Thursday, June 23, 2011

Second Thoughts About John Paul II: There But For the Goad of Grace Grow I

Not a lot of time this morning, so I think I'll just just riff away on this massive 1,000 page biography of John Paul II, which I just finished reading. It's probably not for everyone, as it gives a virtual day-by-day account of his papacy, but I found it fascinating.

There's a second volume that takes the story from 1999 to 2005, providing additional information about his struggle against communism (because of the opening of the Soviet archives), and giving an overall summary and analysis of his meaning and significance. It might be the more sensible purchase for the buy-curious.

First of all, John Paul is another one of those people -- like Reagan and Thatcher -- to whom I didn't pay sufficient attention while they were alive, mainly because of my stifling moonbattery, but also because, sad to say, Catholicism was completely off my muleheaded braydar anyway. I might add that I had even been laboring under lingering delusions about Catholicism until reading this very book, persistent moron which below.

I am now resigned to the fact that it will take the rest of my life to eradicate the secular indoctrination I assimilated through osmosis just by virtue of living in this time and place, but greatly exacerbated by my passage through the upper reaches -- or darkest depths -- of academia. In another lifetime I could have been... fill in the blank with your least favorite idiotorialist. But I would have bent all my energies toward promoting the illiberal leftism I had confused with freedom and truth.

So much of my life has involved a new appreciation of precisely those things I had previously devalued and/or dismissed with deep contempt. When I say that I was exactly like our predictable hydraheaded troll, Willionymous, it is no exaggeration. My mind was a vast and specious warehouse of alreadymade cliches about God, politics, science, woman, gaia, and everything else the leftist Knows with dead certainty. Politically, all of them involved danger on the right!

On the one hand it makes one cringe with vicarious embarrassment for the poor sap, but it also reminds one of the power of grace, because as I look back, I see a pattern of coincidences that the cheesiest novelist wouldn't inflict upon his readers. There but for the goad of grace grow I.

As it so happens, John Paul regarded his own life in the same manner, and in considering its dramatic and unlikely plot line -- which reads as if it were written by the hand of anOther -- one is hard-pressed to disagree. This was a man of not only true world-historical significance, but of divine-historical significance.

What I mean by this is that his "horizontal" impact upon history is evident to even the most myopic secularist. But the source of this impact was clearly in the vertical, of which the circularist can recognize nothing but outward features cut off from their roots -- which are aloft, in the upper atmansphere, not below, amidst the deceptive mayaplicity.

John Paul's historical impact was ultimately a result of the prolongation of this vertical energy -- or light, or truth, or freedom -- into time and history. Absent this vertical source, he would have been just an oddly dressed man with a stick and funny hat and a lot of unlikely stories.

Also, the animus he generated in assouls such as myself was really a precise measure of the light and truth he embodied. I now see this with great clarity. Although I would have undoubtedly regarded him as a "reactionary," it was I who was reacting in a kneejerk manner to the blows of truth. When one is struck, the first reaction is to lash back at the perpetrator.

This is a fair description of my modus operandi, as is true of the left generally. They have such preemptive contempt, that they inevitably smear us in that endearingly predictable way by attacking our motives, without ever pondering the source of the energy provoked in themselves, i.e., their various derangements.

Just as there is a predictable "canon of dissent" against the Church -- e.g., abortion, celibacy, female priests -- there is a similarly reactionary loose canon on the left, e.g., "tax cuts for the rich," "income disparity," "attacking Medicare," "homophobia," "racism," and other sacred cowpies.

One of the major things I learned from this book is that I am actually -- surprise! -- a Vatican II guy. Prior to reading the book, I was an anti-Vatican II guy, oddly enough, because I knew literally nothing about it.

Rather, based upon rumors from trusted sources (mostly traditionalists such as Schuon), I assumed that it was some kind of modern aberration designed to pander to the needs of spiritually crippled modern folks. Instead of asking these people to rise up to truth, it was a watering down of truth in order to reach them. The reality could hardly be more different.

Come to find out that the real spiritual meaning of Vatican II is to open the church to everything, AKA to reality, not by altering its fundamentals, but by engaging and dialoguing with all sources of truth, whether from science, religion, or culture, in order to deepen and broaden the faith.

Most particularly -- and this is a central tenet of the Raccoon -- its purpose was in part to present the faith to modern men in such a way that they could see beyond the blinders of modernity and grasp it.

It is not that the Church was or is "medieval." Rather, it naturally developed in a manner that allowed it to transmit its truths to the medieval mind. For a host of reasons, this tended to settle into a kind of institutional inertia, which made the Church slow to react to the developments of modernity in philosophy, science, politics, and economics. (Indeed, there is still a struggle with the latter, for in many ways the Church still embraces the antiquated zero-sum economics of the left.)

This is what prompted my appreciation of the Orthodox east, in that I assumed they preserved the truth in all its premodern goodness. But these trappings are no more essential to the message than the trappings of Greek philosophy. Of necessity -- because there must always be cultural, historical, philosophical, and even personal vehicles and matrices of divine truth, there is always going to be a "human margin" where the essential truth shades off to the inessential.

Weigel notes that John Paul managed to change the world with what the world calls "power," but from his perspective it was a very different kind of power: the power "to be the truth that could set people free in the deepest sense of freedom: the truth about the dignity, vocation, and destiny of human beings..."

There is a certain cliche about the trajectory of his papacy, suggesting that he was a kind of progressive radical prior to the collapse of the Soviet Union, becoming a more of a reactionary scold thereafter.

There is simply no truth in this, for John Paul never placed freedom above Truth -- as if freedom itself, absent any transcendent ground and vector, were some kind of unambiguous human good.

Rather, with the acquisition of freedom the battle is still half-fool -- perhaps even more than half if freedom is misunderstood, misused, and misoverestimated. Thus, the so-called "scolding" was no more than a reminder of the purpose of freedom, which no leftist wants to hear about, since it insults their self-centered lives and calls their manmade, and therefore relativistic, values into question.

Opponents of the Church often obsess over their own warped interpretation of its views on sexuality. Another major revelation to me was the extent to which John Paul was anything but a narrow-minded prude -- you know, one of those "celibate old men" who imagine they know so much more about human sexuality than Bill Maher or Anthony Weiner.

To the contrary, he explicated -- and you will forgive the analogy -- a virtual doctrine of Christian "tantric sex" in his "theology of the body." Not only did he regard sexuality as a divine gift, but he saw it as an icon of the trinity, a kind of terrestrial revelation of the trinitarian goings on that go on behind closed doors in the interior Godhead. I don't see how any soul-washed secularist could apprehend the truth and beauty of his writings in this area. I would call it a spiritual ménage à trois, but that would be utterly tasteless.

Further Cosmic Adventures with John Paul.


Blogger julie said...

There but for the goad of grace grow I.


I know that feeling.

Back to reading...

6/23/2011 08:56:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Good point. I added it to the title.

6/23/2011 08:59:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Re. the Theology of the Body, the Anchoress has mentioned that enough that I've read at least a bit of it. It's such a beautiful take on human sexuality; if more people understood that, the world would truly be a better place.

6/23/2011 09:19:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, emphasis on the human. I look forward to reading the whole book. Hope it lives up to expectations...

6/23/2011 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger John Lien said...

"So much of my life has involved a new appreciation of precisely those things I had previously dismissed with deep contempt"

Preach it Brothah!

6/23/2011 10:06:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Talking about Vatican II, Christianity was from its foundation meant to address people as they are. We don't ask people to change in order to become Christians. I knew what I was doing wasn't working. I came to Christ, and He began to change me. Considering what He had to work with, it's been pretty dramatic. Almost ex nihilo.

6/23/2011 12:03:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Rather, based upon rumors from trusted sources (mostly traditionalists such as Schuon), I assumed that it was some kind of modern aberration designed to pander to the needs of spiritually crippled modern folks. Instead of asking these people to rise up to truth, it was a watering down of truth in order to reach them.

In fairness, I've had the impression that a lot of Catholics saw it that way as well. Depending on where one goes to church, there often does seem to be something watered down and unserious about the services. The underlying ideas are sound, but the implementation hasn't always been the greatest.

6/23/2011 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Just for instance, going back to the Theology of the Body, it seems to have been profoundly misunderstood again even by many Catholics (I suspect few actually ever read it), and most references to it I've seen over the years have been decidedly defensive.

6/23/2011 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Quite true. From what I understand, the entire papacy of JP II can be understood as an attempt to revive and enact the true spirit of Vatican II. In it's wake, it was totally misinterpreted by liberals as license to veer into total nuttiness, which then created a counter movement of traditionalists, but neither has anything to do with the actual intent. I would guess that the whole thing had much to do with the homosexual priest scandal, in that the liberal takeover of the seminaries was so radical and subversive as to invite and tacitly approve of such behavior. I just googled the subject, which yields only about 2.5 million results...

6/23/2011 07:54:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

Yikes - and I'd bet the majority of them are decidedly infavorable...

6/23/2011 09:23:00 PM  
Blogger julie said...

unfavprable. Favorable.


It's been a long week...

6/23/2011 09:25:00 PM  
Blogger phil g said...

Very interesting discussion of Vatican II. Being a relative newcomer to the Catholic church, I've watched with curiosity and some confusion the debate of Vatican II and the reaction to it from the reactionary traditionalists.

Given what I've heard about pre-Vatican II, it would seem to me much more difficult for protestants and non Christians to convert to the older form. It seems it would just be too foreign, too insular. So from my experience, I think the practical changes from Vatican II were necessary for the Church to open up to new converts, particularly now with many/most of the main-line protestant churches devolving to leftist political organizations with a Christian veneer.

From the perspective of time, it appears that Vatican II came just in time. It is fascinating how God subtlety works through His human agents in the world.

6/24/2011 04:24:00 AM  
Blogger phil g said...

I'm sure all of you know, but Pope Benedict was a principle intellectual architect of Vatican II. So it is extremely fitting that he would be selected to continue the work of John Paul II. The Church has made many errors, but they do get some of the big things right.

6/24/2011 04:27:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...


The biography of JP goes into great detail about the whole matter. He was convinced that Vatican II was as definitive and providential as any other council, from Nicea on. Also, the book says that in a way, the post-conciliar RCIA procedure was supposed to become more rigorous, focussed especially on the inner transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit during the year of "illumination" prior to baptism, but I have no idea what it was like before. The book implies that it was more informational than experiential...

And Julie-- in case it wasn't clear -- which it wasn't -- the 2.5 million was in reference to the homosexual seminarian problem, not Vatican II....

6/24/2011 04:37:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Phil -- Turns out that Wojtyla was a major player as well. Both have endeavored to bring the Church into compliance with its true meaning. It seems that Pope Paul really just let things drift from '65 to '78.

6/24/2011 04:40:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

For example, that is when the odious liberation theology planted its demonic tentacles in the Church.

6/24/2011 04:42:00 AM  
Blogger Suburbanbanshee said...

Well, the problem was that Pope Paul VI was a nice intellectual guy who really wanted his friends to like him, and trusted that his friends loved Jesus and the Church as much as he did and for the same reasons.

Unfortunately, some of his friends were utopians who only loved the potential Church in their minds, and who thought that Catholic people were mostly ignorant peasants who should be made to wise up and pray only the way they thought was proper. So they kept changing the stuff everybody loved instead of the stuff that needed reform, while they kept claiming that Vatican II demanded it. (Even if it was the exact opposite.)

So he didn't let things drift on purpose. He thought he was enabling dynamic improvements, but his team was bad in parts and naive in other parts.

6/24/2011 06:26:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"Most particularly -- and this is a central tenet of the Raccoon..."

...upon discovering he has maintained a false notion, he gleefully drops it like hot lava."

Exhibit A: this post.

This is no small difference between the Raccoon and the leftist troll, no?

6/24/2011 08:28:00 PM  

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