The Blood is the Life, Part VI

by Bernard Brandt

The School of Athens - Raphael

Well, it is now time to begin to wrap up this silly little series. For those who have not read the earlier parts of it, Part V, and links to the other four parts, may be found here.

For those who want a brief precis of the series so far, it is that the crisis which is the current state of the Roman Catholic Church may best be described as an immune deficiency syndrome in the Body of Christ; that the hierarchical clergy of that Church serve the functions in that Body of the vessels (deacons), the blood (priests), and the immune system (bishops); that the failure of that clergy to perform their respective functions is due to the failure of that clergy to be educated according to the mandates of the Second Vatican Council, in its document, Optatam Totius; that that failure was compounded by a tendency among that clergy systematically to break their vows of chastity by acting like closeted gay males; and finally, that the current state of North American and European academic scholarship, rather than educating that clergy, only makes matters worse.

I’d like to dwell a bit on the last link in the above enthymeme. Just what is it about modern academic scholarship which has been so corrosive to an intelligent study of the Orthodox and Catholic Faith? I have been pondering this for some time, and at first, I thought that it was the progressive demythologization of Scripture and Tradition by Bultmann and his followers. Over the course of time, however, I came to believe that the replacement of broad and deep erudition by narrow, specialized, and pedantic scholarship explained much of the rot in the modern academic world.

I have recently come to the conclusion, however, that a more fundamental process is taking place in the minds of modern academics, and indeed, in the minds of many people, which undermines both faith, and more generally, any enjoyment in one’s studies or in one’s life. I think that C.S. Lewis explained it the best in his autobiography, Surprised by Joy:

… It seemed to me self-evident that one essential property of love, hate, fear, hope, or desire was attention to their object. To cease thinking about or attending to the woman is, so far, to cease loving; to cease thinking about or attending to the dreaded thing is, so far, to cease being afraid. But to attend to your own love or fear is to cease attending to the loved or dreaded object. In other words the enjoyment and the contemplation of our inner activities are incompatible. You cannot hope and also think about hoping at the same moment; for in hope we look to hope’s object and we interrupt this by (so to speak) turning round to look at the hope itself. Of course the two activities can and do alternate with great rapidity; but they are distinct and incompatible. This was not merely a logical result of Alexander’s analysis, but could be verified in daily and hourly experience. The surest means of disarming an anger or a lust was to turn your attention from the girl or the insult and start examining the passion itself. The surest way of spoiling a pleasure was to start examining your satisfaction. But if so, it followed that all introspection is in one respect misleading. In introspection we try to look “inside ourselves” and see what is going on. But nearly everything that was going on a moment before is stopped by the very act of our turning to look at it. Unfortunately this does not mean that introspection finds nothing. On the contrary, it finds precisely what is left behind by the suspension of all our normal activities; and what is left behind is mainly mental images and physical sensations. The great error is to mistake this mere sediment or track or by-product for the activities themselves. That is how men may come to believe that thought is only unspoken words, or the appreciation of poetry only a collection of mental pictures, when these in reality are what the thought of the appreciation, when interrupted, leave behind — like the swell at sea, working after the wind has dropped. Not, of course, that these activities, before we stopped them by introspection, were unconscious. We do not love, fear, or think without knowing it. Instead of the twofold division into Conscious and Unconscious, the Enjoyed, and the Contemplated.

This discovery flashed a new light back on my whole life. I saw that all my waitings and watchings for Joy, all my vain hopes to find some mental content on which I could, so to speak, lay my finger and say “This is it,” had been a futile attempt to contemplate the enjoyed.

To continue Lewis’ thought, I would have to admit that this is not to say that contemplation is in itself a bad thing. Analysis, or the breaking of a subject of study into its component parts, is a useful thing, but only if it permits a better synthesis, or a better enjoyment of a thing studied. I can think of nothing more corrosive to a hearty faith, or indeed, the proper enjoyment of any object of study or of love, than the constant analysis or finding fault with that beloved thing or person. Or as Lewis’ friend, J.R.R. Tolkien, said: “He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.

And I believe that that was what the Fathers of the Second Vatican Council  sought to preserve in proposing Optatam totiuswisdom. Anyone who reads that document through the lens of erudition must be struck by the parallels between it and, say, Books II through VII of Plato’s Republicor Pico della Mirandola’s On the Dignity of Man, or John Milton’s Of Education, to give but three examples. I believe that what the Council Fathers wanted was to raise up priests who would be philosopher-kings and sages of the Faith. But what the modern academic world has given the Church instead, at best, might uncharitably but accurately be called ‘philosophy students’.

But I would not wish to leave my gentle readers (all three or four of them), on such a dismal note. I believe that the beginning of a change in priestly education is still possible and necessary, if we are to find a way out of the present crisis. I will be writing more about that in my next entry in this series. It begins with a meditation on Psalm 1.