Saturday, June 17, 2017

David Collits: Opening up to being – learning to trust ourselves again

Never getting at the nature of things: Radical scepticism about whether we can ever really know anything has served us ill. The incarnate Christ offers another Way. PHOTO: Pixabay
An air of unreality pervades current day discourse. Focus on identity rights, same-sex ‘marriage’, unisex bathrooms, safe spaces, the mendaciously called ‘Safe Schools’ and so on bespeaks not only a divorce from tradition and custom, but more fundamentally a divorce from reality itself. Something unreal persists in political agitation for a panoply of rights not rooted in human nature or the cosmos itself, and which in fact denies the existence of human nature as such.
Such campaigning is based upon the liberal conceit constitutive of modernity that meaning and identity flows from an ever-expanding assertion of the will and not who we are as human beings. On this view, there is no human nature: I choose, therefore I am. This disconnection from reality is not confined to political issues but permeates our technology-saturated culture. Restoring contact with the real is vital for our culture to convey authentic meaning, as well as how we form our children, use technology and even how we worship.

The late American professor, John Senior.
A helpful restorative is offered in the recently published John Senior and the Restoration of Realism, by Benedictine monk Fr Francis Bethel (Thomas More College Press, 2016). Bethel’s subject is the life, and more especially the philosophy and educational approach of relatively little known American professor, John Senior (1923-1999) (Dr Stephen McInerney has previously written of him for The Catholic Weekly).
Senior made his biggest impact at the University of Kansas in the 1970s. There, he and two colleagues founded the Integrated Humanities Program, whose key notion was to expose students to the poetic (conceived broadly) riches of Western civilisation as a way to engage their sensory and imaginative faculties, and so enable them to encounter being.
From this Program came many fruits, including over 200 student conversions to Catholicism (Bethel was one such student convert). Senior did not set out to convert students; they arose from contact with the real embodied in the great Western literary, philosophical and theological tradition. But convert and embrace vocations Senior’s students did. Bishops, religious superiors, seminary directors, judges, lawyers and teachers number among former students.
Two of Senior’s principal published works were Death of Christian Culture (1978) and Restoration of Christian Culture (1983): short and punchy but with philosophical heft, these are transgressive of so many contemporary shibboleths as to be exhilarating. While one need not agree with all of Senior’s positions, it is hoped that Bethel’s work might contribute to greater knowledge and utilisation of his ideas in forming our own children and restoring the culture. The culture we are giving them will, the way things are going, be in much need of restoration.
Arguably Senior’s greatest insight is his premise that the further we are from an unmediated experience of reality, the further we are from God. It is not possible even to think of God philosophically or theologically if one has not first been exposed to the creation that God has put in front of us.
We come to know Being itself through exposure to created being. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,” so wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins. God, transcendent but immanent to creation, is revealed in the beauty and order of the natural realm perceived in the senses and apprehended in the mind. Key for Senior, and any common-sense realist perception of reality, is the Aristotelian-Thomistic insight that, precisely because we are body-soul beings, truth is known to our minds because it is first known to our senses.
Catholicism is not a gnostic religion or philosophy in which knowledge is mediated directly to the mind apart from ‘evil’ matter. Knowledge of God comes first through sensory perception. It is not for nothing that Christ uses parables and lessons based on everyday contact with the earth: the mustard seed and the big tree it becomes, employment in the vineyard, the lilies of the field, the fig tree, the pearl, the field, and so on. Man’s first home was a Garden. The Prince of the Apostles’ occupation was to fish. The Church’s liturgy and sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist, incorporate and elevate basic human and earthly realities: flowing water, bread and wine, oil. Authentic culture arises from liturgical cult fostered on humus, work with the soil that humbles us and can yet be offered to God. Genuine education grows around liturgical cult and is fostered by immersion in the Western canon, whose own roots are in that liturgical culture.
Centuries of rapid technological development, and decades of material wealth and relative peace in the West have inured generations of people to the vicissitudes and hardships that have been the common lot of humanity. Underappreciated perhaps is the negative effect that this material wealth has on the capacity for us to perceive created being and through that God himself. Especially is this acute in the case of the millennial generation, about which much has been written, from issues of housing affordability to its members’ apparent sense of entitlement and ‘flakiness’. How can the Church evangelise a generation of men and women whose contact with nature has often been disfigured by technology and trapped within an urban environment full of traffic, buildings, noise, artificial light and so on? How can they (we) come to knowledge of God if they have a diminished exposure to the nature God created? Nor is this issue limited to those born after 1980 or so: in the 1960s, Senior was struck even then by the failure of his students to recognise reference in classical literature being made to the primordial stuff of human existence.
Ours is a technological age predicated, as Bethel persuasively sets out in the book’s first part, on the Modernist idea that reality itself is to be rejected and replaced with artificial constructions of our own, not simply technological but philosophical and ethical as well. The eclipse of religion, gender ideology, and the deconstruction of marriage and the family in the West are the end result of centuries of philosophical and cultural unrealism.
Senior argued trenchantly and in many respects attractively in Restoration of Christian Culture that culture can only be restored when technology, especially electronic, is eradicated from the home so that human fellowship and imagination can breathe again around hearth and piano. Bethel judiciously queries the limits of Senior’s rhetoric, pointing out that technology provides undoubted benefits and its development is part of the self-actualisation of the human race about which Pope Benedict XVI spoke in Caritas in Veritate.
While it might not be necessary to adopt all of the strictures of Senior’s approach, our use of technology does need to be critiqued. Senior’s point that television screens provide a barrier to the perception of reality, deadening the senses and the imagination, has become even more urgent in its implications. (One wonders what he would think of the ubiquity of computers, including those we carry in our pockets.) Professionals rarely can escape the clutches of email. Many have commented on the stultifying, anti-social nature of smartphone use – those poor children at restaurants and cafes who, instead of being initiated into the rites of communal eating, drinking and conversation, are pacified with screens!
One can only lament the fetishisation of technology in education: integral to reading and writing are the use not only of mind but the senses. Writing is a physical as well as mental act, and writing with pen and paper is more tangible and embodied than typing. And not just sight, but touch, smell and hearing are engaged: I still remember the smell of the copy of The Hobbit given me when I was nine years old.
Senior’s vision finds some resonance with contemporary ‘romantic’ Catholic critiques of the worship of technology and the totalitarian impulses of modernity, from Roman Gaurdini’s Letters from Lake Como, JRR Tolkien’s Hobbit and Lord of the Rings to Pope Francis’s Laudato Si’. It also relates broadly to Rod Dreher’s new book, The Benedict Option, a call for Christians to form smaller, counter-cultural and more consciously devout communities animated by Christian principles.
The reference to St Benedict is striking. Senior’s vision of the restoration of Christian culture revolves around the Benedictine monastery. Although this might inappropriately privilege only one of the charisms God has given in the Church’s history as being universally applicable across time, the Benedictine ora et labora has much to tell technocratic culture: the rhythm of life balanced between work and prayer, and prayer through work. St Benedict’s papal namesake, Pope Benedict XVI, in an address to the German Bundestag called for reason to be “open to the language of being” and implored us to fling open the windows again to “see the wide world, the sky and the earth once more and learn to make proper use of all this”.
A formative thinker for Ratzinger was Josef Pieper, who argued that the human person has an orientation to being, and is fulfilled in union with the God who is the sheer act of the real itself. Ultimately, Senior’s value as a teacher comes from his rediscovery that such an orientation to being needs to be fed on contact with the real given us in creation – the sky and the earth – a contact that will give way to the eternal vision of Reality itself.

Taken from:

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Augustus and Herod

Image result for augustusImage result for herod the great statue

Part One:

Damien F. Mackey
“… the rehabilitated Herod is considerably more Roman than his older counterpart. In the new portrait of Herod, he faces west toward Rome and Augustus rather than east toward the Hellenistic kingdoms, and he is described as “a friend of the Romans” rather than as “an Arab monarch”.”
Byron McCane
Some Parallelism
The dates and lengths of reign conventionally assigned to the succession of early Herodians: Herod the Great, Herod Antipas, and Herod Agrippa I, run strikingly parallel to those of the early Julio-Claudian emperors: Augustus, Tiberius, and Caligula. Thus we find - and we must make allowance (by at least a handful of years) for the famous chronological uncertainties associated with Herod the Great:   
Julio-Claudian emperors
Augustus 27 BC - AD 14
Herod the Great 37 - 4 BC
Tiberius 14 - 37 AD
Herod Antipas 4 BC - AD 39
Caligula 37 - 41 AD
Herod Agrippa I 37 - 44 AD
Moreover, the lineage of Herod was typically Roman-educated (see e.g. Herod and Augustus: Papers Presented at the IJS Conference, 21st-23rd June 2005, p. 372, edited by David M. Jacobson, Nikos Kokkinos).
And the ‘Roman-facing’ Herod the Great, according to Byron McCane’s re-evaluation of this most significant of ancient kings (“Simply Irresistible: Augustus, Herod, and the Empire”, JBL:, has frequently been compared with the emperor Augustus. See e.g.:
Herod Antipas grew up in an unusual household where you didn't know if your father was going to provide you with love or instant death. Herod the Great was perhaps one of those people who wasn't really suited to be a dad. A homicidal monarch yes - a father no. Perhaps it isn't surprising that in his own later life Herod Antipas had no interest in starting his own family, perhaps he feared he would kill his own children or keep an ex-wife in jars of shredded marmalade. It was a wise choice … [,]
well, he was something like Tiberius insofar as ( “… sufficient factual evidence remains to show that Tiberius was an eccentric, misunderstood, and unloved person”.  
After the death of Livia, however, Tiberius, with the encouragement of Sejanus, systematically persecuted this family. Accusing them of plotting to assassinate him, Tiberius banished Agrippina the Elder and her oldest son, Nero; her second son, Drusus, was imprisoned a year later along with Asinius Gallus, who had earlier asked to marry Agrippina. Within four years these prisoners were all dead, mostly through starvation.
As for Herod Agrippa (there are considered to have been I and a II), we read of “Agrippa II” in The Jerome Biblical Commentary (1968) of this very Caligula-like state of affairs (75: 153): “[Agrippa’s] relations with his sister Bernice (probably incestuous) caused scandal in Rome (Ant. 20. 7. 3 § 145 …)”. Agrippa I is even supposed to have sojourned with Caligula in Rome ( “Agrippa stayed in Rome. The relation between the Jewish king and the Roman emperor was excellent, which is remarkable, because many considered Caligula a madman, and he could be very cruel indeed”.
And, like Caligula, Agrippa ‘turned into a god’.
Compare: “Caligula announces he will be a god when he is dead. ... Caligula becomes obsessed with attaining the status of a god …”. (Hawes, Wm., Caligula and the Fight for Artistic Freedom), with Acts 12:21-23:
On the appointed day Herod [Agrippa], wearing his royal robes, sat on his throne and delivered a public address to the people. They shouted, ‘This is the voice of a god, not of a man’. Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died.
Part Two:
Parallel Career Patterns
Tripartite Reign
According to The Jerome Biblical Commentary (75:130): “Herod’s reign falls into three parts”.
Let us consider these three phases in turn, and compare them with the reign of Augustus.
  1. Herod’s Early Years 37-25 BC
These early years were used mainly to consolidate his powers, and were marked by the cold-blooded, systematic elimination of any who might contest his authority.
…. His cruelty, rooted in insatiable ambition, was notorious, yet he was surrounded by intrigue and conspiracy that made him fight for his very existence.
[End of quote]
The same single-minded pursuit of power and use of force, during a tumultuous phase of history (at least, so-called), is apparent in the early years of the career of Caesar Augustus (
As the first Roman emperor (though he never claimed the title for himself), Augustus led Rome’s transformation from republic to empire during the tumultuous years following the assassination of his great-uncle and adoptive father Julius Caesar. He shrewdly combined military might, institution-building and lawmaking to become Rome’s sole ruler ….
[End of quote]
Likewise, Octavius is “cold and calculating” according to (
As one of the three triumvirs, Octavius is the youngest and the most ambitious of the three.
…. Nothing exists for young Caesar except the single goal of acquiring and maintaining power. …. Because of the limited range of Octavius's vision and interests, he often appears cold and calculating, and many of his actions are indeed calculated ones. In betrothing his beloved sister to Antony, his long-time rival, he shows that he is capable of placing political expediency above family loyalty. Conversely, when Antony abandons Octavia, Octavius acts like the outraged brother who wishes to avenge his sister's honor. While his pride is understandably piqued, his anger also hints of opportunism, for here is the perfect pretext for attacking his rival.
Octavius struggles for supremacy within the Triumvirate ….
Octavius has few devoted friends … the lot of the ruler who must sacrifice everything to stay in power. He trusts no one, and he fears to let himself be close to few, if any, of his men. His treatment of Lepidus is one example of how he can cast aside presumed friends in order to achieve even more power.
Octavius, at times, seems almost without principle. …. Basically, then, we can say that Octavius symbolizes the world of power, politics, and war. ….
[End of quote]
  1. Herod’s Cultural Phase 25-13 BC
The Jerome Biblical Commentary (75:132):
Once opposition to his power had been removed, Herod embarked on a period of lavish and munificent cultural improvements in his realm, financed mainly by taxes … emperor-temples, theaters, hippodromes, gymnasia, baths, and even new cities.
…. In all of this Herod was influenced by the cultural advances of the Augustan age, for he had surrounded himself with Greek philosophers and rhetors as advisers. … [e.g.] Nicolas of Damascus ….
[End of quote]
Augustus was likewise single-minded about taxation (
During his 40-years reign, Augustus nearly doubled the size of the empire, adding territories in Europe and Asia Minor and securing alliances that gave him effective rule from Britain to India. He spent much of his time outside of Rome, consolidating power in the provinces and instituting a system of censuses and taxation that integrated the empire’s furthest reaches. He expanded the Roman network of roads, founded the Praetorian Guard and the Roman postal service and remade Rome with both grand (a new forum) and practical gestures (police and fire departments).
And Augustus, like Herod, built on an impressive scale: temples, theatres, roads, aqueducts (
Augustus’ campaign to rejuvenate Rome largely hinged on his uncanny ability to inextricably link the city’s aesthetic splendor to its imperial splendor. The strong connection Augustus fostered between visual and moral strength encouraged the city’s wealthy men to invest in the capital’s built environment; the Temple of Hercules and the Muses, the Temple of Diana, the Atrium of Liberty, the Temple of Saturn, and the amphitheater of Statilius Taurus are all massive projects funded exclusively by Rome’s elite (Suetonius 60). These endeavors were viewed, even in their own age, as tangible markers of Rome’s ascension to cultural prominence and the re-solidification of the Empire’s standards following the late Republic’s seemingly all-encompassing decrepitude. In his Res Gestae Augustus takes care to highlight the marble magnificence of his Rome; “I built the Senate-house…and the temple of Apollo on the Palatine with portocos…I rebuilt the Capitol and the theater of Pompey…I rebuilt aqueducts in many places that had decayed with age… I completed the Forum of Julius…I built the temple of Mars Ultor…I rebuilt the Flaminian road…,” (Res Gestae) ….
[End of quote]
His reported last words to his subjects he said, “I found Rome of clay; I leave it to you of marble.” (
Image result for augustan marble works
Some Greek influence on Augustus: “During his childhood Octavian was educated in Greek philosophy in Athens” (
The clear Greek inspiration in style and symbol for official sculptural portraits, which under the Roman emperors became instruments of governmental propaganda, is a central part of the Augustan ideological campaign, a shift from the Roman Republican era iconography where old and wise features were seen as symbols of solemn character. Therefore, the Prima Porta statue marks a conscious reversal of iconography to the Greek classical and Hellenistic period, in which youth and strength were valued as signs of leadership, emulating heroes and culminating in Alexander the Great himself. Such a statue's political function was very obvious—to show Rome that the emperor Augustus was an exceptional figure, comparable to the heroes worthy of being raised to divine status on Olympus, and the best man to govern Rome.
  1. Herod’s Domestic Strife Last Phase 13-4 BC
The Jerome Biblical Commentary (75:133): “It was domestic strife that marked the last years of Herod’s reign”.


Augustus: Family and Succession

Augustus married three times, although his first union, to Mark Antony’s stepdaughter Clodia Pulchra, was unconsummated. His second wife, Scribonia, bore his only child, Julia the Elder. He divorced in 39 B.C. to marry Livia Drusilla, who had two sons—Tiberius and Drusus—by her first husband, Mark Antony’s ally Tiberius Claudius Nero. The family tree became more complicated after Augustus had his stepson Tiberius briefly marry his daughter, and then adopted Tiberius outright as son and successor in A.D. 4.
[End of quote]
Herod, Augustus, reigned for about four decades.
The tripartite pattern of reign set out above is probably fairly typical for great and long-reigning monarchs, with an initial phase of single-minded quest for supreme power accompanied by cruelty and bloodshed; then a peaceful and prosperous phase enabling for grandiose projects; with a final decline towards the end, due to age and possible disputes over succession.
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