Friday 30 May 2008

Timothy Russ

Canon Timothy Russ is Parish Priest of the Catholic Parish of Great Missenden, U.K. He belongs to one of England's ancient Catholic families and still has a bit of a vineyard and some very good wine. I came to know Tim through Phyllis Wallbank: he was Phyllis' parish priest when her husband Newell died, and his way of helping Phyllis in her mourning was to introduce her to Bernard Lonergan. Phyllis recalls that she tackled Verbum by copying it out labouriously, page after page.
Tim is, in my opinion, a great Lonergan scholar: not a day passes without reading and reflection on some writing of Lonergan. He is especially into Lonergan's economics, has published two lucid articles in Divyadaan: Journal of Philosophy and Education, and, more importantly, used to take the opportunity to pass on some of it to Tony Blair. Great Missenden is, in fact, Cherie Blair's home parish, and occasionally she would be there in the pews with her prime minister husband.
I asked Tim what made Tony Blair become Catholic. He gave an interesting reply. 'In my opinion,' he said, 'Tony is an idealist. And he found, in the English Catholic parish, what the Labour Party should ideally be: a place where everyone, no matter what their colour or race, could feel at home. I think that is one of the reasons why he converted.'

Meynell and De Smet

Strange coincidences again. Hugo Meynell and I were somehow on to the topic of Indian philosophy and the many interpretations of Advaita. Hugo said he had, years ago, attended a meeting in Jerusalem at which an Indologist had worked out a comparison between Sankara and Thomas Aquinas. 'Could it have been Richard De Smet,' I asked. 'Maybe,' said Hugo, 'and in fact, I had to respond to that paper.' I went up to my room and checked the references, and there it was: De Smet had given his 'Origin: Creation or Emanation?' comparing Sankara and Aquinas on the notion of creation, at the 1977 Jerusalem session of the International Institute for Metaphysics. Hugo told me later that he had edited the papers for publication together with George Maclean, and that his response was to be found in that volume together with De Smet's paper.
So what is Sankara: Absolute Idealist? Monist? Non-dualist? When Bradley and McTaggart were popular, there were many Indian philosophers ready to compare Sankara with them. Should we say then that De Smet's Catholicism inclines him to find similarities between Sankara and Aquinas? I am not so sure. What I do know is that such hunches are to be considered as such, as hunches, as hypotheses to be proved or disproved by painstaking study of the texts... My personal inclination is to believe that De Smet has something important to say, and that perhaps the real Sankara is not as distant from Aquinas as might first be assumed. There is involved here, of course, the whole history of translation of Sankara's Sanskrit into European languages, the background influences on the translators and subsequent interpreters and commentators... A fascinating topic for study in itself. But a study that needs to be undertaken in the interests of better mutual understanding between Hinduism and Christianity.

Thursday 29 May 2008

Lonergan scholar Hugo Meynell

Hugo Meynell was one of the speakers at the International Lonergan Workshop held at the Italian Institute for Philosophical Studies, Naples, 13-15 May 2008. He was very happy to learn that his Introduction to the Philosophy of Bernard Lonergan was the very first book I read on Lonergan. I was happy to learn that he was, like me, a 'self-taught' Lonerganian.
Hugo is a direct descendant of Erasmus Darwin, grandfather of Charles Darwin, and 'very proud of it,' describing himself as ‘a first cousin seven times removed’ of Charles Darwin. His roots go, of course, much further back. He told me that his family has been in Langley-Meynell since at least the Norman conquest of England. Hugo is a huge man, and so I ventured to ask him if he had Norman blood. 'Yes,' he said cheerily. 'And I call myself a WANC - White Anglo-Norman Catholic.' He told me he had come across Meynell related surnames in Normandy.

Sunday 4 May 2008

More views of Bagnoregio

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I joined the Dominic Savio Community of the Salesian Pontifical University, Rome, today for a wonderful trip that included the Sanctuary of Divine Mercy at Collevalenza, the historic city of Todi, and the 'dead' town of Bagnoregio.

Bagnoregio was especially fascinating: dead, with only some 25 people living in there, and yet alive - someone obviously takes great care of the flowers on the windows, in the gardens, and being springtime, it was utterly fascinating and beautiful. The town has a very long history. It's greatest claim to fame is perhaps the fact that the great St Bonaventure was born there; unfortunately, his house is one of those that has already crumbled.

I found a gentleman sitting in front of one of the houses (there are still some rooms that are let out to tourists). He looked American, and so he turned out to be. Have you rented a room, I asked. No, he said. This is my house. I live in Virginia, and I come here four times a year. I love this place.

Friday 2 May 2008

St Athanasius

Being a student of Lonergan, I feel specially linked to Athanasius. The name of Athanasius will remain always linked to the Council of Nicea, which sought to face the data of scripture that the Father is God, the Son is God, and yet there is only one God. The way of the Arians was to negate the divinity of the Son. The way of the Church at Nicea was to affirm the data of scripture, believing that the mystery of God was way beyond human understanding. To do this, for the first time the Church had to make use of a non-biblical term, homoousion, which in English is rendered as 'consubstantial.' Was this a surrender to Hellenistic philosophy? Such is a common enough accusation nowadays. Aloysius Grillmeier instead puts it well: the real Hellenists were the Arians, who remain locked within a rationalism that could not go beyond the Hellenistic categories of the time. The Church instead used a Hellenistic category in order to express the mystery affirmed in the scriptures, that both Father and Son are God, and yet there is only one God.

For Athanasius, this was not a 'merely intellectual' thing: he paid for his convictions, being exiled at least four times from his diocese. I thank God today for Athanasius, and also for Lonergan who spent a great part of his life trying to understand the transition from the scriptures to the doctrinal language of the councils, and many other such transitions. These are not merely 'intellectual gymnastics'. They are matters that are vital to the faith, to ecumenism, to the great encounter of religions that is taking place today.

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