Friday, December 1, 2006

Friends, Romans, countrymen

Lend me your eyes (I can guarantee a 10% markup when I'm done with them). I am blogging less because I am actually involved in offline writing at last. I am involved with some friends in starting a quarterly here in Taichung. Titled "In Form", the quarterly will engage "big issues" from a Catholic perspective, both to strengthen the faithful and to evangelize non-Christians. I'm attaching a rough draft of the inaugural issue introduction editorial (by our editor-in-chief, Cyril de Sales). Please pray for this undertaking: printing fees and magazine layout are the biggest hurdles ahead.

"What, another magazine?"
This may be your reaction upon seeing, well, another magazine. It's understandable. With GQ, Sports Illustrated & Good Housekeeping already cluttering your coffee table, why pick up any other periodical, especially one as squat & business-like as the one you're now reading? To be honest, I can't tell you why you'd read another magazine (after all, it's you that are reading at this very moment), but I can tell you what you'll get if you keep reading In Form. Hopefully, once you see the what – the vision & structure, the Geist und Gestalt – of In Form, you'll have a much better sense why you should read it. The benefits (being habitually literate, for example) just might outweigh the costs (such as putting off the next season of Smallville for a day or two).

"In Form" – a deceptively terse title
The first benefit you'll get from reading In Form is a love for words well written. The last thing In Form aims to be is a content cipher – lots of "important ideas" in depressingly bland prose. As a Catholic magazine, we believe not only that the Word is Life, but, consequently, that our every word should be alive, rich, dynamic, & meaningful. Our title, for instance, is a three-level play on words. First, in every issue, we offer solid INFORMATION about major cultural issues (with a particular emphasis on science, ethics, & philosophy) both inside & outside the Catholic Church. Second, in every issue, we provide FORMATION for Christians trying to address the same issues in their faith lives. In every issue, we rally people to stand IN FORMATION for the notorious "culture wars."

Every quarterly issue of In Form has a proper, recurring theme. First, the winter (January) issue explores space science, cosmology, creation, etc. As our explorations will always set out from the "City of God (polis Dei)", let's call winter our Cosmo-Politan issue. Next, the spring issue (April) discusses biology, bioethics, ecology, etc., and, as we head out again from the polis Dei, we'll call spring's the Bio-Polar issue. Third, the summer issue (July-August) delves into cultural & inter-religious dialogue, history, politics (oh so obliquely), etc., & is best labeled our Cultur-opolis excursion. Finally, while In Form always brings a theological & philosophical bearing to the table, the fall issue (November) concentrates systematically on theology & philosophy as such. And, as the City of God is lit by the light of Wisdom who is Love, let's call winter's the Theo-Thought issue. (Sorry, kids, no monopoly for the "polis" gimmick.)

"Is that all?" you ask. Not quite. A fundamental motivation for this quarterly is to highlight & inform our readers about the work of Rev. Stanley L. Jaki. In Form is here in large part to acknowledge, & then reverse, the fact that you just said, "The work of who?" We are honored that Fr. Jaki (pronounced YAH-kee)** will speak for himself in this our inaugural issue. There is also a book review of Fr. Jaki's autobiography, so your ignorance of this great scholar's work will meet it greatest enemy: information. Despite having earned Ph.D.'s in both theology & physics, despite having published some 40 books, dozens of articles, & numerous pamphlets, & despite his international repute in theological & academic circles – despite all this, nearly every Catholic I have asked, has no idea who Jaki is (our contributors & supporters confirm the same ignorance in their experience). This – like a neglected goldmine – is nothing less than a minor tragedy; rectifying the situation is what delivers In Form (a minor deus ex machina?) into your hands. The quarterly array of information In Form offers, then, an underlying "Jakian" focus.

If every Christian enterprise needs a theme verse from the Bible, In Form makes the grade with Galatians 4:19: "My little children, with whom I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you (palin odino mechris ou morphothe Christos en umin)!" More than mere content, or even clever wordplay, In Form aims both to promote the Catholic faith among non-Christians & to deepen that faith in Christians. The goal of this formation, traditionally known as catechesis, is to help our readers understand both how the Catholic faith impacts many contemporary issues & how to respond to those issues with Christian sensibility.

Specifically, as our subtitle implies, In Form's forming a Christian sensibility takes place in an Asian milieu. Informing & forming the Ecclesia in Asia (Church in Asia), entails drawing Asia into the Ecclesia, which is the body, the very fullness (pleroma), of Christ in whom the fullness of God fills all things (cf. Ephesians 1:23 & Colossians 1:19). Hence, as strange as it may seem, while we draw everything up in English, In Form is actually written for readers in Taiwan, mainland China, & the Philippines, extending itself to Chinese communities abroad. The goal is to release a Chinese edition at every mid-quarter, that is, 5-7 weeks after the English edition is distributed. (Calling all would-be translators!)

The admittedly intellectual emphasis of In Form is not accidental. Catholic faith is not merely an individualistic, emotional, pietistic diversion; it is the whole counsel of God for the salvation of all things by the Logos (Rational Word) of God. According to John 1:1, 14, God is Logos, that is, consistent, total truth, & Jesus Christ is this same God made flesh – truth spoken into, incarnated into, our concrete world. The speaking of this Logos, then, is not a monument to Unreason, but to Super-reason. God is often labeled as "nonsense" not because He makes too little sense for us to believe, but because He makes too much sense for us to fathom. Hence, God's ways are not so much irrational as super-rational: our wisdom stands about where His folly kneels (cf. 1 Corinthians 1). A glove can neither "violate" the structure of the hand upon which it fits nor, however, shrink to fit within the hand; likewise God's revelation neither violates human reason nor shrinks to fit within it. It is precisely by conforming to, & then outsizing**, reason that God's Logos is all too reasonable.

The traditional way to express this truth is, "Gratia non destruit sed supponit et perficit naturam (Grace does not destroy but builds upon nature)."** Flowing as it does from the God-Man, Jesus Christ, the Catholic faith is both natural & supernatural, both rational & super-rational, giving each aspect its full due. The Christian faith, as the faith of God made Incarnate, is literally & fundamentally Logi-cal, which is very much why Jesus exhorts his followers to love God with our hearts & minds (Matthew 22:37). In the same vein, which is a major theme of Fr. Jaki's, according to Romans 12:2, Christians are exhorted to cultivate a "spiritual (or, reasonable) worship" (logiken latreian). The ultimate goal of such "logical worship" is, as that same St. Paul prayed, for Christians to comprehend the fullness of God's riches of love in Christ the Logos-made-flesh (cf. Ephesians 3:18-19).

Undoubtedly, (I speak to you, Non-Christian Reader), you feel your head spinning as your eyes glaze over with every line of Scripture you wade through. "Why bore me with Christian details," you wonder, "if you want to keep me reading?" In Form is convinced the "logical worship" of the Catholic Church is not just an insider secret. Catholicism, while not strictly egalitarian, is not Gnosticism, which is elitism. In the Church all alike are called to the same beatific goal of comprehending God. In Form is convinced the Catholic faith does not merely speak "at you", but in fact says something, indeed many things, worth hearing to you. "Logos", after all, most basically means "word". Christianity is a speaking religion because the God of Christianity has spoken. Hopefully, In Form can make more accessible & compelling just what this "God of the Word" has to say in our own day & age. Regardless how easily "the pope" & "the Church" & "the Bible" are shrunk down to sound-byte sizes, In Form insists on stretching the discussion back to human-size proportions. If you've read this far, hopefully you are willing to consider the depths of the Catholic faith (or at least to pass along your copy to someone who is).

So, whether you read In Form (or any other document) from inside or outside the Church (or from who-knows-where-for-sure), the key is to realize that facing truth claims is no more a verbal game than Christianity is a pious diversion. Embracing the truth ultimately entails embracing the Person of Christ, Truth made flesh. Indeed, the more deeply & authentically you love truth, the more closely you are united to Him, albeit in strange & imperceptible ways. (For any of you who imagine yourselves as living "beyond truth", or perhaps truth as being "beneath you", you should inform your employer now you have no qualms about his "take on" the bottom line.) Granted, the greatest embrace of Truth is the sacramental embrace commonly known as the Eucharist, which is itself the miracle of Truth-made-flesh becoming Truth-made-gift; but asking you to swallow all that on the first issue is asking a lot, so for now, just keep reading.

The "military brats" among you should recognize a familiar ring in this phrase: soldiers stand in formation. As mentioned above, In Form holds a position in the culture wars. Even so, In Form does not intend to be pugnacious & antagonistic; contrary to the contrarian zeal of some pundits (both Christian & not), the goal of the "culture wars" is not simply to win. The goal is defend, & perhaps even regain, the best of culture. As indelicate as the terminology sounds to our politicized & media-conditioned ears, there are deep divisions & conflicts in the world which are best understood at times in terms of real fighting. To be sure, there's no lack of such themes in the Bible. Sirach 4:28, a motto of both Fr. Jaki & In Form, says, "Fight to the death for truth (Eos thanatou agonisai peri tis** alitheias) and the Lord God will war on your side." Likewise, two of St. Paul's later writings link eternal life with the literally agonizing struggle to attain & defend it: "Fight the good fight of faith (Agonizou ton kalon agona tis pisteos); take hold of the eternal life to which you were called" (1 Timothy 6:12). "I have fought the good fight (Ton kalon agona igonismai), I have finished the race, I have kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7). Shiver me timbers, mate, them's fightin' words! Yes, indeed, they are.
But what makes them shiver our timbers? People find the idea of "fighting" for human culture, indeed, for human beatitude, distasteful because they ignore a plain fact: to protect our culture & ensure our beatitude, we fight all the time – against gravity & entropy. Gravity would bring down our highest; entropy would unravel our finest. But we hold our own as Homo sapiens (the wise man), only because we first & foremost refuse to abdicate our place as Homo erectus (the upright man). That is precisely the spirit in which In Form wages the "culture wars": the spirit of resisting moral gravity & entropy for the good of Homo sapiens. Just as we humans constantly battle to stand upright (erect) against the unsleeping power of gravity, & to preserve harmony against the ravages of entropy, so too must we struggle for ever-ascending wisdom, beauty, & harmony against natural & supernatural forces that strive to draw us, & with us all the cosmos, away from the Father of light in the heavens, back into the primeval chaos of Genesis 1.

Freely falling stones
Despite our apparent "militancy", In Form only sees as opponents those that choose to ally themselves, like freely falling stones or suicidally shattered vases, with the powers of moral gravity & spiritual entropy. Enmity is a consequence, not a prime directive, of being Homo sapiens in a world satisfied with Homo erectus. We here at In Form solemnly defend the truth that, though fallen, all people still retain the inviolable dignity & beauty of God's image created in them. (People are not "good at heart", but good by nature.) Hence, we at In Form can & will the use the only weapons that work – the fruit of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the New Adam (cf. **) – against the only enemies worth fighting for – our equally fallen brethren in the first Adam. "For we are not contending against flesh & blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Ephesians 6:12**). In Form is here to rally the brethren from the ranks of a sinking Adam to stand in formation among the ranks of a risen, & rising, Christ. As Fr. Jaki notes in numerous places, insofar as the origin of the word "culture" is "cult" (i.e., religion), the true nature of the culture wars is that of cult wars: we actually see competing assemblies, even those that explicitly deny any cultic identity, vying for the victory of their own cultic culture.

Brass tacks
So much for the vision of In Form, now let's cover a few brass tacks of before diving into this issue's content. Our chief patron saint is St. Francis de Sales, known as "the gentleman saint" & recognized as the patron of Catholic writers & journalists. Two other saints very important in this endeavor are Sts. Peter Canisius, patron of catechesis, & Cyril of Thessalonica, co-patron of Europe & a model of "incarnational" missionary zeal.

Aside from highlighting a recurring quarterly "Jakian" theme, each issue will have some fixed features:
• An editorial introduction & preview of the issue
• A lead thematic essay (including an editorial synopsis/abstract)
• A lower-key thematic essay or reflection
• A Socratic dialogue
• At least two book reviews

Possible extras, in our "AMPER&AND" section, include patristic quotes, poems, short stories, original art, etc. Depending on our budget (not to mention our staff's competence), zealous readers may be gratified to find an online edition posted at the start of every following quarter. For now, quarter by quarter, we want to keep everything "land-locked", in print, old school.

Finally, it is a sweet dream of this editor to make "Letters to the Editor" a fixed feature as well.* Without a trace of blushing, In Form abides by G.K. Chesterton's "great journalistic maxim", which is that "if an editor can only make people angry enough, they will write half his newspaper for him for nothing."

* Letters, angry or otherwise, may be sent by e-mail to Cyril de Sales at, or to him by mail at 17 Chongching Road, Taichung 400, Taiwan (R.O.C.), c/o "In Form". The same procedure goes for donations, but please contact Mr. de Sales before sending any finances, so he can clarify the details.

1. The second last thing we aim to be is a money-maker: we are a not-for-profit review & depend greatly on the kindness of strangers!
2. Meanwhile, we hope In Form, being a highly verbal endeavor, can from time to time be a decent refresher, or even primer, for Greek, Latin, German, French, etc.
3. It's worth mentioning the same St. Cyril more or less invented the Russian Cyrillic alphabet for missionary liturgical purposes.
4. Ensuing editorials will not be nearly so self-referential, & perhaps not as long, as this one. The inaugural issue demanded an explanation of our bearings.
5. Heretics (London, 1905), p. 118.

No comments: