Sunday, December 05, 2004

President Aristotle

There are only a few events of such searing trauma that you will always remember where you where when you first heard the news. Many of us remember when President Kennedy was shot. All of us remember where we were when we heard about the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001.

I was in Oxford, England: I was a graduate student at the Catholic Chaplaincy across from Christ Church as the awful images begin flickering in from the BBC. I was about to leave to go to mass--and as the news began to become clear, I thought: I can't help these people by watching television--the only thing I can do to help is to go to mass.

I went to mass that night at St Aloysius, a church dating from the late 1800s, linked to John Henry Newman; and the home parish for JRR Tolkien. That night the truth of the cross was the only certainty: we did not know who had attacked, or why, or what kind of war we were in. The priest called attention to the fog of war and pointed to Jesus Christ as the light of the cosmos.

We are now some three years removed from the tragedy of September 11th. And yet in some ways the fog is deeper now than it was then. The fury and thunder of much of the current discussion has yielded much noise, but little light--especially in the world of the universities. The Oxford where I first heard the news of September 11th had been founded as a Catholic university with its twin lights the light of scripture in theology and Aristotle in philosophy. Aristotle was the key figure in an intellectual revolution that encompassed Christian, Jewish, and Islamic thinkers; and his writings constituted the intellectual basis for the rise of the western university.

This weblog is a gentle attempt to ignite the Aristotelian tradition as a searchlight within the night and fog of the post-September 11th world. As the weblog of a convert to Catholicism, it takes St Thomas as a key element in postmodern Aristotelianism. But it also draws on Judaism ancient and modern, the most thoughtful elements of the evangelical tradition, and the work of the many within Islam who hope to bring democracy and freedom to Islamic civilization. The goal is always the same: veritas, truth--the watchward of both the Dominicans who helped found Oxford, and the Puritans who helped found Harvard. Kai gnosesthe ten aletheian, kai he aletheia eleutherosei hymas--you shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.


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