“Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine”: A New Book on George Santayana

I am a casual and qualified fan of the thought of the urbane, naturalist philosopher and public intellectual George Santayana, whose work on aesthetics is pretty neat.  Here is his poem, “Faith”:

O WORLD, thou choosest not the better part!
It is not wisdom to be only wise,
And on the inward vision close the eyes,
But it is wisdom to believe the heart.
Columbus found a world, and had no chart,
Save one that faith deciphered in the skies;
To trust the soul’d invincible surmise
Was all his science and his only art.
Our knowledge is a torch of smoky pine
That lights the pathway but one step ahead
Across a void of mystery and dread.
Bid, then, the tender light of faith to shine
By which alone the mortal heart is lead
Unto the thinking of the thoughts divine.

I am not so familiar, though, with the connection of his work to distinctively Catholic ideas, so I am very interested in Edward Lovely’s (William Paterson University/Farleigh Dickinson University) recently published book: George Santayana’s Philosophy of Religion: His Roman Catholic Influences and Phenomenology (Lexington Books 2012).  I am having trouble locating the publisher’s description, but believe this may be it:

George Santayana (1862-1952) of Spanish descent, and generally claimed to be in the canon of American philosophers, was substantially influenced by his Roman Catholic origins in his philosophical disposition toward the value of tradition, religious symbols and dogma. His philosophical project sustained a respectful attitude toward the spiritual value of orthodox religion while the thrust of his philosophy was naturalistic and materialistic throughout. There is a perception by some scholars that Santayana’s philosophy evolved from a humanistic perspective to a more spiritual one in his later years. It is the position of this thesis that his philosophy, at the “core” depicting a harmonious striving toward individual happiness, remained essentially consistent from his earliest publication of Interpretations of Poetry and Religion and The Life of Reason through his later works of Scepticism and Animal Faith, Realms of Being, Dominations and Powers and The Idea of Christ in the Gospels.
Santayana’s philosophical approach is both phenomenological and social constructionist in its methodology, significantly preempting the methodology of social constructionist theology and a post-modern interpretation of religion. His idiosyncratic phenomenological approach is compared with a “benchmark” methodology of Edmund Husserl, the generally accepted founder of the phenomenological method. There are also important similarities between Santayana’s phenomenological approach and those of Charles Sanders Peirce and Alfred North Whitehead. The basis for the comparison of the phenomenological methodology of Santayana and Husserl is their mutually similar fundamental theory of intuited essence. Santayana’s contribution to religious studies is not only philosophical but also theological where he has utilized Christian theological language in transposing and interpolating his philosophy of religion to the Christian drama of the salvational Christ. Santayana’s essay “Ultimate Religion” reflects his perspective of a disillusioned but still spiritual vision incorporating the piety, discipline, and spirituality; of a life of reason. Within the framework of this “model” Santayana’s philosophy of religion is developed and explored. Finally, the relevance of Santayana’s philosophy of religion to contemporary religious studies and selected religious issues is addressed with a delineation and discussion of some important aspects of his philosophical vision.

Czech Parliament Votes to Return Church Property Confiscated By Communists

Last week, the Czech parliament adopted a measure to compensate religious organizations for the seizure of property during the Communist period. Over the next 30 years, the Czech government will give back most of the seized property and pay compensation for the rest. Most of the property will go to the Catholic Church, but Protestant, Orthodox Christian, and Jewish groups will also participate in the program.  The total package is valued at billions of dollars.   The Czech president, Vaclav Klaus, has expressed reservations about the bill, but the vote in parliament would be enough to override any veto.

According to Reuters, the measure has been quite controversial. The Czech government has adopted an unpopular program of tax hikes and spending cuts, and many Czechs apparently resent what they see as a “gift” to religious institutions. Reuters suggests that the opposition also results from the “atheist” character of Czech society. “Atheist” may be  a little strong; as Czech scholar Petr Mucha observes, most Czechs are simply indifferent to religion. Still, Czech society is quite secular, and there is a strong suspicion of organized religion, especially the Catholic Church, which many Czechs see as the historical enemy of Czech nationalism.

As for the religious organizations themselves, they are apparently delighted with the new arrangement. I wonder how long they will remain so. Since 1948, the state has been maintaining these properties. Under the new measure, the churches themselves will take on that responsibility. These old churches – they’re very expensive to keep up.