Monday, February 18, 2013

Sanctimony and Snake Oil

A chap whose writings I’ve often enjoyed surprised me by promoting for Lenten reading the Gloria ruminations of the Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar. “We cannot begin to understand the Fathers & Doctors of the Church until we grasp the centrality of this,” the chap offered.

Balthasar’s magnum opus is a 16-volume work in which is found his best-known passage: “Before the beautiful—no, not really before but within the beautiful—the whole person quivers. He not only ‘finds’ the beautiful moving; rather, he experiences himself as being moved and possessed by it.”

This sums up nicely the modernist style of religion viewed primarily as an observable experience – a Hegelian synthesis of immanentism and naturalism that has collided with Catholic religion. For the Catholic, faith is a super-naturalized act of the will by which one gives intellectual consent to a divinely revealed truth. To the moderns, the intellect is pressed into the service of whatever experience one has had and happens to think of as religious (or “spiritual”). Contemplating the true, the beautiful, and the good, according to Balthasar, must be done in light of his own novel aesthetic (i.e. one stemming from a naturalized version of a religious experience). Said Balthasar, “The fundamental assumption of my work Gloria, was the ability to see a “Gestalt” (a complex form) in its coherent totality. Goethe’s viewpoint was to be applied to the Jesus phenomena and to the convergence of New Testament theologies.” At all costs, the correct contemplations are not to be based on the truths as treated by scholastic theology – a theology that Balthasar professed he despised with a great rage.

My points of concern about promoting the writings of a snake-oil salesman like von Balthasar were greeted by the chap with atypical angst, who characterized my remarks as vicious, etc. The sad irony is that the chap had professed admiration for Aquinas, confessed to a soft spot in his heart for the Latin Mass, etc. Yet he dismissed as mere youthful excess Balthasar’s confession of his hatred for classical theology and displayed sanctimonious scorn for allowing Balthasar’s notions to be scrutinized in light of the theologian’s own admissions. I was sadly reminded that such confusion of thought is part and parcel of the harm brought about by modern philosophies: even people of good will are duped by fair-seeming words, their considerate attempts to give others the benefit of the doubt being taken advantage of by theological grifters. Part and parcel with that is the contempt heaped on those who sound a warning. These folks are sincere but sadly mistaken. It’s a spectacle that breaks your heart. Soon enough one can say no more, and must simply step back and commend the matter to the care of the Almighty.

Pope St. Pius X described modernist ecclesiastics of von Balthasar’s sort — those “who, by a false zeal for the Church, lacking the solid safeguards of philosophy and theology, thoroughly imbued with the poisonous doctrines of the enemies of the Church and lost to all sense of modesty, put themselves forward as reformers of the Church; and, forming more boldly into line of attack, assail all that is most sacred in the work of Christ, not even sparing the Person of the Divine Redeemer, Whom, with sacrilegious audacity, they degrade to the condition of a simple and ordinary man.” (Pascendi)

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