Response to a Letter – January 2016

Thanks for the Newman quotations!
I am persistently interested in Newman’s deeply considered decision to “return” to Roman Catholicism from Anglicanism, and in the nineteenth-century context, it made considerable sense for him. I believe him to be one of the leading respondents to what has been called the “sundering of the whole” in the great rise of Enlightenment ideology, rationalism ending in Idealism and abstractions, and the redefinition of God so that God could in no way match the times and the needs, let alone the demands of nurturing fellowship (re Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s rich corrections and encouragement). Friedrich Nietzsche proclaimed such a God was dead, and fie on the churches and the culture that had helped to create such a god—and numerous other modern gods!

These years I continue to read from Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy (d. 1973) and Franz Rosenzweig (d. 1929), among others, who in the German Jewish and Christian contexts (ca. 1910-1933 and forward for ERH; both were born Jews—ERH was baptized a Christian at 17; FR was “converted” to Judaism in his twenties) defied the divinized modern powers and idols. They took language (speech), Scriptures and traditions seriously and provided a way to seat faith firmly in the God who loves and who calls everyone into that very same life of love God possesses. I am impressed that they anticipated in fresh (eccentric, yes, but that’s what was needed) ways what happens from time to time as the Spirit moves, including in the deliberations and activities of Vatican II and the teaching of the last few popes on the Gospel, the family, and on global evangelization.

Yes, that’s something coming from a Baptist, but then, anyone who knows the Evangelical Catholics and isn’t afraid of the spiritual discernment that allows recognizing them as true brothers and sisters—coworkers in the faith, albeit another “communion”—will know that. I think this is an example of what Rosenstock-Huessy spent his life probing and describing, and what he wrote about as “incarnatory” or incarnational Christianity. We can say, O yeah, that’s basic, but he really meant that we are to incarnate the presence and Spirit of God just like Jesus Messiah, in an unbreakable, co-creative, gospel-oriented, constructive, revelatory, and redemptive partnership. The Eastern Fathers and more recent Eastern Orthodox teachers have a lot to do with the inspiration and force of his arguments, and I want to know more about their direct influence. Besides that, would you believe, the Scriptures help in this endeavor!

Anyway, the quotations from Newman provoked me to comment because the “incarnatory” quality that Rosenstock-Huessy taught and lived thrives in the life and words of Newman. Wherever one sees the flourishing of Christ-centered and biblically informed communities, there one finds the selfsame Spirit.

Goethe

Forty-five years ago I sat to learn and read German under Mark Walton, the son of a Hungarian Jewess and Austrian Catholic.  An Anschluss refugee to the United States, Herr Walton got teaching certification at USC, translated for the Army and the German prisoners-of-war in the Northwest, and afterward gave generations of Californians a solid grounding in German, French and Latin.  He even dated Ida Lupino’s sister once or twice.  Through all that he remained an exotic, European immigrant-come-citizen, with Austrian accent beneficial for modeling Hochdeutsch – “high German” and mannerisms deeply traditional to his homeland.  He remains among many dozens perhaps the best teacher I ever had; how many of the others gave me so thoroughly another language, another culture?

In the third and fourth years we read Goethe, Schiller, Fichte and others; I still possess a slim novel by Adalbert Stifter, a gift of my teacher. This much I carried away from Goethe then as we read  Faust and learned one could not possess the world except to one’s own peril.  I did not know then that our reading method meant “thinking translation” that emphasized connotative, intuitive comprehension as much as accuracy to the meanings of words and idioms.  That training has paid dividends over the years in master’s and doctoral studies, and I enjoy employing it all I can in looking at Rosenzweig, Rosenstock-Huessy, and now again Goethe [try a light, guttural “Grrr-tuh’].

Here, I encounter Wilhelm Meister and his lifelong education while I read Matthew del Nevo about pentecostalism in relation to Rosenzweig’s Johannine Third Age, marvel at the new syntheses that appear among those who grapple with “the new thinking” (which is Bible-old, I tell you), and see how it connects with such varied truth conduits as Newman, Bonhoeffer and Soloveitchik.  I am compelled to reexamine, perhaps genuinely to understand, Goethe for the first time in ways not possible forty-five years ago.  I think Herr Walton knew that; I regret not to have looked more deeply than I did over the years, though I am grateful for the seeds planted at that time.