From the Dean

News items, published articles, and reading recommendations from Dean Timothy George

The Dean Recommends: Not Benedictine Enough- Rod Dreher’s Diagnosis and Prescription for American Christianity

By Nathaniel Peters
March 21, 2017

If the Benedict Option is just Christianity, it is neither inherently Benedictine nor is it optional. If it is a feeling and an intuition, it needs to be guided by careful thought.

For some time now, Rod Dreher has advanced the phrase “the Benedict Option” in First Things, his blog at The American Conservative, and elsewhere. Yet it has never been clear what choosing the Benedict Option actually entails. Some people take it to be a call to quietism or withdrawal from an irredeemable society, and thus propose more active options for Christian engagement. If they are right about what it is, the Benedict Option would be misguided. Dreher himself, in an earlier articulation of it, says it is the charge to be distinctly Christian and countercultural in the face of cultural hostility “even if that means some degree of intentional separation from the mainstream” (italics Dreher’s). But that already has a name: Christianity.

In his new book, The Benedict Option, Dreher makes it clear that the heart of the phrase is a feeling of alarm and alienation at no longer being at home in Western society, coupled with an intuition that traditional Christians have failed and need to change course. In his view, “Christian conservatives [can] no longer live business-as-usual lives in America . . . We would have to choose to make a decisive leap into a truly countercultural way of living Christianity, or we would doom our children and our children’s children to assimilation.” Christian conservatives have been “routed,” and the left “is pressing forward with a harsh, relentless occupation, one that is aided by the cluelessness of Christians who don’t understand what’s happening.” Dreher’s mission is “to wake up the church and to encourage it to act to strengthen itself, while there is still time.”

Dreher seeks to offer a critique of modern culture and to tell inspiring stories of creative countercultural Christians. His stories and spiritual counsel are on the whole sound and wise. Yet, his protests to the contrary notwithstanding, his book offers a standard decline-and-fall lament, taking readers from the glory of the High Middle Ages to moral and cultural decay in our own time. Propelled more by feelings than by slow, careful thought, this account is too swift and lopsided, lacking appreciation for the legitimate goods that have resulted from intellectual developments after the thirteenth century. Likewise, Dreher’s analysis of the right course for Christian political action suffers from a lack of clarity. A truly Benedictine account would correct both flaws. Read the rest at The Public Discourse.

Posted by Hunter Upton at Friday, March 24, 2017
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The Dean Recommends: The Holy Spirit is “Most Exciting Reality,” Says Father Cantalamessa

By Anne Kurian
March 10, 2017

© PHOTO.VA - Osservatore Romano

The Holy Spirit, who is “love in a pure state,” is the “most exciting reality that one can think of”: He is “the only one that can breathe a soul into our withered humanity,” said Father Raniero Cantalamessa, Papal Household Preacher, who on March 10, 2017 will open in the Vatican a series of homilies on Fridays of Lent on this theme.

In a conversation published on the eve in L’Osservatore Romano in Italian, the Capuchin Religious explained this year’s theme: “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3).

As during Advent 2016, the homilies intend to “bring to light . . . the veritable novelty of the post-Council, that is, a clearer awareness of the place of the Spirit in life and in the theology of the Church.”

They are also intended to mark the 50th anniversary of Renewal in the Spirit in the Catholic Church, a “jubilee that Pope Francis wishes to have celebrated with particular solemnity and ecumenical opening to the forthcoming Pentecost,” continued Father Cantalamessa. Read the rest at ZENIT.

Posted by Hunter Upton at Thursday, March 23, 2017
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The Dean Recommends: Why We Miss Niebuhr Now

By Jason Byassee
March 14, 2017

Reinhold Niebuhr. Still from Martin Doblmeier’s documentary An American Conscience.

I once heard Stanley Hauerwas issuing one of his screeds against Reinhold Niebuhr when he was interrupted by a young theologian from England who asked, “So why do you care about Reinhold Niebuhr at all?”

The question was a sign of a theological sea change. For years Niebuhr was a dominant figure in Christian ethics and an unavoidable figure in theological education. It’s long been a theological parlor game to ask: Where have public theologians like Reinhold Niebuhr gone?

Martin Doblmeier’s terrific new documentary on Niebuhr, An American Con­science, reminds us just how essential Reinhold Niebuhr was. Among the luminaries who pay homage to Nie­buhr are former president Jimmy Carter, New York Times columnist David Brooks, and historian Andrew Bacevich, a critic of the re­cent American military adventures. Dobl­meier brings in footage showing President Lyndon Johnson awarding Niebuhr the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Read the rest at The Christian Century.

Posted by Hunter Upton at Wednesday, March 22, 2017
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