Guardini as a “Pilgrim of the Absolute”

Romano Guardini is famous for his book The Spirit of the Liturgy, a work which influenced Pope Benedict XVI to write his own book of the same title. Back in the 1940s Sheed and Ward published a nice paperback version of it which included The Church and the Catholic, another masterpiece that is extremely hard to find.In this book Guardini makes some profound statements about being a Catholic, describing the liberation that results from personal growth in Catholic life (The truth shall make you free). In the conclusion he proclaims this notion that would surprise those who are influenced by contemporary liberal opinion:

Genuine Catholicity, which is seriously convinced of the supernatural and dogmatic character of Catholicism, is the most open-minded and the most comprehensive attitude, in existence. (p. 114)

But paradoxically he says in The End of the Modern World, the man of the new age must  accept “absolute demands.” Thus, the CAtholic of the new millenium is “definitely un-liberal, which does not mean he has no respect for freedom. The ‘Liberal’ attitude is that which declines to incorporate absolutes into existence because their either-or engenders struggle. It is far easier to see things in any light, the ‘only important thing’ being ‘life’ and ‘getting along with others.’ Values and ideas are but personal opinion.” (pp. 201-202)

So in The Church and the Catholic Guardini says we must realize “how deeply we are sunk in relativism.” (Did Pope Benedict first formulate his notion of the dictatorship of relativism after reading Guardini?) Guardini explains that relativism is precisely the denial of an absolute, or at least an attempt to  “restrict the influence” of absolutes (which by definition is to deny its absoluteness). Such people are adrift, they temporize. “Man becomes uncertain and vacillating. His judgments are no longer steady, his valuations are hesitating. He is no longer capable of action based on firm conviction and certain of its aim. He is at the mercy of fashions. . . fluctuations of opinions . . . moods.” In short, Guardini wishes to show us how relativism destroys character and leadership: “he cannot overcome error by truth, evil and weakness by moral strength, the inconstancy of the masses by great ideas and responsible leadership.” (pp. 59-60)

The Church stands as a breakwater against the tides of relativism. (p. 75) It does so by confronting us with the Absolute or the “unconditioned.” Her dogma, her morals, and her liturgy are three “essential expressions of the absolute.” Guardini warns that neither philosophy, nor culture, will release us from our lack of freedom, from the one-sidedness and relativism of the modern age. Only the eternal, independent Church can do so, for “she is the one living organism which is not one sided in its essential nature” (p. 87). Guardini fills in much detail. The Spirit of the Liturgy fulfills one dimension of this life. And this he arrives at the conclusion stated at the outset concerning the open-minded character of the Catholic mind. To be open minded, he claims, means “the intellectual outlook which sees and values all objects as they really are.”

So I cannot help thinking — how should we educate leaders of faith and character? Teach them the absolutes of Catholic faith. Immerse them in the dogma, morality, and liturgy of the Church. A radical notion — and untried. Sounds strange to Catholic ears and no doubt oppressive to liberal ears. But we should at least ask — can one base education for leaders of faith and character on the denial of the absolute, or can true education be provided by those who squint at “the absolute demands” Guardini says should characterize the leader in the new age?

Guardini queries us further, “Is her inner nature visible in her members?” No one can evade that question, he says. He also says that “we are all responsible” for the Church, each in his own way. “Upon each one of us depends the degree of harmony between the nature of the Church and her outward semblance.”

“It requires the vision of love and of faith to see the inner nature of the Church beneath expressions so often defective.”.

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