October 30, 2002
JERUSALEM AND ATHENS:
Faith and Reason: Father Ernest Fortin, 1923-2002 (Werner J. Dannhauser, 11/04/2002, Weekly Standard)
At the Sorbonne, he met a fellow student and fellow American, Allan Bloom, "the guy who made things come to life for me." (Back in the 1960s, Bloom told me about Fortin, describing him as a "man to whom you can talk about everything" and introducing us, so that I was blessed with Ernest Fortin's friendship for almost forty years.) In the course of their friendship, Bloom, in his typical fashion, asked, "Ernest, how come you know so little about politics?" The question hit home and spurred Fortin on to become a deep student of politics and political philosophy. Perhaps the greatest good Bloom conferred was to tell Fortin about Leo Strauss and then introduce the men to each other. Strauss later called Fortin "the most educated priest he had ever met." Fortin, in turn, studied at Chicago and became a self-described Straussian.
A Straussian theologian may seem a contradiction, but the example of Ernest Fortin demands that one deal with the phenomenon rather than dismiss it. Fortin identified four themes that form the "warp and woof" of his own work. They are (1) the "Jerusalem and Athens" tension between revealed religion and philosophy; (2) the centrality of political philosophy to philosophy and ultimately to human life; (3) the practice of "esoteric writing" or noble lies among philosophers; and (4) the distinction between ancient and modern philosophy, the latter being inaugurated by Machiavelli. These four themes are, and not by chance, also the main themes of the work of Leo Strauss. [...]
Fortin was a Straussian--which means, among other things, that he took "Jerusalem and Athens" as one of the themes of his work, and that no possibility of a synthesis exists. Well, then, which side was he on? Fortin thought of the argument between faith and reason as a standoff, and of the tension between Jerusalem and Athens as being a fruitful source of Western civilization's extraordinary vitality. Affirming the tension, and embodying it, he would seem to be on both sides. Alas, that tempting answer to the question raises further questions. If one internalizes the tension between faith and reason, then what happens to the Christian ideal of peace of soul? I am not sure, but I surmise that on the deepest level, in the last analysis, Ernest Fortin was a practicing and believing Christian, a man of faith. The man of reason doubts what he can and believes what he must. The man of faith believes what he can and doubts what he must. The gap between them is as deep as it is narrow
Mike Daley sent us a link to that essay, about the recently deceased Father Fortin, who I confess I'd not previously heard of. But in doing some more research on him I found a very nice statement by Harry Jaffa about Straussianism. It seems to have some bearing on the Boy Scouts, Atheism, and Morality discussion we were having below:
In my lecture I had taken my bearings in part from Strauss's assertions concerning the insolubility of the opposition between revelation and reason--Jerusalem and Athens--as to the highest principle of human life. I had also taken my bearings from Strauss's assertion that, according to Aristotle, the ends of the city--that is, of political life as such--are the ends of the moral virtues.
And I had noted Strauss's pronouncement that notwithstanding their theoretical disagreement as to the end or ends served by the moral virtues, revelation and reason had agreed substantially on what in practice morality was. And I had taken my bearings further from Strauss's assertion that the very life of western civilization depended upon the continuing dialogue--the eternal dialogue--between revelation and reason.
But both the continuity and the beneficence of this dialogue depended upon it remaining theoretical, with neither side demanding--or being entrusted with - political power with respect to the conduct of the dialogue between them. In the post-classical world, government by sectarian religious authority - or by sectarian philosophic authority (as in the case of Marxist-Leninist regimes) - were equally tyrannical and equally abhorrent.
From this perspective, the intention of the American Founding, with its separation of church and state, its guarantee of the free exercise of religion, and of freedom of speech and of the press, could be seen, not as a lowering of the goals of political life, but as an emancipation of man's highest aspirations for truth, from the tyranny of the political passions. In this sense it could be seen as the best regime of western civilization. However, this regime was endangered from the outset (notably in the slavery controversy), and continues to be endangered, by the moral relativism, culminating in nihilism, of modern philosophy.
Strauss's critique of modern philosophy, as it seemed to me, was directed above all towards overcoming what he often called the self-destruction of reason, so that the authority equally of classical philosophy and the Bible, with respect to virtue and morality, might be restored. This restoration, I am convinced, is also nothing less than the restoration of the perspective of the American Founding.
Regular readers will please forgive me for citing once again my favorite professor, Robert Kraynak, who, though he apparently studied with the Straussians, offers the most coherent and devastating statement of the inadequacy of democracy and of philosophy for creating a decent society that you're ever likely to find in his terrific book: Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World.
OBIT: Rev. Ernest Fortin, BC philosophy professor (Emma Stickgold, 10/25/2002, Boston Globe)
Father Fortin (Aric Anderson)
ESSAY: FROM RERUM NOVARUM TO CENTESIMUS ANNUS: CONTINUITY OR DISCONTINUITY? (Ernest L. Fortin, EWTN)
LECTURE: Saint Augustine and the Augustinian Tradition (Ernest L. Fortin, The Saint Augustine Lecture 1971, Villanova University)
LETTER: The Homosexual Movement (A Response by the Ramsey Colloquium, March 1994, First Things)
LETTER: The Inhuman Use of Human Beings: A Statement on Embryo Research by the Ramsey Colloquium (First Things, January 1995)
ESSAY: Ernest Fortin's Teaching for Catholics (Walter J Nicgorski, Claremont Institute)
ESSAY: What Does Ernest Fortin Have to Say to Political Philosophers? (Douglas Kries, August 26, 2002, The Claremont Institute)
Rethinking the Foundations of Religious Freedom: Fr. Fortin, The Bible, and the Separation of Church and State in America (V. Phillip Muñoz, August 26, 2002, The Claremont Institute)
ESSAY: Leo Strauss, the Bible, and Political Philosophy (Harry V. Jaffa, February 13, 1998, The Claremont Institute)
REVIEW: of Ernest L. Fortin: Collected Essays. Edited by J. Brian Benestad (Patrick G. D. Riley, First Things)
REVIEW: of Ernest L. Fortin: Collected Essays. Edited by J. Brian Benestad (Patrick G. D. Riley, Thomist)Posted by Orrin Judd at October 30, 2002 8:09 PM