September 2, 2013
Romano Guardini: The Essence of a Catholic WorldviewDavid Foote
Summer is at an end. For those of us in the world of education, the new academic year is upon us. As the urgency and pace of preparation builds, it is worthwhile to pause, take a step back, and reflect. When the year is over, what will we have accomplished? This question is especially important for those of us in the world of Catholic education, which offers, or at least ought to offer, something qualitatively distinct. With these thoughts in mind, I turn to Msgr. Romano Guardini (1885-1968), one of the towering figures of Catholic intellectual life in the mid-twentieth century. In the spring of 1923, Guardini began his duties as chair of Catholic Weltanschauung (Worldview) with his inaugural lecture, “The Essence of a Catholic Weltanschauung.” In it, he offered a richly textured account of what it means to bring a Catholic worldview to bear upon the world of education and, indeed, life in general.
First, some background. In 1923, having recently completed his doctoral work in systematic theology, Guardini was offered a chair at the University of Berlin in the Philosophy of Religion and Catholic Weltanschauung. As the first of its kind, this positionposed formidable challenges—not the least of which was its lack of definition. It was relatively easy to say what it was not. It bore no connection to the theology faculty; it was not a sub-field of cultural history or literary studies. Still, the positive content of this new field lacked definition and, perhaps, even legitimacy. This lack of clarity weighed so heavily upon Guardini that he almost declined the position.
Decades later, as Guardini reflected upon the struggle to define his position, he recalled a conversation with Max Scheler, who offered the following advice. “You must practice what lies in the word, Weltanschauung: view the world, things, man, work, but do so as one responsible to Christ; and then describe, in a scientific manner, what you see. Examine, for example, the novels of Dostoevsky, and comment on it from your Christian standpoint in such a way that you illuminate both the work that comes to view and the position from which you view it.” Guardini goes on to say, “This is, mutatis mutandis, what I have done, and in doing so it has become clear what the study of Christian Weltanschauung means: the continual encounter between faith and the world.” Guardini wrote approximately seventy books and one-hundred articles exploring this encounter.
In defining Catholic Weltanschauung, Guardini follows a method that became a trademark of his work. He begins in the realm of natural knowledge, carefully and methodically exploring “the natural” to the limits of its inner depth—to the boundary between nature and the nihil from which it was created. This boundary marks the place of encounter with the face of the living God. We can follow Guardini’s exploration of Catholic Weltanschauung by considering three questions. First what does Guardini mean by the term, Weltanschauung, or worldview? Second, what is the relation between a worldview and an academic discipline? Third, what is distinctive about a Christian worldview?
In the most general terms, a worldview is an intellectual attitude that establishes the conditions for knowledge. Guardini offers the following definition: a worldview is “the gaze upon the totality of existence in its concrete particularity. This existence, however, is not seen indifferently, but as a task, as a demand to work and imitate.” There are two essential components to this definition: the gaze and the task. A worldview “gazes” upon the concrete things of existence from the perspective of totality, or the whole. Although this sounds abstract, it is something familiar to everyday experience. We cannot understand an object until we see it in a context. For example, we can make no sense of a hand until we understand it as part of a body. If we continue in this direction, we reach that ultimate context or whole—the worldview. This worldview is not a consciously articulated theory; rather it is an intuitive grasp of the whole—a network of basic assumptions that we make about the world. It allows us to place the concrete objects of experience in context so that we can begin to understand them in their particularity.
The gaze and the task are inextricably linked. We are, by nature, bearers of moral responsibility. When we encounter the world, we cannot help but ask; what is our responsibility toward it? For example, we often feel ill at ease in an unfamiliar situation, in part because we wonder whether there is something we should be doing. Given our nature as bearers of moral responsibility, the gaze not only contextualizes the object for our understanding; it helps us define our moral responsibility toward it.
We must consider one final characteristic common to worldviews in general. All worldviews are limited by place and time; by the historical, sociological, and cultural conditions of those who hold them. Therefore, when a worldview presents a concrete object—a person or a thing—in the context of “the whole,” it invariably highlights a limited range of that object’s inexhaustible depth—that is, a limited range of ways to understand and respond to it. This will have important implications for the second question.
What is the relation between a worldview and an academic discipline? This question is of particular importance for us in the world of education. Although a worldview is closely related to the practice of individual academic disciplines, it is conceptually distinct. A worldview begins with the whole; academic disciplines begin with the parts. A worldview contextualizes the object; then, an academic discipline studies the object intensively. For example, the natural sciences mark out a range of empirical things for methodological observation and study. The social sciences do the same for social life; the cultural sciences for cultural life and so on.
But there is more. Weltanschauung and the academic disciplines stand in a circular relation to each other. A worldview provides the context in which an object for study comes to view. An academic discipline studies that object intensively; in doing so, it can, in turn, modify the worldview. For example, the knowledge produced by the natural sciences has given us tremendous power over the world. Largely because of this success, the natural sciences have emerged within the western worldview as a dominant type. From this position, the natural sciences have, in various ways, co-opted other academic disciplines (with their full consent).
This has had far-reaching implications for the social sciences and humanities. Their subject matter—human beings—come to view within a context, or whole, defined by purely physical and biological processes. This limits the range of questions an academic can legitimately ask about human beings. Purely physical and biological processes are not, by nature, bearers of moral responsibility. Moral values are, at best, epiphenomena of physical and biological processes; they have no reality of their own. The result: the world of education contributes in no small way to our contemporary predicament; a breathtaking capacity to exercise power over the world coupled with deep moral confusion about how to use it.
At this limit, we find the distinctive contribution—indeed, the critical importance—of the Christian worldview. It alone is a worldview in the purest sense of the term. It is not simply a view of the whole from within the world. It is the view of Christ, the Word from beyond, who achieves the distance from which to see the world in its true totality. Guardini writes, “To believe means to go to Christ from that place where one stands. It means to see with his eyes; to measure by his norm. The believer stands beyond the world through him, simply by believing.” This view comes from the heart of the Church. “She is the historical bearer of the full vision of Christ over the world. The Catholic attitude of the individual rests herein, that he lives from the Church.”
Can the believer then bypass other worldviews and the academic disciplines? Not at all. This becomes clear when we consider the task that emerges when one sees with the eyes of Christ. Guardini writes, “man’s task is to go to God and to lead the world of things back to Him.” (see 1 Cor. 3:21-23). With this, we come full circle—to the believer’s encounter with the world, which rests at the core of a Catholic worldview. A genuine encounter occurs when each participant in the encounter receives his proper due. When the believer encounters the academic disciplines, two things happen. With the gaze of Christ, the believer can view her discipline in its full integrity and properly measure its relation to the other disciplines—not allowing one to co-opt another. In doing so, she can develop the discipline’s under-realized potential. Likewise, the more the believer practices Christ’s gaze, the more he discovers its power and fullness. Both the discipline and the “view of faith” become fuller. The parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14-30) comes to mind.
(Photo credit: Arthur Gröger / Tubingen University Library / c. 1950)
Tagged asMax Scheler, Romano Guardini
By David Foote
David Foote is Associate Professor of History at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, Minnesota. His teaching and research focuses on medieval church and society, especially the role of the church in the development of the Italian city-states.
Romano Guardini (17 February 1885 – 1 October 1968) was an Italian-born German Catholic priest, author, and academic. He was one of the most important figures in Catholic intellectual life in the 20th century.
Life and work
Guardini was born in Verona, Italy, in 1885. His family moved to Mainz when he was one year old and he lived in Germany for the rest of his life. He attended the Rabanus-Maurus-Gymnasium. After studying chemistry in Tübingen for two semesters, and economics in Munich and Berlin for three, he decided to become a priest. After studying Theology in Freiburg im Breisgau and Tübingen, he was ordained in Mainz in 1910. He briefly worked in a pastoral position before returning to Freiburg to work on his doctorate in Theology under Engelbert Krebs. He received his doctorate in 1915 for a dissertation on Bonaventure. He completed his “Habilitation” in Dogmatic Theology at the University of Bonn in 1922, again with a dissertation on Bonaventure. Throughout this period he also worked as a chaplain to the Catholic youth movement.
In 1923 he was appointed to a chair in Philosophy of Religion at the University of Berlin. In the 1935 essay “Der Heiland” (The Saviour) he criticized Nazi mythologizing of the person of Jesus and emphasized the Jewishness of Jesus. The Nazis forced him to resign from his Berlin position in 1939. From 1943 to 1945 he retired to Mooshausen, where his friend Josef Weiger had been parish priest since 1917.
In 1945 Guardini was appointed professor in the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Tübingen and resumed lecturing on the Philosophy of Religion. In 1948, he became professor at the University of Munich, where he remained until retiring for health reasons in 1962.
Guardini died in Munich, Bavaria on 1 October 1968. He was buried in the priests’ cemetery of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri in Munich. His estate was left to the Catholic Academy in Bavaria that he had co-founded.
Reputation and influence
Guardini's books were often powerful studies of traditional themes in the light of present-day challenges or examinations of current problems as approached from the Christian, and especially Catholic, tradition. He was able to get inside such different worldviews as those of Socrates, Plato, Augustine, Dante, Pascal, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, and make sense of them for modern readers.
His first major work, Vom Geist der Liturgie (The Spirit of the Liturgy), published during the First World War, was a major influence on the Liturgical Movement in Germany and by extension on the liturgical reforms of the Second Vatican Council. He is generally regarded as the father of the liturgical movement in Germany, and in his "Open Letter" of April 1964 to Mgr. Johannes Wagner, the organizer of the Third German Liturgical Congress in Mainz, he "raises important questions regarding the nature of the liturgical act in the wake of individualism, asking whether it is possible for twentieth-century Christians really to engage in worship. Is it possible to 'relearn a forgotten way of doing things and recapture lost attitudes', so as to enter into the liturgical experience?." It was his glad hope that after the call by the Second Vatican Council for liturgical reform, the Church might shift its focus from that of mere ceremonial (though important) to the broader idea of true liturgical action, an act which "embraced not only a spiritual inwardness, but the whole man, body as well as spirit." He himself gave an example of his meaning: A parish priest of the late 19th century once said (according to Guardini's illustration), "We must organize the procession better; we must see to it that the praying and singing is done better." For Guardini, the parish priest had missed the point of what true liturgical action is. The questions he had asked should have been different. They should have been, "How can the act of walking become a religious act, a retinue for the Lord progressing through his land, so that an 'epiphany' may take place."Pope Paul VI offered to make him a cardinal in 1965, but he declined.
As a philosopher he founded no “school”, but his intellectual disciples could in some sense be said to include Josef Pieper, Luigi Giussani, Felix Messerschmid, Heinrich Getzeny, Rudolf Schwarz, Jean Gebser, Joseph Ratzinger (later Pope Benedict XVI), and Jorge Mario Bergoglio (later Pope Francis). In the 1980s Bergoglio began work on a doctoral dissertation on Guardini, though he never completed it. Pope Francis cited Guardini's The End of the Modern World eight times in his 2015 encyclicalLaudato si', more often than any other modern thinker who was not pope. Hannah Arendt and Iring Fetscher were favourably impressed by Guardini's work. He had a strong influence in Central Europe; in Slovenia, for example, an influential group of Christian socialists, among whom Edvard Kocbek, Pino Mlakar, Vekoslav Grmič and Boris Pahor, incorporated Guardini's views in their agenda. Slovak philosopher and theologian Ladislav Hanus was strongly influenced in his works by Guardini, whom he met personally, and promoted his ideas in Slovakia, writing a short monograph. In 1952, Guardini won the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.
The 1990s saw something of a revival of interest in his works and person. Several of his books were reissued in the original German and in English translation. In 1997 his remains were moved to the Sankt Ludwig Kirche, the University church in Munich, where he had often preached.
Guardini's book The Lord, published in English translation in the late 1940s, remained in print for decades and, according to publisher Henry Regnery, was "one of the most successful books I have ever published." The novelist Flannery O'Connor thought it "very fine" and recommended it to a number of her friends.
- Gottes Werkleute. Briefe ueber Selbstbildung, 1921
- Von heiligen Zeichen, 1922-1925
- Der Gegensatz, 1925
- Grundlegung der Bildungslehre, 1928
- Das Gute, das Gewissen und die Sammlung, 1929
- Christliches Bewusstsein, 1935
- Das Wesen des Christentums, 1937
- Welt und Person, 1939
- Der Tod des Sokrates, 1943
- Die Lebensalter, 1944
- Freiheit, Gnade, Schicksal, 1948
- Das Ende der Neuzeit, 1950
- Sorge um den Menschen, 1962
- Begegnung und Bildung, (together with O. F. Bollnow), 1956
Major works translated in English
- The End of the Modern World. Sheed & Ward, 1957. More recently in a revised edition by ISI Books, 1998. ISBN 978-1-882926-23-7
- The Art of Praying: The Principles and Methods of Christian Prayer. Sophia Institute Press, 1994. ISBN 978-0-918477-21-7
- The Lord. Regnery Publishing, 1996. ISBN 978-0-89526-714-6 with introduction by Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger
- The Essential Guardini: An Anthology, edited by Heinz R. Kuehn. Liturgy Training Publications, 1997. ISBN 978-1-56854-133-4
- The Spirit of the Liturgy. Crossroad Publishing, 1998. ISBN 978-0-8245-1777-9
- Living the Drama of Faith. Sophia Institute Press, 1999. ISBN 978-0-918477-77-4
- Learning the Virtues. Sophia Institute Press, 2000. ISBN 978-0-918477-64-4
- The Death of Socrates. Kessinger Publishing, 2007. ISBN 978-1-4325-5430-9
- The Rosary of Our Lady. Sophia Institute Press, 1998.
- Sacred Signs. CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015. ISBN 978-1508832089
- ^Robert Anthony Krieg, Romano Guardini: A Precursor of Vatican II. University of Notre Dame Press, 1997. ISBN 978-0-268-01661-6
- ^Bradshaw & Melloh (2007). Foundations in Ritual Studies: A Reader for Students of Christian Worship. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic. p. 3. ISBN 0-8010-3499-X.
- ^ abGuardini, Romano. "Open Letter".
- ^Hanus, Ladislav. Romano Guardini: Mysliteľ a pedagóg storočia. LÚČ, Bratislava, 1994. ISBN 80-7114-124-0
- ^It was still in print as of 2012, with an Introduction by Pope Benedict XVI. ISBN 978-0-89526-714-6
- ^Regnery, Henry S. (1985). Memoirs of a Dissident Publisher(PDF). Lake Bluff, Illinois: Regnery Gateway Inc. Archived from the original(PDF) on 1 December 2007. Retrieved 8 September 2007.
- ^Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being. Letters, edited by Sally Fitzgerald. Vintage Books, 1980. ISBN 0-394-74259-1[page needed]