Monday, April 3, 2017

Deeper Vision

A Deeper VisionA Deeper Vision: The Catholic Intellectual Tradition in the Twentieth Century by Robert Royal, 588 pages

GK Chesterton, incidentally one of the figures featured in Robert Royal's A Deeper Vision, once described the Catholic Church as the only "continuous intelligent institution that has been thinking about thinking for two thousand years."  One of the aims of Royal's book is to demonstrate that the Church continued to think throughout the twentieth century.

The book is more or less divided into two major sections.  The first covers Catholic philosophical and theological currents, the second the Catholic literary scene.  The first begins with the Thomistic revival of the early twentieth century, continues through the development of the nouvelle theologie in mid-century, and concludes with later Catholic thinkers such as Rahner, MacIntyre, and Taylor.  The second concentrates primarily on English and French figures, finding time for brief examinations of the works of Peguy, Chesterton, Belloc, Undset, Mauriac, Bloy, Bernanos, Tolkien, Waugh, Greene, and Milosz, among others.  Throughout, the primary theme that emerges is an attempt to balance the perhaps-too-closed preconciliar and the perhaps-too-open postconciliar attitudes, with a serious attempt at reconciliation attempted in the pontificates of St John Paul II and Benedict XVI.

Overall, A Deeper Vision is sweeping in its scope and comprehensiveness.  It does have the flaw that Royal deliberately excludes American writers with the excuse that he plans a sequel - while that future work would be very welcome, the omission somewhat handicaps the present work.  There are other lacunae as well - beyond literature the arts are not even touched upon, nor is the work of Catholic scientists considered - but there is only so much ground that can be covered in even a long book, and Royal is already forced into unavoidable compromises of simplification.  Despite this, the book is a considerable achievement, both as a monument to a century of remarkable - and remarkably underappreciated - creative activity and as a vigorous defense of man's "right to infinity".

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