Spring 2007

"A Cloud of Witnesses": Introducing Why We Need...

Adrian J. Walker

The editors of Communio are pleased to announce the inauguration of a new series entitled Why We Need . . . The three dots stand for the names of philosophers, poets, scientists, painters, musicians, theologians, and others whom we think Catholics today ought to—need to—know or know better. This means that readers can expect a certain surface eclecticism: the articles in the series will appear at irregular intervals, will come in no particular order, and will present a disparate-seeming variety of people inside and outside the Church. Nevertheless, we aim to give the series a deeper coherence than may immediately meet the eye. The goal of Why We Need . . . is not disorderly, unreasonable abundance, but a demonstration in actu exercito of the proposition that “truth is symphonic.” Unity beyond uniformity, combined with plurality beyond pluralism: this is the “trinitarian” pattern we would like the new series to reflect.

In accord with the type of unity Why We Need . . . as a whole aims at, each individual article in the series should present its subject as what could be called a Gestalt or figure. For a Gestalt is precisely a many-sided, yet basically coherent whole. Obviously, the often messy complexity of concrete human lives forces us to ask how much basis in reality there can be for “reading” someone as a Gestalt in this sense. How much of the Gestalt of Samuel Johnson in Boswell’s Life or of Goethe in Eckermann’s Conversations is Johnson or Goethe, and how much results from the artistic genius of Boswell or Eckermann? But maybe bios and biography are not so opposed as we are inclined to think. Maybe remembrance—however fallible and prone to arbitrariness any individual rememberer is likely to be—is the “medium” in which the objective Gestalt of individual human lives was always meant to achieve its full display.

One sort of remembering is reading, which means becoming acquainted with an author whose identity is inseparable from his “message” and the voice in which he delivers it: “person as mission,” as Balthasar would say. Above all, the articles in the series should aim to let readers hear their subject’s distinctive authorial “voice.” This means that, while not dilettantish or unscholarly, the contributions should appeal to more than just specialists. They should be examples of a kind of scholarship that is capable of integrating the specialized study of details (back) into the contemplation of the form of the whole, which alone makes the details intelligible and worth studying in the first place.