Today marks five months since I, or anyone at Saint Ignatius, walked into a classroom for the start of a normal school day. Grateful for the brief semi-normal foray into teaching provided by the Summer Enrichment Program, I still long to be with, as Fr. Welsh would say, “our boys “ on a Monday through Friday in-person basis.
Because of the real possibility of some form of distance learning this fall, teachers have been spending the summer preparing for the new school year with a fervor never before seen. Workshops online, directives from various offices, meetings with department members, and, most importantly, planning with those who will be teaching the same course in the fall.
Through what group leader Drew Vilinsky ’97 has named “The Parma Trinity,” plans have been underway throughout the summer to make sure that no matter what situations may arise, Christian Manhood will continue to be a course worthy of its name and of its creator, Jim Skerl ’74.
As all great leaders do, Drew has divvied up the work according to the background and interests of each participant. Jim Brennan ’85 will provide us with his expertise in the area of friendship and the fostering of relationships with each other and with God. Drew will help our seniors to focus on the importance of discernment in their lives, and especially in that most important decision of discovering where God wants them to be after they leave Saint Ignatius in 2021.
My role is to provide some background on virtue ethics, and to that end I have spent the summer both reviewing old favorites in philosophy and theology as well as exploring some new works to help round out our efforts. From going back to Volume 1 of the amazing 11-volume work by Fr. Frederick Copleston, S.J. A History of Philosophy, to cracking open for the first time the newly published metahistorical work Logos Rising by E. Michael Jones, I have been immersed in the world of metaphysics and ethics throughout these summer months.
What I have learned from these great writers, as well as from other such figures as Josef Pieper, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Henri de Lubac, S.J. is that in the hands of a great teacher the complex can be made simple. Nowhere was this made more clear to me than when re-reading the third chapter of de Lubac’s monumental The Drama of Atheist Humanism, “The Spiritual Battle.”
In his discussion of the animus against Christianity so deeply held by Friedrich Nietzsche, Cardinal de Lubac points to the revolutionary nature of the worldview of the man who was so famous for his proposition that “God is dead.” For Nietzsche, a man who – whether those involved know it or not – is so influential in various popular movements of our day, the problem wasn’t so much that Christianity had a faulty metaphysics, or epistemology, or anthropology. For him, all of those paled in comparison to the pervasive influence of Christian ethics.
Even in a world that walked away from the institutional structure of the Church – first at the Reformation and then at the Enlightenment – what remained was what Nietzsche hated most: Christian ethics. As de Lubac points out, “That was for Nietzsche the real problem, the only one.”
In proposing the Übermensch – “Overman” or “Superman” – Nietzsche gave the modern world a new name for what we might call the anti-Christ: one who makes “war against the Christian ideal, against the doctrines that make beatitude and salvation the aim of life, against the supremacy of the poor in spirit, the pure in heart, the suffering, the failures…”
Thus de Lubac takes the complexity of one of the most influential writers of the modern era and boils his philosophy down to one simple idea: the strong man, the man worthy of the name “man”, is one whose will is supreme. For Nietzsche, might makes right, truth is defined by the powerful, the strong take from the weak.
As the chapter comes to a close, de Lubac encourages Christians to resist any appeasement with Nietzsche, to steer clear of any baptism of the Übermensch, and to avoid turning Jesus into a Superman. The simple – and only Christian – answer to Nietzsche and all of his followers in the world today is love: “But, when all is said and done, everything is for love.” Simple, direct, and rooted in the life of Jesus and His Gospel message: a perfect underlying basis not only for a course called Christian Manhood, but for the life of every Christian man and woman.