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Monday, May 6, 2024

Monday Morning Musing about Philosophy

The human mind puzzles me, especially my own. I get up in the morning with no idea where my mind will take me -- down what rabbit holes. Will I end up in fairyland, a dystopian chaotic horrorscape, or just wander in the garden meditating on my tomato plants?

Last night I attacked one of my "hot spots" filled with back issues of magazines and newspapers. I threw out several old issues of Chronicles after looking at the table of contents and deciding I could go on living without reading any of the articles. In the slightly reduced stack were a half dozen copies of The Traditionalist, Roger McCaffrey's publication. I wanted to look at those more closely before relegating them to the recycle bin. 

So this morning, I picked up issue one from 2023 and began reading about the attack on the Latin Mass and Francis who has "redoubled his commitment to his flagging war against Catholic tradition." Is it "flagging?" It's been almost 18 months since this issue was published and the anti TLM forces seem just as committed to the destruction as ever. They won't succeed, of course, any more than Saul succeeded in crushing out the early Christian communities he was so intent on persecuting as Diane Montagna pointed out in another article.

As I was reading, I got curious about the magazine itself and did an internet search which led me to a website for traditional Catholics called Suscipe Domine Traditional Catholic Forum where someone asked if anyone read The Traditionalist. And that's where things got really least for me.

One responder commented that Dietrich von Hildebrand was their guiding light and another criticized von Hildebrand saying his philosophy of personalism was a disaster. But the ensuing discussion did not define personalism or describe what was wrong with it. 

We are all philosophers, I think, because we all act on guiding principles whether we articulate them or not. The word philosophy literally means love of knowledge or wisdom, but often a man's "philosophy," illustrated by his actions (which speak louder than words), shows what he really loves. One man may say, "God is my all and I will spend my life pursuing His holy will." Another may say, "I'm number one and no one can tell me what to do. I have the right to be free!" So, is that what personalism means?

My next step was to look up personalism. What a head scratcher! There doesn't seem to be a single definition of it as a philosophy. In fact, it seems chaotic. According to the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

Personalists claim that the person is the key in the search for self-knowledge, for correct insight into reality, and for the place of persons in it. Other than giving centrality to the person, Personalism has no other set of principles or unified doctrine. Although many prominent personalists have been theists, this doctrine is not a requirement. There is also not a common set of methods or definitions, including the definition of person. Respecting that caution, personalists defend the primacy and importance of persons against any attempt to reduce persons either to the Impersonalism of an infrastructure, such as scientific naturalism, or suprastructure, such as metaphysical absolutism. Personalists focus on the concerns of persons living in a personal world.

Hmm....what exactly does all that mean? Since Jesus Christ relates to us all individually as persons, then we, as persons, are central. But if personalism means every person is the axis on which the world turns, that is a prescription for collision. So I am just as confused as ever.

Another site said that Edith Stein was a personalist. Since I still don't quite understand what personalism is, I can hardly critique it as a philosophy, but if Dietrich von Hildebrand, his wife Alice, and Edith Stein all embraced it, I can't jump on the bandwagon of the von Hildebrand critic who said he "is not a good guide" because he's a personalist.

Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand

And so my mind and its labyrinthian ways has led me to a Monday morning puzzle. No doubt I will be thinking about this as I do my Monday chores -- laundry, bed changing, etc. There is something very personal about those chores. You can hardly fold underwear without being personal.

Where did your mind take you this morning? 


  1. Your experience on that forum is what is very confusing about these well known Catholic writers/thinkers. I'll hear that so-and-so is well regarded and I see their books offered everywhere. But then someone will publish an article warning that same writer advocated for some thought that was not Catholic.

    I thought Dietrich von Hildebrand and Stein were "safe" but then I come across these articles that dive into their writings and it leaves me wondering. Did everyone just assume all they wrote was worthy of consideration? Or are folks just being contrary in this chaotic times?

    If the purpose of these critical articles is to clarify or get one to think that's good. But sometimes I wonder if it's part of an effort to define what's "pure" Catholicism in response to the Francis agenda and thus throwing out anything not perfectly aligned with their personal standards.

    Or did we fall into the trap of thinking all their writings are worthy because we liked and believed some of their stuff and then accepted all of their stuff?

  2. PATRICK H. OBRIENMay 6, 2024 at 10:55 AM

    Whenever I hear of the attacks by Francis on the Traditional Mass, I note that Paul VI did even worse to it and that he has been canonized. Francis indeed is a monster, but how to explain Paul's canonization? So much in the Church now makes no sense -- well, an empty papal throne at least now and perhaps decades earlier offers some explanation. I don't know, but I trust very little since the Council.

  3. You bring up important points, Margaret. Not everything every writer says is true. We are all prone to mistakes and misinterpretations. But even the saints got some things wrong so there's no reason to throw out everything because a person's writings aren't "perfect." I think the admonition that "perfection is the enemy of the good" applies here. I've read quite a bit of both Dietrich and Alice von Hildebrand that is absolutely on target. The Devastated Vineyard is a terrific book and so is Alice's memoir. This is where we need to be discerning and recognize that some people are never happy with anything. Not all of Vatican II is terrible, for example.

    Patrick, Peter Kwasniewski has a book with articles by about a dozen theologians/philosophers on the disputed question of whether canonizations are infallible. I am on the side of those who say no especially since the canonization process changed. You might be interested in that book.