Friday, September 28, 2012

Jesuit Brian Daley to receive Ratzinger Prize.

Though Vatican watcher Sandro Magister first reported the news in July, today was the date of the official announcement that the second annual Ratzinger Prize in Theology will be awarded to the French historian of philosophy Rémi Brague and to Father Brian E. Daley, S.J., an American patrologist who teaches at the University of Notre Dame. Here is more from today's Vatican press release:
At midday today in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present the "Ratzinger Prize", which was established by the "Vatican Foundation: Joseph Ratzinger - Benedict XVI" and is due to be conferred on 20 October.

At the press conference Cardinal Camillo Ruini, president of the Foundation's academic committee, announced the names of the prize winners: the French historian Rémi Brague and the American scholar of patrology and theology Fr. Brian Edward Daley S.J.

From 1990 to 2010 Rémi Brague was professor at La Sorbonne University in Paris, France. He currently holds the Romano Guardini Chair at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Germany, while continuing to work as visiting professor at a number of American, Spanish and Italian universities. He is a member of the Institut de France - Academie des sciences morales et politiques, and holds the Grand Prix de Philosophie de l'Academie Francaise. His many works include: Europe, la voie romaine, La sagesse du monde. Histoire de l'experience humaine de l'univers, Du Dieu des chrétiens et d’un ou deux autres and Les Ancres dans le Ciel.

Cardinal Ruini described Professor Brague as "a true philosopher and, at the same time, a great historian of cultural thought who unites a profound and unequivocal Christian and Catholic faith to his speculative ability and historical vision."

From 1978 to 1996 Fr. Brian Edward Daley taught theology and the history of theology at the Weston School of Theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Currently he is a professor at the University of Notre Dame. He is active in the field of ecumenism, particularly as regards relations between Catholics and Orthodox, and is the Catholic secretary of the North American Orthodox-Catholic Theological Consultation. Among other works, he is author of The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology. He has also edited an anthology of texts of Jesuit spirituality entitled Companions in the Mission of Jesus, and contributed to the Handbuch der Dogmengeschichte.

Fr. Daley, said Cardinal Ruini, "is a great historian of patristic theology, but also a man entirely committed to the life and mission of the Church, an exemplary model of the fusion of academic rigour with passion for the Gospel."
In addition to his many scholarly accomplishments, Brian Daley can also claim a share of responsibility for my Jesuit vocation: he was my spiritual director when I was a candidate for the Society of Jesus, and I remain deeply grateful for his deft guidance and insight as well as his friendship over the past decade. I am happy to see Brian's academic work in service of the Church publicly recognized wih the receipt of the Ratzinger Prize, and I hope that readers of this blog will join me in congratulating him on this well-deserved honor. AMDG.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Glenn Gould at 80.

Eighty years ago today, Canadian pianist Glenn Gould was born in Toronto. Gould isn't around to celebrate his eightieth birthday - he died in 1982, felled by a stroke at the height of his career - but the anniversary has been marked locally with a special concert last night at Gould's alma mater, the Royal Conservatory of Music, as well as a festival-cum-symposium held this past weekend at the University of Toronto. Gould's birthday also led Globe and Mail arts writer Kate Taylor to offer some thoughts on the late pianist's place in Canadian (and global) culture:
The multifaceted Gould is a kind of Rorschach test for Canadians. Would you like to see him as a digital prophet, the forward-looking recording artist and broadcaster who called for a democracy that would elevate the audience to the level of the performer and who predicted our mash-up culture? Or perhaps you prefer the child of WASP Toronto, the control freak who obsessed over the quality of his recordings, partisan of Bach and Schoenberg.

. . .

[Composer and pianist Ron] Davis places Gould, whose birthday is Tuesday, in a line of 20th-century Canadian intellectuals who thought about communications and mass media, from Harold Innis to Marshall McLuhan and Northrop Frye.

People have sometimes quipped that Gould is Canada’s Elvis, the musical figure whose star burns even brighter after death, and Davis sees more than a joke in the comparison: "Elvis represented a huge swath of American culture. Gould represented Canadian culture of the period – McLuhan, Frye – publicly accessible but brilliant. In the U.S., it was the showman; here, it was modest brilliance."

Of course, Gould was never modest about his talents – and not always right in his predictions.

"He was wrong on a lot of things," [music critic Tim] Page says of his old friend. "He used to say the concert would die out by the year 2000 and the record company would rule."
Glenn Gould was previously featured in this blog in a July post on Glenn Gould's Toronto. Now that I live in Gould's home city, I'm at least theoretically capable of visiting some sites that played a large role in his life.

I don't think that a post on Glenn Gould would be complete without some music, so here is a recording of Gould playing a short piece by his favorite composer, Orlando Gibbons. This recording, still available commercially, is one that has some importance for me personally, as it served as my introduction to the work of Glenn Gould: before I had ever heard Gould's famed interpretations of the Goldberg Variations or anything else that he had performed, I heard this brief recording on a classical music station in California and was immediately hooked. Here's hoping that someone discovering Gould for the first time through this blog will have the same reaction that I did. AMDG.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Notes on the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross.

I have come to think of today's Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross as the patronal feast of this blog, so I usually post something on this date in observance of the feast. The above photo is one that I took last summer in the abbey church at Stift Heiligenkreuz, a twelfth-century Cistercian monastery outside of Vienna that takes its very name from the Holy Cross.

For your reflection today, here are some paragraphs from a sermon on today's feast by Saint Andrew of Crete:
We are celebrating the feast of the cross which drove away darkness and brought in the light. As we keep this feast, we are lifted up with the crucified Christ, leaving behind us earth and sin so that we may gain the things above. So great and outstanding a possession is the cross that he who wins it has won a treasure. Rightly could I call this treasure the fairest of all fair things and the costliest, in fact as well as in name, for on it and through it and for its sake the riches of salvation that had been lost were restored to us.

Had there been no cross, Christ could not have been crucified. Had there been no cross, life itself could not have been nailed to the tree. And if life had not been nailed to it, there would be no streams of immortality pouring from Christ’s side, blood and water for the world’s cleansing. The legal bond of our sin would not be cancelled, we should not have attained our freedom, we should not have enjoyed the fruit of the tree of life and the gates of paradise would not stand open. Had there been no cross, death would not have been trodden underfoot, nor hell despoiled.

Therefore, the cross is something wonderfully great and honorable. It is great because through the cross the many noble acts of Christ found their consummation – very many indeed, for both his miracles and his sufferings were fully rewarded with victory. The cross is honorable because it is both the sign of God’s suffering and the trophy of his victory. It stands for his suffering because on it he freely suffered unto death. But it is also his trophy because it was the means by which the devil was wounded and death conquered; the barred gates of hell were smashed, and the cross became the one common salvation of the whole world.
Before thy Cross, we bow down in worship, O Master, and thy holy Resurrection we glorify. AMDG.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

9/11 + 11.

I don't have much new to say about today's anniversary, especially after last year's post on this date. I can say that this is the first time that I will have spent 9/11 outside of the United States, an experience that feels very strange to me.

The New York music blog An Unamplified Voice has a post featuring a great deal of raw video footage of the World Trade Center on 9/11, some of which I had not seen before today. As the blogger at AUV writes of the events seen in the footage, "This happened, even if there was (and remains) no polite space for it even to be contemplated."

Notwithstanding the above caveat, I believe that music helps - or at least it helps me. The Air from Johann Sebastian Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major is hardly an original choice as far as memorial music goes, but originality isn't everything, and classics are classics for a reason.

Eternal memory!

Saturday, September 08, 2012

In memoriam: P. James A. Sadowsky, S.J.

Jesuit Father James Sadowsky died yesterday morning in New York at the age of 88; I don't have any good pictures of him, so I decided to illustrate this post with the above photo, which I'll explain later. A longtime professor of philosophy at Fordham University, Father Sadowsky never achieved great fame as an academic: he published relatively little and never earned a doctorate, having started his teaching career at a time when such things mattered much less than they do today. Even so, Father Sadowsky came to enjoy a notable following among partisans of the Austrian School of economics thanks to some of his writings as well as his collaboration with libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, leading one online tribute to acclaim him as an "exemplary anarcho-Catholic."

Though I never had Father Sadowsky as a teacher, I did get to know him while I was at Fordham. Father Sadowsky was an extraordinary vivid character, the sort of person whose actions and comments produce long-remembered and oft-retold stories. Some of the most memorable stories about Father Sadowsky focus on his concern for linguistic precision and strict literalism in speech. When he got his first telephone answering machine, he took a long time crafting the right message; openings like "this is Father James Sadowsky" or "this is the voice of James Sadowsky" were rejected as factually inaccurate and lingustically imprecise before Father Sadowsky finally produced a text that began, "You are listening to a recording of the voice of Father James Sadowsky." Directed to "go through those doors" to reach the elevator in an unfamiliar building, Father Sadowsky replied, "I don't have a resurrected body; I can't go through doors."

Though he had officially retired in the 1990s, Father Sadowsky was still a notable presence on campus when I was at Fordham a decade later. Well into his eighties, he continued to serve as an examiner for the De U (short for De Universa Philosophia), the comprehensive oral examination that Jesuit scholastics must complete at the end of philosophy studies. In that capacity, he was known for asking very pointed questions ("Did God know that Judas would betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver and not twenty-nine?") and for telling examinees to read certain of his own articles (like "Why Create Hitler?"). In my time, Father Sadowsky also regularly offered a semester-long tutorial in logic for Jesuit scholastics; though Sadowsky often asked me when I would finally take the tutorial (as I sometimes promised that I would), I regret that I never took him up on it.

Finally, some words about the photo that illustrates this post. The doors seen here are found at the entrance of St. Michael's Russian Catholic Church on Mulberry Street in Manhattan. Father Sadowsky was a parishioner at St. Michael's for several years in the 1940s; the son of a Russian Orthodox father and an Episcopalian mother, he had found his way to St. Michael's sometime after he was received into the Catholic Church in 1939 and attended services there regularly until he entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1947. Father Sadowsky stayed away from St. Michael's for the next sixty years - somewhat incredibly, I'd say, given that he spent most of those years in New York - until I and another scholastic took him back there for a Sunday liturgy. We arrived fairly early, so the doors seen above were still closed and not propped open, as they would be closer to the beginning of services. I knew that the doors were unlocked - the deacon and others were inside setting up - so I simply opened the door at left and started to enter the building; at that point, Father Sadowsky drew my attention to the sign on the door at right and said, "Why didn't you ring the bell?" Explaining why I chose not to do so was of no avail - Sadowsky took the sign at its word, even though I had come to regard it as redundant.

Earlier on the trip to visit St. Michael's, Father Sadowsky gave me another unforgettable lesson in linguistic precision. To get from the Bronx to the East Side of Manhattan, I chose to take the Triborough Bridge because that was the route that I knew best. Seeing me do this, Father Sadowsky asked, "Why didn't you take the Third Avenue Bridge?" Unfamiliar with this alternative route, I innocently responded, "Where does it go?" "To Third Avenue," Sadowsky answered, in a tone of voice that suggested that I should have known better than to ask. As an unforgettable Jesuit crosses the bridge to the next life, I pray that his memory may be eternal. AMDG.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

That Which Never Taketh Rust.

Continuing the 'back to school' theme of Monday's post, I'd like to share a classic essay that I've long wanted to post on this blog. "That Which Never Taketh Rust" is the work of Richard Alan Gordon, a Georgetown alumnus (COL '50, LAW '53, LLM '61) who taught law at his alma mater for just over four decades before his death in October of 2003. I saw this essay for the first time when it was published in the Georgetown Academy in the fall of 2000; this essay can't be found elsewhere on the Internet, and the Academy is evidently defunct, so I'm taking the liberty of posting the complete "That Which Never Taketh Rust" here on this blog.

I should say a brief word about my personal history with "That Which Never Taketh Rust." When I was an undergraduate, I used to see Professor Gordon fairly often because we were both regulars at the 11:15 pm Mass which Father Tom King celebrated six nights a week in Dahlgren Chapel; while we spoke superficially on a handful of occasions, I can't say that Professor Gordon said anything then that really stuck with me. Professor Gordon's most notable impact on my life came through this essay, which I've kept and read over a few times over the last decade. Though Gordon wrote for an audience of Georgetown students and makes a lot of very local allusions (like his reference to The Tombs, a bar near campus), I believe that this essay makes good reading for any college student - or, even better, for high school students preparing for college. I hope that posting "That Which Never Taketh Rust" on this blog will bring Professor Gordon's words to a new and broader audience. Without further preamble, Gordon's text follows.


A dear friend told me once of an inscription displayed above the stage of an atypical high school auditorium – an exhortation never forgotten despite the years. "Thou, my mind, aspire to higher things! Grow rich in that which never taketh rust!"

All efforts to dislodge from my friend's brain the identity of the author of these stunning lines failed, as did my own efforts to discover it. In desperation I turned to the source of almost infinite wisdom – Father James Schall, S.J., here on your new campus at Georgetown – and in less than an hour he had accomplished, as he usually does, the impossible. "Why, it is Sir Philip Sydney, Sonnet number 110," he announced with blithe satisfaction. I was deeply pleased, as should you be, for I could not imagine better advice to urge upon you as your new, exciting and confusing life begins at Georgetown.

When I was a student entering Georgetown College (could it be over 50 years ago?) life was, at least in some respects, easier. Wise souls had decreed that which was deemed essential educational equipment for a truly cultivated person, and we were all required to confront these fascinating and often disturbing courses. First, a thorough knowledge of English Grammar was simply not presumed, and we were compelled to revisit this quicksand briefly to assure that we could all write, think, and possibly even speak in a truly coherent manner. To this same end, Logic (which may be termed formal logic) was exposed to us all in its brutal and ultimately liberating severity. "Knowledge," said Socrates, "makes a bloody entrance." And indeed it did. We were not asked at the time if we were "feeling good" about the experience. But the ultimate health of our minds, in their often curious and discursive detours, was saved by logic – and this was one of the treasures we gained "that never taketh rust." How could I not most strongly encourage you to seize upon logic as one of your first courses – and one of your most serviceable companions through what I hope will be a rewarding, productive, and long life?

What else? Well, of course, a reasonable curiosity about our world’s infinitely fascinating past compels us to gird ourselves with a knowledge of history and of those historical figures who have impacted for better or worse on the fitful course of mankind. And, at least, a basic course on the principles of economics seems mandated for all, even for those who may be chilled by the modern industrialized world’s apparent surrender to an unhealthy level of materialism.

But I hope you chose Georgetown for more than these however insistent concerns. I hope you chose Georgetown for its grand potential to prepare you to create a spiritual awareness for yourself through philosophy and yes, its highest order, theology; to help you learn to know yourself, and to see and feel and admire the richness and triumph of the human spirit. Names of course offerings can strangely mislead, I found it amusing that Father Thomas King’s superb course is called, "The Problem of God"! I was unaware that God had problems. I always assumed it was Man who had the problem!

Blaise Pascal, genius of science, was quick to warn us that all is not solved with even the most sublime human rationality. "The heart has reasons," he said, "which Reason cannot know." Well, then, is there any way to learn about the human heart? I suggest to you in total sincerity that nothing is more abundant in these lessons than Literature – English, Continental, Asian, American. In truth, could not a lifetime of Liberal Arts curriculum be called God, Man, and Literature? How can one so young as you live many lives and learn endless lessons which "never taketh rust" in a few short years? By plunging into as much literature as you possibly can and living through the layered multiples of life that great literature displays for those whose eyes can see true gold.

Who has not been exalted by Emily Dickinson? Restored to sanity by Jane Austen? Flannery O’Connor? George Eliot? I mention these four among a world of others, because truly magnificent literature knows no gender and should not be "gender-tilted" in the teaching to be "fair to the sexes." The redoubtable Rudyard Kipling, than whom none was more "macho," wrote a little poem entitled "Jane Goes to Heaven." In it, Dante, Cervantes, and Shakespeare are about to enter the Heavenly Gates when Jane Austen appears. All step aside to allow her to enter first - not, as some might suppose, as an act of chivalry, but because, in Kipling's view, Jane Austen's work showed a deeper insight into the human heart than any of the others. This is true praise indeed.

If you feel exhausted after all this advice, I don’t blame you. Choice is often excruciating; but to play casual with a lifetime is not the answer. Especially if it is your lifetime. You are the major participant here in determining the cultural, intellectual, and spiritual awareness you will acquire.

And that reminds me. To change a phrase, do not make your experience at Georgetown your "own private Idaho." You are not in Idaho. You have chosen to attend a school with a grandeur of traditions – learn them, debate them, improve them – but do not ignore them. You have chosen to go to school in a city whose cultural diversity is staggering. Many of the world’s greatest paintings are in museums that are free. This is the chamber music capital of the nation and, with the exception of Vienna, the world. Almost 300 specialist libraries of various types – many open to you upon special application. This is the place to get all the thrill of government in action and much of the life of the mind. Wake up! Walk out! Explore! That, after all, is what John Carroll had in mind. He wanted you to partake of all the culture of the city. Perhaps the "Tombs" is too well named. Do not bury your youth within its seductive walls. Endless concerts, plays, and history await you!

But in the swirling excitement of registration, meeting new friends to be, learning to find the paths for you – choose wisely. Choose anything taught by Father Schall, George Carey, Father King, and countless others who, like rarest treasure, are waiting to be discovered by you. But attention must be paid! Gold alone "never taketh rust."


Please know of my continued prayers and best wishes to all teachers and students starting a new academic year. AMDG.

Monday, September 03, 2012

Father Schall on liberal education.

This is a time of year when many are going 'back to school' both as students and as teachers, so it seems opportune to post something on the project of liberal education. This video features some thoughts on that subject by Father James V. Schall, S.J. of Georgetown University, delivered this spring in a lecture at Villanova. The video is nearly eighty minutes long, including questions from the audience, but I hope that those of you who are interested can find some time during the coming week to sit and watch the whole thing.

Why, some might ask, should one give a hearing (and a viewing) to Father Schall? The first way that I could answer that question is to say that Father Schall also remains one of the very best teachers I've ever had, which ought to mean something given that I'm about to begin my twenty-third year of formal education. Most readers of this blog won't be able to sign up for a course with Father Schall, but you can at least watch him on video or read some of his many books (Another Sort of Learning is the best place to start) to see what you think.

For Georgetown students who can sign up for a course with Father Schall, I must answer the "why" question differently. If I could give only one piece of advice to all current Georgetown undergraduates, regardless of their individual academic interests or future plans, I would tell them to make sure to take at least one course from Father Schall, a generous and selfless man who has become a living legend on the Hilltop and has helped generations of Hoyas discover what college is really about. At eighty-four, Father Schall still teaches two courses each semester and regularly turns out two or three books a year as well as numerous articles. So, young Hoyas, get to know the man!

The above video doesn't really capture the experience of sitting in one of Father Schall's classes - except, perhaps, towards the end when Schall walks into the audience to dialogue face-to-face with his questioners - but it still offers many gems. You can hear Father Schall explain why even college students can benefit from an annual reading of Cicero's essay De Senectute ("On Old Age"), warn student listeners to avoid the mortal sin of graduating without having read Augustine's Confessions, urge the reading of Josef Pieper and other greats, and deal gamely with a brief and unexpected blackout in the lecture hall. If you decide to read something new on the basis of watching this video - Cicero, Augustine, Pieper, or anything else - then this post will have served its purpose; as Father Schall himself says, "Look, what's important is the book - not what Schall says, not what anybody else says; it's what you read in the book that's important!"

Writing over a century ago, Henry Adams warned that "[t]he chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught." In this new academic year, I pray that all concerned in education will grow in wisdom and grace. AMDG.