dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

Diversity and divisions

To carry forward the theme addressed in a couple of recent threads, I offer a translation of an essay by Fr. Yves Congar published fifty years ago--plus a change... It doesn't exactly speak to the precise way in which many people are posing the issue here, but there's a good deal of wisdom in it.UPDATE: I have corrected the error pointed out below and inserted page-numbers.

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

What a rich and relevant essay. Grazie!

My wife and I experience every Sunday what fr Congar experienced on his 1946 visit to Vienna. It keeps the center holding in our faith life. Our Franciscan parish stands on the shabby side of San Francisco's trendy hotel district. The presider asks out of town visitors to stand at the 9am Gospel singing Mass. Without fail visitors from other countries and States stand up and seem delighted by the diversity of our congregation and the warm welcome. Come on by someday. thegubioproject.org/video.

Thank you, Joseph. Beautiful.

Unless I missed something (entirely possible), shouldn;t this sentence begin "The One who sends" rather than "The Son who sends"? It's at 1. aThe Son who sends, the Son who is sent, the Spirit who is the gift of them both and who internalizes in people the single gift of truth and grace given in Jesus Christ, so that in the end the Church's principle of unity is the unity of God himself: "May they be one as we are one" (Jn 17:22).Thank you for this translation. Congar was really good, wasn't he?

Wonderful choice. Wise words then, and wise words now. Fr. K. is like the scribe "who brings from his storeroom both the new and the old." I was just re-reading Jerry Ryan's piece on Joe Cunneen as "ferryman" of ideas. Joe would have been delighted to see Congar's piece here, setting some of our discussions in a useful --and larger-- perspective.

A paragraph on the means by which communion was practiced and achieved: In the ancient Church communion had its organs and means, humble means, very human ones. There were visits and hospitality; on this occasion there was the celebration together, or the invitation from one priest to another, from one bishop to another, to celebrate in his place at the altar. There were the letters recommending a Christian or a priest to another community. There was the solidarity of considering condemned what another Church, and especially the Roman Church had condemned. There was the sending of professions of faith to other Churches when one assumed an office. There was the sending of letters, especially occasioned by an event, a trial, difficulties. Finally, there was the mutual aid, the sending of help, living witnesses of spiritual and bodily compassion.Letters, visits, travels: staying in communion was hard work. Now, with the internet, it should be so much easier. But it really isn't, is it?

"What makes us one is that each of us has a personal relation with the one living God, thanks to the Holy Spirit which has been given to us." Amen.

JAK --Many thanks for the translation. One can see why the Curia would object to his thinking, especially his objection to the imposition of unity by the enforcement of uniformity -- and his disparagement of monologues. But I think he's still somewhat limited by the Platonic/Greek notion that unity is found in *universality*. Yes, he admits authority and law as providing a kind of unit. But his continued talking of "criteria of unity" indicates to me that for him unity requires some one standard against which the many must be measured, and, ISTM, this is just another way of enthroning universality/uniformity again. He obviously does value individuals as such, but he never says that it is their *differences* that contribute to the unity, and he doesn't really find room for individuals except as parts of something measuring up to criteria. At one point he does talk as if "interiority" is the basis for the value of individuality, but he doesn't explain why that should be so. and he finds interiority dangerous. My biggest problem with him is that he doesn't come near appreciating *differences as such* among individuals.He's just too Greek in his defense of universality, though he is decidedly anti-Greek in his appreciation of spontaneity. But he never seems to see that unity can be established by *the complementary* of differences a much more modern notion -- the aesthetic idea that differences need not oppose each other but can contribute to a unity which is not homogenous. He does seem to see that differences do not necessarily cause divergences, but he doesn't really explain how differences can be unified. Not his fault, of course. He's obviously a product of the medievals, and they didn't get around to appreciating the notion of the complementarity of differences either. We need another Aquinas to work out the ramifications of that insight. (Another problem having to do with the transcendentals. Sigh.)Thanks also for posting the tape of your Marianist lecture. Wish the captioning were more accurate. Did you know that at one point the closed captioning has you talking about "the anthropology of Carl Reiner"? :)

unity can be established by *the complementary* of differences [...] the aesthetic idea that differences need not oppose each other but can contribute to a unity which is not homogenous.Ann, it almost looks as if you're talking about heterosexual marriage!

Claire --Indeed, I am talking about any sort of unity which incorporates differences as complements. What one is, the other isn't, and somehow those differences "fit". The mysterious thing is the "fitting". Fitting things somehow fulfill each other, but what does fulfillment mean? What makes things fit? And why do some differences fulfill, but others don't? (Ice cream and cake fulfill but not ice cream and oysters on the half shell.) And why do some repeated *likenesses* fulfill but others don't. (Explosions of fireworks but not repeated similar blasts of trumpets?)The philosophers really have a long way to go on this one.

P. S. I'm assuming that beyond repetition or uniformity complementarity is *the* explanation of all sorts of fulfillment and/or unity. But for all I know there might be other reasons for it. But what?

Congar does write that diversity is an enrichment "because it will mean the unfolding of a large number of virtualities, as when white light is refracted by a prism or a network of little drops unfolds the whole gamut of basic colors.", and then, about the Trinity's diversity, he writes that "each of the Three is relative to the others", and later in a footnote he also provides a citation: "An organism is the more unified the more its differentiation grows and its functions multiply". All those suggest an appreciation of "differences as such" (as you say). So that idea is at least present in his text even if it does not dominate, don't you think?

Ann: I confess I don't see how you could arrive at the assessment you offer of Congar. Nor how you can object to the idea of criteria of unity: if there aren't any, how can one speak of a social body as having a unity? It would be an amorphous mass. Some common experience, understandings, judgments, goals, decisions, etc. have to be present; otherwise you don't have any more of a social unit than the twenty or thirty people who just happen to be on the same bus. I don't think this is a peculiarly "Greek" way of thinking.I didn't know there was closed captioning on my Marianist lecture.Tom: Yes, you're right. It should be "The One who sends..."

FWIW, when I think of diversity/unity with regard to God and Church, I think 'anything goes except sin'; anything goes being the diversity but the unity being corralled into 'without sin.'And my actual experience of RCC is that it is the most radically decentralized organization around. Members can do pretty much anything they want in its name, except when the Church judges their behavior as sinful. Now there is disagreement about what constitutes sinful behavior, but the fundamental discussion is where to draw that line.

Bruce: I don't agree with your posing of the issue. It's not primarily a moral issue, but has to do with legitimate diversity (e.g., in language and other forms of expression; in theology; in spiritual traditions; etc.) within the common faith.

JAK --I don't object in the least to principles of unity. What I think is unfortunate is speaking only of unities of *like* realities. Yes, there are unities of like things, but there are also unities of unlike things whose very unlikesses, whose *differences* are united into a whole. They aren't just tolerated in a whole, so to speak, they are integral to many wholes, especailly aesthetic ones. Artists are, I think, particularly well aware that their unifications are of disparates.True, a human organization needs common principles and goals and sometimes common means between them, but these are not the only sorts of principles of unity. Far from it. Take the Mass -- each part is different from the others but they complement each other. A Mass is not a simple repetitive chant. It is not an Oooooooom experience. The problem for the artists is to choose just what is complementary and to place the disparates in proper order.I say yours is a Greek way of thinking because it measures up only to Aristotle's notion that a work of art seeks to portray a universal. Yes, some works, especially literary ones, do that to some extent, but in fact we don't value heroes who are *only* types. They have to be identifiably different, identifiably other than the others for us to find full value in them. Hamlet as the hero of "Macbeth" would probably be a mess (though who knows what Shakespeare could have done with him in that part). For the Greeks "the one and the many" was a problem because of the manyness. I say that for a Christian the many reveal what God is each in its own tinyy way, and the many are, therefore, anything but a problem. The metaphysical merit of *all* differences is that they are *various*. They simply are what other, different sorts of beings are not, and as such each in its own different way reflects what the Lord is in a way that the others don't. (We're in metaphysics big time here.) And works of art which incorporate the various are not messes, they're beautiful. Red reflects God as blue does not, and vice versa. You could say that creation itself is attempting to mirror the infinite God by combining into a whole the many limited but varied beings of this world. They can never fully reflect Him, but they're a start on the way to knowledge of God.Congar does talk about "the richness" of the beings of this world, and this could possibly be interpreted as an appreciation of differences, except that he doesn't say that is what he means, and his other statements preclude such a view. So he never gets down to the value of difference, of variety as such. Even though he says diversity is necessary, he doesn't say it's a good in itself.

"Congar does write that diversity is an enrichment because it will mean the unfolding of a large number of virtualities, as when white light is refracted by a prism or a network of little drops unfolds the whole gamut of basic colors.,Claire --Yes, he does find richness in the formation of a rainbow from "white" light, but I find that metaphor very muddy. He's using the word "white" in the sense of physics, not the sense of a color we experience. There is no "enfolding of virtualities" when white light is refracted through a prisim. There is a physical sifting of rays of different wave lengths.I think he's caught between shall we call it the "universalism" of the Greeks and the fact that different creatures mirror God somehow. As I see it, Western art theory really didn't appreciate differences until the Romantics over-valued the individuality of the artists themselves. (The great artists, of course, knew better.) This has led to the notion that something that is original (i.e., different) it is thereby good art. What nonsense. Yes, there are two unacceptable extremes -- one over-values the universal, the other over-values the different.You also say, ". . . in a footnote he also provides a citation: An organism is the more unified the more its differentiation grows and its functions multiply."Sorry, I overlooked that. Yes, that does recognize a value of diversity, but, note, he puts it in a footnote. And note too that this is limited to means to ends (functions of parts of organisms). I maintain that diversity can *in itself* be of value, not just as a means to some other goal.

Nor does Congar deny that diversity is a good thing in itself, and I should have thought that the whole point of the essay was to defend the value of diversity, so I still can't figure out how you reached your negative assessment. I think he thought--and I certainly do--that the Church is a concrete universal. The word for it is "catholicity," not "universality," and it is wonderfully described in Lumen gentium 13 and 23. The latter, in the context of affirming the variety of rites and traditions in the Church, has the fine phrase "in unum conspirans varietas": "this variety of local Churches together aspiring to unity more clearly demonstrates the catholicity of an undivided Church." Catholicity is not uniformity but diversity integrated in Christ and the Spirit.

Father,I'm not quite sure how 'anything goes except sin' does not easily encompass what you describe as legitimate diversity. To my way of thinking, it easily encompasses language, culture, etc while also allowing for different ministries: poor, elderly, children etc. Do you have an example that highlights what you believe to be the difference?

"And my actual experience of RCC is that it is the most radically decentralized organization around."Bruce --Centralization is, I think, a notion which tries (and sometimes succeeds) in balancing likeness and differences in some sort of whole. It recognizes that there is a special unity in authority (Congar saw that clearly), but it also admits that there are other, diverse yet integral parts in the whole. In other words, you can have a central authority which guards common/universal beliefs but also have parts which just aren't the same thing as common beliefs. The papacy, for instance, is a part which is responsible for unanimity of *beliefs*, but it is not (or it shouldn't be) responsible for all the *practices* in local churches. When the Vatican conflates beliefs and practices the whole Church suffers.Complexity, complexity.

Ann, I am interested in that metaphor. We're supposed to see Christ in other people. Imagine each person is a little drop and, from its own angle, serves to show one of the colors of God. If that person was not there, we'd be missing a color, and our understanding of God would be lessened. In that way diversity is not merely tolerated, like in Bruce's expression anything goes except sin, but is an enrichment, and even, in a way, is necessary for unity in God. (I've always thought that's what you meant when you told people commenting on this blog: "we need your voice".)

JAK --Yes, as I mentioned, Congar does speak of the *necessity* for diversity and actually says a lot about it. But that is not the same thing as speaking of the intrinsic goodness or varied things. Yes, diversity and unity are the main subjects of the article. What I say is lacking in his theory is recognition that differences are not just to be tolerated because they are necessary, they are goods each of which reflect the goodness of God. Only in the footnote Claire mentions does he admit some goodness in some diversity.I don't know what you mean by "concrete universal". Never did understand what Wimsatt was talking about.Yes, I see the distinction between "Catholicity", and "universality" and, yes, it's in the document. Congar might have talked about it somewhere else, but I just don't see him talking about it here.

Claire --If that's the way you interpret the metaphor, then fine, I'd agree that it's significant. But I don't think that's what Congar is talking about -- he's talking about prisms "unfolding" "virtualities" which seems to be stretching the metaphor beyond where it can take him. There's no unfolding, much less any virtualities in shifting some photons around in space. But I'm not really sure what his psychology of the perception of light was, so maybe I shouldn't talk about it.

Right. I don't know what "unfolding virtualities" means. As far as I'm concerned they're just filler words.

Claire --Yes, that's what I mean about needing everyone's voice. I think the notion is particularly important these days. A young friend sent me the address of a site which offers "inspiration" daily. So very often the sayings are for people who obviously need to increase their self esteem, and the comments there bear this out. That is so very sad. In Christian theology every individual is important, every individual has great value in himself or herself. This is a lesson that perhaps should be preached more often at Mass. So many young people seem to lack the self-respect due to a child of God!

From Congar's essay:"At its own level, the Church imitates the Trinity. It is a multitude of persons communicating in the same life. But this unity of life is not uniformity; it is rich with an abundant diversity by reason of the individual and collective persons who receive and differently live its richness. It is the catholicity of the Church, one, holy, and apostolic. Unity and multiplicity are only opposed to one another at the level of the poor creatures at the lowest level of the scale of living things. They are united to one another in superior creatures whose principle of existence is rich. The Church is fullness, it is at once unity and diversity. In it the fullness of Christ in some way stretches itself into a humanity which seeks to receive and to live it, but whose members receive and live it each in its own way and in accord with what it is. On the other hand, each of them and all of them together thus contribute to fulfilling Christ, as St. Paul says (Eph 1:23), or to give him his fullness as the perfect Man (Eph 4:13). You know the classic images of this catholicity developed by the Fathers and taken up again in the documents of the popes: the Church is the queen circumdata varietate [surrounded by variety; Ps 44, Vulgate]; she speaks all the languages, with the Apostles on Pentecost; she is the cloth seen by Peter at Jaffa, full of all the animals, pure and impure, etc."

JAK --Yes, Congar again says here that the Church is both unified and diverse, and this comes closer to appreciating diversity as such, but even this doesn't quite incorporate it. Consider:** "But this unity of life is not uniformity; it is rich with an abundant diversity by reason of the individual and collective persons who receive and differently live its richness." Here the diversity is *received* from outside, Diversity intrinsic to things is not being applauded here.** "Unity and multiplicity are only opposed to one another at the level of the poor creatures at the lowest level of the scale of living things. They are united to one another in superior creatures whose principle of existence is rich. " Here multiplicity could be interpreted either as multiplicity (manyness) of things of one kind or as manyness of the many kinds. He doesn't say which. He does say that *the* principle of existence is "rich", but what is that principle? Is is many in any way? No. It's only one. And what is "the one principle of existence"?? The existence of the Church itself? Sounds like he's talking about a "subsistent" unity which is somehow other than the existences of the beings and their relationships that make the beings part of the Church. (I find this segment particularly muddy.)** "On the other hand, each of them and all of them together thus contribute to fulfilling Christ, as St. Paul says (Eph 1:23), or to give him his fullness as the perfect Man (Eph 4:13)."What is he talking about here? I read the Ephesians, and I don't see how he gets this out of it. Even if he means that we somehow contribute to the being of Christ ontologically (which would be totally weird -- I was taught it's the other way around -- Christ's life completes ours on a supernatural level) he doesn't say how our *diversity* completes Him. ** " the Church is the queen circumdata varietate [surrounded by variety; Ps 44, Vulgate];"Here the Church is (metaphorically) only *surrounded* by variety, it is not said to be *constituted by variety.

"individual and collective persons who receive and differently live its richness.Here the diversity is *received* from outsideI think that "its" refers to the unity of life here. The persons receive life.

Ann: You seem to be complaining because Congar didn't write an entire philosophical and theological essay on diversity!As St. Paul said, "what have you that you have not received?" Individuals and social bodies all receive the diverse riches of life? "They are united to one another in superior creatures whose principle of existence is rich." He means that higher creatures (human beings and angels) have a principle of life that integrates unity and multiplicity. And, no, he didn't say which kind of multiplicity he was talking about, but he probably didn't expect to be brought before so exigent a bar.I find it in Ephesians, and your problem may be with its author, not with Congar.The Latin phrase refers to the many-colored dress of the queen in the Psalm, which many of the Fathers took to be a type of the Church, the variety of whose members adorn her. Once again you're criticizing a metaphor because it doesn't say everything that must be said. But isn't that the nature of images: that they only describe or illustrate one dimension of a complex reality, and that's why you need many of them? Think of these other images of the Church: a building; a fishnet; a field of wheat and weeds; a boat; a body; etc. etc. etc.

True, I'm complaining about what he hasn't said, but I'm also complaining about what he does say. I find that his essentially Greek metaphysics is inadequate to his task, and it leads him to say some things that are muddy when they aren't outright wrong. Specifically, he keeps trying to find some one thing or principle (e.g., "the principle of existence") which will account for the oneness which result from relationships among many -- but in such a union there isn't just one uniting factor there are many. But, Platonist that he is, he keeps trying to find a simple (just one) principle/factor which unifies when there are in fact many which "add up to" the one thing he's trying to describe. (Look at it this way -- you cannot account for "the" unity of a chain by any one linkage between two of the chain's segments. It doesn't "have" a unity distinct from its parts, It is a complex unit, which sounds paradoxical until you look carefully at it.)It's because the Greek metaphysics is not all that good about the transcendentals, and it shows in Congar's attempt to describe the unity of the Church. It's yet another reason why we need another Aquinas to develop a better, more adequate theory of the transcendentals.

Ann: It's ridiculous to describe Yves Congar as a Platonist. I think you have some idee fixe in your mind that prevents you from even trying to give him an even break. As for your sentence: "(Look at it this way you cannot account for the unity of a chain by any one linkage between two of the chains segments. It doesnt have a unity distinct from its parts, It is a complex unit, which sounds paradoxical until you look carefully at it.)"-- you could be describing Congar's argument in this essay. The Church is a complex unit, both complex, then, and a unity.

" But this unity of life is not uniformity; it is rich with an abundant diversity by reason of the individual and collective persons who receive and differently live its richness." Claire --It seems to me that "unity" is the antecedent of "its" in the second sentence. But either way I don't think the thought here is coherent. Congar even asserts an identity of individuals and "collective persons", a metaphysical impossibility. Yes, he's trying to express the unity of many persons found in the one Church, and maybe English grammar is fighting him here (I wonder what the French was) -- he has to talk about a collective as it it were an ordinary unit, and has to use the singular verb "is" to do it, a form which doesn't help express the manyness involved. (I think we need another form of the verb to be clear about it.) At any rate, I don't think his metaphysics is up to it. That metaphysics has yet to be written.

Ann, sorry, I'm out of my depth. But my default assumption is that Congar is always right (unless proven wrong, of course).

"...this unity of life is not uniformity; it is rich with an abundant diversity by reason of the individual and collective persons who receive and differently live its richness."JAK --Yes, the Church is a unity and is complex. But we already knew that. How to describe its particular sort of unity and complexity is another matter.I say Congar is a Platonist because like Plato he wants to have one principle of unity present in all the relata (that one unity which is "received in all things"), but that inevitably leads to contradictions and identifications of what is/are not identical. Plato himself was never satisfied with that part of his metaphysics having to do with one-many relationships or unions.Claire --I think everyone is out of her/his depth with this problem. That is why I say we need a new Aquinas. But that is no reason not to criticize the positions already taken, including those taken by the big guys. That is the only way philosophy even begins to make progress.

Claire --It's an old notion in philosophy that the grammatical structure of language somehow mirrors the metaphysical structure of beings. For Aquinas, for instance, the sujbect of a sentence signifies the matter of the subject (i.e., the principle which makes a physical thing an individual), predicates signify form/what specifices the material thing as being of a certain kind, and the copula represents the existence of the thing. But we sometimes get into real problems, I think, when trying to disentangle *relations* out of an ordinary English sentence. For instance. "Mary is Jack's mother" has two relations expressed, but not by independent relational words. Other sentences are more explicit, e.g., in "The cat is on the mat", "on" clearly has the function of expressing a relation). Very often one word will have more than one logical sort of meaning. Symbolic logic slices lenguage up into metaphysical parts. For instance, S, P, R, E (backwards), a, b, c,..., represent metaphysical realities involved as factors in things. But try to express the sort of complex unity found in the meaning of "the Church" using symbolic logic. I'm not at all sure the logic is up to the metaphysics of it.

Ann: You wrote: "Congar even asserts an identity of individuals and collective persons, a metaphysical impossibility." Could you indicate where he asserts this?

JAK --". . . it {"this unity of life?] is rich with an abundant diversity by reason of the individual and collective persons who receive and differently live its richness."The notion of "collective persons" implies that such a "collective" is made up of individual persons. Thus we're presented with "a" person which is both one and many person(s). (VERY weird.) Like Plato he has trouble expressing one-many relationships.

Oops -= should have been "this unity of life".

A collective person is an entity such as a corporation in civil life or a religious order in the Church; but there are many other examples. Collective persons obviously are composed of individuals, but they also have legal and canonical rights not enjoyed by individuals qua individuals. Congar was aware of this, and that is why he spoke of both individual persons and of collective persons, and found a richness of life in both. He does not identify the two.

"A collective person" at best is a metaphor, and it limps badly. Its use in law has permitted some gross injustices that are weakening this country -- I mean especially the recent Citizens decision that allows "collective persons" known as PACS to contribute all the money they want to politicla campaigns allowing the super-rich a hugely disproportionate advantage in the political process. Not to mention the use of the term with reference to corporations. Sort of the way the Curia, another collective person, accumulates power and uses it as its members see fit.

Abusus non tollit usum. How would you describe a religious order, the Jesuits, say? It's not just the individual Jesuits. If you wanted to endow a chair at a university, to whom would you be making the contribution? Just to the Jesuits alive at the time of your donation? Or to the university-corporation that has an existence apart from the individuals who happen to constitute it at any particular time? The idea of a persona ficta has a long history in legal theory, beginning with canon law in the thirteenth century. You may not like it, but these fictive persons exist in law and it was to them that Congar was alluding when he spoke of "collective persons." He wasn't the metaphysical idiot you're making him out to be.

No, the Jesuit order is not *just* the individual members. It is its members with their relations to each other, their esse ad's, pros ti, towards each other. Thee relations-plus-relata constitute the unit, with, I would say, the system of relations constituting its unity. Each SJ is related singly to all the other individuals, and they (sometimes) simultaneously intend certain realizable goals, such as educating people, etc. The unity of such groups is found mainly in the intentionalities of various sorts the relata bear to one another and to other things outside the organization. (Yes, relations are all intentionalities.) If I gave money to the order it would be actually only to the present one. You can't give a dime to a possibility, though it is convenient to talk as if we do. (Leading sometimes to our"bewitchment" by the language, as Wittgenstein put it.)It makes no difference how old the persona ficta is/was/will be. You might be interested in the work of Gareth Evans, or some of his work anyway. He died young, but his death was considered a major loss to philosophy. Evans did foundational work on referents in 'The Varieties of Referents". (This question of the ontological status of "the Church" is, I think, a question of the referent of that phrase.) If I'm not mistaken his followers are still arguing about the ontological status of fictional things. He went against the tide in appreciating metaphysics -- was a student of Strawson's and Dummett's, and we can also be grateful to him for helping to make metaphysics acceptable again in academe. I'm far from saying that Congar was a metaphysical idiot. I am saying that like all the rest of these major thinkers he leaves a lot to be done yet, and some of what he says and implies is contradictory. But saying that a major thinker is not perfect is far, far from saying that his work is trash.

I don't think that what he said or implied was contradictory.

Share

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.