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Ovi Symposium; fifty-ninth Meeting Ovi Symposium; fifty-ninth Meeting
by Abigail George
2015-08-30 11:54:49
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 Ovi Symposium:

“A Philosophical Conversation on the Nature of Art within Modernity
and the Envisioning of a New Humanism”

between Ms Abigail George, Mr Nikos Laios, Drs. Paolozzi and Paparella
Fifty-ninth Meeting: 27 August 2015

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Symposium's regular participants (in alphabetical order)

abigailAbigail George is an African activist for human rights, a feminist, writer and poet. She has received writing grants from the National Arts Council, Centre for the Book, and ECPACC (Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council). She is not purely devoted to poetry but to pursuing writing fulltime. She has written two volumes of poetry, and her latest book is titled Winter in Johannesburg. Storytelling for her has always been a phenomenal way of communicating and making a connection with other people. All About My Mother (a collection of short stories) was published by Ovi magazine in July 2012.

laios_01Nikos Laios is a poet, artist, lover of philosophy and student of the human condition, currently writing poetry and producing art; he is also a sculptor, a photographer, widely read in the humanities. He hails from the highlands of Epirus in Greece; greatly influenced by the poetic traditions which have been passed down from his poet ancestor on his maternal side from the island of Cephalonia. He currently resides in North Sydney Australia, is an autodidact and a passionate ‘renaissance’ man, has always been a practical philosopher, throwing himself into the hard questions that life has to offer in search of elusive gems of wisdom.

enDr.Ernesto Paolozzi teaches history of contemporary philosophy at the University Suor Orsola Benincasa of Naples. A Croce scholar and an expert on historicism, he has written widely and published several books, especially on aesthetics and liberalism vis a vis science. His book Benedetto Croce: The Philosophy of History and the Duty of Freedom was printed as an e-book in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

papDr. Emanuel Paparella has a Ph.D. in Italian Humanism with a dissertation on Giambattista Vico from Yale University. He currently teaches philosophy at Barry University and Broward College in Florida, USA. One of his books is titled Hermeneutics in the Philosophy of G. Vico, Mellen Press. His latest e-book Aesthetic Theories of Great Western Philosophers was printed in Ovi magazine in June 2013.

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 Note to the readers: As of the first of July 2015, the first thirteen meetings of the Ovi Symposium are available as an e-book, and can be downloaded for free in the Ovi Bookshop. HERE!

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Subtheme of session 59: “Religion, Democracy and Cultural Identity”

Indirect Participants within the Great Conversation across the ages: Descartes, Voltaire, Marx, Frankl, Haynes, Berger, Agarwala, Breton, Nietzsche, De Chardin, Epicurus, Francis, Lucretius, Dante, Shakespeare, Manzoni, Mazzini, Parini, Alfieri, D’annunzio, Hegel, Paul, Vico, Kant, Fitchte, Jesus, Voltaire, Burckhardt, Homer.

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Table of Contents for the 59th Session of the Ovi Symposium (27 August 2015)

Preamble by the Symposium’s coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 1: “Is the Transcendence of Religion Essential for a Proper Cultural Identity?”  A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

Section 2: “Some Crocean Reflections on Capitalism, Religion and the Governing Elites” A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

Section 3: Complete text (translated from the Italian by Emanuel L. Paparella) of Croce’s essay “Why we cannot but Recognize ourselves as Christians”

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Preamble by the Symposium’s Coordinator Emanuel L. Paparella

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In this 59th meeting of the Ovi symposium we continue our explorations in cultural anthropology and ask the question whether or not religion is integral part of any cultural identity, especially its transcendent aspect. In other words, is it possible to conceive of a culture or civilization, even primitive and not well developed ones, without religion? Historically religion seems to be part of any civilization, at least till we reach the 20th century. This is not to deny that there have not been atheistic authors and philosophers in antiquity. Lucretius’ De Rerum Naturae jumps to mind; but, as pointed out by Christopher Dawson in his famous The Making of Europe: An Introduction to the History of European Unity, it is only with the arrival in Europe of modernity in the 20th century, that appears a collective substitution to religion which usually assumes the form of an ideology, be it Marxism, or Fascism, or Positivism based on full-fledged uncompromising secularism hostile to religion. The fruits of such a social experiment have been rather dubious. The analysis of the causes are what concerns us here. For the moment we’ll leave the prognosis to a future sub-theme when we examine the idea of Europe and what it implies for its development and future.

We begin with a presentation by Paparella asking this crucial question: is the transcendence of religion essential for a proper cultural identity? Or in other words, is it a mistake to consider religion an enemy of modernity and progress; an impediment to full human development and social progress, to resort to Marxian dictum, is it a sort of opium of the people, or something anachronistic and  passé, long superseded by the positivistic scientific mind set, to be relegated, at best, to the realm of mythological thinking?

A presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi follows up providing some answers by way of sundry reflections on Croce’s take on Christianity as formative for European culture, and how important he considered it as a sort of cement for cementing the foundations and the cultural identity of the whole of Europe. With the possible exception of Jurgen Habermas this kind of analysis is rather rare in today’s European philosophical climate vis a vis the European cultural identity. Croce makes us aware that a positivistic negative stance toward religion is a great mistake whose consequences cannot be ignored or simply trivialized by reducing Christianity to a caricature of itself, or cavalierly substituting it with a vacuous irreligion religion named “spirituality” embracing everything and nothing. Given that man is by nature religious, the sad results, as pointed out by Jung, is the worship of an ideology, or even worse, the worship of wealth, or power, or soccer game. Our common love of soccer will reveal our unity; which would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad.

The third section is constituted by a rendition of the complete text of Croce’s essay on Christianity as translated by from the Italian by Paparella: “Why we cannot but consider ourselves Christians.” We have decided to place it here once more, since we do not in any way wish to run the risk of distorting or misinterpreting Croce’s thought on the subject, and wish that our readers arrive at their own conclusions.

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1

Is the Transcendence of Religion Essential for a Proper Cultural Identity?
A Presentation by Emanuel L. Paparella

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There is growing chorus of voices today, proclaiming that full human development cannot be achieved without regard for essential religious values; that is to say, achievements in political, social, economic, technical, artistic and scientific realms do not fully exhaust the creativity, beauty, or triumphs that human beings are capable of, and that a transcendent meaning system can be a powerful developmental force as a complement to secular commitments within a multiplicity of modernities. The whole role of religion in the public sphere in a mostly secular Europe is under scrutiny with philosophers such as Habermas at the forefront.

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Religion and democracy need not be mutually exclusive. India, the biggest democracy in the world, is a convincing example of how religion and democracy can coexist harmoniously. Modern India has adopted the paradigm of “religious politics and secular government,” as best suited to her cultural identity, with religion at its core and for the retention of a vibrant cultural milieu. A crucial question ensues here: why should other nations imitate this model rather than that in place in the EU: namely “secular politics with secular government, the so called policy of “laicism.”

Let’s explore this issue and attempt to elucidate why the adoption of the Indian model may be the most desirable and suitable for building and cultivating a culturally vibrant society, that when all is said and done, religion may prove to be the best remedy for the recovery of cultural vibrancy and a sense of transcendence, long lost within Western civilization. Those losses are due to a wholly secular horizontal, immanent Western culture that assumes that it is possible for Man to live by bread alone, and has considerable difficulty in imagining a social paradigm that goes beyond material prosperity and real politick considerations.

To clear the underbrush, so to speak, one needs to first deal with this question: What is the cause for this reluctance within Western development thinking to bring in the same field of vision political and religio-cultural components? A preliminary answer could be that the myopia is due to the fact that modern Western Civilization, beginning with Descartes’ rationalistic philosophical paradigm, following with Voltaire type of “enlightenment” unfriendly to religion, and the subsequent advent of the industrial revolution, has opted for a system of cognition and a structure of knowledge which is partial and incomplete, in as much as it privileges the socio-economic component at the expense of the spiritual. The result of this reductionism leads development specialists to function as one-eyed giants, purveyors of science bereft of wisdom. They analyze, even prescribe and act, as if human destiny can be stripped down to its mere material dimensions. Marx jumps to mind here but even he never neglected the transcendence provided by Art to the proletariat.

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Let us first pause to reflect upon the high rate of suicide in developed countries. It seems to me that it ought to give us pause because at the very least it suggests three things: 1) that material abundance may be less essential than the presence of meaning in one’s life; that people lose even the willingness to survive once they have lost the meaning of their destiny (See Man’s Search for Meaning, by Viktor Frankl); that ultimately a meaningful existence is the most basic of human needs, 2) that awe and mystery and the sheer wonder at creation are as integral to human existence as bread and reason; 3) that the future prospects of the human species depend upon internalizing an essentially religious perspective able to transform what is by now the dominant, materialistic, secular outlook.

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It would be enough to read a book such as Jeff Haynes’ Religion in Third World Countries (1994) to become convinced that indeed most people in developing countries derive their primary source of meaning from religious beliefs, symbols, and mysteries. They sense that no ideology or promise of a material utopia will ever abolish life’s tragic dimensions: suffering, death, wasted talents, hopelessness; that to insist that it can be accomplished with material prosperity alone in a valueless society, means in the end to trivialize life itself. Moreover, the sociologist Peter Berger in analyzing the link between modernity and secularization arrives at this conclusion in his book titled A Far Glory: The Quest for Faith in an Age of Credulity (1992): “there are vast regions today in which modernization has not only failed to result in secularity but has instead led to reaffirmations of religion … It may be true that the reason for the recurring human outreach toward transcendence is that reality indeed includes transcendence and that reality finally reasserts itself over secularity”

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A similar judgment is expressed by Ramgopal Agarwala, a World Bank officer, when he declares in an essay which appeared in Friday Morning Reflections on the World Bank: Essays on Values and Development (1991) with the title ”A Harmonist Manifesto. Hindu Philosophy in Action,” and asserts that “A society based on harmonism will be more than just a ‘sustainable society.’ There have been many primitive societies which were sustainable. Instead, it will be a sustainable society, with a cutting hedge at spiritual advancement that will provide the excitement that has been so painfully lacking in recent years. Spiritual advancement is the antidote to the boredom that lies just below the surface of many of the ills of the modern world.”

All this is rather easy to express in theory; the more challenging task in a world with a pervasive secular outlook, is to promote development in practice, while respecting religious and indigenous values. The first pitfall that needs to be avoided is that of treating values in a purely instrumental fashion, as means to goals outside the value system in question. This is the equivalent of using religion to engineer popular compliance with a modernization program. A better stance is the non-instrumental: one that begins with respect for the inner dynamism of traditional values which then serve as springboard for modes of development which are more humane then those derived from outside paradigms. This is more desirable because indigenous values are the matrix from which people derive meaning in their lives, a sense of identity and cultural integrity, not to speak of the experience of continuity with their environment and their past.

In this regard, let us take a close look at an appropriate example derived from the Islamic religious tradition. Because the Qur’an condemns interests as usury, Islamic banks neither pay interests to depositors nor charge it to borrowers. Since banks need to operate as viable economic enterprises in a modern world, one may wonder as to how they are able to solve this conundrum. They simply spread the risks flowing from their borrowing and lending. They receive a share of the profits earned by their borrowers and pro-rata shares of these profits are then distributed to depositors. This is a clear example of how a religious norm can alter a modern practice, instead of the other way around.

The next difficulty is the identification of those secular matters that already exist within religion as such. This is not an easy task, since the time of Marx’s stigmatization of “religion as the opium of the masses,” ushering in secular humanism and the present tendency to a shallow caricature of religion. To be sure, an anti-religion stance was already in place within Western civilization with the advent of Cartesian rationalism and Voltaire’s idolization of reason, but the anti-religion stance became more intransigent with Marx’s above statement; since then those who consider themselves “enlightened” tend to look upon religion as inimical to a secular humanism which claims to overcome man’s religious alienation. Many have misguidedly thrown out the baby (religious faith) with the bath-water (religious corruption and fanaticism). As is well known, Marx contended that it is such religious alienation that turns Man away from the building of history on earth. He denounced religion on the grounds that it abolishes history by making human destiny ultimately reside outside of history as a sort of pie in the sky. For him Christian humanism was nothing short of a fraud and an oxymoron.

Perhaps the French surrealist poet André Breton expressed this philosophy best when he branded Jesus Christ as “that eternal thief of human energies,” not to speak of Nietzsche’s outlandish view of the same figure. In effect this is the challenge of secularism to religion, the hidden agenda of the eventual elimination of religion as such, often ambiguously disguised as “clear separation” of the secular from the sacred, or as “strict neutrality” on religious matters, while at the same time propagating cartoon that caricature religion, and when a protest is lodged for desecration and blasphemy that too is ridiculed with “it was just a joke; don’t you have any humor?” When riots follow those unwise cartoons, the intelligentsia is invariably surprised. What they fail to acknowledge is that far from being a solution to religious bigotry and intolerance, they are part of the problem

In facing the challenge religion needs to answer this crucial question: can it supply men and women of today with a convincing rationale for building up historical tasks within a humanistic philosophy of history, while at the same time bear witness to transcendence? In order to answer it one needs to analyze the secular commitments which all authentic religions already implicitly advocate. Teilhard de Chardin did exactly that for Christianity in insisting that matter and history matter, that evolution does not contradict creation, that building the earth was the responsibility of every human being. He once compared a contemporary pagan with what he called a “true Christian humanist.” The former, he said, loves the earth in order to enjoy it; the latter, loving it no less, does so to make it purer and draw from it the strength to escape from it. But the escape is not to be construed as an alienating flight from reality, but rather as the opening, or the issue which alone confers final meaning on the cosmos.

This is the basic difference between an Epicurus and a St. Francis of Assisi. They both loved the world but the first proposed a closed, deterministic immanent world; the other proposes a world with windows to the transcendent. That distinction is crucial. To discern it better, all one needs to do is look around at modern Europe to realize that indeed Epicureanism, since Lucretius is alive and well in Western Europe: there, soccer games are much more popular than Sunday worship, even on Easter. The rather convenient scapegoat for this phenomenon is usually to blame the “corrupting” pragmatism and materialism of American popular culture. Ironically, some 60% of people in the US worship on Sunday, compared for 25% in Western Europe. Which is not to say that merely going to Church a Christian makes. In any case, De Chardin insisted all his life that it was a Christian duty to build the earth and history, to contribute to the solution of pressing secular tasks dealing with justice, wisdom, creativity, human development, solidarity, peace, ecological balance, as penultimate responsibilities and goals to be achieved right here on earth.

Another example of the commitment to secular values implied in Christianity is the concept of “liberation theology” which embraces the struggle for a more just world that better responds to human needs; fostering the building of history as a penultimate goal, without forgetting the witness to transcendence. A creative tension between the immanent and the transcendent needs to be kept together; not unlike the horizontal of a cross (the historical) intersecting the vertical (the transcendent).

What we have argued so far may be sufficient to convince us that it is a mistake to assume that development is incompatible with religion, just as it is a mistake to assume that democracy is incompatible with religion. This is especially so today, when most religious institutions allow for, even encourage, “religious freedom.” I suggest that if one manages to overcome those unfortunate, stereotypical modern notions originating in the so called “age of reason,” one may be surprised to discover that a respectful dialogue between religious values and social development plans, usually proves beneficial to both. In the final analysis the greater challenge today is not that of secularism to religion to become more tolerant, but that of religion to secularism to become more holistic and humane, to open itself to a greater gamut of values, thus leaving history and human endeavors open to the transcendent.

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2

Sundry Crocean Reflections on Capitalism, Aesthetics, Religion, Art and Ethics
A Presentation by Ernesto Paolozzi

(Partly from an article written for Corriere Economia in June 2001
and partly from his book on Croce’s aesthetics)

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Benedetto Croce

I

The famous essay Why we cannot but Recognize ourselves as Christians, which Croce wrote way back in 1942, in polemical contrast to Bertrand Russell’s Why I am not a Christian, has been the focus of many teologic-philosophical-political discussions. Neverthless, it has only recently that it has become operational in Italian culture, a culture often distracted and lazy slow in catching up.

The essay is a sort of moral-political manifesto which the philosopher of secularism and absolute freedom wished to leave as inheritance to the new generations at a time of great and profound crisis of the civil and moral life of Europe. It is intriguing that this philosopher, who was so proud of having discovered the spiritual values hidden in economic realities, of having defended the positive drive of utility against vain moralisms, of having understood the necessity of raw vitality, seemed to reintroduce the fundamental values of Christianity, of Christian civilization, as foundational, as an horizon of common values around which to organize the civil and social life of modern man.

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Obviously this stance could not have been representative of a sudden superficial negation of the beneficial force of the economy and a capitalism which in fact makes the economy the principal driving force, almost a symbol. It was however a severe if simple recalling, difficult to understand but crucial, of the primacy of man over and above the economy; the primacy of man who evangelically remains the lord of the Sabbath and does not live by bread alone. As Croce puts it: “The Christian revolution took effect at the center of the soul within the moral conscience, and by placing its emphasis on the inner nature of that conscience, seemed to lend it a new virtue, a new spiritual quality, which had been missing till then.

These are pages still very much relevant today when it is urgent to re-propose the primacy of the ethical- political vis a vis the irrevocable march of capitalism. A time when especially the young feel this problem and are invited at times by opportunistic masters to counter economic development with a vague and irrational activism.

II

Art and Morality

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Croce writes that “a third negation, which is accomplished via the theory of art as intuition, is that of conceiving art as a moral act …An artistic image may indeed portray an act that is morally approvable or disapprovable, however the image itself, qua image, is neither morally approvable or disapprovable. Not only there is no criminal code which can condemn an image to death or to jail, but no moral judgment by a rational being can make it his object: it would be like judging as immoral Dante’s Francesca or moral Shakespeare’s Cordelia…as to judge a square moral and a triangle immoral. (Breviario di estetica, in Nuovi saggi di estetica, pp. 13-14).

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Benedetto Croce (1866-1952)

It is this particular aspect of Croce’s aesthetics which has with greatest probability and more than any other given rise to controversies. In fact the moralistic conception of art is well represented in the history of aesthetics, is pervasive in the most varied philosophical conceptions and is close to that common sense which tends to judge reality in a moralistic key. As the same Croce reminds us, it is this position which, while at times criticized by the critics, has as its supporters eminent representatives such as Parini, Alfieri, Manzoni, Mazzini (even if the last one often contradicts it) and it also had the important function of contradicting another misguided theory, that of the identification of art with purely hedonistic pleasure. As Croce puts it: “The moralistic theory of art is also represented in the history of aesthetic theories, and it never died even if today it is discredited; discredited not only for its inherent lack of merit, but also in part because of the current lack of morality within some modern tendencies, which render easy, albeit psychologically uncomfortable, a refusal which ought to be made only for logical reasons as we do here.

This moralistic doctrine is derived from the goal given to art of guiding to what is good, to inspire the rejection of evil, to correct and improve social customs and the request submitted to artists to contribute to the civil education of the masses, to the strengthening of the national militaristic spirit of a people, to the spreading of ideals of industrious and modest life, and so on. All things which art cannot accomplish, just as geometry cannot accomplish, which despite this inability does not lose its respectability, and there is no reason why art should lose it.

This, up to now, is the clearest and least controversial part of the Crocean theory, given that it cannot be denied that art is distinct from morality as it is from philosophy, since were it not so, it would no longer be art but philosophy or morality. The complications ensue as soon as Croce attempts, as we have seen in the preceding chapters, to understand the terms of the nexus between art and the other forms of human activity, ethics in particular. The problem is dealt with in Croce’s more mature essays after establishing that at best morality can be subject matter for art, and then attempting to show that art has its own intrinsic morality and that at the basis of art one can only posit the moral personality.

As Croce puts it: “Therefore the foundation of every poetry, is human personality, and since human personality culminates in human morality, the foundation of every poem is moral consciousness. It is understood that with this we are not affirming that the artist has to be a deep thinker and critic, not that he needs to be an exemplary or even an heroic man; but he does need to have that participation in the world of thought and action which allows him to live by his own direct experience or in sympathy with that of others, the full human drama.” With those words, Croce is reemphasizing that we ought not look into contends for the morality of art, but rather in the success of the artistic expression.

In fact, just as it is true that artists who “close themselves to human emotions and the anxiety of thought, end up as sterile, at best they succeed by imitation or by a disconnected impressionism” it is also true that on the other hand, it is not necessary “to possess a moral personality to be a poet and an artist.” Further exemplifying, what is immoral in art is present when the artistic expression is modified for ends that are not aesthetic, to get publicity, to divulge a political or philosophical idea or, as it now does not appear paradoxical, to transmit a moral message.

This new position of Croce has given rise to a great span of very interesting interpretations. Certainly the emphasis on moral strength intrinsic to poetry, as we have seen, was controversial vis a vis the ruling Dannunzianism, just as the renewed critique against didacticism was controversial vis a vis fascism. On a purely philosophical plane, these reflections in the field of aesthetics ought to be located within the mature phase of Croce’s thought where ethics seems to lose its categorical character of a category among other categories (since there is no such thing as a work of art that is only ethical; works of art are either aesthetic or logical or useful and ethics pervades them all) in order to assume a wider meaning of categorical mode.

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3

Complete Text of Croce’s essay “Why we cannot but Recognize ourselves as Christians”
(Translated from the Italian by Emanuel L. Paparella)

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To claim for ourselves the name of Christians we run the risk of being taken for  pious sanctimonious hypocrites, given that at times the assumption of such a name has well served self-complacency and the covering up of things that were diametrically opposite to the Christian spirit, as could be proven with references on which I will not tarry right now so that we don’t bring in distracting judgments extraneous to the issue at hand. I simply wish to affirm, with an appeal to history, that we cannot but recognize ourselves as Christians and that this denomination is a mere recognition of the truth of the matter.  

Christianity is the greatest revolution that humanity has ever experienced: so huge, so comprehensive and deep, so fruitful of consequences, so unexpected and irresistible in its development, that it is not astonishing that it appeared and still appears a miracle, a revelation from on high, a direct intervention of God in human affairs, those affairs which have received from him a new law and direction. All other revolutions and epochs which mark human history, do not compare well with it, appearing in comparison rather narrow and particular. This does not even exclude the revolutions of ancient Greece in the poetical, in art, in philosophy, in political liberty; or those of Rome in the law, not to speak of the most remote revolution in writing, in mathematics, in astronomy, in medicine and whatever else we owe to the East and to Egypt.

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Cyril and Methodius bring Christianity to the Slavic People

Moreover, the revolutions and the discoveries which later followed in modern times, in as much as they were not limited and particular to the preceding ancient ones, but encompassed the whole man, the whole soul of man, cannot even be conceived without the Christian revolution, but only in a relation of dependence to it, hence to it alone belongs the primacy and the original impulse.

The explanation of what the Christian revolution operated is in the very center of the soul, in the moral conscience, conferring a relevancy to the inner reality to the point that it appeared that it had acquired a new virtue and spiritual reality which humanity had lacked till then. It is true that the men, the geniuses, the heroes that precede Christianity performed wonderful deeds, beautiful works, and transmitted to us a very rich treasure of forms, of thoughts and experiences; but in all of them we see what we have in common and makes us all brothers, and it is what only Christianity has given to human life.

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Nevertheless, this was not a miracle which erupted in the course of history inserting itself within it as an alien transcendental force; neither was it that other metaphysical miracle which some philosophers (Hegel above all) have constructed since they began to think of human history as a process within which the spirit acquires its constitutive parts, its categories, and at a certain point scientific knowledge or the state of liberty, and with Christianity moral intimacy, because spirit is always its own fullness, and its history is in its own creations, which are continuous and infinite, by which it celebrates itself. So, as neither Greeks, nor Romans, nor Orientals, were the ones who introduced into the world those universal forms of which we call them creators, but it was because of them that they arrived at heights never reached before and traced some solemn points of human history; similarly the Christian revolution was an historical process which within the general historical process was the most solemn of its crisis. There are attempts, recursions, preparations which can be detected within Christianity, as indeed can be noted in any human creation, for a poem or a political action, but that light which they seem to pass on, is received by reflection, from the work which has been actualized, which did not reside within itself, since no work of art is ever born by aggregation or a collage with others which are not itself, but only by an original creative act; no work exists in its own antecedents.

When Christianity appeared, moral conscience was revived, it leaped forward and tortured itself in novel ways, at the same time enthusiastic and trustful, with the sense of sin which always threatens it and is always defeated, humble and exalted, finding its exaltation in humility and in the service of the Lord. And this moral conscience kept itself pure and uncontaminated, resisting all temptations that would lead to the loss of its identity or put it at odds with itself, diffident of worldly praise and the social climb, its law derived only from its interior voice, not from external commands and prejudices which always leave much to be desired, leading to sensual and utilitarian criteria. And its trust was in love, love toward all, without distinction of races, classes, of free men or slaves, toward all creatures, toward the universe, which is God’s work, toward God who is a God of love and is not detached from man and descends to meet man, and in which we all live and have our being.

From this experience, which was a unique act, sentiment, and thought, a new vision and a new interpretation of reality arose;  a reality searched for not in the object detached from the subject and substituted for it, but in the eternal creator of things and the only principle of their meaning; and thus the concept of spirit is laid down, and God himself was no longer conceived as an abstract undifferentiated unity, and as such unmovable and inert, but a distinct community, because living and fountainhead of life, one and triune.

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The Crucifixion of Europe

This new concept and moral attitude were partly mixed with myths—kingdom of God, resurrection of the dead, baptism as preparation, expiation and repentance, and so on—which began with rugged myths and then became more refined and transparent with truth, and got mixed with thoughts which were not always harmonized and clashed in contradictions about which they paused, unsure and perplexed; but nevertheless are the ones briefly enumerated and that each intuits within oneself when one pronounces the name “Christian.” A new action, a new concept, a new creation of the poetical is not and ought not be conceived, as is conceived as abstraction conjoined to imagination, as something objectively concluded and delineated, but as a force which opens up to life with other forces, and at times it trips up or it gets lost, or other times it proceeds slowly and laboriously or even lets itself be overcome by other which it cannot overcome, and it is tested by defeats from which it returns to the struggle. 

Anybody who would like to understand Christianity in its original character must overlook the extraneous facts, overcome the accidents, see it not so much in its difficulties and slow-downs, in its aperies and contradictions, in its erring and loss of direction but in its first impetus and dominant tension, as if it were a poetical work which is valuable for what it has in it that is poetical and not for the non-poetical which may be mixed with it, for those flaws can even be found in Homer and Dante too.

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Benedictine Monks Christianizing Europe

There is usually some diffidence that this mode of idealization does not respect the reality of doctrines and facts; but that “idealization” (which is never blind however to foreign elements and signs and does not deny them) is nothing more than the “intelligence” which understands them. If we take the opposite approach and place on the same plane the myth and the facts, the logical and the illogical, the certitude and the incertitude of a thinker, the conclusion will be that such a work is not really a work, but a nothing, corrupted and corroded from top to bottom from the errors that critics and historians are accustomed to bring forth, happy, it would appear, to find in the same great works of the past the mental dispersion and moral stagnation that is in them.

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The Hagia Sophia in Instanbul, originally a Christian Byzantine Church

It was also necessary that the formative process of truth, that Christianity had so extraordinarily intensified and accelerated, would stop at a certain point in time, provisionally, and that the Christian revolution would experience a moment to catch its breath, so to speak, (a breath which historically may consist of centuries) and stabilize itself. Here too Christianity has been accused and it has been scolded, and it so continues even today, for the fall from the heights where Christian enthusiasm resided, for the immobility, the practicality, the politicization of the religious thought, which means death. But this bias against the Church’s formation and its very existence makes as much sense as the one against the universities and other schools wherein science, which is continual criticism and auto-criticism, ceases to be such and lives in manuals and catechisms so that one can learn it as prepared, either to utilize it for practical purposes, or for minds well disposed, as subject matter to consider for the attempt at new scientific leaps.

We cannot bypass this moment of the life of the spirit, within which the cognitive process of research is closed with the new acquired faith and that of practical action opens up, wherein faith is transmuted. And if this closing in one sense looks like, and in some way is the death (be it nothing but euthanasia, the merciful death) of truth, since authentic truth resides only in the process of becoming, and on the other hand it is the conservation of truth for its new life and for the recovering of the process, almost always hidden away and protected, which will germinate again and sow new fruits; so the Christian Catholic Church founded its dogmas, without fear of formulating at times what is unthinkable because not resolvable in the unity of thought, its cult, its sacramental system, its hierarchy, its discipline, its temporal patrimony, its economy, its finances, canon law and its tribunals and its juridical system, and studied and acted on compromises and transactions with needs which it could neither extinguish nor repress, nor ignore and leave alone; and its action was beneficial, winning over the polytheism of paganism and the new adversaries from the East (from which she herself had arrived and which she had superseded), those being particularly dangerous since they had borrowed many tracts of her own identity, such as the Gnostics and the Manicheans, and got busy building on new spiritual foundations the decaying and fallen Roman Empire, accepting and preserving its tradition and that of the whole ancient culture.

She then went through a glorious epoch called Medieval (an historic partition and name born almost by chance, but effectively guided by a sure intuition of truth). Within this epoch not only she brought to conclusion the Christianizing and Romanizing and civilizing of the Germans and the barbarians, not only she impeded the new dangers and damages of old-new dualistic, pessimistic, ascetic heresies not cosmic and negating life, not only it called for a defense against Islam, which threatened European civilization, put defended the moral and religious exigency as primary to political domineering politics, and as such it affirmed its right to the dominion of the world and considered the subversion of this right a perversion.

Neither are the other common accusations against the Catholic Church for corruption that it allowed to enter it, valid. This is so because every institution carries within itself the danger of corruption, of parts that corrupt the whole, of private and utilitarian motives which are substituted to moral ones, and in fact every institution suffers them and continually attempts to overcome them and return to sanity. This happens also in the various old Protestant evangelical denominations who protested the corruption in the first Church, even if in a less scandalous or more banal mode.

As is well known, even within medieval times, taking advantage of those Christian free spirits which shed light within and outside its parameters, and making them relevant to its goal, it reformed and renovated itself several times. Later on, due to the corruption of its popes, of its clergy, and its friars and the changed general political situation, which had taken away the domination exercised in medieval times, which rendered scholasticism passé, blunted its spiritual weapons, and finally, because of the new critical thinking, both philosophical and scientific, which rendered its scholasticism antiquated, ran the risk of disorientation, and yet reformed itself prudently and politically, saving whatever prudence and politics are able to save, and continuing its mission, which gave its best fruits in the lands of the New World.

An institution does not die because of accidental errors, but only when it no longer fulfills any need, or when those needs which it fulfills, are diminishing in quantity or quality.

What the present conditions of the Catholic Church may be, is an issue that does not fit in the discussion we have been conducting here. Picking up the discussion at the place where we deviated to furnish the above clarification on the truth that belongs to Christianity and its relation with the Church and the Churches; having acknowledged the necessity that the formative process of Christian thought to cease for a while (as it is done, after all, when we think it permissible for the sake of clarity to translate the big into the small, when, having written a book, one sends it to the editor and to the public, resisting the folly of the infinitum perfectionis), it was to be expected that the process eventually would be re-opened, reviewed and carried further and higher. What we have thought does not mean that we are finished with thinking: the facts are never dry sterile facts, they are always in gestation; to adopt a motto of Leibniz, it is always gros de l’avenir.

Jesus, Paul, the author of the fourth gospel, and all the others who cooperated with them in the first Christian era, led with their own example and action, which was enthusiastic and without pause in thought and in life, to ensure that the teaching they supplied would be not only a source, like a water spring, from which to attain eternally, similar to palm tree carrying fruits, but a perennial development, alive and malleable, that would dominate the course of history thus satisfying the new requirements and the new questions which they themselves did not feel or did not propose, but would later on be generated within the heart of reality.

Given that this execution, which is both transformation and addition, cannot be executed, without first determining, correcting and modifying the first concepts and adding new ones and complete new arrangements, and therefore devoid of repetitions or literary comments or banal work (as is in general, with a few notable exceptions, the case for the medieval period), but genial and congenial work, we must recognize as effective carriers of the religious work of Christianity all those who, beginning with its original concepts and integrating them with their critique and ulterior research, yielded substantial advancements in thought and life. These, with a few anti-Christian appearances, these men of Humanism and the Renaissance humanists of the Renaissance, despite some characteristics which may have appeared anti-Christian, understood the virtue of the poetical and of art and politics recovering full humanity against Medieval supernaturalism and asceticism. In some respects, the men of the Reformation, in as much as they amplified the doctrines of Paul, detaching them from particular references of his own time, were the rigorous founders of modern physico-mathematical  and natural science, with new discoveries which gave new tools to human civilization.  They were the promoters of a new natural religion and natural law and of tolerance, fountainheads of the following liberal conceptions; they were the enlightened men of triumphant reason who reformed socio-political life eliminating whatever there was left of feudalism, of medieval privilege of the clergy, and chasing away the darkness of superstitions and prejudices, lighting-up a new desire and a new enthusiasm for the good and the true and a renewed Christian and humanistic spirit; and then came the practical revolutionaries of France which extended their efficacy all over Europe, and then the philosophers who saw to it that a speculative Christian form be given to the idea of Spirit, substituting it to the ancient subjectivism, we have Vico and Kant and Fichte and Hegel, who directly or indirectly, inaugurate the conception of reality as history, thus overcoming the radicalism of the encyclopedic with the idea of evolution and the abstract libertarianism of the Jacobins and their institutional liberalism, and their abstract cosmopolitanism, by respecting and promoting the independence and the liberty of all the various civilizations of all people, or as they were called, of the nationalities: these and all the others like them whom the Catholic Roman Church anxious to protect its institution and the construction arrived at in the Council of Trent, consequently had to persecute and refuse to acknowledge the whole modern era which it condemns in one of its encyclicals, without being able to counter science, culture and modern civilization, the civilization of secularism, another rigorous science, culture and civilization. So it has to reject with horror, as a blasphemy, the sullied name of those who work in the Lord’s vineyard, who have with their labor, sacrifices made the truth of Jesus fructify as announced by the first Christian thinkers and then elaborated, not differently than any other form of thought, as an outline to be perpetually supplemented by new lines and paragraphs. Neither could it bend to the idea that there were Christians outside every church, not less genuine than the ones who are inside, and much more Christians because they were free. But we who are writing neither to please nor to displease the men in the churches and understand, with the respect due to truth, the logic of their moral and intellectual position and the laws of their behavior, need to confirm the use of that name which history demonstrates as legitimate and necessary. The proof of his historical interpretation resides in the fact that the continual anti-Church debate, which runs through the centuries of the modern era, has always stopped at the reverent remembrance of Jesus, feeling that an insult to him would be an insult to oneself, to the very raison d’être of its ideals, to the heart of its heart.

 sy082

Christian Cathedral in Helsinki Finland

Even some poets who have the freedom allowed to poets to portray imaginatively with symbols and metaphors the ideals and the counter-ideals according to their passion, saw in Jesus, that Jesus who loved and wanted joy, a denier of joy and a propagator of sadness, at the end had to deny their first judgment, as it happened with the German Goethe and the Italian Carducci. Also vagaries and imaginings of poets were the nostalgic recalling of the tranquil ancient paganism, usually contradicted by opposite vagaries by the very same people who had proposed them for a while. 

The thoughtless lightness and the fun which appeared innocuous whenever it was applied to any fact or person of history and poetry, has not looked so innocent, and it has never been allowed for the figure of Jesus, which has been avoided even on the stages of theaters, except for the naïve sacred representations of medieval times, still alive among the people, and tolerated and even promoted by the Church. Another proof is to be found in the attitudes and the symbolism of Christian flavor, which have decorated the political movements of the modern age, even those with a definite anti-clerical tinge of the 18th century Volterians, so that we could speak of “the heavenly city,” and “the garden of Eden” transferred to ancient Rome or the Arcadia of reason and nature, which substituted the Bible or the Church, and other similar phenomena; even the revolutions of modern times referred to “prophets,” and sent their “apostles” and glorified their “martyrs.” The fact is that although the whole of history culminates with us as its children, ancient ethics and religion were superseded and resolved in the Christian idea of conscience and moral inspiration, the new idea of God in which we live and have our being, and who can no longer be Zeus, nor Jawhe, nor the German Wodan, despite the praises conferred on him in our times; and so in the moral life and our thinking, we feel that we are directly children of Christianity. Those who dream of a neo-paganism, do not consider the words of Burckhardt who has Hermes of the Vatican say these words: “We had it all, the glory of heavenly gods, eternal youth, but we were not happy because we were not good.”  Which is the same as saying: “we were not Christians.”

Nobody can know if another religion, at a par or superior to the one defined by Hegel as “the absolute religion,” will appear in the future within humankind, but of it we see not even a first light. It is obvious that in our present times, we are still not outside the parameters of Christianity, and that we, just as the first Christians, continue to labor in the construction of the rugged contrasts between immanence and transcendence, between the morality of conscience and that of the commandments and the laws, between liberty and authority, the heavenly and the earthly which are also within man, and the ability to compose them in one single form gives us joy and inner tranquility, and the consciousness that we will never compose them fully and exhaust the sentiment of the perpetual struggler, or the perpetual worker,  to whom and to whose grandchildren will never lack their subject matter, that is to say, of life.

Our recurring need is to preserve and reignite and feed the Christian element, today more than ever pressing and troubling, in between sorrow and hope. And the Christian God is still our God. Our sophisticated philosophies call him Spirit, who is always above us but is also ourselves; and if we no longer worship as mystery, it is because we know that He will always be a mystery in the eyes of abstract intellectualistic logic, misguidedly dignified with the name of “human logic, but in the eyes of concrete logic it is limpid truth which can be said “divine” understood in the Christian sense as that to which man continually aspires to, and which makes him truly man.

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 END  OF 59th SESSION OF THE  OVI  SYMPOSIUM (27/08/2015)

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Intro - P. 1 - P. 2 

2nd Meeting - 3rd Meeting - 4th Meeting - 5th Meeting - 6th Meeting - 7th Meeting - 8th Meeting -

9th Meeting - 10th Meting - 11th Meeting - 12th Meeting - 13th Meeting - 14th Meeting - 15th Meeting -

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52nd Meeting -53rd Meeting - 54th Meeting - 55th Meeting - 56th Meeting - 57th Meeting -

58th Meeting -59th Meeting -

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