Monday, February 19, 2007

"We need another St. Benedict"- Alasdair MacIntyre

The following quote provides some context for MacIntyre's quote from his book After Virtue in the the preface to the Twelve Marks of the New Monasticism, in which he says what is needed in our day is another St. Benedict. He has deftly and with considerable knowledge of the Middle Ages explained how the way that pagan literature was used by the church fathers and most notably by St. Augustine, how he searched out and found uses for the literature but in the context of their subordination to the Scripture and how exegetical approaches to the Bible developed and the way that pagan literature was also read and incorporated. St. Augustine's uses of pagan literature and the reasoning and theology behind it is what is referred to when MacIntyre refers to his overaching epistemology. He is explaining how to contextualize a famous case in the Middle Ages dealing with an Augustinian thinker Abelard. He remarks that in modern times the story of Abelard is usually addressed in two ways, dry as dust or technicolor, but that it is properly understood in the overaching understanding of the primacy of legitimate authority when it comes to dialectical or dialogical exploration, something that both St. Bernard and Abelard viewed themselves as beholden to. He understands St. Benedict as having layed down practical rules of obedience and of humbling of the self that help bring about the right uses of the intellect. MacIntyre is showing how there is a contuinuity and development within that continuity that has drawn on and in some ways improved the dialogical forms that Socrates embodied. He is explaining how within this tradition of theology and philosophy intertwined there is learning and progress and that practical rules for carrying out that are needed in our day...I think I am not doing it justice at all...

"Bernard [of Clairvaux], as a Cistercian, followed the Rule of St. Benedict, whose practical theology presupposes what St. Augustine had affirmed, that it is only through transformation of the will from a state of pride to one of humility that the intelligence can rightly be directed. Will is more fundamental than intelligence and thinking undirected by a will informed by humility will always be apt to go astray. It is clearly the pride of will which Bernard discerned in Abelard and which Abelard acknowledged by his submission that he had discerned in himself. So it is the underlying epistemology of Augustinian enquiry which requires the condemnation of heresy, since heresy is always a sign of pride in choosing to elevate one's own judgment above that of genuine authority." -Alasdair MacIntyre, Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry: Encyclopedia, Genealogy, and Tradition, p. 91.

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