Saturday, December 2, 2006

Modernity: Yearning for the Infinite

In an address in Guadalajara, Mexico in May of 1996, then Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, spoke about the various ways in which relativism threatens the modern world. He concluded the address, however, with a ray of hope. The Catholic faith still has a chance in the modern world, and that is because in man “there is an inextinguishable yearning for the infinite….Only the God himself who became finite in order to open our fi niteness and lead us to the breadth of his infiniteness responds to the question of our being.” Man's yearning for the infinite, for God, remains present and active not only when it finds its proper orientation in God, but also even when it is misdirected, expressing itself in practices and institutions that of themselves cannot lead to God. Our modern world too often reflects this latter situation. The purpose of “Modernity: Yearning for the Infinite” was to examine the nature of this peculiar dynamic.

The conference, held on the snowy weekend of November 29-December 1 at Notre Dame’s McKenna Hall, brought together an interdisciplinary group of scholars—theologians, philosophers, historians, artists, legal scholars, and literary theorists—who pondered the nature, limitations, possibilities and dangers of the epoch we have come to call “modernity” and what
it means for the renewal of Christian culture in our time.

The weekend began with Center permanent senior fellow Alasdair MacIntyre’s keynote lecture on Thursday evening, “Islam, Modernity, and Us,” for which the main auditorium of McKenna Hall was fi lled beyond capacity. From there the 440-plus registered participants had spread before them a feast of uncommon intellectual delights involving nearly one hundred presentations. Among the many highlights of this copious feast were— Paul Griffiths’ plenary lecture on Friday evening, “Owning Knowledge: Modernity and the Purposes of the Intellectual Life”; Rev. Marvin O’Connell’s guided tour of the Church’s condemnation of the modernist heresy in the early 20th century; Monsignor Lorenzo Albacete’s meditations on modernity’s fear of the Incarnation; Bishop John M. D’Arcy’s reflections on the Catholic priest in the present age; and Joseph Pearce’s engaging lecture on the Catholic literary revival in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

The festive closing banquet on Saturday night featured the presence of Monsignor Charles Brown, former assistant to Cardinal Ratzinger in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome, currently at Notre Dame to finish his doctoral dissertation, who shared with us some after-dinner thoughts on the differences between the late Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict XVI.

This seventh edition of our fall conference both extended and deepened what has become a rich annual tradition at Notre Dame. It brought together a group of people, not all of whom are professional academics, but all of whom share a deep commitment to retrieving for the modern world some of the most glorious but often overlooked treasures of our Christian heritage. This large and impressive group surely manifested the “ray of hope” that Pope Benedict assured us is more than capable of shining through the darkness of the modern world.

The Center would like especially to thank the Maas Family Endowment for Excellence, as well as the Strake Foundation, for making possible this tremendous experience. We would also like to thank Tom and Megan Eakins for providing travel stipends that made it possible for several students to attend the conference.