Including Every Detail

W. P. Witcutt was a 20th-century Anglican convert to Catholicism, who was granted an exemption to begin studying at seminary shortly after conversion. Around the 1940s he reverted back to Anglican and lived out the rest of his life as a high-church Anglican priest. Here is a passage from his account of his conversion and re-conversion:

I began to study the Roman Catholic system, and it at once attracted me. Here was an intellectual scheme moulded and shaped, it seemed, to include every detail. One had only to make an act of faith and one was settled, intellectually, for life. No more questions need be asked. To a youngster who could not trust his own judgement this was very satisfactory.

Source: Witcutt, W. P., Return to Reality. London, 1954: SPCK. pp. 15-16.

I think a lot of his criticisms of scholasticism are over-the-top (although the scholasticism of that time was not very healthy), but personally speaking, I think desire for certainty does in fact motivate a lot of conversion from Protestantism to Catholicism/Orthodoxy (why people think Orthodoxy guarantees certainty is anyone’s guess, but the feeling is there). And certainly scholasticism can seem appealing because, superficially at least, it looks like it has an answer to every question.



Ss. Nikolaj, Justin, and Serbian Orthodoxy on Ecumenism

I thought this was an interesting view coming from a Serbian Orthodox bishop:

On one hand, one observes among these three authors [Nikolaj Velimirović, Justin Popović, bishop Athanasius Yetvić] the absence of a deep and documented reading of Western theology; but on the other hand, the impression prevails that such a reading would serve only to confirm an opinion already formed among these Orthodox authors. However, this opinion was formed under the influence of the Russian critique of Western culture, as well as of Western theology. Such a conclusion obliges us to define this point as an imperfection, and as the source of a certain “vulnerability” in their synthesis, paradigm, and proposition. In fact, if their critique of Western theology was established with the aid of the “pre-existing” attitude of Russian Orthodox theologians instead of following upon a personal and direct approach with Western theologians themselves, then such a critique should be considered with a certain reserve. In simple terms, if the approach had been different from the methodological point of view, then the polemical aspect of their theology would have been deeper and more solidly grounded. And perhaps the results would in part have been different.

The words are from Bp. Maksim Vasiljević in a 2011 article in Istina. I myself do not have a copy of the full article, I only found this passage from Julija Vidović’s article on how Ss. Nikolaj and Justin viewed ecumenism. It’s really a worthwhile article, at the very least because it dispels notions that they were deranged zealots:

In a testimony on Saint Justin, Irenaeus (Bulovic), one of his faithful disciples and one of the most active representatives of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the ecumenical dialogue of our times, noted: “I feel that voices like that of Father Justin, often harsh and critical, have ensured that the course of events should not take a different direction. Father Justin, this is how I understand it now, after raising this issue with him often, never criticized the idea of dialogue, witness and love. He was himself an extremely open person. But he criticized the ideology of ecumenism, considered as a variant of the ‘new Christianity’, as an ecclesiological heresy. He felt it as a dangerous heresy and he even forged a new term, now widely used, that of the ‘pan- heresy’. But unfortunately in our times, men and groups who most often refer to this term are, as to their position, both theological and spiritual, well below of that of Justin Popovic.

There’s a lot more in that article, even in just the footnotes. For example, I didn’t know that St. Nikolaj knew (and on certain points agreed with) Fr. Georges Florovsky. I will also have to get my hands on the Istina article.


After I missed the last two weeks’ posts:

  • Some reasonable takes on the Trump victory: from Mark Cuban’s twitter, and from Van Jones on CNN (unfortunately it cuts off the end where he says both the Democrats and the GOP have problems they have to look at).
  • At Semiduplex, there is a post containing a little-known speech from Pius XII, which concerns whether it is moral to remove functioning body parts for the sake of the health of the entire person.
  • The philosopher of science John D. Norton has a series of webpages called Einstein for Everyone. It is written with such great research that it clears up many common misconceptions about Einstein’s theories.
  • Eric Scerri shares his philosophy of science (h/t Whewell’s Ghost – lots of interesting stuff there!). Scerri likens the development of science to natural selection. While I appreciate the focus he gives to lesser-known scientists, this part of the article puzzles me: “But I reject any notion of teleology in my version. Science is not heading towards some objective “Truth” and here I agree with Thomas Kuhn who always insisted on this point.” I have a hard time seeing how one can deny that science is out to discover truth. This also conflicts with the fact that natural selection has as its end certain goods, as De Koninck shows here, so it would seem that his own model suggests that science has as its end a good (such as truth).
  • Managing mental illness in certain parts of Africa. I first learned about this from a presentation by a pharmacist who worked in Uganda for a few months, which included a photo of a bearded man tied up to a pole because of his mental health problems. It reminds me of the Gerasene demoniac: “And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones” (Mark 5:2-5).

And so, isolating themselves in the “deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth”, to quote St. Paul, and having chosen unbroken silence, they set themselves to the task of uncovering in a positive, exact fashion, the original causes of the passions and eradicating them […] Just as those interested in physiology determine bodily properties by means of countless instruments and after numerous experiments, chemical analyses, and multifarious tests, in similar fashion these men of God experienced countless temptations, carried out trials and experiments over numerous years (for it could take these men up to fifty years to test a single principle), and discovered, by the illuminating guidance of the Holy Spirit, the depths of moral philosophy, refining these virtues out of their respective excesses and deficiencies.

St. Nikodemos seems to show good knowledge of the study of physiology!

Peace Full and Eternal

When, therefore, death shall be swallowed up in victory, these things will not be there; and there shall be peace – peace full and eternal. We shall be in a kind of city. Brethren, when I speak of that City, and especially when scandals grow great here, I just cannot bring myself to stop. . .

St. Augustine, Enarrationes in Psalmos, 84.10.