Winter 2022

The Whole in the Fragment: The Vocations of Philosopher and Poet for the Salvation of the World

Erik van Versendaal

1. Ten Thousand Places

The Second Vatican Council envisioned the role of the baptized laity both as belonging squarely within and as having its own distinctive scope in contributing to the Church’s universal mission to “make whole.” While the eucharistic sacrifice consummately realizes the communion with God for which the world is meant and which has already been accomplished in Christ, the laity takes part in this realization at once by representatively co-offering in the liturgy the share of the world for which they are responsible and by upholding in everyday life the integrity of the world as world, where this integrity is understood as open to and perfected by grace. That is, the lay vocation consists in shepherding the naturalness of nature, which it does best by receiving Christ anew in the wholeness of each created thing and in forming things so that they become most themselves in assimilation to Christ. According to Lumen gentium, “It pertains to [the lay faithful] in a special way so to illuminate and order all temporal things with which they are so closely associated that these may be effected and grow according to Christ and may be to the glory of the Creator and Redeemer.” Among the many ways in which the laity achieve this—agriculture, homemaking, artifice, statecraft, etc.—the tasks of the philosopher and poet are exemplary. In what follows, I reflect on the lay contribution to the world-saving that Christ has entrusted to his Church by considering what lies at the heart of the philosopher’s calling. I take as a guiding light a word from Thomas Aquinas’s Commentary on Aristotle’s Metaphysics, which Josef Pieper reflects upon in his work The Philosophical Act: “The reason why the philosopher may be likened to the poet is that both are concerned with the marvelous, the mirandum.” After addressing how response to the wondrous characterizes the philosopher’s guardianship of created being, I will touch on how he shares this duty with the poet, and will suggest why these offices rightly belong together.


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