Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II

Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II

Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II

Culture and the Thomist Tradition: After Vatican II

Synopsis

Thomism's influence upon the development of Catholicism is difficult to overestimate - but how secure is its grip on the challenges that face contemporary society? Culture and the Thomist Tradition examines the crisis of Thomism today as thrown into relief by Vatican II, the twenty-first ecumenical council of the Roman Catholic Church. Following the Church's declarations on culture in the document Gaudium et spes - the Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World - it was widely presumed that a mandate had been given for transposing ecclesiastical culture into the idioms of modernity. But, says Tracey Rowland, such an understanding is not only based on a facile reading of the Conciliar documents, but was made possible by Thomism's own failure to demonstrate a workable theology of culture that might guide the Church through such transpositions.A Thomism that fails to specify the precise r¿'le of culture in moral fomration is problematice in a multicultural age, where Christians are exposed to a complex matrix of institutions and traditions both theistic and secular. The ambivalence of the Thomist tradition to modernity, and modern conceptions of rationality, also impedes its ability to successfully engage with the arguments of rivial traditions. Must a genuinely progressive Thomism learn to accomodate modernity? In opposition to such a stance, and in support of those who have resisted the trend in post-Conciliarliturgy to mimic the modernistic forms of mass culture, Culture and the Thomist Tradition musters a synthesis of the theological critiques of modernity to be found in the works of Alasdair MacIntyre, scholars of the international 'Communio' project and the Radical Orthodoxy circle. This synthesis, intended as a post-modern Augustinian Thomism, provides an account of the r¿'le of culture, memory and narrative tradition in the formation of intellectual and moral character. Re-evaluating the outcome of Vatican II, and forming the basis of a much-needed Thomist theology of culture, the book argues that the anti-beauty orientation of mass culture acts as a barrier to the theological virtue of hope, and ultimately fosters despair and atheism.

Excerpt

First and foremost, this book is an analysis of differing approaches to the philosophy and theology of culture in the ‘academy’ of our day. It is also, however, an indictment, and at times a searing one. It would be a pity if the formal restraint of its language deflected the reader’s attention from the passion that underlies it. It seems well to begin this foreword here.

The gravamen from which the book sets out is chiefly of interest to Catholic Christians in its readership—but owing to the global influence of their religion this can hardly be a parochial beginning. Tracey Rowland brings an accusation of superficiality—of damagingly facile optimism—against the Catholic Church of the 1960s and 1970s. Naively, at the Second Vatican Council (1962-5), in the course of preparing a ‘pastoral constitution’ on the rôle of the Church in the ‘modern world’, hierarchs and theologians offered a vote of confidence to the Western-derived culture of modernity, without due consideration of that culture’s rooted inconveniences and flawed presuppositions. a religion with a substantial intellectual patrimony of its own, and a claim, in divine revelation, to a fulcrum independent of the world’s fashions, managed to pass up the chance of offering a theological critique of the ‘down’ side to that Liberal—humanist wave, which then as now was inexorably spreading. the reason, as Rowland hints, is surely to be found in a fear of ‘integralism’.

Integralism is the notion that the Church, though her own vocation be exclusively supernatural, nonetheless has the right, when majoritarian, to dictate to natural society’s shapers the form their work should take. But, in the anti-integralist counter-claim that the cultural realm is a law unto itself, the principal theological error of integralism—the separation into two separate realms of nature and grace—continued to live and thrive unnoticed. a framework of thought that would sever the arts and sciences from theology in the name of the autonomy of the secular actually condemns nature to separation from grace. Furthermore, to cite a theological master, Romano Guardini, whom Church authorities might have consulted but did not, culture is never, in point of fact, self-created from its own essence. Agents with their own philosophies, thinkers with their own agenda, lie behind its various developments, and the more diffuse their influence the more potentially . . .

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