Friday, August 28, 2009

Even broken signs can point the right way #2

-Herbert McCabe OP, God Matters, 1987

McCabe was an interesting man, though highly flawed, it would seem. Fr John Orme Mills OP wrote a very balanced yet affectionate obituary. I heard him preach when I was a student and was impressed. At base there did seem to be a great love of Our Lord and an attempt to be faithful to his vows. His love and knowledge of the work of Aquinas was great. Yet he cloaked it with an almost wilful rebellion. The Marxism stuff was tiresome and anachronistic, given that the very people who had lived under Marxist regimes were just about to throw off that particular yoke. The Irish Republican stuff was even more of a pose given that he was a Mancunian - something of a plastic paddy - a breed who tend to be more Oirish than the Irish.

I once read or heard something about an incident whereby he responded with, ahem, unliturgical language when Fr Aidan Nichols OP (then a deacon) sought his blessing as celebrant (as per the rubrics) before the reading of the gospel. I can't find the anecdote anywhere and perhaps I shouldn't look as it puts him in a poor light. Does anyone know if it is true?

I'd be interested to know the thoughts of any caller here on Fr McCabe.

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Blogger Mark said...

I had a couple of tutorials with Fr McCabe when I was a postgraduate student. He seemed a very generous and gentle man (though I know some people felt he could be a bit of an intellectual bully), and he showed me nothing but kindness.

Some of his political views (his support for more extreme manifestations of Irish Republicanism, his view that it might be acceptable to kill people in the name of a Marxist revolution) were profoundly objectionable and morally indefensible, yet he admired Aquinas, Chesterton and PG Wodehouse - none of whom is an obvious hero for a pro-IRA Marxist.

To his credit, he defended the philosophical basis of Transubstantiation in the journal "New Blackfriars" at a time when most other prominent Catholic theologians and philosophers either rejected it or else were avoiding the subject altogether.

10:14 AM  
Blogger CGE said...

McCabe was one of the important 20th c. RC theologians, and it would be a mistake to dismiss his political reflections. From LAW, LOVE AND LANGUAGE (1968) to his posthumous THE GOOD LIFE, his concern was ethics, informed by Thomas, Marx, and Wittgenstein. That meant politics -- see e.g. the article "Christian Love and Class Struggle." The recent (and important) book by the critic Terry Eagleton, REASON, FAITH, AND REVOLUTION: REFLECTIONS ON THE GOD DEBATE (from lectures at Yale) is suffused with McCabe's thought. Go read whatever you can find of Herbert's.

1:51 PM  
Blogger Paulinus said...

That he is an insightful and influential theologian (perhaps one of the best and brightest of the latter half of the 20c in the Anglosphere) is beyond doubt (the Dominicans don't give out the title Master of Sacred Theology without good reason).

The question is whether the rebellious side to him, the pro-IRA stuff, the Marxism, tarnishes his influence in any way. I admire him for staying in the Church when others left.

As for Terry Eagleton, he's a Guardianista pet academic these days. A bit of a busted flush.

6:57 PM  

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