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Thursday, January 30, 2014

Avery Cardinal Dulles' "Covenant with Israel", St. Gregory the Great, and JPII

I have known the late Avery Cardinal Dulles to be a champion of the Second Vatican Council. He is at once eloquent, obedient to the Papal Magisterium, and personable. Each of these attributes presents itself clearly in his sober assessment of the Church’s view of the Old Covenant, which in reality, is a series of many covenants with Mosaic law at the forefront. In his “Covenant with Israel”, Dulles is quick to point this distinction out, raising the question of the supersession of the Old Covenant by the New, and the fact that the two do not necessarily run parallel. Lastly, that God’s fidelity to the people of the Old Covenant remains in force despite their disbelief in His Messiah.

Drawing from a number of papal and conciliar documents, including those of John Paul II, Cardinal Dulles simplifies what has become in Pope Benedict XVI’s opinion, “’an enormous variety of theories’ about the extent to which Judaism remains a valid way of life since the coming of Christ”[1]. Furthermore, Dulles humbly admits to the mystery of God’s saving plan in history without surrendering the certainty of Christ as the only Mediator. For this reason, I will propose Dulles’ conclusions to the “variety of theories” mentioned by Benedict as authoritative. At the same time, I will try to point out those “theories” which are invalid interpretations of Catholic thought about Judaism.

As I said, Dulles is quick to point out the multiplicity of covenants in the Torah, “In Romans, Paul speaks of the Jews having been given ‘covenants’ in the plural.”[2]. It is necessary to understand the differences in meaning behind the word ‘covenant’ in the Biblical language, because they help to determine whether or not they are still efficacious. By and large, it is permissible to view the Old Covenant—exemplified by the Mosaic Covenant on Sinai—as only a means to the end of the New Covenant. But, this principle is not meant to strictly supersede those covenants which are unconditionally instituted by God. Dulles provides the following word definitions to aid the distinction:

The term ‘covenant’ is the usual translation of the Hebrew b’rith and the Greek diatheke . Scholars commonly distinguish between two types of covenant, the covenant grant and the covenant treaty. The covenant grant, modeled on the free royal decree, is an unconditional divine gift and is usually understood to be irrevocable. An example would be the covenant of God with Noah and his descendants in Genesis 9:8-17. God makes an everlasting promise not to destroy all living creatures by another flood such as the one that has just subsided. The covenant to make Abraham the Father of many nations in Genesis 15:5-6 and 17:4-8 and the promise to David to give an everlasting kingship to his son in 2 Samuel 7:8-16 are gratuitous and unilateral. They are also unconditional and irrevocable, though only in their deepest meaning.[3]

I interpret the covenants’ “deepest meaning” to be Christological and personally relational. That is to say, the unconditional covenant is entirely dependent upon the personal fidelity of God despite instances of infidelity on behalf of His people. We do have to take into account the influence of sin in man’s response to God’s invitations to covenant relationship, which, of course, does not apply to the Person of Christ. Therefore, a conditional covenant instituted by God in the old dispensation is proven time and again to be met with failure on the part of the people of Israel. Dulles presents the Mosaic covenant as the prime example of this phenomenon:

The Israelites almost immediately broke the covenant by worshiping the golden calf, but after the people’s repentance, God in his mercy reestablished the covenant. Jeremiah teaches that Israel has broken the Sinai covenant, but that God will give them a ‘new covenant,’ placing his law upon their hearts and making them his people (Jeremiah 31:31-34).[4]

We know, from a Catholic Christian perspective, that this “new covenant” is made possible by the blood of Jesus the Messiah: Son of man and Son of God. Where Adam’s descendants failed to obey the God of the Covenant on account of sin, Jesus restored lasting relationship. It is appropriate to say, then, that all unconditional and some conditional covenants in the old dispensation reach their fulfillment, or are respectively abolished, in the New Covenant[5]. Cardinal Dulles takes great pains to categorize each covenant and explain whether it is fulfilled in the New, or abolished altogether. I will simply refer to his brilliant conclusion to the original question raised by Pope Benedict on “various theories”:

It could be asked whether there are any promises to Israel that are not fulfilled in Christ and are waiting to be fulfilled in some other way. Is Judaism still needed to point to these further possibilities? Paul replies: “All the promises of God find their Yes in Him” (2 Corinthians 1:20). There is nothing incomplete in Christ’s fulfillment of what is promised and foreshadowed in the Old Testament. It is true, of course, that human beings still have to enter fully into that fulfillment […]Judaism, in this view, does not point to possibilities Christ failed to fulfill. But the witness of Jews to their tradition helps Christians understand the foundations of their own faith. By providing a living testimony to the hope of Israel and to the ancient promises, faithful Jews can inspire and strengthen Christians, who share the same hope and promises, though in a new modality.[6]

Those who are quick to accuse Catholics of sympathizing with the Jews, potentially misreading the intent of Dulles above, will attempt to note a change in the way the Church approaches Judaism since Vatican II. Dulles takes great pains to explain how the council’s declaration on other religions, Nostra Aetate, is, “not exhaustive or sufficient”. Furthermore, in terms of priority it is to be counted last among the more important constitutions of the council. But the real question at stake with the Church’s relationship toward Judaism is heresy. Only one heresy is mentioned by Dulles in a quote from John Paul II[7], but I want to make clear that in the debate about the efficacy of the Old Covenant, there are really two heresies at work.

1) Marcionism: Dulles quotes JPII’s warning against Marcionism, which is the error of disregarding the Old Testament as inapplicable to Catholic Christianity

2) Judaizers: those who deny the council of Jerusalem’s conclusion that Gentiles need not be circumcised or practice Mosaic law to be Christians

These are ancient errors that did not arise on account of the Second Vatican Council. Indeed, the proper interpretation of relationship between Christians and Jews has plagued the Church from her earliest days and grew particularly chaotic in the Medieval age, as well as in regard to the more recent Shoah. To further illustrate that Cardinal Dulles’ solutions are nothing new to the Church, I want to give an example from the life of St. Gregory the Great. His acceptance of the Jewish people is by no means heretical, but is exemplary for the modern disputes over covenant:

Gregory to Bacauda and Agnellus, Bishops;
The Hebrews dwelling in Terracina have petitioned us for license to hold, under our authority, the site of their synagogue which they have held hitherto. Therefore let your Fraternity, with our above-named brother and fellow bishop, diligently inspect this place, and if you find that there has been any annoyance to the church, provide another place within the fortress, where the aforesaid Hebrews may assemble, so that they may be able to celebrate their ceremonies without impediment. But let your Fraternity provide such a place, in case of their being deprived of this one, that there be no cause of complaint in future. But we forbid the aforesaid Hebrews to be oppressed or vexed unreasonably; but, as they are permitted, in accordance with justice, to live under the protection of the Roman laws, let them keep their observances as they have learnt them, no one hindering them: yet let it not be allowed them to have Christian slaves.[8]

Like a good land-lord, St. Gregory proves himself a wise manager of real estate. Far from prohibiting the Jews from worship or practice of Mosaic customs, he allows them to assemble nearby the Church. Lastly, he warns against any injustices that might result from their proximity to Christians, pointing out oppressive tendencies in both camps.

Without any inner monologue from St. Gregory, I can only estimate as to why he allowed the Jews to live so close to the Christian Church. My educated guess would be his understanding of the value of their relationship with the God of Israel. In that case, he and Dulles agree that while the Old Covenant is simply a means to an end of the New Covenant, it does remind those members of the New Covenant of that means. Christ, of course, is the capstone of the entire edifice and its founder.

Hypothetically, if St. Gregory were to make heretical decisions in the aforesaid situation, they would play out as follows:

1) Disregard of Jewish heritage altogether and perform forced baptisms on those who remain near the Church

2) Allow the Jews to celebrate their liturgy in the Church, while being careful to remove all images that cause offense to them

These responses would correspond respectively to the heresies most closely associated with Judaism. Between the example of the life of St. Gregory and the teaching of Cardinal Dulles, it is fair to say that no changes have occurred in the Church’s authentic approach to Judaism.

If anything, more dialogue has been emphasized by John Paul II and other popes with Jewish people and leaders. Given an honest assessment, such dialogue in favor of mutual learning and appreciation of our covenant-keeping God can only enrich our love of the true Messiah, and hope for his return in glory.


[1] Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Peter Sewald. God and the World. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2002.

[2] Avery Cardinal Dulles. “The Covenant with Israel”. http://www.firstthings.com/article/2008/08/the-covenant-with-israel

[3] Ibid. *Further clarification from Dulles: “The term b’rith is usually translated “covenant,” but this translation tends to emphasize the bilateral and conditional character of the engagement”.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.


[8] St. Gregory the Great. Epistle X: To Bacauda and Agnellus, Bishops. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf212.pdf

Update as of 03/19 from Fr. Brian Harrison, https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=9168:
This essay is based on the premise expressed by the Catholic adage lex orandi, lex credendi (the Church’s official prayer expresses her authentic belief). Its purpose is to make clear that while Pope Benedict’s new prayer certainly implies the supersessionist position, much of the subsequent media commentary, both favorable and unfavorable, is quite mistaken in seeing this prayer as a liturgical reversion to that position. For one cannot ‘revert’ or ‘return’ to a position that was never at any stage abandoned. And I hope to show here that the Church’s liturgy since Vatican II has never ceased to affirm supersessionist doctrine.

(and again cont'd)
It was actually by means of the covenant with “Abraham and his descendants” that God “revealed his law to them through Moses”. Then, prophets also living under that subsidiary Mosaic covenant prepared the way for the final stage in God’s salvific plan, in which the one great covenant would be extended to embrace “all humanity” through the new and definitive covenant sealed in the blood of Christ. At no stage in this process has the ancient covenant with Abraham been revoked or superseded, because God’s people in all three stages beginning with the patriarch himself – first, from Abraham to Moses, secondly, then Moses to Christ, and finally, from Christ till the end of time – have been living under its terms.

While these terms have changed in their secondary features (baptism has replaced circumcision, for instance, and the first day of the week has replaced the seventh) the fundamental principles have remained the same throughout. And what are these fundamentals? On God’s part, a promise of blessing to the whole world through Abraham’s descendants – above all, the Messiah; and on the part of God’s people, faith – faith in his revealing word. As Paul repeatedly stresses in Romans 4 (vv. 3, 9, and 22) and in Galatians (3: 6), Abraham “put his faith in the Lord, who credited it to him as an act of righteousness” (Genesis 15: 6). And just as faith in God’s Word required acceptance of the revealed Torah and the word of the prophets in the period from Moses to Christ, so, since the coming of Christ, that same gift of faith involves accepting also the fullness of revelation that designates him as the Savior of all mankind. Hence, all those with faith in Christ are now, whatever their ethnic origin, “children of Abraham” (Gal. 3: 7)...Pope John Paul himself made clear which covenant he held to be unrevoked in addressing Australian Jewish leaders in Sydney on November 26, 1986. He emphasized that:

. . . our attitude to the Jewish religion should be one of the greatest respect, since the Catholic faith is rooted in the eternal truths contained in the Hebrew Scriptures, and in the irrevocable covenant made with Abraham.

Never, in fact, has any papal or conciliar document affirmed that the covenant God made with Israel through Moses, with all its distinctive cultic, civil, dietary and other prescriptions that still form the basis of Judaism, still remains valid and “unrevoked” for Jews after the coming of Christ

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

JPII Educated by Thomist; Not Himself a Thomist

I find it fitting on this feast of St. Thomas Aquinas to recall the extensive education of Fr. Karol Wojtyla. In 1946, Adam Stephan Cardinal Sapieha (the ‘light of Poland’) sent the newly ordained Wojtyla to the Angelicum in Rome, to study under Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange. There he wrote his dissertation in 1948: Doctrina de fide apud S. Joannem a Cruce.

Fr. Van Hove[1] describes Wojtyla’s fundamental disagreement with Garrigou-Lagrange’s “Thomistic Manualism”, “Wojtyła disagreed with Garrigou-Lagrange on a significant point. Wojtyła refused to call God ‘Object’ because for Wojtyła, God was ‘Person[2].’” What a Copernican concept! Or rather, what a profoundly Copernican-scale relationship! This, indeed, is the foundation for Wojtyla’s Personalism.

If there is any doubt that Wojtyla was at the same time a Thomist as well as a Personalist—although the Thomism was more or less in support of his Personalism—I also offer a few thoughts from James V. Schall in 1981:

John Paul II is himself a philosopher, a Thomist in his intellectual approach, a Thomist who knows the currents and tendencies of classic and contemporary philosophy. In fact, one of the most significant events in recent Thomism was John Paul II's Discourse on the subject at the Angelicum University in Rome, (November 17, 1979). There he redirected and deepened the philosophic connection of faith and reason by virtue of the realism of St. Thomas (Cf. A. McNicholl, ‘A Chant in Praise of What Is,’ ‘Angelicum,’ 2, 1980; V. Possenti, 'Giovanni Paolo II e Tomiso,’ ‘Rassegna di Teologia,’ Gennaio, 1980; A. Woznicki, ‘A Christian Humanism: Karol Wojtyla's Existential Personalism,’ New Britain, CT., Mariel, 1980). ‘Wojtyla's primary concern as a philosopher,’ Professor Guido Kung of the University of Freiburg wrote, ‘is clearly to infuse new life into Aristotelian Thomistic metaphysics by always confronting it afresh with a wealth of concrete experience’ (‘Universitas,’ Stuttgart, #2, 1979).[3]

While Wojtyla is not strictly a Thomist, it can be said that it served his greater purpose in developing his Personalism. For that, I think St. Thomas Aquinas deserves considerable credit.

St. Thomas Aquinas, ora pro nobis!


[1] Fr. Brian Van Hove, S.J. “Looking Back at ‘Humani Generis’”. Homiletic and Pastoral Review Magazine, Dec.23, 2013.

[2] Rocco Buttiglione, Il pensiero di Karol Woytła (Milan 1982) 35, note 22

[3] James V. Schall. “Of Inquisitors and Pontiffs: Criticizing John Paul II”. Homiletic and Pastoral Review Magazine, June 1981

Monday, January 13, 2014

JPII and St. Joseph

It is significant that Karol Józef Wjotyla's father was Captain Karol Józef Wojtyla senior. Both men's middle names were Józef! And they both reflect, in marriage and in celibacy, aspects of St. Joseph that make them worthy of the name.

Here are a number of events through which Captain Wojtyla lived (1879-1941):

1) WWI

2) Deaths of his daughter, spouse, and oldest son

3) Nazi takeover of Poland

Meanwhile, Karol Wojtyla Jr. learned from his father’s steadfastness in the midst of so much trial. He also learned from his father the incessant war that was being waged beyond WWI and II, the daily battle of prayer and seeking for God amidst suffering and hardship.

In JPII’s “Redemptoris Custos”, he finds a universal fatherliness in St. Joseph, ultimately rooted in God the Father:

The Church has commended to Joseph all of her cares, including those dangers which threaten the human family[1]


Besides fatherly authority over Jesus, God also gave Joseph a share in the corresponding love, the love that has its origin in the Father "from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named" (Eph 3:15)[2].

That same love was first experienced by Karol Wojtyla Jr. in his filial relationship with his own father. Unfortunately, that bond was cut short by Captain Wojtyla’s heart failure in 1941. But, the tragedy of his father's death is believed to have been the impetus of discernment for young Karol Wojtyla to decide for the clandestine seminary. JPII quotes Paul VI in regard to St. Joseph’s decision-making process:

The total sacrifice, whereby Joseph surrendered his whole existence to the demands of the Messiah's coming into his home, becomes understandable only in the light of his profound interior life. It was from this interior life that "very singular commands and consolations came, bringing him also the logic and strength that belong to simple and clear souls, and giving him the power of making great decisions-such as the decision to put his liberty immediately at the disposition of the divine designs, to make over to them also his legitimate human calling, his conjugal happiness, to accept the conditions, the responsibility and the burden of a family, but, through an incomparable virginal love, to renounce that natural conjugal love that is the foundation and nourishment of the family.

This very testing of men’s responses and decisions to the influence of God’s prompting is what set apart heroes of the faith from those who compromised with, or excused Nazi takeover of Europe. We see it in our own day as well, with the global economy’s instability at times, a kind of compromise in favor of leaders who will promise prosperity, etc. Or, in the Old Testament, in the differences between the patriarchs and priests: particularly, Aaron, who compromised with idolatry.

But St. Joseph is a kind of new Aaron of the New Testament. In my parish, and in many others, Joseph is depicted with a sprouting almond branch, identical to the one Aaron used to determine his access to the holy of holies (Num. 17). Because his branch sprouted with almond flowers, he alone was permitted to care for and attend the Ark of the Covenant. So too, St. Joseph alone was worthy to attend and care for the Ark of the New Covenant! But Joseph did not compromise with idolatry as Aaron did, he stayed faithful to that which had been housed inside the Ark, the very Word of God Incarnate.

Captain Wojtyla too, did not compromise. Nor did he teach his son to resist the Nazis with futility. The wisdom with which the son of the Polish military captain resisted evil was truly from God. With culture, with faith, with education, with work, and with sacrifice! These things are the same weapons of righteousness that St. Joseph used in dealing with Herod and with the Romans. JPII writes of Jesus’ upbringing in the Holy Family:

This bond of charity was the core of the Holy Family's life, first in the poverty of Bethlehem, then in their exile in Egypt, and later in the house of Nazareth. The Church deeply venerates this Family, and proposes it as the model of all families. Inserted directly in the mystery of the Incarnation, the Family of Nazareth has its own special mystery. And in this mystery, as in the Incarnation, one finds a true fatherhood: the human form of the family of the Son of God, a true human family, formed by the divine mystery[3].

Many of Jesus’ peers were wiped out by Herod’s decree to slaughter the male children of Israel. St. Joseph took action against such violence, out of protection for his family. St. Joseph proved himself for the Holy Family: protector, shepherd, and priest.

No doubt St. Joseph watched over and guarded those who were his namesake in the men of the Wojtyla family. As Patron of the Universal Church and model of human fatherhood, may St. Jospeh watch over and guard all who invoke his intercession!


[1] John Paul II. “Redemptoris Custos: Patron of the Church in our Day” paragraph 31, 08/15/89, http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/apost_exhortations/documents/hf_jp-ii_exh_15081989_redemptoris-custos_en.html

[2] Ibid, # 8.

[3] Ibid, # 21.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

JPII and Virgil

Virgil is often called by some Church fathers, and implied in Dante Alighieri, a forerunner to Christianity. Especially in his Isaiah-like prophecy in Eclogues of a child who would be born to rule the world in peace. The infrequent references I give to Virgil in my previous post "JPII and Dante" hardly do him justice, and Pope John Paul's Jubilee Year association with Virgil at the reopening of the Vatican Museum presents an ideal opportunity to invoke the great Latin poet.

Before Freudian psychoanalysis, the standard of psycho-somatic evaluation for man was virtue. This way of determining someone’s overall health and well-being originated in Greece and Rome and was fully adopted by the medieval Church. The Divine Comedy of Dante is hierarchically structured around virtue, and Dante places Virgil in the state of Virtuous Pagans in his Inferno, to show that the cardinal virtues could be attained apart from sanctifying grace. The theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity, however, require the regeneration of Baptism! While Virgil seemed to lack the latter, he certainly embodied the former enough for Dante to employ him as his guide through the Inferno and Purgatorio. With this in mind, the Vatican Museum has “inscribed on the architrave of the entrance to the Courtyard of Statues…Virgil’s verse ‘Procul este prophani’ (Stay away, o profane)”[1], a warning by the Sibyl of Virgil’s sixth book of the Aeneid barring entrance to the netherworld for any vicious, that is, un-virtuous visitors.

JPII opened this very Vatican Museum entranceway in the Jubilee Year of 2000, with the words, “Significant doors that the Holy See opens to the world”[2]. He too, it seems, met with Virgil and Dante’s standard of virtue. Furthermore, he accomplished a kind of ‘harrowing of Hades’, like Christ and Aeneas, by incorporating such historical figures as Virgil, Homer, Aristotle and others into the Vatican’s permanent collection of statuesque forerunners to Christ.

But aside from my interpretation of such a symbolic gesture, is there any hope for Virgil’s ultimate salvation? Just because he is quoted and plastered in the Vatican Museum does not mean he is a Christian, does it?

Mowbray Allan explores the question of Virgil’s salvation in light of Dante’s Divine Comedy, with his article “Does Dante Hope for Virgil’s Salvation?”. In it, he raises some of the same evidence found in the Vatican Museum as to how Virgil may have been saved by Christ, even though he is coupled by Dante with those who despair:

Conceivably even those who inherited the promise of Abraham were once subject to the law announced on the gate of Hell. This, I think is the most important step in the argument. For Virgil’s despair has been self-validating: under the dark spell, we have failed to see or to credit much evidence calling it into question. But Virgil’s hopeless view of his own status is the very part of his teaching which cannot possess inherent authority. To step outside the hopelessness of Virgil, to perceive it as a fact of psychology and not a final act of theology and as a source of irony and of drama: this way of reading needs only to be defined to assert a claim to be as natural, on the face of it, as the one presently favored, perhaps even more so, given the uneasiness which the idea of Virgil’s damnation cannot but occasion, indeed, seems intended to occasion[3].

While a final judgment is not within my scope of discernment, I would strongly argue that Dante did hope for Virgil’s salvation in Christ. Virgil’s presence in Purgatorio is strong evidence of that as well. If Baptism is participated in by water, blood, or desire at least by the time of a person’s death, is that not sufficient for salvation? Again, I will not be the final judge on Virgil’s soul, but he certainly proved himself to be a worthy forerunner of Christ—to the point of helping to lead Dante to Christ himself!

Furthermore, as Professor Buranelli of Notre Dame writes, “The word ‘museum’ comes down to us from the Greek museion, which means ‘temple or residence of the Muses’”[4]. Virgil is undoubtedly ranked as a ‘muse’ for the likes of Dante and even Pope John Paul II—himself a poet, orator, and actor. As Karol Wojtyla, the Pope translated a version of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex into Polish. Imagine how much more highly he must have thought of Virgil’s Latin than Sophocles’ profane use of Greek! (As a side note, the psychology that accompanied Oedipus Rex in Freud stands as a stark contrast to the evaluation by means of virtue to which I originally referred.)

Virgil’s worldview and writing more closely aligns with that of Karol Wojtyla than Sophocles or Freud. Though Dante may have taken the emphasis on virtue too far at times in his Divine Comedy (Pope Celestine V for example) it is an objective compass for gauging a person’s well-being and relative proximity to Christ-likeness, both in terms of the cardinal and theological virtues.


[1] Dr. Francesco Buranelli. “Vatican Museums: The Holy See’s Portal to the World”. Nanovic Institute, University of Notre Dame, IN 2007

[2] John Paul II, “Address of the Holy Father John Paull II for the Inauguration of the New Entrance to the Vatican Museums,” February 7, 2000 (Vatican City: Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 2000), http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/speeches/2000/jan-mar/documents/hf_jp-ii_spe_20000207_vatican-museums_en.html.

[3] Mowbray Allan. “Does Dante Hope for Virgil’s Salvation?”. The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. 193-205. *My note: Dante's gate of Hell reads, "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here"

[4] Dr. Francesco Buranelli. “Vatican Museums: The Holy See’s Portal to the World”. Nanovic Institute, University of Notre Dame, IN 2007

One way of making the character of Aeneas more appealing humanly is to compare him with the great men in sacred and profane history who were charged with high missions, with Abraham and Moses, Washington and Lincoln, or with outstanding men of our own days, like MacArthur or Churchill. ‘And the Lord said to Abram: go forth out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and out of thy father’s house, and come into the land I shall show thee. And I will make of thee a great nation.’ There is a mission like that of Aeneas, full of hazard and heartbreak. What hardships Abraham suffered, what discouragement and depression he knew! But, with Heaven’s help, he accomplished the task. Francis A. Sullivan Vergil Yesterday, Today, and Forever—The Classical Weekly, Vol. 40 (Dec 16, 1946).

Lastly, I refer to EWTN's library for an excellent article on Aeneas by Theodore Haecker, "VIRGIL AND THE ANCIENT WORLD":

It was twenty years before Odysseus at last returned to his
homeland--returned poor, naked and a beggar, it is true, but a conqueror.
He returned and found again there almost everything that home stands for;
he found his island, his earth, the place where as a child he had first
known the light and beauty of the world; his old father was still there,
his wife and his son, his faithful hound--surely the very picture of a
happy home-coming! But what of Aeneas--to what did he come? Does he
really resemble Odysseus at any point? No--there is no greater difference
within the whole compass of ancient literature; and to understand that is
to see how absurd are those critics who would dismiss Virgil
contemptuously as a mere plagiarist and imitator of Homer. There is no
more profound or astonishing originality in all the literature ofantiquity
than Virgil's; and that precisely because it operates within the limits
imposed by the inherited and traditional forms, which it reverently
observes. But to return to Aeneas--does he, like Odysseus, come back to
the land of his childhood? We are told incidentally, it is true, that
Aeneas's ancestors had once dwelt in Italy, but this is mere political
rhetoric, and has nothing to do with the story proper, the personal fate
of Aeneas, where in fact it is entirely forgotten.

Aeneas did not return to the home of his childhood; on the contrary,
he left it, and he left it as a fugitive (fato profugus)--witness the fact
that Turnus, who had always remained at home in Latium, refers to him
contemptuously and reproachfully as desertorem Asiae, deserter of Asia, a
coward forgetful of his duty, flying from the colors. And this of Aeneas,
of the ancestor of Caesar, of the mirror of Augustus! Aeneas was no
victorious Greek, but a defeated Trojan like Hector. In that night of
horror and desolation in the burning city of Troy, his wife, dulcis
conjunx, had perished, and alone he had carried away his aged father and
the penates; beside him, hardly able to keep pace with him, ran his little
son. His father died on the journey--the father of pius Aeneas whose very
life, the inmost spring of whose being was love of his father and his
father's love of him--and he buried him. So far as he alone was
concerned, so far as concerned only his own selfish will, his personal
inclination, his own earth-bound, memory-bound desires, it is true he
would rather have turned back to build old Troy again. Yet he dared not;
for Fate, the will of the all-powerful, had bidden him seek out a new
homeland--Italy. So armed only in the might of virtus, he went forward
against the malignity of Fortune; for Aeneas never had fortune with him in
the way that Odysseus always had.

"Disce, puer, virtutem ex me verumque laborem; fortunam ex aliis."

(Learn virtue from me, child, and true toil; learn fortune from
others.) And with the help of war (though a thing in itself hateful) he
made his way against the opposition of men; he made it despite the
jealousy of the lesser gods, despite the prompting of his own desire,
despite even pity; against his own will, and strong only in the strength
of submission and the supreme might of Fate, he went on to find Italy, his
new home. Italiam non sponte sequor --Not of my own will I seek Italy.

"Me si fata meis paterentur ducere vitam auspiciis, et sponte mea
componere curas; urbem Troianam primum, dulcesque meorum reliquias colerem"

(Did the Fates but suffer me to shape my life after my own pleasure
and order my sorrows at my own will, my first care would be the city of
Troy and the sweet relics of my kin.)

In all pre-Christian literature there are no more Christian lines
than these. Sainte-Beuve hardly penned a truer line -- though a bold one
and one open to misunderstanding -- than when he wrote: La venue même du
Christ n'a rien qui étonne, quand on a lu Virgile. (The coming of Christ
is nothing surprising when one has read Virgil.) Against his will then
Aeneas journeyed to that Italy which he knew not, and which was full of
perils. But even as he listened to the mysterious, unsearchable higher
will, gradually there kindled within him, and burned into the very marrow
of his soul, a longing that was prepared for any sacrifice, for this
second homeland, for Italy, which as yet was his only in the command
ofJupiter, a land of promise from which he was still separated by long,
and ever longer, trackless ways, viae inviae. Thus Virgil breathed into
his hero that love for Italy, not merely for Rome, which was his own; for
Virgil was not merely a Roman, he was an Italian also.


How full of paradox, how dialectical is the inner life of Aeneas!
Does he in this resemble any of Homer's heroes? Though remote in time, of
another race, and of another country, yet in spirit, which knows no
distinctions of time or race or country, is he not akin rather to Abraham,
the father of the faith? Did not Abraham also have to leave the homeland
of his heart, and, for the sake of the faith and in obedience to an
inscrutable will, a fatum, take upon himself the sorrow and bitter smart
of memory, which for star-bound man is the meaning of a change of
homeland. So it was with Aeneas.

The Homeric heroes can state plainly their truths and their
falsehoods, and both are in the nature of self-revelations. But Aeneas
cannot do this. Like all reticent men, he can speak only the truth that is
in him, and that only occasionally and darkly. And again, like all
reticent men, be they so from necessity or of their own free will, he
makes no such brave figure as Achilles or Odysseus; it is easy to
misunderstand him, as it is not the cunning Odysseus, or the transparent
Achilles. Perhaps Virgil is here throwing some light upon the difficult
character of Augustus--was he too, and of necessity, reticent? (which is,
of course, not the same thing as 'sullen'). Aeneas is a grave man, gravis,
a man burdened with one idea--for having many thoughts makes a man light,
but having few and anxious thoughts makes him grave; and the burden of one
thought only will make him grave indeed. It was this that made him a
leader; this that made him the founder of Rome. At all events Virgil is
not here drawing simply upon his imagination; this is no mere poetic
invention. He here makes explicit in truth and in beauty what had for so
long lain implicit in the character of Rome itself. And with one accord,
without a moment of hesitation, Rome accepted and sanctioned this
explanation of herself at the hands of her greatest poet. This is an
historical fact, and a highly significant one; for what a people endorses
and appropriates for ever to itself from the writings of its greatest poet
is always something that is at once both a self-confession and a


Rome had no original speculative philosophers, but she did possess
great practical, realistic thinkers, and her greatest was a poet, Virgil.
All the great and simplethings of our reality have been meditated by him.
That ideal of the man of mind, the spiritual man, union of contemplative
sage and creative artist, was realized only twice in the classical
world--first in Greece by Plato who was thinker and poet, after the Greek
fashion; and then in Rome by Virgil who was poet and thinker, after the
Roman fashion. (Among the Jews of pre-Christian times, that is of the Old
Testament, this union was practically never broken; none was there a poet
without being also a sage, and none a sage without being also a poet.)
Virgil has demonstrated that Rome was fully conscious of her own
character, both as to the things she lacked and as to the things she
possessed to overflowing. She acknowledged without envy the superior
gifts of the Greeks in the fine arts and in philosophy, though hardly in
literature; and with unshakable steadfastness and confidence she devoted
herself to her mission--itself also an art--to the mission of governing.
But her mission--and here is a fact often ignored and easily
forgotten--her mission was not primarily based upon force. Where that
alone exists as a foundation, Virgil's condemnation is unequivocal. Not
only is Catiline--that true political criminal, contemptor divum, despiser
of the gods--hateful to him, but for him Sulla and Antony--brutal generals
without any of the magnanimitas of true statesmen--also share the fate of
the political criminals of Dante. He blames even the great Caesar,
because he did not rule more patrum, after the manner of the fathers.
Rome's mission was essentially not founded upon force; it was power
rather, and based upon certain great and simple virtues, chief of which
was pietas, love fulfilling duty, whose political expression is justice.

Hence the paradox of a Rome founded not by a conqueror but by a
defeated man. Let King Pyrrhus or any other petty tyrant preen himself
because Achilles, the unconquered, was his ancestor; Rome was for Hector.
And Aeneas, the fugitive, who after one defeat built a new city, was the
ancestor of Caesar and Augustus. No State that would stand, still less an
empire that would endure, was made of the Greeks, for all their qualities;
neither would Achilles serve, for all his impetuous storming to victory
and, equally impetuously, to a profitless death; nor yet Odysseus--he knew
too much, he was too fickle and he had too large a sense of humor, a thing
which may easily prove an insuperable obstacle to successful statecraft.
The ancestors of Rome were required to be builders and rebuilders, not
destroyers, of cities. The Greeks built cities too, of course; they gave
us the very name and science of politics; they taught us to understand
wherein the essence of it lies....


It is truths of this order that lie hidden in the Aeneid;truths
which, though through long periods they may fail to be appreciated, will
again suddenly flash out brilliantly in the light of their own truth,
touched anew into life by some catastrophe of the time. Virgil is the
only pagan who takes rank with the Jewish and Christian prophets; the
Aeneid is the only book, apart from Holy Scriptures, to contain sayings
that are valid beyond the particular hour and circumstance of their day,
prophecies that re-echo from the doors of eternity, whence they first draw
their breath:

His ego nec metas rerum, nec tempora pona: imperium sine fine dedi.

(To these I have set bounds neither in space nor in time; dominion
have I given thee without end.)

--so runs the fatum Jovis. For, whether we like it or not, whether
we know it or not, we are all still members of that Imperium Romanum,
which finally and after terrible errors accepted Christianity sua sponte,
of its own free-will-- a Christianity which it could not abandon now
without abandoning itself and humanism too....


The content of the Aeneid is a hazy, inchoate theology expectant of
the inseminating spirit--the best of which paganism was capable before the
fullness of time was come. Paganism as it existed before Christ is no
more to be revived than is the Jewish world before Christ. The decisive
difference between the submissive adventist humanity of a Virgil and the
pale, decadent humanism of the so-called humanists of the Renaissance lies
in the fact that, whereas the one was a material soil awaiting the
springing seed, the other was a sort of horticulture occupied with growing
cuttings from lovely pot-plants; the one, a womb of longing which cried
aloud for fulfillment; the other a mere precautionary measure which, if
the worst come to the worst, should serve to hide from men's eyes for a
few centuries approaching disaster. The Classicists pretend to see in
Virgil their own image; yet, whereas he has denied nothing of his, not an
iota of the tragedy and shame, they have often in the ultimate things
denied the past of their ancestors....A humanism devoid of theology cannot
stand. Today men are searching desperately for `Man,' but they seek what
does not exist, namely autonomous Man. If they would find the whole man,
they must not mistake the part for the whole, but, what is more important
and more essential, must see that man realizes his wholeness only in the
fact that he is wholly creature and cries out unceasingly for his Creator
when He is not near, even as a child cries for its mother.

from Virgil, Father of the West (1934), Ch. 6.


Throughout the Middle Ages, Virgil was regarded as having prophesied
the birth of Christ, because of the following lines in his Fourth Eclogue,
which has been called the Messianic Eclogue:

"The last age, foretold in the Sibyl's verse, is come, and the
great order of the ages begins anew. Now the Virgin returns, the
reign of Saturn recurs; now from the heights of heaven a new
generation descends. Only do thou, pure Lucina [goddess of
childbirth], show thy favor to the child that is to be born, the
child under whom the race of iron shall at last cease and a race
of gold shall arise all over the world....He shall receive
divine life; he shall see heroes mingling with gods and himself
be seen of them; and he shall rule a world that has been given
peace by the virtues of his father....

"Now do thou (for the time is at hand) enter upon thy great
honors, dear offspring of the gods, Jove's own great progeny."

Why in fact is the Fourth Eclogue called a Messianic eclogue?
Because it bears a resemblance to certain passages in the Old Testament
predicting the Messiah. For example, Isaiah 9:6 and Isaiah ll:6.

Isaiah 9:6: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is
given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his
name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the
Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace."

And the second reads as follows:

Isaiah ll:6: "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the
leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young
lion and the fatling together; and alittle child shall lead

Because of the reference to the Virgin in the Eclogue and its
speaking of "A new begetting that now descends from heaven's height," we
should also keep in mind Isaiah 7:14: "Therefore the Lord himself shall
give you a sign: Behold a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shalt
call his name, Immanuel."

For the Christian world, this had found fulfillment by the coming of
the Angel Gabriel to Mary in Nazareth to announce to her that, in the
words of St. Luke's gospel: "And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb,
and bring forth a son, and shall call his name Jesus. He shall be great,
and shall be called the Son the the Highest; and the Lord God shall give
unto him the throne of his father David. And he shall reign over the
house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end..." Lk.

When Mary asked how this could be, since she knew not man, the Angel
replied: "The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the
Highest shall overshadow thee; therefore also that holy thing which shall
be born of thee shall be called the Son of God." Lk. 1:35.

This is why Haecker calls Virgil the poet of adventist paganism. JJM

Friday, January 3, 2014

JPII, Edith Stein, and Martin Heidegger

 Edith Stein

Germany and Poland gave witness to some outstanding intellectuals in the 20th century. Of these, Joseph Ratzinger has most recently left, and will continue to leave, his mark on the world as Pope Benedict Emeritus. Likewise, I look at his older German “siblings” with even greater wonder as they rank with the likes of Dietrich Von Hildebrand, Edith Stein, Max Scheler, Martin Heidegger, and Edmund Husserl, to name a few.

Edith Stein, in particular, canonized by JPII as St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross in 1998, bridges the gap between the Munich school of phenomenology (founded by Edmund Husserl in Germany), and the Lublin school of Philosophy (heavily influenced by Karol Wojtyla) in Poland. Ironically, Edith Stein was never formally a part of either “school”. She was a protégé of Husserl after the Munich School, and was executed at Auschwitz while the Lublin School was underway in Poland. Nevertheless, her contributions to what would become Personalism, from Husserl and Scheler’s phenomenology, stand out from her peers as groundbreaking work for that which she loved most: the Church.

As a non-Christian, Stein studied under Edmund Husserl from approximately 1916-1922, during which time Martin Heidegger was developing his philosophy of "Dasein" in his famous Sein und Zeit. The two, Stein and Heidegger, would take radically divergent paths in the wake of the Nazi party’s establishment of the Third Reich in Germany. They did, more or less, agree on one thing: the importance of Sein or ‘being’ in the light of the human person. The objective difference, of course, was Stein’s baptism, eventual profession of religious vows, and later execution, vs. Heidegger’s successive contributions to Nazism.

Despite Heidegger’s understanding of "Dasein", he could not help conforming to the reigning political party of his day. Even though Dasein rules out the conformity of an individual to a universal without careful deliberation, yet, such was his course of action. Perhaps like Ratzinger’s unwillingness to follow through with the Hitler youth of his day, Heidegger had unspoken reservations about Nazism, but again, the outcome of his and Ratzinger’s lives were very different. Nevertheless, Heidegger’s early work is not without merit, especially when viewed in the light of Husserl’s tutelage; and more specifically, under the lens of saints like Edith Stein, and as we will soon see, St. Augustine.

Heidegger disassociated with Husserl in a similar way to Stein, but as I said, with divergent conclusions. The only things to surface--by way of life events-- from Martin Heidegger, were lectures and writings under Nazi sponsorship. Meanwhile, Stein had much more explicit fruit from her life’s work, namely: her personal sanctification, the sanctification of others by her works, and ultimately, martyrdom for the sake of Christ.

In the end, Heidegger’s life was not without inspiration for others. Craig John Neuman De Paulo, a knight of Malta, published a study in 1998 introducing “Augustinian Phenomenology” as applied to the work of Heidegger, which looked at "Dasein" through the lens of St. Augustine. De Paulo’s work is called, Being and Conversion: A Phenomenological Ontology of Radical Restlessness, and as indicated in the previous sentence, was published the same year as Teresa Benedicta of the Cross’ canonization.

 Being and Conversion--DePaulo

Indeed, Edith Stein corresponded with a Jesuit priest and Augustinian scholar from 1925-1931[1], not long after her initial conversion experience with St. Teresa of Avila’s Autobiography. The said priest was a good friend of Edmund Husserl, Erich Przywara (1889-1972)[2], and may very well have had some undocumented influence on Heidegger as well.

In De Paulo’s Being and Conversion, a view of the human person is proposed as in a state of constant restlessness between “perversio” and “conversio”, Augustinian terms for either “turning in on oneself” or “turning to the Other”. Heidegger's "Dasein" partially describes this restlessness, which would have very nearly met with the agreement of Edith Stein’s Endliches und Ewiges Sein.

But, in her magnum opus, she refutes both Husserl and Heidegger’s failure to address the eternal significance of the human person in their phenomenology. Thus, the dynamic (between ‘perversio’ and ‘conversio’) proposed first by Augustine, and re-proposed by De Paulo, must be viewed in the light of eternity. This importance of perspective and ultimately, relationship with God, is precisely where Edith Stein departs from both Husserl and Heidegger in Endliches und Ewiges Sein, and is seen to be lived out in her own conversion to Catholicism.

The key term Stein uses in Endliches und Ewiges Sein that corresponds nicely with both Augustine and De Paulo’s dynamic is: “individuelles Wesen”[3] or “individual form/essence” as related, or reciprocal, to community. Where Heidegger chose to surround himself with the Nazi party, Stein sought friendships based on virtue and eternal significance. She entered religious life and found the solution to this constant dynamic of restlessness so characteristic of the world, “perversio and conversio”. She knew the importance of surrounding oneself with other individuals who have the same understanding of personal significance in the light of eternity.

It was at the Carmelite convent in Cologne, Germany that she completed Endliches und Ewiges Sein. Not long after, she would be hunted down for having jewish ancestry and taken to the gas chambers of Auschwitz.

I can only marvel at how much more impact Edith Stein would have had on the two European schools of philosophy (Munich and Lublin), had she lived as long as Martin Heidegger, Dietrich Von Hildebrand, or even Joseph Ratzinger. Yet, we have the testimony of a life lived in truth, virtue, and oriented towards the Eternal in the midst of so many diverse men of genius who had just as much, if not more, access to the same resources. Edith Stein is a witness to the grace of God in thought, decision, and action.

St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, ora pro nobis!


[1] Sarah Sharkey. Thine Own Self: Individuality in Edith Stein’s Later Writings, 2010. Reviewed by Dermot Moran.

[2] Erich Przywara, Analogia Entis (Munich, 1932), a translation by John Betz and David Bentley Hart. *My note: Edmund Husserl is more often associated with the philosophy of Aristotle and Aquinas. It follows that although Stein was also influenced by Aquinas, she did not consider herself a ‘neo-Thomist’, and may have been much more acquainted with works of the Carmelites and St. Augustine.

[3] Marianne Sawicki, Ph.D. “Personal Connections: The Phenomenology of Edith Stein”. 1998, Hesburgh Library, ND.