A Schall Report on Things Current and Otherwise

Thoughts on moving across the country, teaching, universities, and popes.

Basically, I packed up my worldly goods at the Jesuit Community in Georgetown, gave many things away, and shipped other books here to Los Gatos. I flew via San Jose here on the first day of spring. It is a beautiful place. About seventy retired or infirm Jesuits live here, many old friends and classmates whom I have but rarely seen over the years.

What have I been doing? Once I was set up with the normal household things, the staff and my nephews set me up with a computer. I can still use my Georgetown e-mail. So the world is suddenly as close or as far away as it was in Washington.

So far, I checked the galleys of two books which are hopefully to be out in the fall. One is entitled, Rational Pleasures, to be published by Ignatius Press. I wrote this book while recovering from my jaw cancer operation during the Spring Semester 2010 when I was not teaching. The second is called, Political Philosophy and Revelation: A Catholic Reading, to be published in the fall by the Catholic University of America Press. In many ways, this book is the summation of my thinking about the nature, extent, and purpose of political philosophy, where it fits into the “order of things”.

Also, I put together for Jameson Books a manuscript entitled Schall at Georgetown: On Being Liberally Educated. This collection contains essays that I wrote in The Hoya, Utraque Unum, and other Georgetown journals over the years. It includes the “Last Lecture,” that was delivered last December 7 in Gaston Hall. The book is a reflective summation of what I was doing, or at least thought I was doing, during my many years at Georgetown. It reflects the memorable influence that students, colleagues, and friends have had on my thinking about what makes sense in the world.

Someone asked if I would return for Georgetown graduation in May. My answer was: “Alas, I shan’t be able to return for graduation. Missing it will break my heart, but not half as much as being there.”

Having left a place for a time, what does one miss? I definitely miss the constant exhilaration and delight that I encountered each semester in meeting and getting to know new classes of students. I also miss the comfort of students who had taken two or three or more classes, who got to know what I was about.

Likewise, I had many good and dear friends in Washington who were not part of the University. They cannot be replaced, even though I have friends and relatives out here. It is all in Aristotle.

One can get a distorted view of the country from living too long in Washington (or probably California)! Washington has its charms, no doubt. I loved to walk the streets of Georgetown and, occasionally, of the rest of the city, or across the bridge to Arlington. Much of what is wrong with the world begins or ends in Washington, though not only there. It was founded for a noble purpose, a purpose that still makes it worth living there.

I certainly miss the spring days of the City and the fall days when the leaves turn. I won’t miss the Hoyas’ basketball team being bounced out in the early rounds of the NCAA, but I will miss it if they finally prevail.

In general, my health is livable. I have coughing problems. I cannot see well or hear well. I cannot seem to gain any weight. Outside of that, I am perfect. I manage to take a good daily walk in the hills or walk down to Los Gatos. Though I “feel” like teaching all the time, I realized that teaching at Georgetown was a special experience. If I went someplace else to teach, no one would know who I was or what I was about.

At Georgetown, this issue was solved by tradition and word of mouth. This familiar “circle of student friends” meant that I always had good students who wanted to be in class and read with me what I wanted to read with them. The department of Government, with its many good men and women, always let me teach what I thought was important.

And I continually seemed to find students who were ready to listen to my ramblings and often blunt way of telling them what to read and what was important. But I only told them these things so they would finally see them for themselves. There was a kind of hidden bond with ongoing numbers of students that took years to build. Without it, teaching would not be the same.

The primary purpose of a university that does not lose its soul will always be in classrooms, or at least truth in the classroom. Specialized institutes that are more or less aside from the university may be helpful. Washington is full of them. But the main interest should be what goes on in class.

I do not look kindly on pursuing “research” before one has a liberal education to put things in place. In general “research” is overdone and “what it is all about,” I think, “under-done.” My books, Another Sort of Learning and The Life of the Mind, were about this issue. I still think it a central concern. We will never solve our human problems by “research,” only create more of them. We first have to know what we are and why we are as we are; we have to know of what is.

When one looks beyond the university, even beyond California, what does he see? Any human city will constantly reveal unjust acts, random ones, and willful ones. They reveal the relative level of virtue and vice existent in the society. But there is an ideological root to many things we see today that are not simply chance or haphazard events. There is ideological disorder in our society on a wide basis that we often do not or will not recognize.

We cannot avoid knowing, however reluctantly, of a systematic attack on the Church as such. This ever more precise attack happens in many parts of the world. We Catholics are very slow to admit and react to it, especially at home when we have voted for its cause. Pope Francis said on April 6: “To find martyrs we don’t need to go to the catacombs or to the Coliseum: today martyrs are alive in a great many countries. Christians are persecuted in a great many countries. Christians are persecuted for their faith. In some countries, they cannot carry the cross; they are penalized for doing so. Today in the 21sst Century, our Church is a church of martyrs.” Such are sober words indeed.

We have had a change of papal regime. Benedict is the greatest mind in the public order today. He is also probably the greatest mind ever to be pope, and there have been some great ones, including his predecessor John Paul II. The measure to which students and faculty do or do not read Benedict is the measure of the universality of any institution. I have argued some of this in my book, The Modern Age. I think the reasons that Benedict gave for resigning were valid, though I wished he would stay on for another decade. But he did not think that he was able to do that. Several folks have noted that my reasons for resigning were pretty much the same ones that Benedict gave—no connection implied!

It is good that we have a Latin American pope. Something like forty percent of the world’s Catholics is in Latin America. My impression of the Latino students that I had at Georgetown over the years is that they were some of the most dynamic and culturally adjusted people to faith and reason that I had ever met.

It is nice to have a pope who is also a Jesuit; provided that we remember that he is first pope, and only incidentally a Jesuit or anything else. Jesuits are not supposed to want to be popes or bishops or anything else elevated. This tradition does not mean there is anything is wrong with such offices. Rather it means other things need to be done that such offices would impede. But such hierarchical offices are of the very structure of the Church that Christ established. Jesuit vows were not designed as a critique of some mistake in Christ’s founding. Moreover, I suspect that Pope Francis, if he is tough on anybody, will be most tough on the Jesuits, as we would expect if we are men worthy of the tradition of St. Ignatius.

As many have pointed out, since Pope Francis has left no real paper trail, as previous popes have done, it difficult to read him. His interest in the poor and the humble ought not to lead us to think that he wants everyone to be poor so he can care for them, or that he wants everyone to be proud so he can be humble by comparison. He seems to be a very likable and honest man. He does not have a lot of other baggage. His desire is to serve the Lord.

The pope faces many huge problems, most of which are just below the surface. They are not only within the Church itself. In fact, I would say, for what it’s worth, that the main concern of Pope Francis’ tenure will be concerned with what can only be called persecution and legal discrimination against the Church. We are little prepared for this. In divine providence, it may take a man like Francis to deal with it.

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About James V. Schall, S.J. 180 Articles
James V. Schall, S.J. (1928-2019) taught political philosophy at Georgetown University for many years until retiring in 2012. He was the author of over thirty books and countless essays on philosophy, theology, education, morality, and other topics. His of his last books included On Islam: A Chronological Record, 2002-2018 (Ignatius Press, 2018) and The Politics of Heaven and Hell: Christian Themes from Classical, Medieval, and Modern Political Philosophy (Ignatius, 2020).