Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Super Flumina

Over Lent I read an excellent book by  Fr Eugene Boylan O.C.R called "This Tremendous Lover". It was written in 1946. It is a book about Christ and how to find Him.

The author spends some pages berating the disappearance of Metaphysics from education, which may seem a million miles away from the aim of the book, but the more this year progresses the more I agree with him.

To quote:
For the source of all the evils and errors in the intellectual life of to-day - the disease that makes much of its utterances, the mere wanderings of a feverish imagination - is the loss of metaphysics and of the ability for abstract thought.

So what has the absence of metaphysics from the intellectual life done for "modern man"?  To paraphrase Fr Boylan:

We think only with our imagination and subsequently we think what can't be imagined must be impossible .
Sentiment rules over moral principles.
The particular clouds the general in arguments.
Opinion trumps certainty.
Prejudice takes the place of judgment
Quantity rules over quality.
Matter is seen as the ultimate reality.
Now as a humble physics teacher, I see time and time again, a spark from pupils  who want to grapple with metaphysics. They are hungry for abstract thought and deep, deep questions as to the nature of things. Questions that don't necessarily have answers but which do require a disciplined approach to thought that is crying out to be nurtured.  I have seen this hunger for thought in some of the roughest and most deprived children I have taught.  I saw it also in clients when I worked for the probation service.  It is something I have regretfully had to walk away from.  Partly because my own training in metaphysics is inadequate and partly because it simply isn't what I'm paid to do.

I have blogged before that the Older Rite of the Mass is a profoundly more metaphysical entity than the Newer Rite.  It transcends matter, space and time simply by what it does.  The New Mass is linear.  Metaphysical and theological reality is not linear, it is the Eternal Present, it is God.  Attend a Solemn High Mass in the Older Rite of the Mass; what the choir is doing may or may not be the same as the priests, they may be in a completely different time frame, yet the priests and choir are not fighting each other.  The reality is in the NOW, it blows the mind away.  Attend a Solemn High Novus Ordo and everything has to be choreographed, the priests have to wait till the choir have sung their "bit", everything drags, it becomes a performance.  The final blessing comes before the "ite missa est" and this simply doesn't make sense. If the supreme interaction with the eternal present that is God is the Mass, and it isn't yet complete as the words "ite missa est" have not been said, then we don't need the priest's blessing.

So I have seen a hunger for metaphysics in ordinary people that could very well lead them to God.  I believe that the newer rite is not as metaphysically satisfying and the older rite of the Mass (but I do not question its validity).  Is the Church really suffering in some wasteland devoid of metaphysics?  Is that really what lies at the heart of the malaise in the world today?  Our intellect is a gift from God, it is there to bring us closer to God.  Are we stifling our intellects through sidetracking metaphysics?

I do feel sometimes like I'm weeping by the rivers of Babylon.  We are stuck in a strange, stifling, miserable land that is curious but doesn't have the language to engage with all that is True and Good.  But what can I do about it?  Wholesale Tridentine Masses for all won't achieve anything.  It is not so much about the liturgy as about our ability to think.  We are losing our ability to think.  The fecundity of Babylon and her daughters is making us all zombies.

1 comment:

Robert said...

I think you and Fr. Boylan make a very good point, and I've seen this argued elsewhere. I was taught nothing of metaphysics and precious little of critical thinking when I was in school. If I do any at all, it is solely due to my reading, but I do believe I am probably far more deficient in that area than I would be had I had that training.

My children, being homeschooled, and their mother having been trained at least a little in philosophy and related areas in college, are probably receiving far more than either she or I received at their age.

I'm not necessarily seeing the fruits of that quite yet, but they are still young.

My son uses most of his critical thinking for puns and jokes and a certain amount of deviousness.

Anyway, I think I frequently encounter situations where the lack of critical thinking makes a very great difference in the outcomes of discussions, and conclusions and choices. It can be quite disturbing.

Probably most of my many bad choices were made for the same reason.

You make good points about the Mass as well, in the linearity and non-linearity between the two. I can clearly see that now you mention it.

Even in the New Mass, when my choir is singing the English Propers, which don't seem to "go along with" the readings of the Mass, I think my people are troubled, and wonder, how does this fit? We tend to think every Mass should have a very clear and very linear "theme." Like a play.

God bless.