A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


The Catholic Intellectual Tradition

Those not planing to watch THE event today, may be interested in "thumbing" through the latest issue of "C-21 Resources" from Boston College's Church in the 21st Century Initiative. The theme is "Exploring the Catholic Intellectual Tradition" and contains articles probing different dimensions of the theme, as well as art works and photographs to evoke further aspects and implications.The Spring issue may be accessed here.And those in the Boston College area may find the following events of interest: a presentation this Thursday, February 7th at 5:30 by yours truly on "The Heart of the Catholic Intellectual Tradition," followed by further reflections by two colleagues; and a panel on Wednesday, February 20th at 5:30 by the editors ofAmerica, Commonweal, and U.S.Catholic on "The Future of Catholic Periodicals." Further details may be found on page 18 of the issue.

About the Author

Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is Associate Professor of Theology Emeritus at Boston College.



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

If I may, the great thing about the DVDs is that they have subtitles, which allows one to make out what those Brits are saying.

Congrats, thats a pretty slick publication youve got there, Father, that has such people int! The un-mellifluous humankind can hardly detract from Katherine Martins thoughtful reflection. The spur to action directive she gleans from Augustines conception of evil as the absence of good is the perfect antidote to the whateverness so prevalent among people her age. Inspiring. Im not sure Im comfortable with Augustines formulation, though. If evil is the default position, then the picture of good we can create seems always to be on a canvas of evil.As she describes Teilhards sanctification of activity, it calls to mind Escrivas teaching that our most menial every day labours, when done in service and love, align us with our Creator. A most unsophomoric insight she has there. Spring came early, guess the groundhog did not see his shadow!

I had no idea BC was making such things available. Good for them, and many thanks indeed for pointing us in this direction. I will try to find time to get to it later today since whatever event you're referring to leaves me a bit cold, with most of the time taken up by commercials. Or perhaps you were referring to the next episode in Downton Abbey? Where I gather there's an upcoming battle over whether Lady Sybil's half-Irish child can be christened a Catholic? Lord Grantham has already let us know that he's always found "a bit of Johnny Foreigner" among Catholics. Julian Fellowes, a Papist himself (I think), must be having fun writing this.

Nicholas,I confess that I've become addicted and will eagerly watch the new episode of DA tonight -- and once it starts, no commercial interruptions. (Though I wish I could afford a Viking River Cruise!)

Nicholas: you must not describe coming events!!! Some of us have just finished Season two (DVD), and are only now beginning Season three (just released on DVD) with a short ad for the coming Season four!!! Yes, addiction; why? It is nowhere as deep as Brideshead Revisited (lo, those many years ago with Jeremy Irons), yet it is truly absorbing...

DA Fans--You can cheat, as my wife and I have, and see all of Season 3 (shown during the fall of 2012 on British TV) on the internet for free. And Julian Fellowes, a/k/a The Right Honourable Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, is a Papist. During an interview last year, he said that he would be introducing a "Catholic theme" into season 3.

More on DA:Peggy says "absorbing". In my own case I find myself really caring for the characters. I imagine it to be like the crowd gathered at the wharf in New York waiting for the latest Dickens installment and asking: "Is Little Nell dead?" I haven't experienced this in other productions -- I'm too young to remember the "Brideshead" series :-)

William collier:Each week my sisters, niece, and I try to guess what will happen before each episode. How I wish I could find out ahead of time so that they will think I am a genius.By the way, Fellowes said that he had an aunt who was just like the Maggie Smith character.

For you young DA and Brideshead addicts, before Brideshead there was another, the first, great super-popular TV series. It was a dramatization of Galsworthy's 3 novels, The Forsythe Saga. It was the model for the later Masterpiece Theatre series. (Masterpiece Theatre didn't exist at the time.) In England in 1957 each episode had an audience of about 18M people!It was in black and white, which might limit its appeal to somem and I don't think it's ever been replayed on PBS. Pity. The characterizations get into some depth, and the acting is the English at their ensemble best. Eric Porter as Soames (an anti-hero if ever there was one) is riveting. Try it. It's a period drama, not about the aristocracy, but about the rich-getting-richer upper-middle class folk. In many ways it foreshadows our own values-sick culture.

You write: "The essays that follow explore the facets of the Catholic intellectual tradition: its expressions in theology and philosophy, natural law and morality, scientific research and artistic creativity."But from glancing at the list of articles I did not see a contribution on scientific research. Am I wrong?Gerelyn would be happy that there are so many women contributors.

Claire,you are right: it is THE lacuna. We had intended to include at least one specific piece, but could not find one that seemed both pointed and relatively brief. The one we had first considered, did not seem quite appropriate in the final editing (and I did not revise the opening essay to reflect this -- mea culpa!).Perhaps the closest we come is the discussion in several of the articles of the mutual enrichment of faith and reason.The book edited by Piderit and Morey, "Teaching the Tradition," does contain essays on "Religious Themes Related to the Sciences," but they are rather lengthy.Do you or others have recommendations? We may amplify the issue into a small book.

I fear that any paper on recent Catholicism and science would not be too different from papers on Catholicism and science since the condemnation of Galileo. No doubt there have been some fine Catholic scientists since then, but, so far as I know, only one (Mendel) of nearly the caliber of Galileo. But the Church isn't the only one at fault. Another reason for the estrangement is that since the Enlightenment science has become enamored of scientism, the reductionist philosophy that asserts that science cannot say anything about a non-material dimension, and, therefore, according to it, only the material world can be known. That philosophical position seems to be weakening, fortunately, but theoretical science does not generally welcome believers. Another reason for the rift: test everything is science's motto, and that can be off-putting to many people of a religious bent.Then there are all the problems with medical ethics. One notable Catholic physician did make a world-changing contribution to medical practice (the Pill) but he, Dr. Rock, was, of course, highly criticized by the official Catholic moralists. Psychology has also been suspect to many Catholic moralists, given the strong influences of the pragmatism (the true is what works) and Freud.It seems to me that the mutual suspicion on both sides is not likely to draw as many young Catholics into the ground-breaking areas of the sciences as we might hope. However, with the the eventual demise of scientism that might eventually change -- if the official Church can change enough to allow thorough debate about moral issues in the sciences.I'd like to hear from any scientists on the blog about this. They might have a different view-point. But I suspect there aren't many scientists here.

Ann, I'm a scientist and I have to say that my scientific life is almost completely disjoint from my Catholic life. But a few attitudes seep through unconsciously: when I work on a scientific question, I always ask myself what it's good for. When I think about a religious question, I tend to go about it in an analytical way. It is also possible that attitudes towards authority are related. If a new scientific paper is produced by a leader of the field, then we make a special effort to try to understand the paper. That means, in particular, raising objections and trying to see how those objections are addressed in the paper. Our respect for the author is reflected in the extent of our efforts to prove them wrong - otherwise we wouldn't bother. And that is how we come to embrace their ideas fully: by fighting a good fight and losing.

Claire,Going about one's labors as a scientist (or a historian, or a technician) entails its own demands and criteria of excellence, as you indicate.But further questions do arise -- as you suggest. "What's it good for?" what ethical standards govern my procedures and choices? what accounts for our expectation that intelligibility governs our pursuits?When these questions arise (am I correct that they do?), then the person we are and bring to the task determines how we respond, and that person is formed and informed by her faith vision and practice. Here, I think, is where faith and reason are mutually illuminating and enriching.

Fr Imbelli, yes, but you're only going in one direction, faith illuminating reason; while, as you say, the enrichment is mutual, and also goes in the other direction.

Claire,I was taken with your statement that "my scientific life is almost completely disjoint from my Catholic life" and I attempted to suggest some ways that the latter might affect the former.I would be happy to hear whether my suggestions made sense to you -- your "yes" may indicate that they did. The further question how "reason" might illuminate and enrich one's faith commitment is important, but was not the immediate issue I sought to address.

The differences are perhaps more a question of taste than of ethics. For example, I don't work on cryptography, because I have a distaste of the mindset that tries to hide things from others. Actually, there is nothing unethical about trying to encrypt and protect financial transactions, but it requires a mindset that does not go well with the virtue of trust. Do researchers who have some religious faith give more importance to the beauty of their work? I see no evidence of it. Do they care more about some hypothetical social impact in some indeterminate future? I also see no evidence of it. Do they care more about what is true? Certainly not. Everyone cares about that above all else, and religious faith does not make one iota of difference.Is there a difference in the way in which they do their daily work? I think that it is possible that they are better citizens and have more of a sense of duty to the community. It is also possible that they live their work life differently, with different gratifications. For example, sharing new technical ideas is a form of esoteric communion of the minds, and is one of the aspects of my work that I enjoy the most. Others, I am told, are happiest when they have a new idea but have not yet talked about it. The sense of being the only one in the whole world who knows it brings them joy. Then there is teaching as a performance - enjoying putting on a show and being admired by the students - versus teaching as service - enjoying the glorious look on a student's face when he understands something new. (What do you enjoy the most about teaching?)Perhaps it's not what we do that is different, but what we get out of it.

Claire --Thanks for the reply. It seems that your interest is at least equally in results, pragmatics. Would you say that these days there is less interest in basic research? (Or maybe there is just less money for it than there ued to be.) In the last half century of so, would you say there have been many leading scientists who are Catholic?

less interest in basic researchNo, it's not that. It's that there are so many new questions to study on the power of computation in the broad sense, that the idea of some potential, hypothetical, long-term vague possible application helps give some direction, guide our taste to choose questions to study. Viewed properly, they're not a hindrance to basic research but a help; they help form our taste. There is no dichotomy between "basic" and "applied".As to your second question, I have no idea. It's not written on people's forehead whether they are Catholic

Well, next Wednesday it will be.

Mark,I presume you mean Wednesday the 20th for the "Editors' Panel."You mean I won't see you this evening? :-(

Sorry, Father, Im not in Boston so wont have the pleasure of seeing your talk in person. Looking forward to the webcast replay when its available, though.

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment