Saving the Differences

Introduction: Saving the Differences

The Summer 2015 issue of Communio is dedicated to the theme of “Saving the Differences.” The “postmodern” era in which we live has sought, in the name of justice, to protect and promote difference in the face of what is taken to be a traditional privileging of sameness and unity. A certain irony, however, has become increasingly evident in the political events and cultural phenomena that we encounter at every turn: namely, that the very efforts to promote difference in the name of ideas such as tolerance, equality, and diversity, have tended relentlessly to stifle difference in its most genuine forms. The articles in the first part of this issue all advance arguments for difference from a variety of perspectives. Difference is a manifestation of the superabundant generosity of creation, which means that it is not at all a threat to unity. Instead, difference and unity stand and fall together; we do not have to compromise one in order to promote the other. As the articles we present below make clear, there is more at stake in the question of difference than the typical debates tend to realize.

Adrian J. Walker and Rachel M. Coleman's “The Saving Difference” fleshes out our theme, arguing that what lies behind the drive to erase all profound differences is a kind of ontological envy. If we understand the dependence implied in our creaturely state as a threat to our freedom, then we feel a need to silence or destroy all reminders of that dependence. By its very nature, difference—perhaps especially the difference inscribed in our bodies, namely, sexual difference—represents a limit, and thus a constant memorial of our finitude. The attack on difference, the authors claim, is actually an attack on our creatureliness tout court, and indeed ultimately an attack on our Creator. The Church, they insist, is that which can save all differences, because she “crowns the revelation of God's freedom from envy: his insistence on the world's difference from himself.”

In “Totalitarian Tendencies and the Perversion of Language,” Jean-Pierre Batut uses the case of language to demonstrate how the negation of difference leads ultimately to our enslavement. Language should open up a path to freedom—that is, an ability to articulate and see what is good, true, and beautiful—but if we uproot words from the differentiated depths of reality, we make ourselves prisoners of superficiality. Language in its truest sense articulates, and, therefore, language cannot help but discriminate in a fundamental way: this is not that. When we ignore this central tenet in the name of tolerance, we do violence to speech, and thus violate the word itself.

Ricardo Aldana's “'Political Correctness' as a Form of Humanism, and the Christian Mission” shows that tolerance, and indeed all forms of humanism, remains in the sphere of empty abstraction; it avoids having to come to terms with concrete reality and thus always falls short of addressing human nature itself. Humanisms, he writes, “sacrifice concrete human beings for the sake of 'humanity.'” This is the inner logic of totalitarianism, which “political correctness” unwittingly shares, never allowing the speaker to engage with his neighbor, but always reporting to a supposedly safe and neutral space in which “freedom” is maintained. The sacramental foundation of the Church, Aldana argues, is the answer to such abstract totalitarianisms: it is on this foundation that we encounter reality, and thus our neighbor, in such a way that it cannot be ignored.

One of the metaphysical themes at issue in the question of difference concerns the “place” of relationality in being.  In “Being, Gift, Self-Gift: A Reply to Professor Waldstein on Relationality and John Paul II’s Theology of the Body,” David L. Schindler continues a discussion with Michael Waldstein by responding to the latter’s criticisms published in a previous issue of Communio.  In this essay, which is the first part of a longer response, Schindler presents a sustained argument for a reciprocal, but asymmetrical, priority of substance (being in itself) and relation (being from and for others) in the light of a Thomistic metaphysics of creation.  The point is to show that gift of self is a participation in the meaning of being, which is “gift” all the way to the core.  In this sense, relation—to God and to all other creatures in God—is not something that we first bring about through our deliberate activity, but is already presupposed by that activity as its anterior condition.  Our acting in relation to others is therefore not an overcoming of an original, ontological “self-centeredness”; instead, it is most fundamentally a recapitulation of the generosity that being is.  The second part of the response, which will show some of the implications of this metaphysics, will appear in the next issue of Communio.

In “The Light of Glory: Theosis to Sophiology,” the last Communio article he wrote before his death, our friend and former board member, Stratford Caldecott, with Adrian J. Walker, proposes a possible starting point for dialogue between the Western and Eastern Churches: namely, our understanding of divinization, or theosis. Caldecott argues that Gregory Palamas's distinction between the energies and essence of God, which was rejected by the Western fathers, might be recuperated if we recall that the principal reason he introduced this distinction was to try and explain that union with God (and therefore some sort of divinization) is possible even in this life. This union of course never makes God completely knowable, and therefore “even in God's self-revelation, something, which we may call his essence, always remains unknown and unknowable: in virtue of excess, not by way of defect.” This excess is what allows us, God's creatures, to know him ever more, both in this life and the next. And in this ever deeper contemplation of the ever greater God, we become “like” him—we are divinized.

In Retrieving the Tradition, we offer part of a long essay by the great twentieth-century Italian Catholic philosopher Augusto del Noce, entitled “Authority and Power.”  In this essay, del Noce argues that, however similar they might seem to superficial minds, authority and power are virtual opposites, insofar as they rest on contradictory grounds.  While authority recognizes the existence of a transcendent truth, and, by serving this truth, allows it to grow (augere), to take effect and bear fruit, power represents the rejection of any such dependence on truth.  Because of his allergy to authority, which he perceives as a threat to freedom, modern man has tragically removed any limits to power.  In the end, the reluctance to accept the absoluteness of truth claims does not protect freedom and the genuine difference of individuals; quite to the contrary, del Noce writes, “[t]otalitarianisms are formed on the negation of the universality of human reason.”

We also include in our Retrieving the Tradition section a brief reflection by Maximus the Confessor entitled “The Logos and the Logoi,” which is an excerpt from his Ambiguum 7. In this text, the saint explains that Christ, the Logos, expresses his unfathomable goodness in a network of logoi—that is, in the beautiful complexity of creation. There is no competition or envy between creatures here, only difference in all of its splendor: “The Logos's goodness is revealed and multiplied in all things that have their origin in him,” and he “recapitulates all things in himself.”

Lastly, we present three pieces in preparation for the upcoming Synod on the Family:

First is a statement on the question of the role faith plays in marriage by the Editors of Communio, written in response to a proposal that has received renewed consideration recently in light of current discussions regarding the challenges that face the institutions of marriage and family today.  According to this proposal, a minimum of explicit, personal faith—beyond the simple fact of baptism—ought to be recognized as a condition for the sacrament of matrimony, so that the lack of faith at the time of the wedding in either spouse would represent grounds for a declaration of nullity.  One of the motivations behind this proposal is a desire to open up a new way to resolve the situation of divorced and remarried Catholics who wish to be readmitted to the Eucharist.  The Editors argue against this proposal, contending that adding the necessity of a “minimum fidei” to the requirements traditionally recognized by the Church implies a forgetfulness of the implicit openness to Christ that is part of marriage in its original created nature.

Under the title, “Nature and Grace: The Sacramental Reality of Marriage,” we present two little-known addresses that John Paul II delivered in 2001 and 2003 to the Roman Rota, the institution responsible for overseeing canon law with regard to marriage.  In these addresses, the late pope articulates the theological vision of marriage upon which the Editors’ statement draws.  He insists on the importance of deepening our understanding of the nature of marriage and its relation to the teleological nature of man and woman.  This emphasis on the natural dimension, however, does not diminish the supernatural or sacramental meaning, but in fact reveals its roots.  Marriage as an efficacious sign of God’s covenant with his people, and even more specifically, of Jesus’ nuptial relation to the Church, presupposes and brings to fruition its reality as a natural institution. We can never leave behind one aspect of the sacrament for the other, because “the natural dimension of marriage and the relationship to God are not two juxtaposed aspects: rather they are intimately connected.”

David S. Crawford and Stephen Kampowski's “The Integrity of Moral Deliberation: On Paragraph 137 of the Instrumentum Laboris” addresses one passage of the working paper for the upcoming Synod, which states that both “the role of conscience” and “an objective moral norm” must be combined in any couple's consideration of the teaching of Humanae vitae. In the article, Crawford and Kampowski point out that this formulation frames the relationship between conscience and moral law in an extrinsic fashion—in fact, they argue, it sets the two against each other in a “relationship of antagonism.” But moral law is nothing other than an expression of truth, and truth is that which forms conscience and in which conscience participates. God's law, properly understood, “is fully present as the interior truth of good actions and therefore prevails insofar as well-formed conscience prevails.”