Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Pope Francis Takes on the West With the help of Charles Taylor (& Illich)

Statement in “Inside the Vatican:” Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”) is an apostolic exhortation, one of the most authoritative categories of papal document. [And interestingly,] “The pope wrote the new document in response to the October 2012 Synod of Bishops on the new evangelization, but declined to work from a draft provided by Synod officials.”[1]
                The point made is that “The Joy of the Gospel” did not emerge from the “instrumentum  laboris” that was the pre-synod draft for the synod. Francis was writing from within himself as Bergoglio, son of the Church, and Pope. It is a document that is not “doctrinal” but a personal challenge. It is not only the word that comes out, but the person speaking the word that has to be coming out of self. It is “kerygmatic.” Kerygma means preaching Christ in the manner of the early Church. Francis says “kerygma… needs to be the center of all evangelizing activity and all efforts at Church renewal. The kerygma is Trinitarian. The fire of the Spirit is given in the form of tongues and leads us to believe in Jesus Christ who, by his death and resurrection, reveals and communicates to us the Father’s infinite mercy” (“Joy… 164). Notice that the kerygma is not to become doctrine in the sense of conceptual abstraction. Rather it is has to be an enthusiastic (“en – theou” - in God, and God within) challenge to coming forth from out of self and go to serve the other. And it “must ring out over and over: Jesus Christ loves you; he gave his life to save you; and now he is living at your side every day to enlighten, strengthen and free you.” This is “the principal proclamation, the one which we must hear again and again in different ways, the one which we must announce one way or another throughout the process of catechesis, at every level and moment” (164). And most interesting (in that it clearly is working within a different epistemological horizon [the subject]), “We must not think that in catechesis the kerygma gives way to a supposedly more ‘solid’ formation. Nothing is more solid, profound, secure, meaningful and wisdom-filled than that initial proclamation. All Christian formation consists of entering more deeply into the kerygma” (165). And notice that the kerygma is not imposed on anyone in violation of his freedom. Rather , it is the answer to the deepest longing that each person has as image of the divine Persons. Ratzinger wrote: “The anamnesis instilled in our being needs, one might say, assistance from without so that it can become aware of itself, But this ‘from without’ is not something set in opposition to anamnesis but is ordered to it. It has maieutic function, imposes nothing foreign but brings to fruition what is proper to anamnesis, namely, its interior openness to truth.”[2] “The pope does not impose from without. Rather, he elucidates the Christian memory [anamnesis where we “remember” as imaging God that “this” is good, and “this” is bad] and defends it,”[3] And so the kerygma does not become doctrine and deduction, “a conceptually articulated knowing, a store of retrievable contents.” Rather, the proclaimer of the Word is re-cognized by “an inner sense, a capacity to recall, so that the one whom it addresses, if he is not turned in on himself, hears its echo from within. He sees: that’s it! That is what my nature points to and seeks.”[4]
                The question can be asked: What are the categories of authority in papal documents?  And the problem, to begin with, is the notion of “categories.” In the beginning, there were no categories, and more important than words, there was an experience and a consciousness that was passed on.
There had to be words, of course, but they could not be written down.  DeLubac writes, “As far back as the second century, mention was made of a ‘rule of faith,’ and their conviction grew up, not entirely without justification, that this rule went back to the twelve apostles. This is what is deduced from the declarations of St. Irenaeus, who says that ‘if the Apostles had not left any writing behind, we would still need to follow the rule of faith which they passed on to the leader s of the Church.”[5] And these words, probably from St. Ambrose, from A.D.380-390: “I want you to be well aware of this: the Creed must not be written down…. Why not? Because we have received it in a way that was not meant to be written. Wheat then must you do? Remember it. But, you will say, how can we remember it if we do not write it down, you will remember it all the better… When you write something down, in fact, certain that you can reread it, you do not take the trouble to go over it every day, meditating on it. But, when you do not write something down, on the contrary, fearing to forget it, you do take the trouble to go over it every day…. Go over the Creed in your mind; I insist, in your mind. Why? So that you may not fall into the habit, by repeating it aloud to yourself, of starting to repeat it among the catechumens or the heretics.”[6]
   And the great fear there was to get into debates that are determined by only by the rational of logic. Newman writes: “these are the secrets which the Church unfolds to him who passes on from the catechumens, and not to the heathen. For we do not unfold to a heathen the truths concerning Father, Son and Holy Spirit; nay, not even in the case of catechumens, do we clearly explain the mysteries, but we frequently say many things indirectly, so that believers who have been taught may understand, the others may not be injured.”  He speaks of “the peculiar caution then adopted by Christians in teaching the truth, - their desire to rouse the moral powers to internal voluntary action, and their dread of loading or formalizing the mind.”[7]
The History of the West:
And so, Francis is retrieving for us the aboriginal way that the God-man was encountered and “known” from the beginning. Charles Taylor offers the epistemological sea-change that he found “inspirational” in Ivan Illich as the key to understanding the emergence of Modernity as rationalistic, objectifying, controlling, rule based individualism which pervades the Western culture in which we all live and experience our being.
Taylor writes in his foreword to an  interview with Ivan Illich:[8] “In Latin Christendom, the attempt was made to impose on everyone a more individually committed and Christocentric religion of devotion and action, and to suppress or even abolish older, supposedly ‘magical’ or ‘superstitious’ forms of collective ritual practice.
                “Allied with a neo-Stoic outlook, this became the charter for a series of attempts to establish new forms of social order. These helped to reduce violence and disorder and to create populations of relatively pacific and productive artisans and peasants who were more and more induced/forced into the new forms of devotional practice and moral behavior, be this in Protestant England, Holland, or later the American colonies, or in Counter-Reformation France, or in the Germany of the Polizeistaat.
                “This creation of a new, civilized, ‘polite’ order succeeded beyond what its first originators could have hoped for, and this in turn led to a new reading of what a Christian order might be, one which was seen more and more in ‘immanent’ terms. (The polite, civilized order is the Christian order.) This version of Christianity was shorn of much of its ‘transcendent’ content, and was thus open to a new departure, in which the understanding of good order – could be embraced outside of the original theological, Providential framework, and in certain cases even against it (as by Voltaire, Edward Gibbon, and in another way David Hume).
                “The secularization of Western culture and, indeed, widespread disbelief in God have arisen in close symbiosis with this belief in a moral order of rights’ bearing individuals who are destined (by God or Nature ) to act for mutual benefit. Such an order thus rejects the earlier honor ethic which exalted the warrior, just as the new order also tends to occlude any transcendent horizon. (We see one good formulation of this notion of order in John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, in which he argued for a human origin of the authority to rule.) This understanding or order has profoundly shaped the modern West’s dominant forms of social imaginary: the market economy, the public sphere, the sovereign ‘people.’
                “This, in bare outline, is my account of secularization, one in which I think Illich basically concurs. But he describes it as the corrupting of Christianity. To illustrate he draws, again and again, on the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus’ story about an outsider who helps a wounded Jew. For Illich this story represents the possibility of mutual belonging between two strangers. Jesus points to a new kind of fittingness, belonging together, between the Samaritan and the wounded man. They are fitted together in a proportionality which comes from God, which is that of agape, and which became possible because God became flesh. The enfleshment of God extends outward, through such new links as the Samaritan makes with the Jew, into a network which we call the Church. But this is a network , not a categorical grouping; that is, it is a skein of relations which link particular, unique, enfleshed people to each other, rather than a grouping of people together on the grounds of their sharing some important  property. Corruption occurs when the Church begins to respond to the failure and inadequacy of a motivation grounded in a sense of mutual belonging by erecting a system. This system incorporates a code or set of rules, a set of disciplines to make us internalize these rules, and a system of rationally constructed organizations – private and public bureaucracies, universities, schools – to make sure we carry out what the rules demand. All these become second nature to us. We grow accustomed to decentering ourselves from our lived, embodied experience in order to become disciplined, rational, disengaged subjects. From within this perspective, the significance of the Good Samaritan story appears obvious; it is a stage on the road to a universal morality of rules.
“Modern ethics illustrates this fetishism of rules and norms…  Not just law but ethics is seen in terms of rules    - as by Immanuel Kant, for example. The spirit of the law is important, where it is so, because it too expresses some general principle. For Kant the principle is that we should put regulation by reason, or humanity as rational agency, first. In contrast, we have seen, the network of agape puts first the gut-driven response to a particular person. This response cannot be reduced to a general rule. Because we cannot live up to this – ‘Because of the hardness of your hearts’ – we need rules. It is not that we could just abolish them, but modern liberal civilization fetishizes them. We think we have to find the right system of rules, of norms, and then follow them through unfailingly. We cannot see any more the awkward way these rules fit enfleshed human beings, we fail to notice the dilemmas they have to sweep under the carpet: for instance, justice versus mercy; or justice versus a renewed relation, as we saw in South Africa with its Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a shining attempt to get beyond the existing codes of retribution.               

With this perspective, something crucial in the Good Samaritan story gets lost. A world ordered by this system of rules, disciplines, and organizations can only see contingency as an obstacle, even en enemy and a threat. The ideal is to master it, to extend the web of control so that contingency is reduced to a minimum. By contrast, contingency is an essential feature of the story of the Good Samaritan as an answer to the question that prompted it. Who is my neighbor? The one you happen across, stumble across, who is wounded there in the road. Sheer accident also has a hand in shaping the proportionate, the appropriate response. It is telling us something, answering our deepest questions: this is your neighbor. But in order to hear this, we have to escape from the monomaniacal perspective in which contingency can only be an adversary requiring control. Illich develops this theme profoundly…
“This is why Illich’s work is so important to us today. I have found it more than useful, even inspiring, because I have been working over many years to find a nuanced understanding of Western modernity. This would be one which would  both give a convincing account of how modernity arose and allow for a balanced account of what is good, even great I, in it, and of what is less good, even dangerous and destructive. Illich’s understanding of our modern condition as a spinoff from a ‘corrupted’ Christianity captures one of the important historical vectors that brought about the modern age and allows us to see how good and bad are closely interwoven in it. Ours is a civilization concerned to relieve suffering and enhance human well-being, on a universal scale unprecedented in history, and which at the same time threatens to imprison us in forms that can turn alien and dehumanizing. This should take us beyond the facile and noisy debate between the boosters and knockers of modernity for the ‘Enlightenment project.’
Illich, in his overall vision  and in the penetrating historical detail of his arguments, offers a new road map, a way of coming to understand what has been jeopardized in our decentered, objectifying, discarnate way of remaking ourselves, and  he does  so without simply falling  into the clichés of anti-modernism.
Codes, even the best codes, can become idolatrous traps that tempt us to complicity in  violence. [I immediately think of the “code” of capitalism that (with all its good emphasis on the person, freedom, industriousness, etc.]. Illich reminds us not to become totally invested in the code – even the best code of peace-loving, egalitarian variety – of liberalism. We should find the center of our spiritual lives beyond the code deeper than the code, in networks of living concern, which are not to be sacrificed to the code, which must even from to time subvert it. This message comes out of a certain theology, but it should be heard by everybody. This rich book assembles countless reminders of our humanity, which w can all hear and gain from, regardless of our ultimate metaphysical perspective.               Charles Taylor[9]

[1] Inside the Vatican January 2014, p. 60.
[2] J. Ratzinger, Conscience and Truth, On Conscience, Ignatius (2007) 34.
[3] Ibid 36.
[4] Ibid 32.
[5] Adversus haereses, bk. 3, chap. 4. nos. 1-2; cf. bk. 1, chap. 10, no. 1.
[6] DeLubac, “The Christian Faith,” Ignatius (1986) 23.
[7] John Henry Newman, The Arians of the Fourth Century, UNDP (1833, 2001) 47-51.
[8] “The Rivers North of the Future: The Testament of Ivan Illich As Told to David Cayley,” House of Anansi Press (2005) x-xiv.
[9] Ibid.

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