December 2014 Editorial


From the Editor’s Desk

On the Feast of the Transfiguration

We would rather be ruined than changed
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.

W. H. Auden, The Age of Anxiety

W. H. Auden’s eclogue, The Age of Anxiety (1947), depicts the cultural temper in the age of war and modernity. He identifies what much of the world has suffered since the Great War and continues to suffer today in the innumerable outbreaks of local wars streamed to our digital devices. Chronic anxiety is not new. What is new is its scope and our immediate awareness of it. It was surely there in the post-French Revolution years of the 19th century with recurring revolutions throughout Europe. It surely marked the cultural climate when Pope Clement XIV on July 21, 1773, with a single stroke dissolved the Society of Jesus throughout the world; and when on August 7, 1814, as the Napoleonic Wars were winding down, Pope Pius VII signed the bull Solicitudo omnium ecclesiarum restoring the Jesuit order. Cultural anxieties were atmospheric as the old order was passing and the new was struggling to be born. Within this climate of stress, the new Society of Jesus strained to retrieve what it had been and to transform that into what the Church and its future needed it to become.

Three articles in this issue of Theological Studies commemorate this event, focusing on its theological-historical aspect in broad swaths from suppression to the eve of Vatican II. Today’s older Jesuits entered the order when the Church herself, emerging from the experience of the second Great War, was realizing as never before her world-wide identity and concomitant responsibility—and not without anxiety, especially for a church that was predominantly European and had overly centralized its authority.

Social psychology tells us that one cause of anxiety is actual or perceived loss of control, leading to a sense of powerlessness that in turn often enlists social controls to regain power. This is one lens through which we might review our own individual and collective memories of growing up in the Catholic Church during the era of world wars and the Vatican Council. When I entered the Society of Jesus in 1956, I remember being stunned by the detailed rules of daily order prescribed for my formation (so-called for very good reasons). But I manfully engaged it (with notable infractions), believing that good reason was on the side of those who made the rules.

Another cause of anxiety is identity confusion, a phenomenon common to those who undergo significant changes in sense of place—personal, social, and/or geographical. Study of this phenomenon emerged during the 19th century as the Society of Jesus quested for an identity both traditional and innovative and how to comport itself anew in service to both church and state. This was happening during the colonial period when state institutions were themselves experiencing hybridization—that is, attempting to negotiate the dis- tress of being neither their old nor quite the new selves they were clumsily adopting. Both experiences induce anxiety. Social hybridization only increased as the world entered the 20th century with its world wars and their effects, including massive migrations of people from formerly secure to radically insecure senses of who they really were, again heighten- ing anxiety and leading to behaviors both predictable and unpredictable.

Leaving Home, Simon Rattle’s seven-DVD production of Orchestral Music in the 20th Century, is essential listening/viewing for anyone seeking a deep sense of the phenomenon of hybridity in our era. Most listeners find modern music perplexing, noisy, inaccessible—anything but comforting. Rattle helps us fathom it and begin to enter its aesthetic. This requires effort, close attention, and especially a heart open to possibility (in Kierkegaard’s sense). With such a heart, patient listening can change our aural expectations and transform into transcendent beauty. Without this heart and effort, we may remain stuck in unfocused fear and so judge what we perceive as worthy of condemnation.

This may be our judgment on much of what we have experienced during the hybridizations of the 19th century and on into the 21st. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, many wanted to return to medieval church order rather than endure the hard work of creating a church order for the future, the test of attempting to perceive transcendent beauty in all that appears ugly, horrid, demonic, even sinful in contemporary experience. This was the project of many artists—Georges Rouault with his pros- titutes, clowns, and Miserere et Guerre lithographs; and poets like Anna Akmatova and Charles Peguy—artists who agonized to discern and express the sublime they sensed within human experience, despite all its horrors.

The impulse to avert one’s face from the new is common. Whether it is of grace, however, needs to be discerned. This is the challenge whenever we sense the threat of, and the anxiety attendant on, hybridization. Should we stay or should we go?—the question all face today as we the Church, with our burden of modern and postmodern hybridizations, struggle to appropriate Vatican II in hopes that the burden can be trans- formed into possibility. This has certainly been the experience of the Society of Jesus as it lost its former self in the suppression and then had to seek its new self, without simply jettisoning the old. This experience is common to all religious orders and all churches, indeed all inhabitants of planet Earth as we process out of formerly comfort- able identities into identities seeking peaceful accommodation to whatever hybridiza- tions history throws at us.

What comforts us all along the way is that Jesus the Godman, whom Rouault so vividly showed facing agonizing hybridization, bequeathed us his Spirit who labors in us and our world to recreate us as resplendent images of our transcendent God.