On “convertitis”

1 09 2010

Between Maritain and De Koninck there was, above all, a difference of personality : De Koninck had found his niche in life, the place from which he could do the most for the common good, and though he could and did defend his work and his public function fiercely, he did not believe that this exalted him as a person. In his letters he delighted in adopting the guise of a simple beer-drinking Flemish man. Both he and Maritain were, of course, in fact highly educated European intellectuals (though De Koninck’s thought bears the clear marks of his long sojourn in Québec.) It is hard to imagine Maritain sitting down with his friends around a case of beer and reveling philosophically in the fact that the universe was somehow designed to permit such homely pleasures. For De Koninck, the universe was a source of continuous delight.

Maritain, though he rejected the darker struggles of Pascal and Kierkegaard, came from a more somber protestant background. There is a Calvinist earnestness in Maritain’s writings — a sense that salvation requires our constant attention and effort. The universe is a very serious place. De Koninck thought he would do better to spend a little time laughing at ourselves. This distinction has something to do with Maritain’s view of persons — for the task set for persons is herculean, nothing less than an expansion of content to include the whole universe. De Koninck thought that each of us must do his part, but, after that, humility dictates that much be left for the others and for God to accomplish.

-Leslie Armour, Charles de Koninck, the Common Good and the Human Environment



12 responses

4 02 2013
Charles De Koninck and Jacques Maritain: The Beer Test « The Charles De Koninck Project

[…] Vasquez cites Leslie Armour’s article, “Charles De Koninck, the Common Good, and the Human […]

4 09 2010

I knew Jacques was screwed up the first time I saw a picture of a young Raïssa. She was hot. No normal man could stay in a Josephite marriage all those years with a woman who looked that good. “Dedicated their lives to philosophy” or somesuch – yeah, whatever…

3 09 2010
Joshua Maeda

If by “chill pills” you mean two chilled drinks, then, yes, I will.

Okay, while such scrupulosity may not be an essential part of Catholicism, I wonder if it is not as common a feature of Calvinism as it is often made out to be. (Not to assume that is the quoted author’s point, but this does seem to be the drift.) I think that certain personalities will take this “earnest” outlook on life with them wherever they go, regardless of the particular religion with which they may identify. Granted, though I tortured myself with this way of thinking for far too long, I also knew Calvinists who took a quasi-libertine stance toward life based upon the belief that nothing they did could affect their salvation, thus disabusing me of the notion of a common Calvinistic eagerness. Ah, what came first–the theology or the personality quirks?

Anyway, I have rambled long enough. Time for those chilled drinks.

3 09 2010

“That’s just scruples. Take two chill pills and call me in the morning after a good night’s sleep.”

Ah, Arutor, you can really come out with some excellent ones! May I use it far and wide?

But, as an ex- Calvinist, I recognise the descriptions above.

3 09 2010
Arturo Vasquez

That’s just scruples. Take two chill pills and call me in the morning after a good night’s sleep.

Of course, there is always confession, but such scrupulous people will always wonder if they made a “good confession”, or if their sins are really forgiven, etc.

I don’t mean to pooh-pooh what you may or may not be suffering through, but such a thing does not play an essential role in Catholicism, as there are plenty “unscrupulous” Catholics out there, such as yours truly. And in my experience, the cure for scruples is to just stop thinking about it.

Seriously, if God is that much of a jerk, and all of that mercy stuff is just talk, then there is nothing we can do about it anyway, so why worry?

3 09 2010
Joshua Maeda

Mr. Vasquez,

Though I am someone who has now been “creeping” your blog for some time,this is my first time to leave a comment. As a hapless Calvinist convert to Catholicism myself, I can definitely empathize with Maritain’s eagerness. (If I recall correctly, he and his wife [at that time a friend?] once promised to kill themselves if they could not discover a transcendent reason for which to live.) However, I wonder, though, if the existential angst in Calvinism is not too much different from that which is in Catholicism. That is, with Calvinism, you might spend your nights awake praying that you are not one of the non-elect (however futile such a prayer may actually be, given the doctrine). With Catholicism, however, you might spend your nights awake praying that God and His saints will keep you from mortal sin. Both situations, in my experience, produce a tremendous amount of anxiety and “seriousness” toward the mundane events in our day-to-day lives. With Calvinism, one is always on watch for signs of one’s reprobation, while, with Catholicism, one is always on guard for occasions of mortal sin. I wonder in what ways the doctrine of mortal sin and predestination affects a similar anxiety in one’s view on life. Please do not think that I am quarreling with the Church’s doctrine of mortal sin, but, in all honesty, I must admit that this doctrine brings a heaviness comparable to Calvin’s teachings on predestination. (I hope this response is not utterly irrelevant to this post.)

2 09 2010

I grew up considering C.S. Lewis the essence of orthodoxy (I was raised in a Charismatic, loosely-evangelical home). I still admire him, but I can’t help but feel he lost his sense of the historical and the Incarnational value of Christianity after his conversion. I mean, looking at his writings, it’s clear he cares more about what’s more readily understood by art and the religious human psyche than hard questions of nature (scientists are shown as cold-hearted, spiritually dead thugs or cowards). He wonders aloud if the Resurrection itself will be inward (something I’m amenable to—I’m not very orthodox either), and he goes so far as to make the bold claim: “you don’t have a soul. You are a soul; you have a body.” Or something along those lines.

2 09 2010
Sam Urfer

C. S. Lewis was an odd duck; despite his populist apologetics beloved by the weirdest assortment of Christians, I think he would have been a bit of a fellow spirit with Arturo. A Platonist, Medievalist, thought that if Christianity wasn’t true then Hinduism was were it was at…not typical, in many ways.

1 09 2010

In short, I think you’ve missed the entire focal point of Kierkegaard’s work: humility. A similar sort of humility to the very type you praise in this point. This is why he writes indirectly, isn’t so obviously dogmatic about what’s right and what’s not, and why he never really gave any advice other than to make choices that one could rest well upon, knowing that these choices made up the book of your own life-work, and the book that only the Great Author was fit to judge.

1 09 2010

Where would C S Lewis fit in here?

1 09 2010

I’m an enormous fan and amateur scholar of Kierkegaard (his writings have gotten me through many a dark night), but to paraphrase Auden, Kierkegaard’s work has one major flaw: an alien observer could read the entirety of his work and fail to realize that man is anything more than a ghost. This ascetical, fight-forever type of mentality really fails to take on the Incarnational nature of the Christian faith. As someone who has taken an especial interest in Kierkegaard, I’m aware of possible biographical reasons for his approach, but yes, it’s unfortunate.

I can’t help but get the feeling that you haven’t read very much of Kierkegaard, though. This isn’t the first time you’ve dismissed him as overly-ascetical, someone who pegged down man’s place in the cosmos (in a previous post of yours, buried somewhere), and dour. Have you actually read any of his work? Some of his early work was fairly headstrong (his correspondence with Hans Christian Andersen comes to mind: “From the Papers of One Still Living”), but after his falling-out with Hegel’s philosophy, I’d say that he made a real aesthetical development out of the Socratic approach. His later writings (I say later—he died young: his family was under a curse) were more interested in Christian praxis and community than heady existential angst (this angst, too, in his writings, is only meant as a tool—a tool to become a better person, a tool to become more like Christ).

1 09 2010

From the books of Maritain I’ve read and from what I know of his life, he always struck me as a dour and ascetic type – not someone you’d want to have a beer with, perhaps in contrast with De Koninck. Calvinism isn’t necessarily a chronic illness (a lot of people have gotten over it – look at André Gide), but I guess Maritain never fully shook off that mentality.

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