Monday, September 20, 2010

The Approach to Saints

What's most interesting about Andrew Stuttaford's comments concerning St. Thomas More and the Pope is what it reveals about the difference between the atheist and Catholic approaches to the saints. Stuttaford seems most concerned to arrive at a measured evaluation of the person Thomas More. To this end, he calls on the British biographer Peter Ackroyd to provide balance to the Pope's comments. But he seems to have missed entirely what the Pope is talking about.

Benedict is not concerned to burnish the reputation of St. Thomas as a "fighter for freedom of conscience", as though the saint's importance can be found in laying the groundwork for the First Amendment. In fact, the worldly reputation of More is of no concern to Benedict, as it was of no concern to More. Indeed, More was not fighting for any worldly goal, freedom of conscience, or otherwise. His great witness was to the fact that there are some things that transcend worldly goals, and are not negotiable in their terms.

The secularist cannot see that the appreciation of a saint is not about a careful weighing of the plusses and minuses in his life. It is about the window into the transcendent that the saint reveals; sometimes in the broad manner of her life, as in St. Therese of Lisieux; but sometimes also in a moment of dramatic crisis, as in the life of St. Thomas. Thomas was a man immersed in the cares, problems and compromises of his time; the secularist wants to judge him in terms of his decisions on these worldly matters. But the important thing about Thomas is that, despite his immersion in the world, he never became of the world, which the secularist is by definition. This is why St. Thomas is important to Benedict, and why he should be important to us. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Rieff on Crowds

David Rieff has an article on the relationship of crowds to morality over at Big Questions online.

The Gospels seem to contain an implicit commentary on the psychology/morality of crowds. The bad things that happen to Christ generally seem to happen in the context of crowds; the good things happen when Christ is dealing with people one on one. The archetypical case of the former, of course, is the mob urging Pilate to condemn Christ. Then there is Peter's rejection of Christ three times in the context of the implicit mob hanging around Christ's trial before the Sanhedrin. But there is also the rejection of Christ in Luke 4:16-30 and his frequent encounters with groups of Pharisees. On the other hand, when people respond to Christ, they generally do so as Kierkegaard's Individual, separated from the crowd, e.g. the woman caught in adultery in John 8, or the centurion.

I'm sure someone somewhere has done a thesis on this.