ON HAVING A HIERARCHY OF ENTHUSIASMS

IT IS ONLY NATURAL THAT ONE SHOULD BECOME ENTHUSIASTIC ABOUT SOMETHING FROM TIME TO TIME IN ONE’S LIFE.
Becoming enthusiastic usually leads to action, or at least to talking or writing about some subject with more than a little passion.  The American Heritage Dictionary offers some insight into the phenomenon:
enthusiasm n.  1.  Great excitement for or interest in a subject or cause.  2..  A source or cause of great excitement or interest.  3Archaic  a. Ecstasy arising from supposed possession by a god.  b. Religious fanaticism.  [Late Latin enthusiasmus, from Greek enthousiasmos, from enthousiazein, to be inspired by a god, from entheos.
WORD HISTORY: When the English philosopher Henry Moore stated in a work published in 1660 that “If ever Christianity be exterminated, it will be by Enthusiasme,” he clearly used the word differently from the way we do now.  He was also using a meaning that differed from the first sense, “possessed by a god,” recorded in English (1603).  Enthusiasm and this sense of the word go back to the Greek word enthousiasmos , which ultimately comes from the adjective entheos, “having the god within, formed from en-, “in, within,” and theos, “god.”  Henry Moore in 1660 was referring to belief, either mistaken or supported by evidence, in one’s own inspiration by the Christian God.  Enthusiasm as now most frequently used, has become secularized and at times weakened, so that one can speak of an enthusiasm for fast cars.
I must confess that at various times in my life I have been tempted to become enthusiastic, in the first meaning of that word, about various matters connected to the faith.  Most significantly, by my becoming involved in the Liturgical Movement in 1946.   Those were exhilarating times, when, following the publication of the great Encyclical Mediator Dei by Pope Pius XII it seemed that it might be possible to open up the precious treasure of the Church’s liturgy to fuller and deeper participation by the laity.
By God’s grace I was saved from developing a full-fledged case of enthusiasm by having read the magnum opus of Monsignor Ronald Knox, Enthusiasm. That book opened my eyes to the danger of allowing ones passionate devotion to a religious cause to progress to the point where it almost becomes an obsession.  Monsignor Knox’s book is counted by me as one of the most important books I have ever read.  It has helped me understand so many of the errors and ‘enthusiasms’ which have afflicted the Church since the Second Vatican Council.
Now I am about to venture into dangerous territory when I write that one of the most valuable insights Ronald Knox’s book gave me was the realization that many, if not most of the great heresies that have afflicted Christendom through the centuries had women as their promoter.  I know that some will immediately accuse me of being a misogynist, but let me hasten to add that there is no greater admirer of the great saints of the Church, such as Catherine of Sienna, Therese of Lisieux, Theresa of Avila and of Mother Theresa of Calcutta.
My conviction is that it is the capacity of women to feel compassion and emotion that enables them in some cases to become enthusiastic about contemporary issues to such an extent that they become dissident members of the Church.  The present problem of the religious women who are in leadership positions and who support the programs of the Federal Government in the area of health care that are contrary to the teachings of the Magisterium is an example.
Truly, religious enthusiasm leads to moral relativism.
Here are Father George W. Rutler’s thoughts on the subject of Monsignor Ronald Knox:
“When suave politeness, tempering bigot zeal, corrected ‘I believe’ to ‘one does feel.’” So spoke Monsignor Ronald Knox (1888-1957) even before he converted to Catholicism from Anglicanism. His satire was directed at those who would water down doctrine to mere opinion. That confused kind of thinking, often masked as “broadmindedness” or “liberalism,” was what Blessed John Henry Newman said he had spent his life contending against. The two of them logically led up to Pope Benedict XVI who has called such misunderstanding and abuse of truth the “dictatorship of relativism.” 

When people inquire about good spiritual reading, I eagerly recommend anything by Knox, especially his collected sermons and retreat addresses, which are easily available. He is unique in his style, which is both easily understood and deceptively profound, woven with shining wit. As a young man he was heralded as the wittiest man in England. From the depths of his Christian consciousness, he said, “Only man has dignity; only man, therefore, can be funny.” Most of his writing was pastoral: some for students at Oxford where he was Catholic chaplain, some preached in parishes or on ceremonial occasions, and some given as talks to schoolgirls during World War II. He was a genius as a classical scholar and translated the entire New Testament. He may well have been the finest preacher of the twentieth century; he almost always has some original insight and expresses himself artlessly as a supreme artist of English letters. He was popular on radio, and incidentally wrote entertaining literary criticism and detective novels. There is an admiring biography of him by Evelyn Waugh, who lacked a natural instinct for seeing the best in people, and a book about him and his remarkable brothers, gifted in their own spheres, was written in 1977 by his niece Penelope Fitzgerald.

While more reserved than G. K. Chesterton, they were close friends, and what Knox preached in Westminster Cathedral after the death of his hero in 1936 describes himself, too: “He had the artist’s eye which could suddenly see in some quite familiar object a new value; he had the poet’s intuition which could suddenly detect, in the tritest of phrases, a wealth of new meaning and of possibilities. The most salient quality, I think, of his writing is this gift of illuminating the ordinary, of finding in something trivial a type of the eternal.”

One reason I mention Knox is that he represents the vast wealth of spiritual brilliance which has been neglected in the last generation. The light of those like Knox should not be hid under a bushel, but placed on a lampstand where it can give light to the whole house, and that means every parish church, which is God’s own house.


About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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