Holy Realism

Holy Realism, Catholic Hope, St. Joan and St. Thérèse

Le Royaume Cloud

The key to Catholic Hope is Holy Realism. “For, true fulfillment and joy come not in understanding how to live; they come through seeking that for which we would die. That for which we would die is that in which we truly hope” (From my book, Seek First the Kingdom – The March of Hope). That for which we would die must be objectively real and outside of us; otherwise, we do not Hope virtuously in the Kingdom of God, we hope basely in ourselves and the Kingdom of Man. To “get out of ourselves,” into the Kingdom of God, we need Holy Realism.

St. John of the Cross teaches us that “one can only hope for what one does not possess, hope will be the more perfect the less one possesses.” (Stein). In fact, St. Teresa Benedicta refers to John of the Cross’s writings as demonstrations of Holy Realism:

…”the original inner receptivity of the soul reborn in the Holy Spirit. Whatever the soul encounters is received in an appropriate manner and with corresponding depth, and finds in the soul a living, mobile, docile energy that allows itself to be easily and joyfully led and molded by that which it has received, unhampered by any mistaken inhibitions and rigidity. Such realism, when it leads a holy soul to accept the truths of faith, becomes the science of the saints. If the mystery of the cross becomes its inner form, it turns into a science of the cross.” (Stein)

This Holy Realism is the key to unlocking the mysteries of the Kingdom of God “on earth as it is in Heaven” which is, in itself, a statement of Holy Realism from the very lips of Our Lord. The Realism of which I (and Our Lord in the prayer he taught us) speak is decidedly Platonic and not Aristotelian. Platonic Extreme Realism is that of St. Augustine and St. Anselm along with the Church in general prior to the 13th century.[1]  Aristotelian Moderate Realism is that of St. Thomas Aquinas (whom I love and who has been enormously influential on me) and innumerable saints and scholars since him. Aquinas’ “baptism” of Aristotle made the latter the standard for Catholic Theology; though, Aquinas did not abandon Extreme Realism himself. He simply brought us a wealth of new insights from “the philosopher,” as he termed Aristotle. It was not, perhaps, Aquinas replacing one with the other as much as it was we who floundered on understanding the value of both. Let us not blame Aquinas if we are dull students.

This distinction is vitally important. Without Platonic Realism and its insistence on the reality of universals objectively outside and distinct from us, we will never move from opinion to belief. Without moving from opinion to belief in an objective universal outside ourselves, we will never “hope for what one does not possess.” We will always possess it, as an opinion in our own mind. No one wants to die for their opinion. The Moderate Realism of Aristotle leaves the universal forms in our own minds, in our own possession. Therefore, we never truly hope. We merely have opinions (even very strong opinions that we might mistake for true belief) that lead to hopeful thinking rather than true Faith (belief in that which is objectively outside ourselves) that leads to true Hope (in what we do not possess since it resides objectively outside ourselves).

Joan fave cloud

This is precisely the “new world view” I received from St. Joan of Arc on my journey along The Trail of the Dogmatic Creed (from Seek First the Kingdom):

Joan of Arc was the chosen guide
On the path of the Dogmatic Creed next
No one can see the Kingdom
Without Hope that forms our desire

“Joan of Arc will lead you”
Spoke my saintly sister Thérèse
“To a new world view”
“Your actions belie your words of faith!”

“Joan of Arc acts
According to her faith”
“She is no practical non-believer!”
Saintly Thérèse smiled with eyes dancing

“Unlike her, brother,
You honor God only with lips!”

“You hope in yourself” Thérèse continued
“While whispering faith in God”
“You cannot see the Kingdom
With your old point of view”

“Joan of Arc will show you
The glorious new world view
That will animate you with love
And create the appropriate desire in you”

My “new world view” leading to a powerful, life-changing new desire was a radical new dimension using Holy Realism as my new eye-glass. It is like holding a lens to your eye reversed such that everything is blurred and then turning it over to see with vivid distinction. The Moderate Realism that put the intellect before the will was blurry and insufficient:

The Dance of Freedom was to continue on
The trail of the Dogmatic Creed
Stretched further…
Faith had not yet animated me

Turning the lens over and putting my will before my intellect (Platonic Extreme Realism), I allowed St. Joan of Arc to lead me into truth by plan of the divine will and through the Immaculate Heart of Mary as Mediatrix of All Graces. Under Moderate Realism, I balked. Flipping the lens over to Extreme Realism gave me the clear new world view enabling my will to march forward and through that act of will to be taught through the intellect under St. Joan’s care and guidance.

The Freedom Dance continues merrily on…
Imagine my astonishment
When the Queen announced
Through my saintly sister Thérèse
That Joan of Arc was to the fore…

Holy Realism gave me “hope for what I did not possess.” It gave me a vision of “that for which I would die” rather than seeking simply to “understand how to live.” That movement of the will then subjected the intellect “to be easily and joyfully led and molded by that which it has received, unhampered by any mistaken inhibitions and rigidity.”(Stein)

What then, is the result?

“Such realism, when it leads a holy soul to accept the truths of faith, becomes the science of the saints. If the mystery of the cross becomes its inner form, it turns into a science of the cross.” (Stein)

[1]Coulombe, Charles, Desire and Deception. Formerly footnoted.

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