Manotti and I returned from a Latin Mass. The whole thing got me thinking about tradition and how it seems we as a culture have more than ever chipped away not only at our own traditions, but even more debased tradition as something bad. We think this is unfortunate. Still, is it possible to retain tradition while also being progressive or meliorative? We try to address this issue. The conversation runs long and the discourse is arduous.
Manotti and I have enjoyed making videos so here are two new installments.
Catholicism and Protestantism. Mostly Protestantism
In this first video I ask Manotti to comment on what he sees as some important differences between Catholics and Protestants beyond the usual responses to that: the “solas”. What ensues in a fairly heavy conversation that introduces Kierkegaard, Karl Barth, negative theology, and more. Manotti is from the Protestant tradition so he enlightened me to a few things I hadn’t known or really thought about.
What does it take to be a saint these days?
In this much shorter clip, Manotti draws on a question a friend asked him: How can one become a saint in these troubled times? The question is delivered to me, so I do my best to answer. I rely heavily on Boethius and Bishop Robert Barron. OK, let’s call a spade a spade: I totally rip off Barron. But in my defense, I think he’s right.
I invited my friend Manotti to try out vlogging (which auto-corrected to flogging, by the way). Just in case no one reads blogs anymore I figured I’d try out making video for no one to watch. This reminds me of something a colleague and I once discussed: since primary sources are better to assign in philosophy classes, but students don’t read what is assigned anyway, it is better that they not read the primary sources than not read the crappy textbook. Whatever.
So here are three videos we made based on questions we each wrote. It’s heavy philosophy, so buckle up. In the end I am not sure we accomplished anything, but we had fun. In the Socratic tradition these are “aporetic”, and perhaps that’s how it should be. Either way, we’re two traditionalist dudes who are yakking just after Sunday Mass, and that means we’re a little formally dressed and wired on coffee and donuts. Manotti didn’t want anyone to know, but he spilled water all over his shirt, which is why he’s wearing a jacket.
Question One: Which is primary – the Good, the True, or the Beautiful?
Manotti asks me about the three transcendentals, one of my favorite topics. We have a very good conversation, and Manotti makes some valuable insights and then nearly commits the heresy of Sabellianism. I think you’ll like this one.
Question Two: Is there room in our contemporary moral world for a Platonic notion of the Good?
When we decided to do this we both wrote down our questions, not letting the other know what they were. It seems we had some similar themes in mind. Here I ask Manotti about whether or not we can envision a morality based on something like the Platonic Good. In other words, is there an overarching sense of the Good that we should be striving for? We go deep on this one. Very deep. I bring up Augustine. Manotti brings in Leibniz. Whenever Leibniz enters the room things get nutty.
Question Three: How and When Did the West Go Wrong in its Thinking, pt. 1
This was a fun conversation. Manotti asks me about if and when the West went off course. I propose a broad answer is with the Cartesian turn, but more acutely in post-enlightenment thinking. We never finished, then decided to eat sauerkraut and keilbasa, and call it a day. We’ll finish this one later. IT WENT THAT WELL!
As I write this it is Saturday, March 4, 2017; the Saturday after Ash Wednesday. The Gospel Reading for today is the story of Levi the tax collector from Luke 5:27-32: The Call of Levi, as it is sometimes called. The narrative is a familiar one. Jesus calls over the tax collector, Levi. Like all tax collectors of this time they are a reviled lot, but Jesus says to him, “Follow me.” What ensues after is left to the imagination, but we are told that, later, Jesus dines with him and other tax collectors. The Pharisees then reproached Jesus for associating with sinners, after which Jesus responds with the oft cited retort, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” In common parlance this is the old problem of not “preaching to the converted.”
That narrative is certainly at play, but I think there is more going on here. After my reading of this passage I engaged in an Ignatian meditation, the kind where one imaginatively places themselves in the scene. The details of my meditation are unimportant, but I would like to share a few things. At the banquet, Jesus, Levi, and the other tax collectors and sinners all share a meal, conversation, and laughter. They are there, plainly, in their humanity. They are there in their simplicity and even vulnerability.
I was then immediately reminded of something I had experienced or felt when I was in my very early twenties on a few but poignant instances. At that time I had drifted away from the Church, but looking back now I can see that I had had experiences for years that, I believe, can only be identified as spiritual, perhaps calling me back or even keeping me connected. These particular experiences in my early twenties, in their seeming banality, all went something like this: I would be at the local mall having a bite in the dining area. There would always be someone else eating alone as I was. I couldn’t help but watch them, the way they were just there chowing down, in, what I can only describe, their simple humanity. Some of these souls I saw were tough looking guys. Others looked as lonely there and then as I imagined them as being through much of their life. Some were beautiful or handsome. Some very plain and a bit gawky. But the thing that united these occurrences – and I stress there were only a handful – was the phenomenon I observed that I can only call “the tender act of satiation,” and the accompanying feeling I had each time, which was that I was witness to, and perhaps even enjoining, human weakness. This is very hard to explain without sounding sentimental, but I truly believe there was more going on here than some projecting of my own sentimentality as a flaneur of regular people doing an ordinary act. There was in all those episodes, as it were, something else speaking to me, and whatever that was, was brought out vividly through today’s Gospel reading. The tender act of satiation, the feeding of a hunger, is in many respects the dissipating of an ongoing or repeated weakness.
Our hungers and fragility are universal. We often attempt to cover them over with veneers of toughness, or we try to escape them in all kinds of unfortunate ways. But then, when we are just ourselves, simply and plainly, we remedy this hunger.
Sometimes at Mass or during holy hour I have a similar experience to those I had in the concessions area at the Mall. I see ordinary people doing an ordinary thing, which is truly extraordinary. They are feeding their spiritual hunger.
What was Levi hungry for? I’d like to believe that when he dined with Jesus he needed and was given more than the food served. And how much more rich and meaningful the laughter and companionship must have been that evening. The Pharisees only saw a scoundrel in Levi; Christ saw someone vulnerable and lovable despite, or even because of, their sins.