May 10, 2005


A light in these dark ages (Nathan Smith, April 30, 2005, Dallas Morning News)

There's a rumor about why Cardinal Ratzinger chose the papal name "Benedict": He may have taken his inspiration from philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre's After Virtue.

In After Virtue, written in 1981, Dr. MacIntyre argues that the Enlightenment project to establish a rational basis for morality has failed. He advocates a return to an Aristotelian-Catholic tradition as the only viable alternative to Nietzschean moral nihilism. Dr. MacIntyre has since become the leading light of virtue ethics and one of the most influential Catholic moral philosophers. Here is the conclusion of his book:

"It is always dangerous to draw too precise parallels between one historical period and another; and among the most misleading of such parallels are those which have been drawn between our own age in Europe and North America and the epoch in which the Roman empire declined into the Dark Ages. Nonetheless, certain parallels there are.

"A crucial turning point in that earlier history occurred when men and women of good will turned aside from the task of shoring up the Roman imperium and ceased to identify the continuation of civility and moral community with the maintenance of that imperium. What they set themselves to achieve instead – often not recognizing fully what they were doing – was the construction of new forms of community within which the moral life could be sustained so that both morality and civility might survive the coming ages of barbarism and darkness.

"If my account of our moral condition is correct, we ought also to conclude that for some time now we, too, have reached that turning point. What matters at this stage is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages which are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virtues was able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope.

"This time, however, the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers; they have been governing us for quite some time. And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament. We are waiting ... for another – doubtless very different – St. Benedict."

If the Pope were to turn to the group of scholars and theologians surrounding Mr. MacIntyre it would be a superb thing.

Posted by Orrin Judd at May 10, 2005 12:00 AM
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