Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A Letter to the Parousians from James Schall, SJ

Father James Schall is a prominent political theorist who teaches at Georgetown University. His books include: The Praise of 'Sons of Bitches': On the Worship of God by Fallen Men; Another Sort of Learning: How Finally to Acquire an Education While Still in College or Anywhere Else, Containing Some Belated Advice About How to Employ Your Leisure Time When Ultimate Questions Remain Perplexing in Spite of your Highest Earned Academic Degree, Together With Sundry Book Lists Nowhere Else In Captivity to be Found; Does Catholicism Still Exist?; and Reason, Revelation, and the Foundations of Political Philosophy. Last spring, John Tate, a founding Parousian who is now beginning his master's program in mathematics at the University of Utah, presented on Schall's On the Unseriousness of Human Affairs: Teaching, Writing, Playing, Believing, Lecturing, Philosophizing, Singing, Dancing. Tate then wrote Schall to relay the purpose of the Parousians and our pleasure in his thoughts. We are forever grateful for Father Schall's kind acknowledgement. Knowing that any advice Schall offers is noteworthy, we offer his reply for public edification.

April 19,2006


Thank you very much for your good letter. I appreciate your writing and admire your very legible and clear script. I envy it in fact.

Several years ago, I used to receive a student paper from LSU, which was quite good. At LSU, you have one of the finest of scholars and best of men in Ellis Sandoz, whom I am sure you know. Please give him my best, and let me assure you, he is a good guide in your projects. I have a wonderful tape of the Memorial Service at the Stanford Chapel when Eric Voegelin died. Ellis gave one of the eulogies and it still sticks in my memory of oral things, particularly his account of Voegelin’s work ethic and Ellis’ own account of how students, who really did not know who he was, reacted to him. He said, “We knew he was a great man.”

I am pleased that you would read the “unseriousness” book. Re: sports, if you know my Another Sort of Learning, there is an essay there on sports that you might enjoy.

I am pleased to see the books you have been reading. The “Parousians” – this title will not be known by many, but in a sense, it is a very good one, though Peter said in the office today that we are “sojourners and in exile.” At least in this world, as far as I have noticed!

Maritain’s thomistic circles were a good thing. I will send you a copy of a book I did on Maritain, as I have an extra copy. I have just begun reading the Summa Contra Gentiles which is quite a book and right on target today as it is basically a debate with Islam, who seems to be winning all the territory today while Europe sleeps and breeds not.

It sounds like you have a good group. Actually, Charlie Brown is a pretty good philosopher.

Comment about your group. The first is that you must keep it defined in terms of time and what can be expected. You are all busy. I am, as you know, of the view that it is very difficult to be educated in college – look up my interviews on NR and Claremont and zenit. So what you should be reading is what no one else will tell you about. Any of the books in my lists, or most, are short. This is deliberate (St. Thomas is long, but everything in short bites.) If you want to be educated, systematically read the works of Pieper, Chesterton, Lewis.

As you know, I do not directly recommend you doing Plato or Aristotle, do that in class if you have them there. Voegelin is difficult but at LSU it should be a must. Begin with his Conversation with Eric Voegelin. Or Sandoz’ book called The Voegelinian Revolution. Sandoz’ book on Dostoevsky is also important.

One of the best undergrad courses in philosophy is at U. of Nebraska at Kearney, believe it or not. I suggest you write to Thomas Martin, chair dept of philosophy there, and ask him for a copy of “the examined life” and a list of what they read. Tell him I sent you. You can find the address on Google – University of Nebraska at Kearney.

You should plan to read something of Chesterton every week, something short. See my Schall on Chesterton or the journal Gilbert Magazine.

Frankly, I have never been much for small discussion groups. Reading is more of a private enterprise to me at least first. I am a big fan of short essays, and think you should have some organ where you can publish what you write. On the other hand, face to face conversation is most welcome. I have a sort of pub theory which I get from Samuel Johnson, among others, that much of young men’s education comes from arguing in pubs. Chesterton said that the only things really worth arguing about are sex and religion, both of which lead to God sooner or later.

Two books I suggest you use are the two books of Jennifer Roback Morse, both published by Spence in Dallas ( a very good publishing house, by the way), 1) Love and Economics and 2) Smart Sex: How to Stay Married in a Hooked-Up World. Do not let the title of the latter throw you, the book is terrific.

You know of Walker Percy and Flannery, of course. I would read those books of JPII, Crossing the Threshold of Hope and Memory and Identity, among others. The books that are interviews with JPII and Benedict are usually very fruitful.

Well, enough. Thanks for writing, I quite appreciate it and am pleased that you did not fail to notice either sports or Charlie Brown.

Pray for me,
J Schall

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