martes, 1 de septiembre de 2015

Guardini continues to speak words of insight and wisdom

The Things that are Caesar’s: Romano Guardini

by George Panichas

Romano Guardini is sometimes referred to as a “Philosopher of the Christian World” whose lifelong task was that of “proclaiming the sacred in a modern world.” A world-famous Roman Catholic thinker and a prolific writer who was born in Verona, Italy, in 1885, he lived and studied in Germany from the age of one year old, eventually concentrating on theological studies with an abiding interest in liturgy. Ordained a priest in 1910, he held various pastoral positions, interrupted by military service as a hospital orderly during the years 1916-1918. Subsequently he taught philosophy and theology at the University of Bonn, the University of Berlin, the University of Tübingen, and the University of Munich. By the time of his death in 1968 at the age of 83, he had written at least 60 books and 100 articles. The editor of The Essential Guardini (1997), Heinz R. Kuehn, first came to know Guardini in the fall of 1938, and later, after World War II, studied under him at Tübingen; in especial, he pays warm tribute to his teacher’s enduring legacy as “a Renaissance man, a precursor of Vatican II, a lighthouse in a darkening world, a prophet of things to come, a humanistic scholar in the best sense of the word.” The prophetic dimension of Guardini’s achievement, Kuehn stresses, served as “a determining factor in the selection of the texts in this anthology.” He also stresses that in compiling this book for “Liturgy Training Publications” (Archdiocese of Chicago), with the special aim of “providing materials that assist parishes, institutions, and households in the preparation, celebration and expression of liturgy in Christian life,” he decided to include selections from Guardini’s books “devoted to a critique and analysis of the modern age in all its aspects” so as to illustrate the theologian’s “truly cosmic view of Catholicism and life’s realities.” In this respect, this anthology rightly proposes to delineate Guardini’s contribution as an intellectual, cultural, and spiritual guide in our time. Guardini’s meditations on “the spirit of the liturgy” are here appropriately joined to Guardini’s thoughts on “the end of the modern world” and on “freedom, grace, and destiny.”

Admittedly, Guardini is now a neglected religious thinker. He is not given an entry in The Encyclopedia of Religion (1987), or in The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church (1997), and only a brief one in The New Catholic Encyclopedia (2003). Nor is it ever fully acknowledged that it was the Henry Regnery Company of Chicago that helped to introduce Guardini’s German writings in English translation, beginning with the publication of The Lord, in 1954, Power and Responsibility, in 1961, and The Virtues, in 1967, for a total of nine titles. Henry Regnery’s heroic pioneering effort in behalf of serious European and American authors has yet to be accepted in academic circles dominated by liberal, Marxisant, and now postmodernist ideologues.

ISI Books, Wilmington, Delaware, performed a valuable service in 1998 with the reissuing, in one combined volume, of the 1956 Sheed and Ward edition of The End of the Modern World and the 1961 Regnery edition ofPower and Responsibility. The inclusion of Professor Frederick Wilhelmsen’s original introduction to the first title is especially apropos for it contains Wilhelmsen’s typically illuminating thoughts as embodied in these two concluding sentences: “Guardini has dispelled the fog of secularization; he has cleared the air…. He offers us Faith, neither in man nor in history, but in God alone and in His Providence.” Wilhelmsen’s words cogently summarize Guardini’s significance as an extraordinary commentator on the crisis of modernity in the context of the “search for orientation” and “a course of action for the New Age.”

One who reads Wilhelmsen’s earlier remarks, along with Kuehn’s more recent comments on Guardini’s special significance for “a generation trying to come to terms with the Second World War and its consequences,” will gain a more complete impression not only of Guardini’s influential ideas but also his high place in the intellectual and historical milieu of the twentieth century, commensurate with that of notable religious thinkers like the Russian Orthodox philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev (1874-1948), the Swiss theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968), and the English “metahistorian” Christopher Dawson (1889-1970).

It should not go unnoticed that Kuehn recalls with appreciation his first personal encounter with Guardini in the fall of 1938 at the Student’s Chapel, Saint Benedict, in Berlin, Charlottonburg, where the latter customarily celebrated the Sunday Mass. Kuehn speaks of this encounter with deep feeling, as he goes on to identify what exactly drew him and the small congregation to Guardini’s Mass, and to the sanctity that permeated it. “His mere appearance,” Kuehn remembers decades later, “radiated something for which I have no better word than luminous; in his presence one fell silent and became all attention. With him on the altar, the sacred table became the center of the universe.” Kuehn singles out the memorable fact that “the impact of the sacred action was all the more profound because Guardini celebrated the Mass versus populum—facing the people.” Several paragraphs later, when recounting what Guardini mainly sought to do in the Saint Benedict Chapel, “to make the truth glow,” Kuehn cites him as a forerunner of Vatican Council II, 1962- 1965, in short, as a “spiritual liberator,” as one writer describes Guardini’s role.

Towards the end of his life Guardini was offered the cardinal’s hat, which he refused, according to Kuehn. His precursory status in the history of Vatican II has been variously commented on with approval by Kuehn and others; his death in 1968, however, doubtlessly curtailed his potential position among pre- and post- Vatican II reformers, and in any case made it impossible to assert any misgivings he may have even had regarding the “neo-modernist” results of the Council. It was a vexed and aged philosopher and man of letters, Jacques Maritain (1882-1973), in his bookThe Peasant of the Garonne (1966; 1968), who warned against the aberrations of the “new theology threatening the Church’s traditional spirituality and doctrine,” giving birth to the “temporalization of Christianity.” Certainly, Guardini’s pre-Vatican II proclivities should be considered side-by-side with Maritain’s post-Conciliar demurrals regarding “demythicizing” practices affecting “the Church, Bride and mystical body.” Unfortunately, Kuehn chooses not to assess Guardini’s role in “paving the way for Vatican II,” and this failure, from the standpoint of evaluative interpretation, constricts a reader’s sharper understanding of Guardini as both a Catholic writer and a “candid Monsignor.” Here, then, we have an example of how an anthologist can shortchange his readers. That Kuehn fails, also, to include any selections from Guardini’s probing study on Dostoevsky, Religiöse Gestalten in Dostojewskijs Werk (1951), several chapters of which appeared in English translation in the American journalCross Currents in 1952 and 1956, and also from The Virtues (1963, 1967), on “forms of moral life,” adds to one’s disappointment, especially when an editor sets out to present “the essential Guardini” to a new generation of readers. Indeed, the book ultimately ends up as more of a primer than a full-scale anthology, and thus it comes up short of helping to explain and clarify, for example, why Guardini received in 1962 the Erasmus Award of the European Foundation of Culture, which had been given to philosopher Karl Jaspers in 1959 and to painter Marc Chagall in 1960. The point here is that the work of Erasmus, “prince of humanists,” has in Guardini an intellectual and religious continuator for reasons that are worthwhile validating.

Despite its unevenness and thinness, The Essential Guardini puts us in contact with a religious life and mind eminently worthy of our consideration. Clearly, Guardini continues to speak words of insight and wisdom—speaks to our condition; if this “anthology” does nothing more than reconnect us with an exemplary Christian humanist and theologian who defends spiritual truths, it has a distinct pertinence at a time in history when religious breakdown is everywhere apparent. To arrest this trend we need all the support we can muster. “The problems which face us today are so gigantic that we must reach for a deeper hold,” Guardini wrote over fifty years ago, and his words are even more applicable to our postmodern situation. In its whole and in its parts, The Essential Guardini provides us with a useful picture of the modern age as it developed and why it was coming to an end with the arrival of a “non-human humanity.” Guardini’s examination of the process of drifting and shifting in religious values and truths, and of the awesome power and effects of social engineering, helps us to perceive how “the rationality of science and functionalism of technology” have gradually pushed aside ethical norms and the “metaphysical worth” of man and nature.


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