The Society of Jesus without Jesus

The Society of Jesus without Jesus

Anthony Esolen / November 21, 2017

Jesus does not appear in a new article extoling Jesuits at Georgetown, nor is His name in the university’s description of its ‘Catholic and Jesuit’ values

The other day I read an article whose headline seemed to hold out some slim hope for Catholic education in America: “As Jesuit presence fades, Georgetown recommits to its roots.”

Straight off I thought of the agricultural metaphors that Jesus uses all the time. So he says to the apostles at the Last Supper: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” But from those to whom much has been given, much will be expected, so that if a man, having lived by the life-giving vine of Christ, does not abide in him, “he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered into the fire and burned.”

We may note also that this withering and burning may be accompanied by worldly success. So I cite the psalmist (Ps 49:16-20) as a warning to administrators who believe that their main concerns are with finances, athletics, prestige, new buildings, and popularity:

Be not afraid when one becomes rich,
when the glory of his house increases.
For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
his glory will not go down after him.
Though, while he lives, he counts himself happy,
and though a man gets praise when he does well for himself,
He will go to the generation of his fathers,
who will never more see the light.
Man cannot abide in his pomp,
he is like the beasts that perish.

It turns out that Georgetown University is doing nothing so radical as returning to its roots, that is, taking nourishment from the faith that moved its founders in the face of anti-Catholic hostility and intermittent suppression of the Jesuit order. Thirteen Jesuits now teach at the university, a quarter as many as taught there 50 years ago, and only in a couple of departments at that.

However, the author, a sophomore named Will Simon, assures us that all’s well. Indeed, all is going according to plan. For the “roots” don’t reach back 2,000 years to when Judas betrayed Jesus with a kiss. They reach back to 1967, when a young Jesuit, William McFadden, became chairman of the theology department. McFadden, says Simon, “realized that incoming freshmen did not need courses in Catholic doctrine. Rather, they needed to experience ‘serious, thoughtful, critical thinking’ through religion…. Under his leadership, the department began offering classes that provided students and professors alike a space to explore fundamental questions of existence through lenses that were not exclusively Catholic.”

That last sentence baffles me. I can make no sense of it, knowing what I do about university curricula. Before McFadden, had there been no courses in British literature written after Henry VIII? Was Milton’s Paradise Lost on an index of forbidden books? Did no Hoya ever encounter the agonized doubts of Herman Melville, and the satanic obsession of his Ahab? Was the name of Goethe only scrawled on a basement wall? Did students have to meet in secret to whisper the sacred words of John Stuart Mill? Was there no anthropology department? Did the Georgetown history department stand at the shores of the Caspian Sea, facing west, and declaring, “Thus far, and no farther”? Of course not.

What Simon must mean is that the theology department would no longer be dedicated to Catholic theology, just as Fr. McFadden was not dedicated to doctrine, the teaching of which he believed to be quite unnecessary. Someday I hope finally to understand how so many people, at such a crisis in the Church and in western civilization, could make airy pronouncements about the glories of the coming age, predictions shown in short order to have been colossally wrong, and yet never to recant and repent.

If ever Catholic doctrine was needed, it was then, because the secular anti-culture was having things all its own way: the spread of pornography like a fungus, the pushing of abortion, the Pill, no-fault divorce, the accelerating decay of family life, the brazen worship of the big and rich and powerful, our army’s embroilment in a nation whose Catholic leader we had assassinated, the occupation of eastern Europe by atheist apparatchiks, and the brutal destruction of culture at the hands of the little red Mao. What augured hope for clear skies and quiet days?

It seems that those Catholic intellectuals were embarrassed by the Faith. They did not deny it, not exactly, but they treated it as if it needed instruction from the secular world, rather than the reverse. They certainly did not see it as a deposit of truth that the world urgently needed, a treasury of good for mankind.

Young Mr. Simon does not see the faith that way, either. He himself concedes that it is not likely that a student at Georgetown will receive “a deep Catholic education.” There will be talk about “social justice,” always and everywhere, although what that phrase is supposed to mean, other than statist liberalism in its current manifestation as identity politics, I don’t know. According to Simon, “Today’s Jesuits at Georgetown are not actively looking to play a more public role in education. Rather, they seek assurance that their founding principles shape the students who walk Georgetown’s campus.”

Their founding principles: the phrase is most strange. The Jesuits were founded for missionary work in a world that was breaking apart in the west, and opening up in the east and in the new lands across the Atlantic Ocean. They were the Society of Jesus; yet Jesus does not appear in Simon’s article. Nor can I find His name in Georgetown’s description of its “Catholic and Jesuit” values. They do say that “faith” is an important part of the “whole person” to be instructed, but what does that word mean? I have no faith in faith.

Communists had faith in a system that was the worst evil that men of the last century visited on the world, and that is saying a great deal. The devotees of thugee had faith in the goddess Kali, and that is why they robbed and murdered travelers in the mountain passes of the Punjab. The Catholic Church, no doubt, is open to the virtues of any culture she encounters, not because such openness is an end in itself, but rather so that she may the more effectively bring to it the One in whose name alone may man be saved.

People whose lives are informed by a tradition do not talk much about “tradition,” just as people who are directed by their religion do not talk much about “religion.” They talk about what they have been handed from their forebears; if they are Christians, they talk about the Lord. In a strange way, those who consign talk about Jesus to a portion of the chaplain’s quarters are akin to those who value tradition because it is traditional. Call it Downton Abbey Syndrome. There is no life to it.

One of the Jesuits to whom Simon spoke says he would be content if the last Jesuit were to disappear from Georgetown. That can be taken in a variety of ways. I would say instead that the Church very much needs a Society of Jesus, such as St. Ignatius founded: for the only source of value that Ignatius found in our sorry world was in Jesus himself. We need a Society of Jesus. We can do without a Society of Jesus Without Jesus.

Get AQ Email Updates

One comment on “The Society of Jesus without Jesus

  1. Küng Fu: Modernism the Legend Continues

    Master Po: What is troubling you, Grasshopper?

    Kwai Chang: I am confused, Master.

    Master Po: What is causing you confusion now, Grasshopper? Are you still wondering why American college students were triggered by Steve Martin’s “King Tut” song as a politically-incorrect microaggression of cultural appropriation, sending them in hysteria as crazed snowflakes searching for safe spaces?

    Kwai Chang: No, Master, but that is confusing and very absurd.

    Steve Martin: Funky Tut!

    Master Po: Perhaps the curse of Tutankhamun has affected students’ minds, Grasshopper. The realm of illusion presents many challenges and dangers. But there is something else troubling you, is there not, Grasshopper? Are you confused that New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski was suspended for only one game for his vicious and dirty hit on Buffalo Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White?

    Kwai Chang: No, Master. But the Patriots always get off easy on penalties and league discipline even when their footballs and egos are fully inflated.

    Master Po:Strange are the ways of the cycle of karma in the realm of illusion when searching for the flow of the Tao , are they not, Grasshopper? For who can know the way to San Jose? Bread and circuses often separate modern men from the principles of justice, Grasshopper. Perhaps you are wondering who will next accuse Congressman Conyers of grabbing her thigh or the next woman to claim Senator Al Franken squeezed her behind?

    Kwai Chang: Those are illuminating demonstrations of the wheel of karma, Master.
    But I am actually confused about something else. Why is it that the Society of Jesus at Georgetown University has distanced itself from Jesus and Catholic identity, Master?

    Master Po: The cycle of karma takes many forms, Grasshopper. A duck swims in front of a crocodile at great personal risk. If Father Walsh, Father Bunn, and Bishop John Carroll could hear a Jesuit looking forward to being the last of his order at Georgetown with the final eclipse of Catholic identity, how long would it take for them to send him to jug?

    Kwai Chang: I cannot be certain, Master.

    Master Po: Why can you not be certain, Grasshopper?

    Kwai Chang: Because David Hume has forbidden me from being certain on metaphysical matters, Master.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Father Gannon would have sent him to jug by 3:00pm that day. Of course, things were different at Fordham in the old days, when we still had the Ratio Studiorum

    Master Po: We must bring to a sufficient state of satori, Grashopper, that will bring you to such mindfulness that you will be prepared for such knowledge. Thus, I shall put it to you another way. If Sylvester the Cat finds that Tweety Bird has left his cage, should he offer him a ride home or ask him to stay for dinner?

    Kwai Chang: I still cannot be certain, Master.

    Master Po: Why can you still not be certain, Grasshopper? How can we ever be certain? Indeed, what is certitude? For long is the quest for inner strength in the Tao of virtue, as the great philosopher Lao-Tzu has explained in the Tao Te Ching. We must keep our attention focused in the quest for mindfulness, Grasshopper. If there were no Road Runner, would we ever learn Stoic lessons from the follies of Wile E. Coyote?

    Kwai Chang: Forgive me, Master. I will try if that is your wish. Perhaps Wile E. Coyote is the modernist strapped to the rocket of neo-Gnosticism, seeking the heights of the Omega Point. Or, perhaps Tweety Bird represents Catholic identity and Sylvester the Cat represents that progressive modernism which has passed through Rudy Bultmann and the horizontal dialectic of Marxist Liberation theology to situation ethics and the eschaton of priestless modernist education from the Land O’Lakes agenda.

    Foghorn Leghorn: So the rocket Wile E. Coyote is ridin’ is the modernist neo-Gnosticism from the Land O’Lakes conference?

    Daffy Duck: Makes sense.

    Father Mulcahy, S.J.: Oh, yes, very good, Kwai Chang. Well played.

    Robin: Rudy Bultmann?

    Batman: We will have to allocate some time for reviewing the connection between Modern Biblical Criticism and progressive modernism as soon as you have finished your Latin homework, Robin.

    Captain Kirk: So that would make Teilhard de Chardin a “Rocket Man” – soaring toward the Omega Point?

    Spock: That would be logical, Captain. A difficult ride for the Wile E. Coyote of modernism.

    Hans Küng: I would like to address that…

    Dr. Strangelove: How can you have a Catholic college without Jesus or Catholicism?

    Plato: Emotions play some role in education and in blocking the path to knowledge…

    Kierkegaard: It does cause some Angst

    Reverend Neuhaus: That’s my opening….Forgive me for interrupting again as aggressive and pushy professional Protestant converts sometimes do, but speaking as a semi-recovering former Lutheran familiar with the pitfalls of eliminating reason and logic from discussions of religion, this might be a good time to discuss the Naked Public Square in modernity, Max Weber’s concept of disenchantment in modern culture, and Professor Taylor’s secularization theories….

Leave a Reply