotus and Lonergan

Fred Lawrence's comments on Bill Russell's paper for the ILW4 (e-mail to me, 8 Sep 2013):
I did read William Russell's paper on the plane that night, and it became clear to me why you like him so much. The part about switching from confrontation to dialogue was extremely well taken, and the example of Edith Stein was terrific. The Scotus section was not particularly convincing, but his style is nevertheless captivating--clearly a brainy guy with that wonderfully fluent style of the well-educated British Isles person.
Scotus's page on politics is indeed prescient and and tantalizing, especially in Fr Russell's contextualized retelling. It certainly  complements Aquinas (the "unsubtle doctor") on politics as 'civilis conversatio.' Consensus populorum, however, is surely not a panacea, as Tocqueville's remarks on 'the tyranny of the majority' make clear, and as Habermas on 'manipulated public opinion' as exemplified by current U.S. politics makes manifest, and as Austria's plebiscitary majority proved as it welcomed Hitler's Anschluss with eager applause.
As far as efficient causality in Aquinas's account of the procession of the Verbum is concerned, doesn't the agent intellect's illumination of the phantasm in the process of inquiry exercise efficient causality in bringing about the actus  intelligendi in the possible or passive intellect? Then, as the act of understanding prescinds or abstracts from what is irrelevant to the definition to bring about the intelligible emanation (or procession), which is the sine qua non that differentiates the definition that is only memorized from a definition that is proposed because one has grasped something by understanding (intelligere) [or, in the case of  an sit questions, differentiates rash judgment from true or correct judgment, which latter proceeds because one has grasped the sufficiency of evidence] The key word in either case as stated is the BECAUSE. That's Aquinas's whole point, and the issue surrounds not just efficient causality as underlying the BECAUSE, but something else, which, if it is not present, does not make good sense of the analogy to explain the creed's "begotten not made."
Sorry to go on and on.  One thing's for sure: we need to have Bill Russell present at our next Jerusalem Workshop, inshallah!
My response to Fred:
I've just browsed through Bill's paper and your own comments on it.
A question to you about the politics. I grant all that you point out about the limitations of consensus populorum. But Bill's - and Scotus' - point is about the source of political authority: not ownership of land, but consensus. What, according to you, should that be, given the limitations you have pointed out in consensus? And: is there any currently existing form of government exemplifying that ideal source? 
About the cognitional question: my impression is that Bill is not questioning the active role of intellect in Aquinas. What he actually succeeds in doing is a sort of back-handed compliment to Lonergan. While questioning whether Lonergan's interpretation of Scotus is correct, he seems to, in my opinion, assimilate Scotus to Lonergan at least in some sense: he admits that intellect is active; and that understanding precedes concepts.
Whether then Scotus - or Bill - have anything further, more precise to say on the matter, is a different question. So I would ask Bill to distinguish:
  1. Lonergan's interpretation of Scotus.
  2. the 'correct' interpretation of Scotus. (What did Scotus really say?)
  3. Do I / Bill / whoever agree with what Scotus really said?
  1. What did Lonergan mean by conceptualism
  2. What do I have to say about conceptualism in that sense
  3. How do I explain the workings of the human mind, w.r.t. the quid sit and an sit questions...

Gispert-Sauch and Dupuis on Abhishiktananda

Just dipped randomly into an article by Gispert-Sauch about Abhishiktananda, and found some precious insights, which G-S takes, I think, from Dupuis: three questions, actually, for the Swamiji, and an appreciation:

1. Are not experience and expression related? Is not all experience related to nama-rupa, name and form? Is it true that names and forms are totally unable to disclose the Absolute? G-S answers: Sankara at any rate believed that they are able to do so, and notes that Sankara developed a philosophy of laksanartha. (This is nice! G-S is probably echoing / drawing upon De Smet here.) The Upanisads themselves offer a more positive relationship between experience and expression. (123-24)

2. Can the experience of Jesus be reduced to the Upanisadic Aham Brahma asmi? Is not the filial relationship inserted into Jesus' very experience of 'I am'? (124-25)

3. Has not the dialectical opposition between vyavaharika and paramarthika been overcome by the Easter experience of Jesus and the apostles? G-S calls this "an astonishing and metaphysically subversive" news. (125-26)

He ends with an appreciation of Dupuis that I find wonderful, because of the way it appreciates the Swamiji's 'living with tensions' or 'holding tensions together', something that Stephanie Saldana hinted at in her sharing at the recently concluded ILW4 at Jerusalem:
Abhishiktananda was unable to transcend these antinomies (between advaita and Christianity) theologically. It was not his calling to construct their synthesis, and he left this responsibility to other. His greatness is elsewhere: It consists in having lived within himself the symbiosis of two traditions, Hindu and Christian, in so real a way that both became part of himself, without his ever being able to reject or disown either. His stubborn fidelity to his two faiths - or better, as he wrote one day, to the 'two forms of a single "faith"' - make of him a prophetic figure in a time when the 'marriage of East and West', especially the encounter between the Christian mystery and Hindu mysticism - in full respect for their differences and without lurking ambiguity - is felt as an urgent need. His experience opens an important avenue towards a Christian theology of religious traditions that would be based on an existential encounter with these traditions in inter-religious dialogue. (J. Dupuis, Jesus Christ and the Encounter of World Religions [Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991] 90) [See G-S 126-27.]
G. Gispert-Sauch, "Christ and the Indian Mystical Tradition - Swami Abhishiktananda," Blossoms from the East: Contribution of the Indian Church to World Mission, ed. Joseph Mattam and Krickwin C. Marak, Fellowship of Indian Missiologists (FOIM) n. 6 (Mumbai: St Pauls, 1999) 123-127.

I am excited because Dupuis and G-S put very charitably something that I have heard and read De Smet saying about the Swamiji. 

Sunday, 1 September 2013

The passionateness of being and the craving for love

This morning, suddenly, at meditation, the startling realization about the connection between the passionateness of being and the craving for beauty and for love. Perhaps what Lonergan calls the passionateness of being is,  at least in some of its reaches and aspects, not different from the craving for beauty and for love. Fred Lawrence kept quoting Telly Savalas during the ILW4: "Who is it that love you baby?" We are all, all of us, searching for love.

There is, of course, the taint, the blight, the corruption, and when Robert Jordan in his Wheel of Time series talks about the taint on saidar (or is it saidin?), the male half of the Power, perhaps there is an allusion to this. Our craving for love is blighted, by possessiveness, the desire to own, to be, to eat, swallow up, engulf. Perhaps the underlying transcendental is unity, which, tainted, can become possessiveness, especially in the delicate area of interpersonal relationships. Food becomes me; another person cannot become me without qualification. But the craving is there: the desire to attain at least some, even if fleeting, moment of bliss.

I cannot help recalling Henrici's marvellous comments on Plato's ladder of beauty in The Symposium: a text that bears going back to. A seminal text.

And is not restlessness another name for the passionateness and the craving? The restlessness that Augustine spoke so well about and that he no doubt knew from personal experience. And I want to ask: "Are your hearts restless? Or are they perhaps at rest? And if they are at rest: where do they rest? In what do they rest? In whom do they rest? Perhaps you have reached God?"

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Bibliography: Ivo Coelho

Ivo Coelho. "Faith and Religion." Jnanodaya: Journal of Philosophy 20 (2013) 1-10.

Thursday, 25 July 2013

The dialectic of methods in Lonergan's Method in Theology

Chapter 10: Dialectic of Lonergan’s Method in Theology has three sections entitled simply Dialectic of Methods Part One, Part Two, Part Three. One of the questions raised in our seminar on methods of interpreting a philosophical text was: what do these sections really talk about? I am putting down here the answer, which, I must say, ‘emerged’ with something new even for me.

‘Dialectic of Methods’ harks back, for those who are familiar with the corpus, to chapter 14 of Insight, with its section 4 on The Dialectic of Method in Metaphysics (CWL 3:426). The editorial note f is helpful: it indicates that at some point, Lonergan wanted to put this title as Critique of Some Methods in Metaphysics.

So sections 7-9 of Method in Theology are really critiques of some methods. And, like section 4 of chapter 14 of Insight, here too these critiques follow on an exposition of Lonergan’s own method – dialectical method, as it turns out to be, in both cases.

So that clarifies the general title of the three sections: Dialectic of Method. But why the three parts? What we discovered is that they do not correspond to critiques of three different methods. There are only two methods that are criticized: linguistic analysis (in sections 7 and 8) and idealism (section 9). This is borne out by MT 254: “Acccordingly, I shall comment briefly, first, on certain contentions of linguistic analysis and, secondly, on certain conclusions that follow from idealist premises.”

Section 8 clarifies that talk about mental acts – which Lonergan has ‘defended’ in section 7 – is fuller, more accurate and more explanatory in the more differentiated horizons. “We have been talking about mental acts and now we must note that such talk can occur in genetically distinct horizons. In any of these the talk may be correct or incorrect but, the more differentiated the horizon, the fuller, the more accurate, and the more explanatory will be the talk.” (MT 257)

Obviously the most differentiated horizon in question is the world of interiority. “From within the world of interiority, then, mental acts as experienced and as systematically conceived are a logical first….” (MT 261)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

De Smet's interpretation of Sankara

E-mail dt 16.7.2013 from John Vattanky to Ivo Coelho:

Dear Fr. Ivo,
As you know I am also  an admirer of De Smet. However a question often comes to my mind: Is there any support for De Smet's interpretaion of Sankara in classical commentators of Vedanta literature in Sanskrit? I mean especially De Smet's understanding of tadatmya sambandha as ontological dependence which involves the concept of creation. Some of De Smet's supporters claim that this is minority view? But even as minority group can they claim any support in the Vedantic tradtion of Sanskrit commentators? If so can you give me some refrences? Does De Smet himself give some reference from the Classical tradition of Vedanta? Since you are well acquainted with all the works of De Smet, if you can give me some enlightenment on this point I shall   be much obliged.
Thanking you and wishing you all the best,
John Vattanky,S.J.

Reply dated 16.7.2013:

Dear Fr Vattanky,
Thank you for your mail and your query.
I am no Indologist, even though I have tried to edit Fr De Smet's work, so I will not be able to give you any hard answers.

In De Smet's work, I do not remember having come across any evidence of support for his interpretation among the classical or even contemporary Vedantic commentators.

Perhaps you could have a look at my Introduction to the recent UNDERSTANDING SANKARA: ESSAYS BY RICHARD DE SMET, 10 copies of which have recently been sent to Fr Keith Abranches. From there you could go to the texts themselves.

What I remember De Smet saying to me is that his scholarly audience, who at first tended to reject his interpretation, slowly seem to have begun accepting it, or at least parts of it. It would be a great piece of research to study the reception of De Smet's work among indologists.

My own feeling is that there is much to be said in favour of De Smet's interpretation on several counts:

1. Sankara knew the Buddhist Vijnanavada, and rejected it.
2. Far from inventing the technique of laksanaa, he found it in his tradition, and made use of it.
3. When he says that the world is not unreal like the son of a barren woman, but rather like a dream, he gives us a strong indication that he is talking analogously or at least comparatively: the world cannot be understood to be Real in the same sense as Brahman; but it is not unreal, it is not nothing, like the son of a barren woman.
4. The relationship between Brahman and the world is sui generis, unique, and so it always remains a node of great difficulty for any thinking, and one of the primary conundrums for thought. All other instances of causality are bound to be inadequate, and consequently every attempt to talk and think about the relationship is bound to face difficulty. I believe that Sankara suffered the same fate at the hands of his commentators as Thomas did at the hands of his. Lonergan talks about a 'lag' between thought and expression, and I believe we find this lag or gap in Sankara.
5. We have to also take into account also the whole history of translation: the decision to translate maya as illusion, for example, and the various influences at play. At the turn of the last century, with the dominance of Idealism in Britain, it should not be surprising to find Indian scholars and thinkers tending to adequate Sankara with that strand of thought.

But, as I have said, I am not an Indologist. I can only hope that the recent publications of De Smet's work will open his work to greater scrutiny and debate.

Thank you dear Father.


Friday, 5 July 2013

Moral conversion and moral perfection

I am reading ch. 10: Dialectic of Lonergan's Method in Theology, in preparation for the seminar session, and just realized the clarity with which Lonergan distinguishes between moral conversion and moral perfection. To be morally converted is to opt for the truly good, and even for value over satisfaction when the two are in conflict. But to be morally converted is not yet to be morally perfect, for moral perfection adds doing to deciding. 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Lonergan on Henri de Lubac

Lonergan has quite a pungent but extremely clear remark about Henri de Lubac in CWL 18:350. He acknowledges his confrere's erudition and his holiness, but says that he is not a competent speculative thinker.

This might have all sorts of ramifications, since de Lubac was von Balthasar's teacher.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Is every synthesis a higher viewpoint?

Maria Arul Anthuvan wrote: With regard to "higher viewpoint", I had mistaken it with the "higher synthesis" of Lonergan's description of cosmopolis in IN: "higher synthesis of the liberal thesis and the Marxist antithesis." [Insight CWL 3:266.]

My reply:

higher viewpoint: a very technical term in L. yes, i am myself not sure whether the higher synthesis of the two would be a higher viewpoint.
this much i am sure: not every advance in knowledge, not every new insight or set of insights, qualifies as a higher viewpoint.
when first defined, the HV is: a new set of rules that integrates the old rules and yet goes beyond. Thus the simple rules for addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and squares get into trouble when negative numbers, fractions, and surds appear. how to add +1 and -1, for example? and how to multiply them? and divide them? and what would be the square root of -1? we need to expand the old rules, and the new rules, when they are found, will have to do the work of the old, plus face the new situations. the new rules constitute the higher viewpoint.

in the biological area the case is somewhat more difficult to understand. See ch. 4, probably on the matter. when there is a set of events that is merely coincidental on a particular level, say the biological level of cells, there can arise, within this merely coincidental set of events, new schemes of recurrence. When they do, we have evidence for a higher genus, which is equivalent to the higher viewpoint. This new genus does not abolish the lower genus. the cells will continue to function; but now there is a higher unity, perhaps a multi-cellular organism. the fact that we say organism indicates a higher unity (though you must be careful to understand that any organism is not just one scheme of recurrence, not even just many schemes of recurrence, but a 'crossroads' of a number of schemes of recurrence, and that too at many levels).

in the human area, the most interesting is the intellectual. here the 'stuff' of progress is ideas, if you wish. and the higher viewpoints are in the realm of ideas. thus algebra, which is a higher viewpoint to arithmetic. and Einstein's theory, which is definitely a higher viewpoint to that of Newton. but still I cannot say for certain about the case you mentioned. will have to be read carefully.

Thursday, 25 April 2013

"Despoiling the Egyptians"

The first great inculturation of Christianity was into the Graeco-Roman world.
The basic transculturality of Christianity. A translation of the Koran, for example, is not the Koran. The Koran is the Koran only in the original language.
The call to a second great inculturation (by John Paul II in Fides et Ratio) - which is not to say that this begins with this call!
The caveats: the second inculturation will not and should not take place by abandoning the first great inculturation. The permanently valid achievements of the latter should be transposed into the new inculturation.
The great question is, how?
We find a model in Aquinas: wisdom and discernment, not without controversy (the Franciscan bishop wanted to condemn him posthumously).
Lonergan: objectivity as fruit of authentic subjectivity, where authentic subjectivity involves intellectual, moral and religious conversion.
The core problem here: judgment and truth. Is everything fine? will all things be okay? Can just any interpretation do? Or is there a limit, a boundary?
Gadamer has a spontaneous criterion of truth.
Perhaps also others like Ricoeur.
Lonergan offers an explicit, methodical criterion of truth, which, in Method in Theology, is found in the functional specialty dialectic.
In our Indian context: we cannot reject in principle the Brahminic contribution. See Newman's advice to Despoil the Egyptians. It is time to retrieve the great contributions of the past. (De Smet says somewhere that it is time. Search for the bibliography of Indian Christian Theology in an early issue of Indian Theological Studies, I think.)
Study the Calcutta School of Indology. It is the before of De Smet. Study also the after of De Smet.
See also my blog ICW.

Thursday, 28 March 2013

The symbolic and the sensible in religion

Here is what Lonergan has to say about the symbolic and sensible component of the divine solution to the problem of evil:
The divine solution to the problem of evil "will be not only a renovation of will that matches intellectual detachment and aspiration  not only a new and higher collaboration of intellects through faith in God, but also a mystery that is at once symbol of the uncomprehended and sign of what is grasped and psychic force that sweeps living human bodies, linked in charity, to the joyful, courageous, wholehearted, yet intelligently controlled performance of the tasks set by a world order in which the problem of evil is not suppressed but transcended.
     "Further, since mystery is a permanent need of man's sensitivity and intersubjectivity, while myth is an aberration not only of mystery but also of intellect and will, the mystery that is the solution as sensible must be not fiction but fact, not a story but history. It follows, then, that the emergent trend and the full realization of the solution must include the sensible data that are demanded by man's sensitive nature and that will command his attention, nourish his imagination, stimulate his intelligence and will, release his affectivity control his aggressivity, and, as central features of the world of sense, intimate its finality, its yearning for God." (B. Lonergan, Insight CWL 3:744-745) 

Rossi de Gasperis speaks, with Ignatius, I suppose, of the 'spiritual sense.'
The body of Jesus here. Interacting with the environment.
Our bodies are a flux. We are not contained in our skins. We are the ‘crossroads’ (De Smet) of a thousand schemes of recurrence.
This land, this history – they were part of the body of Jesus. That is why Rossi de Gasperis can talk of pilgrims kissing the stones. And PierVito’s testimony during the IME retreat at The Beatitudes, Galilee: "I laid my shame aside and embraced the stones."

And see also "Joseph and the splendor gloriae" at

Rossi de Gasperis can help fill out Lonergan on the symbolic and sensible component in the divine solution to the problem of evil. See Sentieri di vita 2.2:568ff on the sacramental dimension of the faith and of the Catholic liturgy. See 2.2:123: people kissing the land, anointing the stones, touching the places in the sanctuaries of Israel and of Palestine... 2.2:120-123: Il 'qinto esercizio' di Ignazio. L'applicazione dei sensi. Application of the senses.

Von Balthasar, symbol and theory

I am guessing that von Balthasar made an option to return from a systematic to a more symbolic theology - much in the way perhaps that Heidegger wanted to return to the pre-Socratics. In this case, what of Lonergan? Lonergan surely is not one who would ever want to set aside systematic theology. Does that mean that von Balthasar's project is entirely foreign to him? I would think not, because for that matter Lonergan would not want to set aside the symbolic either. There is place for both. Theory is necessary but does not warm hearts. Symbolic language is not everything, but it is what warms hearts. And perhaps von Balthasar's project is part of the sensible symbolic aspect that is so much part of the incarnation.

And perhaps here Rossi de Gasperis' insistence on the sensible might tie up.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013


Even an initial reading of the material I have collected on Experience confirms what De Smet said to me long ago: experience is a recent term; it became popular with the Protestants, and was accepted into Catholic thinking properly only in Vatican II.

The pieces I am reading, even the ones from theological dictionaries, tend to be varied in their reading. Many mention Mouroux, but not Balthasar or Ratzinger; only one mentions Lonergan. But then the one that mentions Mouroux but not Balthasar is from the New Catholic Encyclopedia of 1967, carried over seemingly unchanged into the second edition of 2003.

One of the secular dictionaries brings in Wittgenstein, who I had been forgetting or ignoring in this context. Heidegger and Gadamer tend to be mentioned. I have not yet come across Gadamer's dictum about experience being still a largely unexplored and undefined term.

My impression is that many presume experientia-perceptio rather than the experientia-conscientia that Lonergan has exposed so well.

The pain of reading Lonergan

Abbot Gregory Collins was saying that he had read Insight as a young man of 20, but that he would like, if he had another life, to go back to it again. Insight and Lonergan’s corpus is something formidable. You cannot really read The Way to Nicea without constantly bumping into the need to go back to what Lonergan has been saying earlier in his work. And that is true. That is what it means to be a systematic thinker. Not very popular nowadays, however. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Antecedents again

Pierre Rousselot influenced Henri de Lubac.
The Neo-Scholastic attempt was to explain doctrinal development in logical terms: the process of development was the logical process of making explicit what was merely implicit in revelation. Revelation here was clearly still understood as a set of propositional truths.
A major development came when Pierre Rousselot (1878-1915) suggested that revelation be conceived not as a sum total of distinct truths, propositions, judgments, but as a kind of knowledge that is indefinitely cashable (monnayable) in distinct ideas and propositions which explicitate it without being able to exhaust it, and without claiming to supplement it. Revelation, he proposed, was the living and loving knowledge that the apostles had of Jesus. The mode in which the many dogmas are precontained in the single changeless knowledge which is the apostolic deposit is not logical, but Christological. [Aidan Nichols, From Newman to Congar: The Idea of Doctrinal Development from the Victorians to the Second Vatican Council (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1990) 202.] De Lubac’s contribution to the question of doctrinal development is largely a restatement of that of Rousselot, whose papers he studied and published. [See I. Coelho, "The Tradition-Innovation Dynamic in Christian Doctrines," Tradition and Innovation: Philosophy of Rootedness and Openness, ed. Saju Chacklackal (Bangalore: Asian Trading Corporation, 2011) 225-265, at ??.] 
De Lubac’s materials: the Fathers, the great Medievals, the Christian Platonist Maine de Biran, and Blondel. [Nichols 204.]
De Lubac rejected any view of ressourcement that scorned later development as decadent. [Nichols 205.]
When removed from teaching, de Lubac turned to the topic of doctrinal development. His chief contribution was a bulletin in which he expressed his views by criticising those of others, notably Neo-Thomists from Gardeil to Boyer. He distinguished his own views chiefly from the Logicism of Boyer. His positive remarks amount to a re-statement of Rousselot, who, being unpublished, was unknown. This bulletin would bear fruit in Rahner’s more massive exploration of the theme, and in the making of Dei Verbum. [Nichols 206. See H. de Lubac, “Bulletin de théologie fondamentale: le problème du développement du dogme,” Recherches de Science Religieuse 35 (1948) 130-160.]
Henri de Lubac was von Balthasar's teacher.

Von Balthasar was involved in the translation of Pierre Rousselot's Les yeux de la foi (1910) (dt.: Die Augen des Glaubens. Mit einer Einführung von Josef Trütsch. Aus dem Französischen übersetzt von Albert Mantel und Hans Urs von Balthasar. Einsiedeln: Johannes 1963)
Im deutschen Sprachraum wurden vor allem Hans Urs von Balthasar und Karl Rahner von Rousselot beeinflusst. ["Pierre Rousselot," Wikipedia, at, as of 20 March 2013]
The Italian translation of Les yeux de la foi borrows subtitles from von Balthasar's translation; that translation has also served as a constant guide in the work of the Italian translation, as the editors / translators admit (see Gli occhi della fede, tr. Claudio del Ponte, presentazione di Ursicin G.G. Derungs [Milano: Jaca Book, 1977] 7).

Von Balthasar himself has a book on de Lubac: Henri de Lubac: Sein organisches Lebenswerk (Einsiedeln: Johannes Verlag, 1976); It. tr. Il padre Henri de Lubac: La tradizione fonte di rinnovamento, tr. Aldo Terrin (Milano: Jaca Book, 1978). In the very first sentence of the Preface he calls de Lubac "mio maestro ed amico." (11)
La voce 'dinamismo' ci da' l'occasione di dire qualcosa su coloro che sono stati gli animatori del pensiero di de Lubac; due nomi vengono immediatamente alla memoria: Blondel e Marechal. ... a loro si deve aggiungere il nome di Rousselot (che insegnava san Tommaso in modo nuovo). Ma a nessuno dei due si lego' de Lubac, nella misura in cui essi erano dei sistematici; da loro egli assunse solamente l'elan fondamentale.... (von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac 15)
See also Antonio Russo, Henri de Lubac: teologia e dogma nella storia. L'influsso di Blondel.

"Maurice Blondel, the Christian Philosopher that Cardinal Ruini Recommends. In the words of the one who knows him best, all the reasons that update the teaching of this unjustly forgotten philosopher. Interview with Peter Henrici."

So: Blondel - Marechal - Rousselot - de Lubac - von Balthasar, with the qualifications about the first two, and a stronger link between the last three.

Sunday, 17 March 2013

Experiential conjugates

We've been discussing the Insight chapter on distinctions and relations these days with Sandy Habib and Frederic Masson. I was wondering: how do experiential conjugates analyse in terms of relations? can we talk here of a relation and a converse relation? From subject to object, and from object to subject? Seeing red, and red as seen. See Understanding and Being on this topic. 


Talking with Gianni Caputa yesterday, on the way back from Nazareth, I learnt that von Balthasar was a disciple of Henri de Lubac. I know that de Lubac was himself influenced very deeply by Pierre Rousselot, whose unpublished work he edited for publication. See my paper, Tradition and Innovation in Christianity. 

I was wondering about the connection between de Lubac and Blondel. A cursory search of the net throws up a book that i actually have, though in Nashik: Antonio Russo, Henri de Lubac: teologia e dogma nella storia. L'influsso di Blondel.

On the other hand, it might be interesting to explore De Smet's roots in Pierre Scheuer and Joseph Marechal. 

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Persons and love

"A Gesu' interessano le persone." (Rossi de Gasperis, Sentieri di vita 2.2:114) Persons: in the final analysis, those who are able to love. That love is of course made possible by the intellectual nature, which means their ability to know and to freely decide and act. Love presuppose freedom: without freedom there is no love. And somehow, freedom is linked also to knowledge. Not in a necessarily linear way, but yes, linked. (Nihil amatum nisi cognitum, and the exception, minor and major, to this principle.) 

Monday, 4 March 2013

Authenticity, major and minor, and missio ad gentes

Thinking about Lonergan's distinction between major and minor authenticity, I was wondering: could we identify 'good conscience' with minor authenticity?

The distinction might also well be applied to missio ad gentes. We need not question the minor authenticity of people: they might well be good Hindus, good Buddhists, good Muslims. But proclamation of the Good News of Jesus raises the question of major authenticity.

Or perhaps: it may also raise the question of major authenticity - especially if the tradition in qustion has no place for such a revelation. E.g. the rationalism that seems to be to be inherent in Judaism and Islam - by which I mean that both these religions seem to me to remain within the bounds of what Catholics call 'natural theology', and there is the inbuilt temptation to say: nothing beyond, which where the rationalism thing comes in. Perhaps also Hinduism and Buddhism - though with these, especially with Advaita and Buddhism, the question of whether the finite can bear the weight of the infinite also comes in (here Ratzinger might be helpful). 

Aesthetic, moral and religious

I think we are called to move from "I like / I don't like" to "it is good to...", and then finally to "embracing it as God's will for me."

Or: from the aesthetic to the moral to the religious (Kierkegaard).

Moral conversion is from satisfactions to values (Lonergan). I would think it is from the aesthetic to the properly moral. The aesthetic is a broader and more significant category. It is more than merely 'satisfactions.' It is refined taste, for example.

And religious conversion is not necessarily theistic. Provided there is universal loving, a loving 'without limits', I think we are dealing with the properly religious (Lonergan). But it is possible to go further (not without an at least implicit intellectual conversion) and recognize not merely love but Love / God / the God of Jesus.

Specific to the Christian faith is not the gift of God's love, but the mediation of that gift in Jesus. (Lonergan)

Saturday, 23 February 2013

The universal vocation to holiness

In the context of our discussion (in the course on Salesian Spirituality at Ratisbonne) about the possibility or the universal vocation to holiness:

Despoiling the Egyptians (Ex 10)
Universal belief, rather than universal doubt (Newman)
John Paul II, Fides et Ratio
The opposite: a blind and blanket rejection of all other religions is not Catholic, but perhaps Protestant, Barthian certainly.

Philosophers of gift

Massimiliano De Luca, a Salesian who works in Caserta, spoke to me of several 'philosophers of gift'. I had known about Marcel Mauss, from one of the essays in the Blackwell Companion to Postmodern Theology, and perhaps also Derrida, but had not heard about Ferdinand Ebner. Massimo also included Ricoeur. Something to look into.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Hedwig Conrad-Martius

Placed an order for Hedwig Conrad-Martius, Das Sein, shipped by Abe Books all the way from Japan… should be here in 30-60 days. The book is one of  Ratzinger’s sources for his reflections on person and relation. The author is a woman, a phenomenologist and Christian mystic. Though Protestant, she received a dispensation to become the godmother of Edith Stein. Stein’s interest in Catholicism came from a visit to the home of Conrad-Martius.

C-M was one of the first women in German to pursue a university education. She came under the influence of Husserl, but later felt that Husserl's transcendental idealist tendency was not adequate. She herself worked out what is called an "ontological phenomenology."

Interesting that her Das Sein is one of the three sources quoted by Ratzinger when he indicates directions for the further development of his insights about the basically relational nature of all personal being. The other two sources are B. Welte, “Homoousios hemin,” in Das Konzil von Chalkedon III, ed. A. Grillmeier and H. Bacht (Würzburg, 1954), 51-80 and H.U. von Balthasar, Cosmic Liturgy: The Universe according to Maximus the Confessor, tr. Brian E. Daley (San Francisco: Ignatius and Communio Books, 2003), 235-55. See

Perhaps I should work towards a second article on Person and Relation, concentrating this time on Ratzinger's sources. A sort of retrieval of Ratzinger along the lines of what I tried to do for De Smet: what is his understanding of knowing? being? objectivity / truth? Should be extremely interesting. Ratzinger has, of course, a Bonaventure-Franciscan background, fundamentally, in contrast to several of the other leading theologians of the Council who had a Thomist background. 

Monday, 7 January 2013

Paradigm Shift 2013 in corporate social responsibility

An email I received today from a certain Mayanja Dani:
We are organizing an international conference on the paradigm shift 2013 in corporate social responsibility. I have looked at your cv and feel that you could be resourceful at dispensation of the following themes:
1. From Religion to Spiritual Wholesomeness; Doing Good and Healing the World. The paper should be all round covering problems of    Environment, Poverty, Corruption etc. and proposing the way forward for the world.
2. Corporate Social Responsibility paradigm shift for "The New Economic Order".
The Conference shall be held in Uganda in February-March, 2013 at an International facility called Mweya Safari Lodge within the Queen Elizabeth National Park. We would be happy if we could network together for Corporate and Academia participation in the Conference both from India and other parts of the World. Could this be a chance for us to cause a paradigm shift to save human kind?  Waiting for your urgent reply.
What to make of this? I don't know.

But the topic is certainly interesting from a Lonergan point of view.

What comes to mind is:

1. The economics.
2. The basic belief in the Healing that has been given. [The invitation mentions, in fact, Doing Good and Healing the World. The slightly negative element is "From Religion to Spiritual Wholeness."] The economics would form part of the Creating component in the Healing and Creating. [The New Economic Order will be based on an attempt to truly understand the basic processes, before attempting to give solutions. A slogan can be: let us hear all parties. Let us not ignore possible Wisdom.]
3. Some matter from The Apostolate of the Jesuit in the Modern World, which I used for the article on the priesthood.

The whole point will be to do what we can while not lamenting the world. The not lamenting comes from the fact that we believe, or else we make, a basic option that Healing has been given.

Part of Healing will be faith, hope, charity. Charity involves forgiveness - the element that was missing in Shimon Peres' speech on 31 Dec 2012. Forgiveness as global strategy. We have great examples before us: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr, Mandela, King Hussein of Jordan. Make use of the work also of Yoder.

One of the tasks will be to work out a strategy that will take into account personal and group biases (which include national interests as well as those of multinational corporations), while trying to handle and circumvent the general bias of common sense.

From my paper, "Priesthood and Identity in the Secular World":

Bernard Lonergan has an article containing a very interesting proposal for the ministry of the Jesuit priest in the modern world.[1] A principal duty of priests, Lonergan says, is to lead and teach the people of God. But all leadership and teaching takes place in the context of one’s times, and the times – Lonergan is writing some 40 years ago – are marked by modernity, secularism and self-destructiveness. The modern Jesuit, Lonergan goes on, has to (1) overcome vestiges of his classicist upbringing; (2) discerningly accept the gains of modernity; and (3) work out strategies for dealing with secularist views on religion and with concomitant distortions in our notion of human knowledge, our apprehension of human reality, and our organization of human affairs. Just how such strategies are to be worked out is an enormous question, but Lonergan offers the following hints: such a strategy will be a creative project emerging from an understanding of a situation and a grasp of what can be done about it; it will not be a static project set forth once and for all, but an ongoing one, constantly revised in the light of feedback from its implementation; it will be not a single ongoing project but a set of ongoing processes, “constantly reported to some central clearinghouse.” This central clearinghouse will have the twofold function of drawing attention to conflicts between separate parts; and keeping all parts informed both of what has been achieved elsewhere and of what has been tried and found wanting.[2]
Lonergan's thoughts here will have to be completed / corrected / qualified with what he says in Method in Theology, esp. in the last chapter. 

[1] B. Lonergan, "The Response of the Jesuit as Priest and Apostle in the Modern World," A Second Collection, ed. William F.J. Ryan and Bernard J. Tyrrell (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1974) 165-214.
[2] Lonergan 183-187.

Sunday, 6 January 2013

A philosophical Christology?

Marchesi, Giovanni. "Il Cristo dei filosofi: E' possibile una cristologia filosofica?" La Civilta' Cattolica (1991) II, quaderno 3384, 571-583. [I have copied only the first page. The volume is in the Ratisbonne Library.]

The critical problem

Encyclopedias and dictionaries of philosophy do not usually contain any item under the heading 'critical problem.' Here, below, however, is a review of a book on the Critical Problem as handled by various professors in the Roman ecclesiastical universities in the 1980s.
Shardella, A. Review of The Critical Problem of Knowledge, ed. Giovanni Blandino and Aniceto Molinaro. Rome: Herder / Pontifical Lateran University, 1989. La Civiltà Cattolica Anno 142, III, quaderni 3385-3390 (1991) 325-326.