Saturday, March 7, 2015

Who are our Heroes?

There is a popular song that says all my heroes are cowboys. Another one says tells mommas not to let their sons be cowboys, but to be doctors and lawyers instead. I enjoy country music and like watching westerns, but my heroes are not cowboys. My heroes are people of faith, virtue, and intellectual excellences. One of my heroes is Father James V. Schall. He was a professor of Government at Georgetown University for 35 years. He retired in December 2012 from teaching. He now lives in a Jesuit retirement home and continues writing. When asked about retirement, he replied that retirement did not mean to "stop doing anything." I have read many of Schall's books over the years and I am sure I will continue to read them in the future.

One thing that have puzzled me over the years is his warning about the Great Books. His recent comment in a review of Fesar's Scholastic Metaphysics made sense to me. Schall notes, "It is not so much that anything is wrong with studying 'great books.' We need and want to know what they contain. But by themselves, they contradict each other. So without a foundation in philosophy itself, students of 'great books' ended up in relativism with no real way to understand and defend the truth of things." It is because of my reading of Thomas Aquinas, C.S. Lewis, Josef Pieper and Father Schall that I have this foundation in philosophy which keeps me from being captured by relativism.

Father Schall was recently interviewed in the National Review online. He made some interesting comments about the world, his life, and works. He thinks that the "elimination of all non-Muslim peoples from what are called Muslim lands is part of the overall vision of Islam." He thinks thinking about Islam is fuzzy. This is because of "unclarity about what Islam is. He states, "Some desperately, in spite of evidence, hold that it is a simple religion of peace." Others read the history of Islam and see it is a religion of jihad. Muslims are caught in this contradiction.

In this interview he speaks of his book, The Classical Moment: Selected Essays on Knowledge and its Pleasures. He says that the book is a defense of the short essay. He has always been "fascinated, with how much you can put in such a short space." Schall is great both at writing the light, short essay and also writing the longer, more serious essay. The book's title refers to intellectual pleasures. Schall notes, "I have often been struck by Aristotle's teaching that the activity of knowing is itself a pleasure, perhaps our highest pleasure, in which all other pleasures take their order. The pleasure of knowing, it has always struck me as both a student and a professor, is at the heart of education and through it of life itself." It is interesting that Schall makes this point because Thomas Aquinas made the same point in my reading in the Summa this morning. Isn't this a new idea that there is pleasure in learning. Learning has its own rewards. I have experienced this many times. Schall in his review of Feser's book notes, "In Feser's little 'manual,' we have the seeds of something great, the realization that, on philosophical grounds themselves, the scholastic tradition in the heritage of Aristotle and Aquinas is in fact the newest thing in academia." In other words, the permanent things are never out of date.

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