Solemn Vow Profession Announcement

These three friars of Our Lady of the Angels Province have spent the last 5-7 years completing the stages of Formation required by our Order, in preparation for their profession of Solemn Vows. They have answered God’s Call to serve His people through the work of the varied ministries of our province. Our friars serve in parishes, schools, shrines, universities, and even as diocesan leadership. They are pastors, social workers, counselors, educators, psychotherapists, scholars, chaplains, and nurses. Our friars also serve on boards of universities, outreach facilities, service organizations & social justice groups. All of our friars bring forth individual God given gifts to share with our confreres in community, as well within the ministries we serve. Friar Franck, Friar Rich and Friar Tim will add their own personal gifts, passions, talents and love of Christ, to our community.

If life as a Franciscan Friar Conventual seems like a great way to share yourself with God’s people, our Vocation Director, Br. Nick Romeo, OFM Conv. would love to hear from you. Contact him at vocations@olaprovince.org. Consider signing up for our July 29 – August 2, 2021 Summer Discernment Retreat.

_____________________

Friar Franck Sokpolie, OFM Conv.: Born in West Africa, Friar Franck spent some time in Europe before moving to the United States with his family about 16 years ago. After completing one year of college, he joined us as a Postulant when he was just 18 years old. After his time spent in the postulancy and novitiate, Friar Frank Professed his Simple Vows in July 2016, and moved into our St. Bonaventure Friary – Post Novitiate, in Silver Spring, MD, where he spent four years, majoring in Philosophy, French and Francophone Studies, at The Catholic University of America, in Washington, DC. This past year, he served his Apostolic Year of Formation with the parish and school community of our pastoral ministry, at St. Anne Catholic Church, in Columbus, GA.

 

Friar Richard Rome, OFM Conv.: Born in Norfolk, VA, prior to joining our province, Friar Rich earned degrees in History, the Classics & Supply Chain Management. As an older vocation, after his time in the postulancy and novitiate, he Professed his Simple Vows in July 2018, and moved to St. Bonaventure Friary, in Silver Spring to continue his studies in Theology and Philosophy. During that time, he spent his summer visiting and serving with our friars in the Shamokin, PA area. He returned there to serve his Apostolic Year of Formation in May 2020, as the Director of The Franciscan Center (Coal Township, PA), a ministry of the friars of Mother Cabrini Friary (Shamokin, PA). The Franciscan Center works to assist those living in the coal region to create s sustainable and promising future in the area.

 

Friar Timothy Blanchard, OFM Conv.: Born in Albany, NY, Friar Tim joined our province in 2014, at the age of 19. After his time in the postulancy and novitiate, he Professed Simple Vows in July 2016. and moved to St. Bonaventure Friary, where he studied a variety of interested including Communications, at The Catholic University of America. Friar Tim’s communications knowledge came in handy while he served these last eight months with our friars of the Toronto, ON area. His Apostolic Year of Formation was spent assisting in their varied ministries, including those of The Franciscan Church at St. Bonaventure and that of St. Clare Inn; community, care and shelter for homeless women with mental health issues along with support for their healing journey.

News from Brazil

August 2, 2021: On the Feast of Our Lady of the Angels, two friars of our Custódia Provincial Imaculada Conceição do Brasil (Immaculate Conception Custody in Brazil), Frei Jesus Rodrigues do Amaral, OFM Conv. (left) and Frei Ricardo Elvis Arruda Bezerra, OFM Conv. (right) will profess the Solemn Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience, at Paróquia São Pedro e São Paulo (St. Peter and St. Paul Parish), in Paraíba do Sul (Rio de Janeiro).
NOTE: The Professions will be livestreamed on YouTube!

Seventh in a Series by Friar Ed

Rebuild My Church[1]
Peter Damian Fehlner’s Appropriation and Development of
the Ecclesiology and Mariology of Vatican II

 Seventh in a Series
b
y
Edward J. Ondrako OFM Conventual
University of Notre Dame

I began this series with an Augustinian insight that It sometimes happens that something present is not seen by persons who see other things that are in plain sight; aorâsia (Greek) or caecitas (Latin) City of God: 22, 19). I think that “hiddenness” may architectonically hold together Fr. Fehlner’s life works as a metaphysician-theologian because the development of his life’s thought has a signature engagement with premodernity and modernity. He did not use the term post-Christian culture as I do, but he warned in many ways about a post-Christian culture as I have defined it. I intend to ignite a desire to read more of his essays[2] where his Franciscan theology and philosophy demonstrate the harmony of faith and reason with the conviction of personal experience lived to prepare for life forever with the Trinity. Fr. Fehlner’s Franciscan inspired vision of God has massive intrinsic and extrinsic value for a new world order, its many religions, ways of competing thinking, and cultural and political forces that are hard at work to attack and destroy practices and norms that have traditionally stood unchallenged and presupposed in this land of liberty. Just before he died, Fr. Fehlner confirmed what I had written as true.

Overview
“I’m running out of steam,“ Fr. Fehlner replied to plans for further publishing. I realized that we would have to be content with what he left us as engagement with the deep thinking of his entire life. After he died, one modern philosopher and work with whom I thought he had significant commonality on secularism was Charles Taylor. A Secular Age[3] is Taylor’s two band theory of the constitution and nature of modernity. “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue”[4] is Fr. Fehlner’s study of history and extensive commonality with St. John Henry Newman. Fr. Fehlner differs from Taylor, a Catholic. Taylor is a historicist, by which I mean one who focuses on the interpretation of historical events by natural laws without incorporating the supernatural. Yet, Taylor is not hostile to traditional forms of Christianity even as he does not think that the claims of Christianity which might be true can be proved. Even if the claims are proved, Taylor adds that it might not make a difference because in its premodern form, Christianity is no longer viable. There is a gap between Taylor and Fr. Fehlner but fruitful comparisons in their thought on the secular, secularity and secular age have promise.

Can a bridge between Taylor and Fr. Fehlner be built? Taylor’s double band of assumptions are a complex weave of scientific and ethical thought that is allergic to the non-rational while attempting to correct by relinking reason and feeling, thought and desire to compensate for the perceived lack of integration in practices and forms of life that are no longer felt.[5] Taylor’s frame serves as a default which shapes our involuntary responses to our social reality, and influences why we may choose one way to think about the world and to reject another. Our thinking may reflect the laws of physics, or the weight of the information surge on our ethical behavior that is fighting to be relatively independent of natural laws, or recognition of our social world as made up of greed and a kind of runaway narcissism, all of which point to purely rational entities seeking how to construct a thoroughly rational society. Taylor’s is thinking after the pattern of the Enlightenment.[6]

Fr. Fehlner reads history with a spousal vision which is to read with a biblical vision. Christ’s self-giving love is spousal and his love dismantles every lie. Recognition of the sacrificial love of Christ the Bridegroom explodes confidence in myths that hide pride and deception. Fr. Fehlner adds that the Spirit of truth guides us to all truth. Ours is an increasingly complex universe and we cannot be intellectually lazy but have the duty to think about what is true, what is false, and to make judgments. Fr. Fehlner is like Taylor the realist up to a point, but Taylor’s shift of perception, concept and action explains his view of a new order of things. For Taylor, the ubiquity of modernity challenges any effort to control it and invites a rational response to accept it. While Taylor does not attack modernity but recognizes the goods modernity has delivered, he is the philosopher accountant who makes credit and debit columns, and concludes what is worth it and what is not. He leaves up to everyone to decide what has come and what is gone and how to weigh losses and gains. That is how Taylor sees the rotation of the axis of the world as constructing a new world, amounting to nothing less than a visible revolution.[7] Readers and researchers have to decide about constructing the bridge between Taylor and Fr. Fehlner.

Summary
What has happened of late in this land of liberty? Tearing down monuments that remind of military champions of the unspeakable institution of slavery is one thing. Decapitating a statue of Christ as in Good Shepherd Catholic Church in Miami is quite another. The pastor extended the olive branch of reconciliation and invitation to the community to pray for peace. Ken Starr is candid: there simply is no peace for American culture is at war with itself.[8] Starr identifies the sentiment behind the increasingly venomous attacks on faith as the “harm principle.” He means that in the view of millions of secularist Americans, religion is now a bad thing because they reason that religious beliefs and practices inflict harm on individuals.[9] True believers are harming no one, Starr answers.

I have favored Hegelian inspired thinking because Fr. Fehlner and Cyril O’Regan were of one mind. E.g., to the “Protestant Aquinas” the afterlife is a fiction. Rebuild My Church enlarges on Fr. Fehlner’s Scotistic touch in reply. Many Hegelian caveats from O’Regan fill the notes. Fr. Fehlner was always open to new ideas. He took time to evaluate critically, to employ the art of spiritual discernment, thought deeply,[10] and made good judgments. For more than fifty years, Fr. Fehlner exemplified the intersection of cultures and epitomized human life that was dialogical after the Second Vatican Council. I was ordained a priest during the initial euphoria after the Council. When the euphoria began to wane, he demonstrated how to revive ecumenical and interreligious dialogue. The art of understanding ideas was around the promise of truth which worked because of his driving Bonaventurian conviction: the work of Christ in history goes forward never backward. Another image is of the Franciscan ship riding heavy on rough and smooth seas along with the ships of every other religion and culture. Fr. Fehlner studied history as the great teacher that exposes every claim to use dialogue to hide historicism and positivism which misrepresents the shared zones of meaning that overlap among religions and cultures. Fr. Fehlner and O’Regan heard expressions of belief being shouted down and kept “charity for all.”

Mary Immaculate, for St. Francis of Assisi, was the woman among all women in the world who had no equal.[11] Mary, memory of the Church, was Fr. Fehlner’s intuition along with Popes St. John Paul II[12] and Benedict XVI. Fr. Fehlner’s golden years were spent in prayer, reading, writing, and learning to pray, as a response to a word spoken first by God who wants us to be in communion with him. Slowed by arthritic knees, energy and time, these limits turned his thoughts to the resurrection.

Fr. Fehlner loved the works of St. J. H. Newman and the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” (1875) captures the terror of a stormy sea that is heading for a certain shipwreck. The faith of the Franciscan nun held terror at bay knowing of God’s mercy before meeting her Judge. “Duns Scotus Oxford” (1879) tells of the one ”who of all men most sways my spirits to peace. Of reality, the rarest veined unraveller; a not Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece; Who fired France for Mary without spot.” “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe” (1883) was Franciscan inspired Mariology for: Mary Immaculate “mothers each new grace that does now reach our race.”[13]

Be thou then, O thou dear Mother, my atmosphere,
my happier world, wherein to wend and meet no sin;
Above me round me lie fronting my forward eye
with sweet and scarless sky; stir in my ears,
speak there of God’s love. O live air of patience,
penance, prayer; World-mothering air, air wild,
wound with thee, in three is lead, fold home,
fast fold thy child.

 

Study Questions

  • Charles Taylor’s two band theory of modernity: displacement and forgetting; and misremembering (repackaging of doctrine) was spawned in modernity. Thoughts?
  • Hegel and Heidegger are misremembers who we invite to dinner but may be dangerous because they look so much like Christianity.[14] Compare with the Marian principle in Duns Scotus and his gift as the “rarest veined unraveler” to GMH. Neither St. Thomas nor Aristotle rivalled him.
  • With a Scotistic touch, Fr. Fehlner is a rememberer who used memory to be productive, to reformat the tradition, to fortify and to persuade. He forgot in a manner sanctioned by the Holy Spirit. The Scotistic touch is in the poetry of GMH: “Mary mothers each new grace,” i.e. the mercy of God passes through the hands of the Mediatrix of all graces. Thoughts?

______________

[1] E. J. Ondrako, Rebuild My Church (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC., 2021). [ISBN 978-1-943901-19-0].
[2] J. Isaac Goff, is the general editor for Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner’s Collected Essays that are in progress and forthcoming in nine volumes by 2022. See J. I. Goff., Collected Essays (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2021-2022).
[3] Ibid., Taylor, A Secular Age.
[4] P.D. Fehlner, “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue,” in The Newman-Scotus Reader, E.J. Ondrako, ed., (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2015, canonization issue, 2019), 239-389. This is a jewel of originality.
[5] Ibid. Renewing Nouvelle Theologie.
[6] A Catholic Christian is ever alert to a rationalist component in history. The temptation is to apply it in interpreting the Gospels. St. Augustine’s battles with the rationalists in the City of God are many. An example of rationalism is also present in ancient Islamic interpretation of the Qur’an such as 18:29, from the Matazila rationalists, in distinction from the Ashariyya predestinationists. Compare Whately’s influence on the young Newman at Oxford in the 1820’s to Benedict XVI’s caveat about the dictatorship of relativism. Newman and Benedict target rationalism.
[7] Ibid., O’Regan, “Renewing Nouvelle Théologie.”
[8] K. Starr, Religious Liberty In Crisis, 165.
[9] Ibid., 165-166. Starr is clear that his “harm principle” does not mean the horror of sexual abuse by members of the clergy and the result of the terrible erosion of the moral authority of important institutions and inflicted profound psychological damage on countless victims.
[10] Protagoras, for example, is a masterpiece among Plato’s Socratic dialogues which touches on the debate about the meaning of virtue from antiquity. It offers a rich depth of insight into the will which is crucial to Scotistic thinking about the primacy of the will.
[11] St. Francis of Assisi, Antiphon for the Office of the Passion (Off Pass).
[12] Pope St. John Paul II, Encyclical Redemptoris Mater.
[13] The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Fourth edition (Oxford; Oxford University Press, rpt. 1990).
[14] Cyril O’Regan, “Renewing Nouvelle Theologie,” in Church Life Journal; McGrath Institute for Church Life; University of Notre Dame (January 22, 2019).

 

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
June 17, 2021

Sixth in a Series by Friar Ed

Rebuild My Church[1]
Peter Damian Fehlner’s Appropriation and Development of
the Ecclesiology and Mariology of Vatican II

 Sixth in a Series
by
Edward J. Ondrako OFM Conventual
University of Notre Dame

“Every creature is the object of the Father’s tenderness, who gives it its place in the world. Even the fleeting life of the least of beings is the object of his love, and in its few seconds of existence, God enfolds it with his affection” (LS, 77). With these words in Laudato Si, Pope Francis reflects the Franciscan inspired traditions about all of creation. His universally respected encyclical echoes Dante about “the love which moves the sun and stars” (Paradiso, canto xxxiii.)

In striking contrast, Friedrich Willhelm Nietzsche (d. 1900), the advocate of the “will to power,” was as far removed as imaginable from the primacy of the will of Bl. John Duns Scotus that is oriented towards love. Fr. Fehlner repeated the thought of Bl. Duns Scotus without ceasing in an era described by Ken Starr as one of “open hostility to communities of faith.”[2] Nietzsche was a contemporary of St. John Henry Newman (d. 1890; beatified 2010; canonized 2019). As Anglican and Catholic for equal parts of his life, Newman built up the Church in the throes of hostilities from rationalists. Unlike St. Newman, Nietzsche had no conviction that Christianity can remake itself to align with modernity, and, even if it could, this would not be a good thing. He was constitutively anti-Christian and anti-Catholic. His follower, Martin Heidegger’s (d. 1977) attitude towards Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular was dismissive.[3] Yet, Heidegger seemed unable to leave entirely the Christian notion of the saint. In the mode of Nietzsche, Heidegger recalls the Christian saint when he is describing the hero. What might he have thought of the vocation of St. Francis of Assisi? Of the Virgin Mary’s be it done to me according to your word”? It is all the more puzzling that Heidegger was critical of Hölderlin for his interests in Mary.

Overview
As I reread Dante’s Commedia, I can attest to the Franciscan philosophy and theology that suffused the truth that Dante set forth in the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso with poetry that has never been surpassed. Dante is absolutely a person of the Church and theological tradition who seems to believe that poetry is the discourse of discourses. Fr. Fehlner’s spiritual imagination aligns with Dante. He builds a bridge to the documents and decrees of Vatican II. Pope St. John XXIII called for renewal of the entire Catholic Church which included amplification of the gift of the arts.

What is the standard perception of a faithful person who will go to heaven? How does one integrate a set of concepts that may be applied to everything that is? What is the mode of knowledge a person will have when not in this earthly life? What is divine beauty, heavenly peace, and love? A post-modern world does not assume that the answer is divine beauty alone. Dante’s broad and comprehensive learning included the science that was known. He held dearly to heavenly peace that will contrast with the normal operative behavior that takes place in this earthly life.[4]

In the Inferno, no one is at peace; and, in the Purgatorio, a person is purified to be worthy of heaven. A poem is a set of motivations. If a person is motivated, why would they want heaven? Why would Christians believe in heaven and hell? Even though the early Protestant reformers objected, Catholics believe in Purgatory. There is a certain silence in Sacred Scripture about the after life except for Matthew 25 and intimations in Ezekiel. By the end of the second century, Christians were believing in heaven and hell. In Judaism, it was not a given and debate remains. Christians decided on an afterlife commensurate with our behavior in this life. Dante’s genius is to represent eschtological states. Why believe? Why want heaven badly?

Dante assumes interest in heaven and this motivates as well as hell motivates. Dante talks about those in hell and suggests mortal and venial sin. Certain characters he puts in hell are worse than others because of their sins of envy, lust, anger, and more. These sins may seem arcane and cute but they ask: what is deadly? It may be a deadly sin of envy, for example. A sin may not be mortal, but certain kinds of characters are not oriented towards good and their choices are self over God. Those characters will go to hell according to Dante. And he argues why his position is not outrageous.

Dante’s ambition was to be a rival to Virgil who by consensus was the greatest Latin poet in the epic about the founding of the nation. Dante sought a parity with Virgil between what he wanted to achieve and what he achieved. The ambition of the Commedia was to outbid Virgil with a larger theme that seemed at once more important and impossible. Dante’s Commedia has a shocking ambition as a text because there are no predecessors in expressing eschatological states as poetry. Everything in the poem is elsewhere in the Western theological tradition and Dante was well versed in the thoughts of St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure, Joachim of Fiore, St. Bernard and others. Dante was somewhat limited by the Eastern tradition and what the West will allow from the Eastern tradition.

Dante served as a backdrop for Fr. Fehlner’s Franciscan aesthetic sensibilities and knowledge which reflected his engagement with the theology and science that developed during the twentieth century. Fr. Fehlner’s engagement with Transcendental Thomism and how it informs Karl Rahner’s developing thought on the mystery of the Trinity reflected his charity and deepest concern of the shipwreck he saw of many souls, consecrated persons, and those who form the youth.

Productive forgetting and remembering were integral to Fr. Fehlner’s theological progression. Always in step with the theological knowledge available, his ground was Franciscan philosophy and theology and St. Newman’s development of doctrine which aligns with the entire thrust of development at Vatican II. Transcendental Thomism and Rahner’s efforts to dialogue with Kantian thought in particular, what Rahner calls transcendental Christology as the starting point of theology, turned into a disaster for Fr. Fehlner. Nonetheless, I am certain that Fr. Fehner would agree that as Dante ought not to be dismissed for placing Joachim of Fiore, who was formally condemned by Lateran IV in heaven, neither ought Rahner be condemned or dismissed. Charitable engagement is the intention of Vatican II and the Council does not condemn or leave anyone out.

Summary
Fr. Fehlner was a realist in the sense of Dante the realist. Dante was born in 1265, the same year as Bl. John Duns Scotus,[5] who died in 1308. Dante knew political violence, was condemned to death, and exiled. He was writing the Inferno by 1314. The Purgatorio was known to be circulating by 1316. The first cantos of the Paradiso were circulating soon after. What Dante does in the Commedia is a new revolution as is Charles Taylor’s conclusion in A Secular Age.[6] Taylor agrees that Christian believers will be survivors and remnants of a historical world that has had its day. He is not hostile to traditional forms of Christianity but thinks that in its premodern form Christianity will remain but no longer be viable.

Dante’s thought on the Holy Spirit in the mystery of the Trinity enables him to walk a tightrope. Jacapone da Todi and Joachim were formally declared heretics which gave Dante a poetic rationale to put both in heaven. Closely related is his visit with Virgil to heaven and focus on peace that overcomes rivalries. An inventor and discoverer, peace became the truth treasured by Dante. He joined and arrogated the rights of literature to say what cannot be said with the theological tradition. He had a free radical creativity that is enviable as Taylor in the modern era. Can we build a bridge between them?

Dante’s worldview would set up thought-provoking limits to Charles Taylor’s two band theory of modernity. If I understand Taylor correctly, the first band is about displacement and forgetting, while the second band is about misremembering. Whether Dante might agree with those who align with the view that Hegel and Heidegger are consummate misremembers or repackagers[7] of Christianity, the answer is not hard to guess. Each is writing in the context of what is happening in his world.

The rise of the cancel culture alerts freedom-loving Christians to keep a close eye on exactly what is happening. Christians who dramatically change their tunes appear as a sea change in culture. Fr. Fehlner worried about persons who reinvent themselves to such an extent that they become dangerous to religious practice, forms of life, and especially religious liberty. He was the consummate rememberer. He seemed to internalize Henri de Lubac’s worry that Joachimism anticipated Hegelian-Marxism in its many forms. I am convinced that persons who reinvent themselves may exhibit more than a little worrisome Hegelian thinking in the remake.

Study Questions

  • Joachimism was formally condemned in 1215 for its errors pertaining to the Holy Spirit. By 1260 the Minister General St. Bonaventure had disciplined friars who accepted it uncritically, especially for interpreting Joachim as predicting the coming of St. Francis. Dante put Joachim in heaven. Thoughts?
  • Henri de Lubac’s innovative and ingenious insight is that Hegelian-Marxism is a contemporary version of Joachimism. Thoughts? Inviting in new ideas needs to be Christianly regulated. What are the consequences for failing to regulate?
  • In modern Franciscan studies, Fr. Fehlner’s thought and example is in a class of its own. He recognized the thinning of religion, several external causes, the temporization by authority to respond justly, and inviting in ideas that had to be regulated Christianly and consequences when the invitees lacked competence to regulate. Thoughts?

____________________

[1] E. J. Ondrako, Rebuild My Church (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC., 2021). [ISBN 978-1-943901-19-0].
[2] Ken Starr, Religious Liberty in Crisis: Exercising Your Faith in an Age of Uncertainty (New York: Encounter Books, 2021), 173. The publisher states: “He examines the ways that well-meaning government action sometimes undermines the religious liberty of the people, and how the Supreme Court has ultimately provided us protection from such forms of government outreach.” I couldn’t agree more and recommend study of Constitutional Interpretation and Civil Liberties to protect the rights of religious expression and to take a more active role in advancing the cause of liberty
[3] C. O’Regan, “The Anti-Catholicism of Heidegger’s Black Notebooks,” in Church Life Journal, McGrath Institute of Church Life (January 14, 2019).
[4] See St. Augustine, The City of God for the inexhaustible doublet of the heavenly and earthly cities.
[5] Bonaventurian and Scotistic inflections abound in the Paradiso. E.g., “The good, the object of the will, is fully gathered in that Light; outside that Light, what there is perfect, is defective” Canto xxxiii, 103-105. Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, trans. Allen Mandelbaum (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991), 540.
[6] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007).
[7] Cyril O’Regan, “Renewing Nouvelle Theologie,” in Church Life Journal; McGrath-Cavadini Institute for Church Life; University of Notre Dame (January 22, 2019).

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
June 16, 2021

Fifth in a Series by Friar Ed

Rebuild My Church[1]
Peter Damian Fehlner’s Appropriation and Development of
the Ecclesiology and Mariology of Vatican II

 Fifth in a Series
b
y
Edward J. Ondrako OFM Conventual
University of Notre Dame

Christianity represses free inquiry, a perennial complaint, is a sentiment that seems to be gaining in unsettling proportions in the twenty-first century. Resentment of any repression of free inquiry is growing toward anyone, in any institution, anywhere in the world. Fr. Fehlner joined modern philosophers and theologians in recognition that an “anthropological shift” is a double gift. It is a gift insofar as recognition of the person, the dignity of the person, human rights and the primacy of conscience. He repeated often: if properly understood, this anthropological shift is to be celebrated because it is a healthy development of what St. Augustine said: theology to be new, must be old, like the Beauty of the Lord, ever ancient and ever new. It is only a “worry” insofar as taking the human person, not God, as the starting point of theology, which is a form of christocentrism exactly the opposite of Bl. John Duns Scotus. Pope Benedict XVI analyzed this contemporary phenomenon as an example of why theology, to be absolutely new and authentically Catholic, has to include the patristic-scholastic approach to theology. That is how genuine reform can be produced and not a novel reform in discontinuity with the tradition, which can only bring a tragic rupture.[2]

Overview
Fr. Fehlner recognized that the primary object of theology is the divine being, the Godhead in itself vis-a- vis any consideration of the non-divine, the immanent Trinity, which is God in se, rather than pro nobis. This great revelation is more than being that is common to all that exists. God in se, in himself, is the subject of theology, rather than God pro nobis, for us. This includes what God has done for us, or all else, such as our spiritual experience. Even a beginner’s understanding of Fr. Fehlner’s mind senses his fidelity to St. Bonaventure’s position: theology begins where philosophy leaves off (Breviloquium, part. 1, ch 1, 3). In philosophy, God is known as the conclusion of a study known as metaphysics or ontology whose object is being that is common to all that exists. (As undergraduates we were not a little intimidated by looking ahead to our senior year when we would study metaphysics. Little did we know that everyone who thinks can think metaphysically.) In theology, God, one and triune, is the subject or starting point, which we know because of the gift of this great revelation.

The courses of study in the Franciscan School centered on the Trinity and Fr. Fehlner’s critical analysis which was always oriented towards the theology of Vatican II. The latter Karl Rahner’s Transcendental Thomism was a rewriting of Catholic theology intended as dialogue with Kantian, Hegelian and Heideggerian thought. Rahlner arrived at a new synthesis and Fr. Fehlner engaged it critically with guidance from the Second Vatican Council. He substantiated his worries with references from Protestant theologians as Horst Georg Pðhlmann who considered Rahner’s theology a “Summa” on a par with that of Thomas Aquinas, and Jurgen Moltmann, who named Rahner the architect of a new Catholic theology. Fr. Fehlner agreed that their assessment was amazingly accurate but with a problem. Can a theology be absolutely new and also authentic Catholic renewal? A hermeneutic that broke with the patristic-scholastic approach could never be countenanced. Renewal has to be in continuity with tradition.

Summary
Fr. Fehlner analyzed why what may seem to be dead and deadening in the scholastic method, such as the vocabulary of St. Bonaventure and Bl. Duns Scotus, is actually vivifying in its exactness and clarity when theologizing about the great mysteries of faith. His respect for the range of questions and valid insights of Rahner, as an exemplar who was recognized by contemporary Protestant theologians, was generous. He and Rahner incorporated the same anthropological shift postulated by theology that claims to seek for theology to be vital rather than dead and deadening.[3] Rahner differs significantly from Fr. Fehlner’s understanding of and amplification of the Franciscan and Thomistic Schools.

The starting point for Fr. Fehlner, Popes John Paul II and Benedict XVI, is the Trinity. For Rahner as a transcendental thomist, the starting point is something initially transcending understanding, a noumenon, or as Fr. Fehlner says candidly, intellectually speaking, nothing. Here is where we have to think deeper for Fr. Fehlner is leading us to understand the kind of nothing that is totally in agreement with the transcendentalism of Immanuel Kant (d. 1804). Kant’s authentic insights differed hugely from Bl. Duns Scotus where Kant insisted on the absolute autonomy of the transcendental “ego” and radically arbitrary, irrational indifference of the categorical imperative of the human will in its transcendental lunge toward the infinite noumenon. (Be certain to understand this key concept!) Fr. Fehlner was blunt that the Kantian view was incredibly oppressive, while the Scotistic answer was truly liberative. The primacy of the will with its object, love, was the key to personal freedom for Bl. Duns Scotus.

To Rahner all theological understanding is consequent on and conditioned by the spiritual experience of absolute transcendence, which Rahner identified as divine revelation. Knowledge of this revelation is consequent upon this primitive experience. Personal experience transcends the empirical consciousness and consists in being grounded in what Kant calls the autonomous will and transcendental or extra-mental noumenon called God or Father beyond all perception or conceptualization.

Fr. Fehlner engaged critically the multiple layers of questions and answers with spiritual depth. Many try to navigate what the Transcendental Thomists call:[4] union with God, the meaning of Christ on the Cross, human freedom, Kantian duty, and the denial of duty as mortal sin. Fr. Fehlner challenged Transcendental Thomism as the refusal to give oneself unconditionally to the Father as Jesus did on the Cross, a denial of duty as his disciples, and, as such, the only mortal sin strictly speaking.[5] Fr. Fehlner took a competing view with the Transcendental Thomism in the theology of the Trinity of Karl Rahner. The critical problem of modern theology is the relation between faith and self-conscious experience in an evolving world. The lines of the metaphysic inherent in Revelation Is the basis of patristic-scholastic metaphysics. Rahner’s lines are along those of modern German idealism. This is the problem.

As Fr. Fehlner got older, those who were privileged to be with him more often, discovered more consciousness of life’s end and its summing up by standing in judgment before Christ. That moment is as an unsubstitutable subject standing before God. One could feel his longing for home, the ecstasies of St. Francis as he was awaiting Sister Death, and eternal life with all of the hints of what this meant in the thought of the Franciscan saints: St. Bonaventure, Bl. Duns Scotus, and St. Maximilian Kolbe. Transcendental Thomism provided more hints of existential pathos underlying efforts to represent death, judgment, heaven and hell throughout Christian history. (I turn to Dante’s Commedia in the next essay.)

Study Questions

  • Does the “anthropological shift” for theology to be vital, not dead and deadening, move you? Does a more personalist shift inspire your part in the future work of the Church?
  • Has Fr. Fehlner engaged fairly with Rahner on the contributions and limitations of Rahner’s writing on the Trinity and Transcendental Thomism?
  • Is desire to know, trust and love more of the theology of Vatican II long gone? Do the developments in the writings of Popes Paul, John Paul II, Benedict XVI and Francis guide your personal quest for truth, deeper faith and skills in critical reasoning?

___________________________

[1] E. J. Ondrako, Rebuild My Church (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC., 2021). [ISBN 978-1-943901-19-0].
[2] Pope Benedict XVI, “Christmas Address to the Roman Curia,” 2005.
[3] “Neo-Patripassionism from a Scotistic Viewpoint,“ p. 40. See Rebuild My Church, chapters five and six.
[4] P.D. Fehlner, Karl Rahner: Un Analysi Critica (Siena: Cantagali, s.r.l., 2009, rpt. J.I. Goff, ed. P.D. Fehlner, Collected Essays, Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2021-22), forthcoming. This critical essay is in English.
[5] See John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 1993. 184 endnotes present his gifts of critical engagement with modernity.

 

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
June 15, 2021

Fourth in a Series by Friar Ed

Rebuild My Church[1]
Peter Damian Fehlner’s Appropriation and Development of
the Ecclesiology and Mariology of Vatican II

 Fourth in a Series
b
y
Edward J. Ondrako OFM Conventual
University of Notre Dame

“Because we are all gifted by God with minds, we are all capable of thinking metaphysically or we do not have a mind,” Fr. Fehlmer would say to dissuade any doubts. That means, simply, that he promoted thinking on the deeper level or secondary level. Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things and includes abstract concepts such as being, or what is, vs. non-being. Metaphysics deals with knowing, identity, time and space. In a word, Franciscan metaphysics says the unsayable and manifests the hidden about infinite Being and finite, created being. Because of his exceptional skills as a metaphysician-theologian, it is no surprise that Fr. Fehner differed with recent presentations of the saints. Take the example of his knowledge and love of St. Maximilian M. Kolbe. Fr. Fehlner extrapolated from the high Mariology of the martyr of charity to prove that Kolbe was a Scotist. That insight is not found anywhere else and worthy of the hard work to understand the validity of Fr. Fehlner’s claim. Fr. Fehlner critically engaged modern thinking and took issue with the “interpreter’s theory of how a writer of the past, even recent past, is conditioned by cultural circumstances no longer existent, and to be understood even by himself, needs to be ‘reread’ in terms of a current and diverse cultural ambient.”[2] When the investigator and inquirer engages Fr. Fehlner’s Bonaventurian-Scotistic method with St. John Henry Newman’s personalist method, the convergence is indisputable.

Overview
The point is that Fr. Fehlner joined Pope St.John Paul II to defend the dismissal of metaphysics by critics who react to truth as once upon a time and is now anachronistic. The Holy Father respectfully encountered skeptics who view Christianity as repressive, authoritarian and obscurantist, the opposite of true humanism. The Holy Father answered those who have nostalgia for what is perceived as the loss of Christianity and engaged those who would criticize Christianity but not dismiss it totally.

Veritatis Splendor (1993) and Fides et Ratio (1998) by the philosopher Pope St. John Paul II is a unit. Veritatis Splendor is to counter the free fall of truth by drawing attention to certain fundamental truths of Catholic doctrine that risk being distorted or denied in our age. He saw the secular invasion in the West as increasing with ever more virulent force from its roots in pre-Kantian, Kantian, Hegelian, Marxist thought that was carried forward by Nietzsche and his epigone, Heidegger. Catholic Christian scholars have to study the valid points of all critics who are guests that can become unruly because they know the teachings of Christianity but repackage them. Cultural expression that amounts to thinking that no longer looks to truth, or to “cancel” truth, demands[3] patient inquiry and investigation into regulatory principles of the truth. The Holy Father’s narrative employs philosophy, forms of thought and amplifies culture which recovers philosophy’s original vocation. Fides et Ratio builds upon Veritatis Splendor and concentrates on defining truth itself in relation to faith.

Contours in Fr. Fehlner’s Franciscan theology with Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio imbues his essays. Besides the primacy of Christ and Mary, Fr. Fehlner joined Pope St. John Paul II in writing about Mary as the memory of the Church (Redemptoris Mater). Fr. Fehlner said to me that he was developing a Franciscan theology of Mary as “memory of the Church.” It is not an overstatement to claim that Mary may be likened to the thread that weaves all of the essay together.

Fr. Fehlner’s Marian metaphysics is one example of how he says the unsayable and manifests the hidden in words. E.g. his metaphysics articulates the contrast between what is possible to be known about the blessed life in heaven and a person’s capacity for knowledge and freedom about retribution that follows upon misuse of freedom or seeking pleasure, a good in itself, with a form without God which is dangerous. The fragility, vulnerability, and a certain order of decay accompanies living without God and the secular invasion which accompanies modernity. Knowledge and freedom is often confused by an influx of competing impetuses that need to be clarified. Who is clarifying? Who becomes the referee? Secular modernity reinvents itself with a hostile edge that wants to be the sole referee.

Summary
What is the connection between God as love, light, and beauty? In a postmodern world, we do not assume the standard perception of knowing what is not in this life such as Dante’s Commedia.[4] Yet, Dante is more real than we are in conveying an ugly world that we want to be less ugly and a heaven that is tota pulchra. Heaven, hell and Catholic purgatory motivate a person. Difficulty believing in hell as eternal perdition or holding that hell is empty, intimates that there is something like a hellish existence. People are capable of perceiving that because there is a sort of primal fear about being buried alive for eternity. They believe in crime and punishment and the avoidance of evil. Hell, therefore, has a representability more than heaven. Purgatory has a kind of experiential quotient. Purification is taking place for one’s entire life. There are all kinds of relationships where persons have been addicted, robbed, abused, used and destroyed and punishment comes. When a person dies, the thought is that the person is not bad enough to go to hell, but not good enough to go to heaven. Compare St. Bonaventure’s The Triple Way which outlines the means or acts whereby a person cooperates with grace to put order into one’s soul. In life there is a dynamic movement from the purgative way to the middle illuminative way and to the higher unitive way, a dynamic going up and down the ladder of life.

Christians care about actions which have eternal consequences. Catholic Christian regulatory guidance for building up this world now has an eye on the next life. To build up this world matters. God is the supreme object of satisfaction of our desires and that is joy. To Dante, hell was believable and only he could have written about hell with his gift of representability. No one has crafted such a great Christian text that presupposes the drama of perdition or salvation. The Inferno retains its literary reception while the Paradiso remains the most difficult to represent because it is about the afterlife. Dante dares to represent with shocking ambition and almost adds to the biblical text.

Throughout his essays, Fr. Fehlner refers to Kantianism which to his metaphysical theological mind functions as a “virus”in modern thought. He praised the contributions of Kant, but fled from Kantian philosophy that countered Catholic doctrine. “Sanctification of the intellect” was his defense to post-Kantian theological and philosophical thought and radically arbitrary human autonomy. Fr. Fehlner monitored Rahner’s engagement with Kantianism, especially the immanent and transcendent Trinity. His Bonaventurian-Scotistic philosophical and theological critical engagement clashed with Rahner’s Transcendental Thomism. He is unequaled among modern and contemporary theologians in how he incorporates the Trinitarian theology in St. Augustine, St. Bonaventure and Bl. Duns Scotus.

Study Questions

  • Does the principle of the “sanctification of the intellect” / and intellectual humility help or hinder your understanding of the metaphysical-theological thinking of Fr. Fehlner?
  • Fehlner’s idea is that metaphysics is for everyone with a mind. Does he convince you that you are capable of thinking on a deeper level?
  • Fehlner aims to guide how theology ought to be conducted in the future, i.e. with the model of the radically humble will of the Virgin Mother? Do you understand the significance of her will to be perfectly one with the will of God?

________________________

[1] E. J. Ondrako, Rebuild My Church (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC., 2021). [ISBN 978-1-943901-19-0].
[2] P.D. Fehlner, St. Maximilian M. Kolbe: Pneumatologist (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2024), 12.
[3] When I was teaching Catholic thought to graduate students in a secular university shortly after Pope John Paul II died in 2005, I was welcomed and treated most cordially but told never to make any truth claims.
[4] The sixth entry in this series continues with reflections on Dante.

 

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
June 14, 2021

Third in a Series by Friar Ed

Rebuild My Church[1]
Peter Damian Fehlner’s Appropriation and Development of
the Ecclesiology and Mariology of Vatican II

 Third in a Series
by
Edward J. Ondrako OFM Conventual
University of Notre Dame

Fr. Fehlner taught his students to think deeply in order to understand transcendence and truth. For example: does God suffer with our sufferings; what is liberalism in religion? One of his best answers was how St. John Henry Newman fought liberalism in religion all his life. Carrying this forward, iIt is one thing to chart the free fall of transcendence and truth which begins in the mid seventeenth century. It is quite another thing to climb out of the precipice or to chart a way beyond its growth into the twenty-first century. Fr. Fehlner does not leave us in the precipice. Thought patterns from his multiple essays assist us in a very readable and persuasive manner on how to climb out.

Fr. Fehlner’s works say the unsayable and the hidden. The Bonaventurian-Scotistic primacy of the will has its object of love, and the intellect, its object, truth. To love in truth is the driving force in removing violence, overcoming rivalry through peace, showing the harmony of faith, and the understanding of doctrines as the Trinity, Christ, Mary, Creation, sin, forgiveness and merit. To say the unsayable with a Franciscan voice never grows old. St. John Henry Newman aligns with the Franciscans: “To live is to change and to be perfect is to have changed often.“[2]

Fr. Fehlner is a faithful interpreter of the goals of life set forth in St. Bonaventure’s Itinerarium Mentis in Deum and his method accompanying the Itinerarium, i.e. to love and to live by truth in the De Triplici Via. Pope St. John Paul aligns when he quoted the Prologue of the Itinerarium in Fides et Ratio n.105. Let theologians remember “to be on guard against supposing that reading is enough without fervor, speculation without devotion, research without wonder, carefulness without any delight, labor without piety, knowledge without charity, understanding without humility, study without divine grace, clarity without divinely inspired wisdom.”[3]

Overview
Does God suffer? In the 1960’s there was almost no interest, but today, the question has much interest. Ancient and contemporary patripassion, the term for suffering and God, drew me to Fr. Fehlner’s clarifications of an idea with little traction during his first years of teaching but has taken off. Fr. Fehlner saw deeply into the question: does God suffer if we suffer? Human beings may suffer beyond what is describable, such as POW’s. To Fr. Fehlner, St.Maximilian Kolbe was not only a “martyr of charity,” as Pope St. John Paul II described him, but The Theologian of Auschwitz.[4] Does God suffer with POW’s?

The answer is part of Fr. Fehlner’s theological clarity and amplification of St.Bonaventure and Bl. Duns Scotus who became my preferred resource in Rebuild My Church.[5] Consider the gift of modernity which is viewed positively by some and negatively by others, and a mixed reaction by still others. The twilight of modernity, or post-Christian culture is part of God’s loving providence that is captured accurately by St. Bonaventure’s aphorism: the work of Christ does not go backward, but forward.

Patripassionism is aligned with contemporary relativism, i.e. the false assumption that the truth reveals itself equally in different truths, even when they contradict each other. The erroneous conclusion is that there is no objective truth and everything is reduced to opinion, the freefall of truth. At the time of his election in 2005, Pope Benedict XVI immortalized the post-truth problem with his term the “dictatorship of relativism.” In 2010, he beatified John Henry Newman. Pope Francis canonized Newman on October 13, 2019. St. Newman’s hands-on approach proves him a saint for our times.

The doctrinal truths at the heart of the matter center on why Christ can only suffer in his humanity, but not in his divinity. This cannot be passed over for it has everything to do with the contemporary post-truth leaning world. The Son of God became incarnate willingly in order to suffer. This truth is absolutely central to our reflection on the mystery of the Trinity, the foundation for everything Catholic Christians believe. It is why Fr. Fehlner bristled with the interpretation of the Trinity that became associated with Transcendental Thomism, Karl Rahner, S.J., and his students. Meditation on the mystery of the Trinity leads to only one conclusion that it is impossible for the Divine Persons to suffer, except metaphorically.

Fr. Fehlner answers from St. Francis of Assisi as he prays before the crucifix of San Damiano with copious tears. The triumph of the Cross, understood in a Franciscan sense, is not suffering but love that is willing to suffer and in order to suffer must become incarnate. In antiquity, the Church understood the difference and made a judgment that patripassionism was a heresy. In modernity, a new form of the ancient error is in Hegelian inspired thought on God and suffering. Hegelian evolutionary thinking devalues the truth about suffering and God. Further critical analysis by Fr. Fehlner will continue..

Summary
Liberalism in religion or the belief that there is no objective truth to any religion but only opinion was the line in the sand for John Henry Newman. Fr. Fehlner found his thought precise in diagnosing a problem plaguing modernity. If coupled with a Hegelian interpretation that God suffers, not only does liberalism in religion misrepresent, but, it misremembers or repackages objective truth. Hegel said his conceptual grid could account for everything that happened and would happen. Hegelian thinking links with thinking that everything is an opinion. Remember that upon being named a Cardinal by Pope Leo XIII, the central thesis of Newman’s acceptance speech in May 1879, the Biglietto, was on liberalism in religion. This exemplifies parallels between the works of St. John Henry Newman and Fr. Fehlner. His Bonaventurian-Scotistic originality is thoroughly documented in: “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue.”[6]

Contemporary neo-patripassianism betrays lack of confidence in doctrinal definitions of why it is impossible for the divine Persons to suffer. Christ only suffers in his humanity. Franciscans preach that Christ became human willingly in order to suffer out of love not out of necessity. This is the central thesis to Fr. Fehlner’s teaching. The reader will discover a progressive illumination why St. John Henry Newman’s writings have considerable similarity with the thought patterns, theological and philosophical, of Bl. John Duns Scotus.[7] Furthermore, the similarity is in Fr. Fehlner’s amplification for today’s readers.

Study Questions

  • Does God suffer? Why is contemporary patripassionism dangerous to faith in our Savior? Can I say that I too am God? Why or why not? (Think of Hegel in the first essay.)
  • Why did St. John Henry Newman devote his life to counter liberalism in religion, the view that there is no objective truth and all religions are merely matters of opinion? Does it matter in modernity?
  • What happens to faith and reason without objective truth, that everything is only opinion? Can you understand the free fall of transcendence and truth? (Think of Pope St. John Paul II)

__________________________

[1] E. J. Ondrako, Rebuild My Church (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC., 2021). [ISBN 978-1-943901-19-0].
[2] John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Doctrine (1845, London: uniform edition, 1900).
[3] Prologus, 4: Opera Omnia, Florence, 1891, vol. V. 296. Itinerarium mentis in Deum introducens eundem monet “ne forte credat, quod sibi sufficiat lectio sine unctione, speculatio sine devotione, investigatio sine admiratione, circumspectio sine exultatione, industria sine pietate, scientia sine caritate, intelligentia sine humilitate, studium absque divina gratia, speculum absque sapientia divinitus inspirata.” In the Protagoras, Socrates had no room for akrasia or weakness of will. Rather, the young have the duty to learn to philosophize and the old to philosophize in order not to grow weary. Fr.Fehlner and John Paul II would agree and apply the principle to theology.
[4] See P. D. Fehlner, The Theologian of Auschwitz (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Press, 2020).
[5] See Rebuild My Church: Peter Damian Fehlner’s Appropriation and Development of the Ecclesiology and Mariology of Vatican II (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC, 2021).
[6] P. D. Fehlner, “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue, “ in The Newman-Scotus Reader, ed. E. Ondrako (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2015, rpt, canonization issue 2019), chapter seven. This study was written to assist the reader to understand the key elements of Scotistic thought that support Fehlner’s claim for striking similarities in the thought patterns of Duns Scotus and Newman. The originality of Fehlner’s discovery is an invitation for further inquiry and investigation.
[7] P.D. Fehlner, “Scotus and Newman in Dialogue,” in E. Ondrako, The Newman-Scotus Reader: Contexts and Commonalities (New Bedford, MA: Academy of the Immaculate, 2015, rpt. Canonization Issue, 2019), 239-389. See 383-84.

 

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
June 13, 2021

Second in a Series by Friar Ed

Rebuild My Church[1]
Peter Damian Fehlner’s Appropriation and Development of
The Ecclesiology and Mariology of Vatican II

 Second in a Series
by
Edward J. Ondrako OFM Conventual
University of Notre Dame

“I seek you, I desire you, I rise to go to you, I welcome you, I exult in you; and, finally I cling to you.”[2] Seven aspirations in a Bonaventurian mode express the love of a devout soul with the Lord in this life and in the afterlife. It is difficult to write about the afterlife. Dante’s Paradiso, however, works as almost nothing else works to say the unsayable. Saying the unsayable also works in the Collected Essays[3] of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner. The reader will discover what many of Fr. Fehlner’s students and listeners to his homilies experienced: the presence of a master teacher, preacher and Franciscan priest. Humbly and with brevity, Fr. Fehlner affirmed why he preferred the way of St. Francis of Assisi without ever forcing anyone to do the same and dissuading anyone from trying to imitate him. He understood that St. Francis and his theologian disciples, St. Bonaventure and Bl. John Duns Scotus, lived in easier times in premodernity. Do not expect to be theologians overnight, Fr. Fehlner insisted, while unfolding the daunting challenges of living in modernity and some would say, the twilight of modernity.

Fr. Fehlner was the first systematic theologian to explain St. John Henry Newman[4] and heavily rationalist ecclesiastical climate in England during the nineteenth century. Earlier in my academic career, Franciscan teachers had lauded Fr. Maximilian Kolbe, but a comprehensive approach within the Franciscan School only came from Fr. Fehlner amplified Kolbe’s thinking in the daunting Scotistic framework which made Kolbe unquestionably a theologian. Kolbe’s other gifts such as his visionary approach with employing modern communications media for evangelization were known, but not Kolbe’s theology. After Kolbe’s Beatification on 17 October 1971 by Pope St. Paul VI and Canonization on 10 October 1982 by Pope St. John Paul II, as ‘martyr of charity,’ Fr. Fehlner wrote the definitive study for validating his claim to be a theologian that is masterfully argued first, from the order of intention; second, his theology and critical question; the love of learning and desire for God; Marian epistemology-metaphysics; third, cause of the Immaculate at the heart of the Franciscan charism; its Bonaventurian-Scotistic foundations; fourth, the historical genesis and development of the Kolben narrative; fifth, nature of and implementation of the Militia of the Immaculate; sixth, the “golden thread of Frnciscan history; Kolbe’s spiritual evolution in relation to the theology of history of St. Bonaventure; seventh, the historical and doctrinal backdrop in the Church; supported by a Marian metaphysics for interpreting history; eighth, a visible crescendo of the primacy of charity; ninth, Kolbean theory of the metaphysics of the will according to Duns Scotus; and ninth, the development of Kolbe’s theory of the will; all leading to the tenth and final section on theory and praxis explained with the clarity that follows a progressive illumination. The “order of intention” had its “order of execution.”

Fr. Fehlner added a glossary of terms to help readers find Kolbe’s thought strikingly readable. An extensive bibliography supports Fr. Fehlner’s claim that St. Maximilian M. Kolbe fulfills correctly the title “Theologian of Auschwitz.”[5] The growth and development just described as a progressive illumination is a term that I first used with Fr. Fehlner and, happily, he approved and readily incorporated it into his theological vocabulary because he understood the way I was incorporating progressive illumination as it neatly binds the ancients, premodernity, modernity, postmodernity and our post-Christian culture.

Overview
The seven aspirations from St. Bonaventure’s “method” in The Triple Way or The Kindling of Love encapsulates Fr. Fehlner’s scholarly Franciscan practices, form of life and golden years. A learned believer, he lived the “goal” as summarized by The Journey of the Mind to God.[6] The Triple Way and The Journey of the Mind to God. As companion works, they bind my seven part series to introduce “Rebuild My Church.” Seven aspirations express seven degrees of the unitive way.[7] A way is not a stage of growth for one who desires to be perfect as Christ exhorts his followers, but a metaphor for the means available to a person to attain the three constitutive elements of wisdom or happiness. The metaphor of way conveys eternal possession of absolute peace, face to face vision of absolute truth, and full enjoyment of goodness or absolute love. Weaving such triplets, Bonaventure identifies the first way for beginners; the second way for the advanced; and third way for those who have reached perfection. The three ways are a ladder for the person to ascend and descend.

It may seem like a giant step from the three ways, but, Fr. Fehlner’s account of the timeless Franciscan vision of St. Bonaventure was fully in step with Pope St. John Paul II’s analysis of a certain positivist cast of mind relating to scientific and technical progress. In Fides et Ratio, n. 91, the Holy Father recognizes that some thinkers refer to our age as “postmodernity,” first used with reference to aesthetic, social and technological phenomena, then transposed into the philosophical field, but has remained somewhat ambiguous because postmodern is sometimes positive and sometimes negative. The philosopher Pope realized that a consensus in judgment has yet to align with historical periods. Postmodern designates complex and new factors that have produced widespread, powerful, and important changes with the terrible experiences of evil, the collapse of rationalist optimism, the disillusionment of putting too much trust in the progress of reason as the source of all happiness and freedom, which he called nihilism. Fr. Fehlner chose to condense his reasons for eschewing nihilism.

Summary
A straight line continues from the four gospels to St. Bonaventure and to the works of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner as a metaphysician-theologian in the mode of St. Bonaventure, Bl. John Duns Scotus, St. Maximilian Kolbe, and Vatican II, from pre-modernity to modernity, the twilight of modernity and post-modernity. That same straight line continues into the twenty-first century, a time I now call a post-Christian culture. Difficulties and opportunities abound for Catholic thought to negotiate with figures on that historical trajectory. Fr. Fehlner was always ready to engage the contexts and concepts critically. He recognized weakness in providing Christian regulatory answers to methods that are hidden within any eclecticism because eclecticism played into the hands of those who denied the enduring validity of truth and the historical and cultural context for truth claims. Fr. Fehlner resisted any claim to the truth of philosophy to be determined on the basis of its appropriateness to a certain period and a certain historical purpose (Fides et Ratio, n. 87). He summarized: if the cultural circumstances have changed, never make the methodological mistake of saying that a writer has to reread what she wrote to be understood by herself in terms of a current and diverse cultural ambient. Pope John Paul II applied this principle to theological inquiry and compared historicism to modernism. Where there was a visible absence of critical evaluation in light of the tradition, this form of modernism was incapable of satisfying the demands of truth which is what theology engages.

Study Questions

  • How might we identify the free fall of transcendence and truth in our post Christian culture?
  • What might help us to climb out of the precipice or to chart a way beyond the free fall?
  • What are the Triple Way and Fides et Ratio saying about the unsayable truth about God?

_____________________

[1] E. J. Ondrako, Rebuild My Church (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC., 2021). [ISBN 978-1-943901-19-0].
[2] In te Exulto; et tibi finaliter adhaereo St. Bonaventure, De Triplici Via seu Incendium Amoris, ch. 3, 8.
[3] J. Isaac. Goff, gen. ed., Collected Essays of Peter Damian Fehlner (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, Publ., 2021), first of nine volumes forthcoming.
[4] John Henry Newman, An Essay on the Development of Doctrine (London: Longmans, Green and Co., uniform edition after the original in 1845). Newman’s seven notes are: fidelity to the original idea; continuity of principles; the power to assimilate ideas from outside; early anticipations of later teaching; logical sequence discernible when developments are examined; preservation of earlier teaching; and continuance in a state of chronic vigor.
[5] Peter Damian Fehner, The Theologian of Auschwitz: St. Maximilian M. Kolbe on the Immaculate Conception in the Life of the Church (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC., 2020).
[6] Bonaventure, Itinerarium Mentis in Deum was written after he visited the place where St. Francis had received the stigmata. De Triplici Via seu Incendium Amoris was written to explain Bonaventure’s original synthesis of the method of three ways for reaching union with God: purgative; illuminative; and unitive.
[7] Way is a term from Pseudo-Dionysius to explain stages of perfection that can only be discerned if the person practices spiritual exercises that fit The Triple Way explained within a Franciscan context. The Triple Way is the method. The first way is purgative; the second way is illuminative, and the third way is unitive.

 

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
June 12, 2021

Vow Renewal ~ Friar Rich

June 11, 2021: Our Lady of the Angels Province friar Richard Rome, OFM Conv. (top left) renewed his Simple Vows during Mass, on the Solemnity of the Sacred Heart, at our pastoral ministry of Mother Cabrini Catholic Church, in Shamokin, PA, in the presence of several friars and the local faith community of the three Franciscan parishes in the Shamokin, PA area. Afterwards, everyone enjoyed heart to heart conversation over coffee and baked goods from the famous Broadway Bakery in Mt. Carmel. Friar Rich has been serving with the friars of Mother Cabrini Friary during his Apostolic Year of Formation, with the focus of his ministry serving as Director of The Franciscan Center, in Coal Township. The vow renewal took place at the hands of his Friary Guardian & Pastor of Mother Cabrini Catholic Church, Our Lady of the Angels Province friar ~ Fr. Martin Kobos, OFM Conv. (top right).  His vow renewal was witnessed by Fr. Michael Lasky, OFM Conv. (2nd from left – JPIC Commission Chairman and Pastor of Our Lady of Hope Parish – Coal Township & St. Patrick Parish – Trevorton) and Fr. Everest Valentine Nyaki Mkenda, OFM Conv. (bottom – a friar from Tanzania, who has been living and serving with our friars since 2019, while continuing his studies in America). Also pictured above if Fr. Angelo Geiger, OFM Conv., Parochial Vicar of all three Shamokin area parishes.
Simple Profession is for a term of three years, so friars often have to renew their vows, during their Post Novitiate stage of formation. During this time they are continuing their studies, including a Fraternal Apostolic Year of formation, which friar Rich has just completed. In July, he and two of his confreres will Profess their Solemn Vows of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience.

Please keep friar Rich in your continued prayers.

First in a Series by Friar Ed

Rebuild My Church[1]
Peter Damian Fehlner’s Appropriation and Development of
the Ecclesiology and Mariology of Vatican II

 First in a Series
by
Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
University of Notre Dame

“It pleases me that you teach the friars sacred theology, so long as in these studies the spirit of prayer and devotion is not extinguished, as is contained in the rule.”[2] This is a quintessential direct answer from St. Francis of Assisi to St. Anthony of Padua, theologian, teacher, preacher, and miracle worker whose feast we celebrate on June 13. Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, OFM Conventual (1931-2018), from Our Lady of Angels Province in the USA, followed the directive of St. Francis the founder of the Order to St. Anthony with an incredible fidelity to the history of the Franciscan Order especially in face of the massive challenges to faith from modernity, which has begun with the Enlightenment. In 2017 he had read closely my study, Rebuild My Church, about his life. “You have represented the development of my entire life’s thought correctly,” he said. I could not have wished for more and that serves as the prompt for this first in a series of short summaries to share the gift of getting to know and to understand this sometimes enigmatic friar thinker and teacher of countless Franciscan friars and faithful. Our Lady of Angels Province website has generously accepted my offer to make known a gifted and humble friar who is not known as well as he ought to be known.

Overview.
It sometimes happens that something present is not seen by persons who see other things that are in plain sight. St. Augustine calls this aorâsia (Greek) or caecitas (Latin) City of God: 22, 19). Hiddenness may architectonically hold together The Works of Peter Damian Fehlner and his lifelong scholarly engagement with the relation between premodernity and modernity. For his entire life, Fr. Peter Damian (1931-2018) taught what he believed to be the correct teachings of the Church throughout its history. That encompasses creation, the fall, the prophecies and miracles of the Old Testament that all lead to the Incarnation and sacrifice of Christ. Receiving the Word in her Immaculate Heart, Mary was found worthy to conceive the Creator and to nurture the beginnings of the Church. Fr. Fehlner critically engaged proof from prophecy to show evidence of a continuous intention found in Sacred Scripture. This intention is manifested in the unfolding of a continuous efficacious plan: the wisdom of God and the needed perspective for everyone to see. There is one Mediator who condescends to dwell with everyone. We are the Mediator’s temple and our heart is his altar. God desires the heart that is bruised, humble, and sorrowful. The only begotten Son of God is our priest. His sacrifice is real and truly free. The wisdom of the Cross is not the experience of suffering. Rather, cruciform wisdom is love willing to suffer, which requires becoming incarnate in the form of a servant. St. Francis of Assisi and his theologian disciples could not be further apart from Luther and Calvin on the theology of the cross and its implications for the hierarchy of truths in Catholic doctrine as articulated at Vatican II (UR, 11). The Council intended to open a kind of fraternal rivalry to prompt dialogue and lead towards a deeper realization of the unfathomable riches of Christ (Eph. 3:8). True sacrifice is designed to unite us to God which makes possible our true happiness. Truth is gifted to the Church through Christ in the Holy Spirit. The truth of the Church is renewed in the Eucharist. The prayer and good works of the Church, despite the stains of sin and scandal, is the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit which enables the Church to be the light of the world. One member is All-Holy, Mary, the Mother of the Church. She awaited the Spirit her Son had promised with the Apostles and became the pattern of the Church at prayer. She accompanies the pilgrim Church’s homeward steps with a Mother’s love until the Lord’s Day.

Summary.
“Rebuild My Church” is the first critical analysis of the development of the thought of Fr. Peter Damian Fehlner, for whom the work of Christ always moves forward, never backward. At Vatican II, engagement with modernity began in earnest for the first time with the Catholic Church’s irrevocable goal to build a “bridge” to modernity. As the Council intended, Fr. Fehlner critically engaged thinkers with Kantian, Hegelian-Marxist, and Heideggerian inspired thought that seeks to repackage Christianity. The Council taught that reform and renewal of the entire Catholic church meant that these daunting figures in modernity have to be engaged critically which Fr. Fehlner did both explicitly and implicitly as a gifted metaphysician-theologian. Whoever had the privilege of listening to him lecture and preach, never left with a doubt why he was repeating the Scotistic[3] concept of the perfect will as radically ordered and unitive, and why the ordered will was not willfulness in modern philosophy or ideology, cloaked in freedom. I will identify ideas that are hostile to Christianity in a readable manner because their influence is ubiquitous and seductive. Vatican II taught us to invite many religious thinkers for dinner with whom we will wrestle but we are on the journey together through the storms of modernity. Some guests may have a cruciform pattern, but may become unruly guests.

Fr. Fehlner elegantly crafted his reply to the complex truth and phenomena thrown up by history. Vatican II taught to bring on board from modern life when the context of the believer and history have changed. Fr. Fehlner read the Catholic thinkers from St. John Henry Newman to Erich Przywara, S.J., Hans Urs von Balthasar, Yves Congar, O.P., Henri de Lubac, S.J. in the twentieth century and their full measure of direct or indirect reading of Kant, Hegel, Marx, and Heidegger. Catholic thinkers recognized helpful insights, but overall, read them negatively. Fr. Fehlner was no exception. Famously, he feared the Kantian deformation espoused by Kant for its insistence on the absolute autonomy of the transcendental “ego.” Fr. Fehlner identified why the radically autonomous will of the creature in the thought of Kant was the exact opposite to the radically humble will of the Immaculate Virgin and the unique Marian tradition from the origins of the Franciscan Order. In sum, there is no consensus Catholic view.

Hegel had no time for philosophical modesty and made the claim that his thought summed up all of philosophy. The interpreter may think this is tragic or comic, but Hegel risks everything to insist that all philosophies are oriented towards his. If we think Hegel’s claim is “out there,” for starters, ponder why and how people reinvent themselves today. Focus on the dramatic change about religious liberty during the course of recent political campaigns! Fr. Fehlner knew that incorporation of Hegelian thought foreshadowed the roll back of religious liberty and primacy of conscience. Pope St. John Paul II did not miss the potential and real rollback In Veritatis Splendor and Fides et Ratio, nor Benedict XVI in his panoply of writings. Pope Francis’ Fratelli Tutti is one of his writings that subtly exposes the historicist sleight of hand in current Hegelian interpretation. What does all of this mean? Hegel’s affirmation of Christian beliefs in the creation, incarnation, redemption, Church and afterlife are merely apparent. History is not to be interpreted as a spousal vision, but only as pedagogy. Modernity unveils the secret of the divine who was always ourselves. “I too am God.”[4] Kierkegaard, the Danish Lutheran father of existentialism, refused to recognize Hegel’s presentation as Christian and thoughtHegel was an imbecile.[5] What this means to a Christian believer today is that Hegel continued and developed Kant’s substitution of the invisible church of rational believers for the historical church of faith, which Nietzsche and Heidegger seemed to be only too happy to follow. Kant’s secularity replaced Hegel’s sublation. The historical Church is not dismissed but refigured as a shadow of the secular.

Our Common Journey
The greatest studies on the central mystery of our faith, the Trinity, are arguably by St. Augustine and St. Bonaventure.[6] Learning about the mind and heart of Fr. Fehlner and “Rebuilding the Church” is to trust verses Hegel who is an extraordinarily learned philosopher who would leave us with nothing. Hegelian braggadocio and its adherents as Marx, Nietzsche and Heidegger, have oceanic gaps from this quintessential Franciscan’s “deep knowing.” Hegel seems to know little about philosophy and theology between the third and sixteenth centuries. Hegel’s analysis of history strikes no prophetic complaint or echoes of lament of the Psalms. The post Vatican II dialogical world remembers the claim that in Protestant thought Hegel essentially rediscovered the central importance of the doctrine of the Trinity but with no mention of the traditional authorities of the doctrine of the Trinity: Augustine, Gregory Nazianzen, Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventure, nor Luther, Calvin and other Protestant theologians. Hegel keeps strange company with Jacob Boehme (theosophist), Philo of Alexandria, and Valentinus. Creation is necessary and God has a lot to gain from creation of the world. Without the world, God is nothing. Fr. Fehlner reminds us that knowledge of the Blessed Trinity is the most practical of all knowledge for it reminds us of our goal and joy of life, sharing in the love of the Father and Son in the Holy Spirit.

Study Questions.

  • If we forget the essential elements in a world of lowered expectations, will we remember what Christianity was and is?
  • As Christian thinkers, will we unapologetically know where we are and where we stand vs. flight to a bunker mentality that witnesses only to those in the bunker?
  • If we allow ourselves to be “reinvented by a hostile secularism,” what will our worldview be? Change in the Holy Spirit is knowing how to productively forget and what to remember.
  • While engaging modernity critically, will we intercept subtle efforts to “repackage” Christianity?

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[1] E.J. Ondrako, Rebuild My Church (Hobe Sound, FL: Lectio Publishing, LLC., 2021). [ISBN 978-1-943901-18-0]
[2] Placet mihi quod sacram teologiam legas fratribus, dummodo inter huius studium orationis et devotionis spiritum non extinguas, sicut in regula continetur (EpAnt).
[3] Bl. John Duns Scotus (1265-1308) was the “subtle doctor” and “Marian doctor” who systematically supported the absolute primacy of Christ, a theme that was the driving force for Fr. Fehlner.
[4] “I too am God” is Ludwig Feuerbach’s skillful affirmation of Hegel’s thought that concludes that Christian beliefs are all myths and that the secret of modernity is that the divine was always ourselves. See Cyril O’Regan below.
[5] See Cyril O’Regan, “97 Theses on Hegel and His Catholic Thinkers” in Church Life Journal, McGrath Institute for Church Life, University of Notre Dame (31 Auugst 2020). This is O’Regan’s hypothetical about Kierkegaard.
[6] See P.D. Fehlner, in J. Isaac Goff, Caritas in Primo (New Bedford: Academy of the Immaculate, 2015), Afterword, 311-321.

 

Fr. Edward J. Ondrako, OFM Conventual
Research Fellow Pontifical Faculty of St. Bonaventure, Rome
Visiting Scholar, McGrath Institute for Church Life
University of Notre Dame
June 11, 2021