Thursday, May 29, 2014

Political Philosophy & Revelation

James V. Schall, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading. Catholic University of America Press, 2013. 281 pages. ISBN 978-0-8132-2154-0.

Political Philosophy and Revelation is a collection of Fr. James V. Schall's recent essays. One must not be mislead by the title political philosophy to think this is a book speaking of the dull machinery of government. It is nothing of the sort. This book is about living in the world as a Christian. How does Christianity relates to the liberal arts? What is the relationship between faith and reason? Why read books? What is the relationship between different academic disciplines? How should Christians respond to modern atheism? Does Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, and Charlie Brown have anything to teach us? These questions and many more are answered by Fr. Schall in Political Philosophy and Revelation.

This book has twenty-one chapters, an introduction and a conclusion. The book contains essays on philosophy, revelation, political philosophy, and other issues like reading books and pursuing a liberal arts education. Schall divides the book into seven parts. The first part discusses "the principle of all reality." What is this life about? In this part, there are chapters on reading books, reading the Apology of Socrates, and "the purpose of creation." on the chapter on reading books Schall states, "As students, you have already been exposed to many things that are not true. . .  But someday, I hope, you will come across a book, or a poem, or a teacher, or a musing of your own that will wake you up, make you curious" (14). Aristotle taught that philosophy begins in wonder. Thomas Aquinas said, "the greatest good that one can do to his neighbor is to lead him into the truth." That is the greatness of books. It can lead us into the truth.

Many today see reason and revelation in opposition to each other. Schall argues otherwise in this book. He shows how revelation addresses both philosophy and politics in this book. In chapter twenty nine, Schall reflects on fifty years of writing about faith and political philosophy. Schall notes, "If our minds have really taken our questions to their ultimate principle, if we are open to to what revelation addresses to reason, we will see that things cohere" (238). Schall in other parts actually says revelation helps reason to do its job better. Revelation actually makes reason more reason, not less.

In chapter 18, Schall addresses the right of babies to be born. The first part of the chapter he analyses this word,"right." Pope Benedict says this word does not stand by itself, but must be paired with duty. Schall notes, "Afurther danger of the word 'right' is also that it eliminates notions like generosity and gift, of things beyond the correlation of right and duty"(218). Fr. Schall argues that a child, "for its own being and good requires a father and a mother who are married to each other. They are both together responsible for them" (218). The later parts of the chapter Schall discusses modern technologies and the rights of the unborn. The author speaks against many modern technologies because they "separate sex from the begetting" (221). He goes on to say, "The child, however, no matter how conceived, is always a gift. . . Only when it is a gift can we appreciate that all human life is beyond the notion of unrestricted 'rights.' " There is much wisdom in this chapter on caring for one's children, no matter what disabilities they may have. In addition, Schall believes that the purpose of each child's life is eternal life. We are made for eternity.

There are many other excellent essays in Political Philosophy and Revelation. One other essay I especially like is the chapter on "intellectual charity." He quotes from Benedict XIV at the beginning of the chapter: "Such detrimental trends [in modern culture] points to a particular urgency of the apostolate of 'intellectual charity' which upholds the essential unity of knowledge, guides the young towards the sublime satisfaction of exercising their freedom in relation to truth and articulates the relationship between faith and all aspects of family and civic life" (178). This quote from the pope could be the thesis for this book. Fr. Schall in this chapter unfolds this quote piece by piece. He takes intellectual charity "to mean . . . the purpose or healing effect of revelation on intellect. . . Vice versa . . . reason is itself part of the faith in the sense that faith does not contradict but completes reason, completes what reason itself ponders" (184). In other words, faith and reason complement each other. Schall adds that the pope's words insist that Christian minds "have to think correctly." Schall thinks "it is an act of charity [as Aquinas said] to teach, or even point out, the truth to another" (185). Can there be a greater calling?

Though I could go even deeper with these essays, this is enough to whet your appetite to find you a copy of this great book and begin reading. Maybe, it will be the book that "wakes you up, makes you curious."

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