The National Catholic Review

When I was a senior undergraduate writing my thesis on that fin-de-siècle Catholic fiction writer of eccentric genius, Frederick William Austin Lewis Serafino Mary Rolfe (more commonly known by his self-created moniker, Baron Corvo), I was particularly drawn to the final work of his autobiographical tetralogy: The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole. I liked his ingenious blend of personal narrative, Plato and the quest for integration. It all made sense, though it stood in stark contrast to the ravaged remnants of his own pathos-inducing life.

So I was naturally drawn to the title of John Haughey’s recent collection of essays by diverse hands; and, although there is nothing especially Corvinist about the contents, they do not disappoint in the least.

And they are interesting. That matters. Not infrequently essays that explore the complex but fascinating intersection of faith and reason, the role of the academy and the role of the church can be tired exercises in apologetics or fiery examples of polemical conviction, but fail to engage the impartial reader in a broader and more meaningful analysis. In Search of the Whole successfully avoids these pitfalls.

Editor Haughey knows in his bones that “subjectivity, consciousness, interiority—whatever you want to call it—tends to be all over the place most of the time in most of us. But it is also always questing,” and as a consequence of this self-evident truth he wants to harness the wild stallions of our imagination and rational searching to a common end.

Theologians and philosophers from a variety of locations come together in this volume to make sense of the world about them, to find meaning in their scholarly endeavours, to reflect deeply on the values that inform their judgements and shape their decisions, to break out of the narrow and constricted confines of their disciplines and professions. And they do this in part by integrating and not by rejecting the personal voice. That can be tricky; they could be held hostage to the priority of the self-disclosure, the private epiphany, if they are unaccustomed to the risks of autobiographical writing. Fortunately, they manage as writers to navigate safely the occasionally treacherous seas of the “I.”

Clerics and laypersons, women and men, scientists and humanists combine to make of this volume a genuinely catholic and potent mix of scholarship and individual witness. Haughey divides his collection into two sections—each consisting of six chapters—with both a preface and epilogue to ensure editorial as well as intellectual symmetry.

In “Part One: Whole as Task,” we have the following: Patrick Byrne, a philosopher at Boston College, argues for a synthesis of insight and narrative drawn from his expertise in physics and philosophy; Cynthia Crysdale, a theologian at the University of the South, deploys determinative details of her personal history in her treatment of the transformative dimension of Catholic higher education; the Marquette University theologian and dean of professional studies Robert J. Deahl explores the compelling features of an emergent Catholicity; in an especially interesting application of a global ethics perspective, the theologian William P. George, of Dominican University in River Forest, Ill., learns to love the Law of the Sea.

In his contribution, Richard M. Liddy, director of the Center of Catholic Studies at Seton Hall University in South Orange, N.J., demonstrates the elasticity of the Catholic intellectual tradition as it reconfigures itself in the light of historical consciousness and pastoral immediacy; and the ethicist J. Michael Stebbins, president of inVia, outlines the practicality and wisdom attached to “doing business well...intelligently, responsibly, with a view to serving the greater good because that is how God intends us to live, and because that way of living ultimately leads to happiness.”

“Part Two: Whole as Identity” begins with a piece by the distinguished Indian Jesuit Michael Amaladoss, who skillfully weaves a narrative with rich interreligious and personal resonance and affirms in his conclusion that “God, religions, and spirituality will and should continue to bring people together; the theologian and pharmacologist Ilia Delio, O.S.F., neatly weds a Bonaventuran with a Teilhardian cosmological and Christological perspective to create her own “big bang”; the philosopher-geophysicist Patrick A. Heelan, S.J., paints a wondrous canvas incorporating such disparate components as Van Gogh, quantum physics and Dublin.

The philosopher and long-serving Vassar professor, Michael McCarthy, now retired, succinctly and cogently argues his case for a Catholic Christianity that bears an extraordinary likeness to fellow philosopher Charles Taylor’s own view of a renewed conciliar Catholicism; the University of Melbourne’s Peter Steele, S.J., provides the best concluding sentence of the entire volume that “perhaps, in the affairs of the spirit, the role of sounds is to give shape to the silences.” The actual final contribution by Cristina Vanin, an ethicist at St. Jerome’s University, in Waterloo, Ontario, “Attaining Harmony with the Earth,” sketches the cosmic vision of Thomas Berry with a moving moral poignancy.

Although the authors craft their arguments aware of the personal voice and the discourse of their respective disciplines, they draw upon a shared lexicon of terms that originate with the presiding genius of their investigations: Bernard Lonergan, S.J. And so we have several terms, like horizon, heuristic and insight, that are deployed frequently throughout In Search of the Whole and that reflect the epistemological and methodological priorities of that foundational thinker from Quebec. Lonergan’s presence is ubiquitous but not oppressive, defining but not a straightjacket, and his breadth of understanding and his ecclesial wisdom liberate the writers to explore more deeply the reasons behind their quest for the whole.

Dean Deahl characterizes the project nicely when he observes that on the heath Lear asks Gloucester, “How do you see the world?” And Gloucester, who is blind, answers, “I see it feelingly.” Our Catholic liberal arts tradition helps us to see the future feelingly and can fire and inspire our moral imagination in ways that lead us out of the confines of a world too narrow, too immediate, too literal, too restricted, and into something more.

It is that “something more” that this volume reminds us of—a spur to those intimations, those yearnings, that make us whole.

Michael W. Higgins is vice president for mission and identity at Sacred Heart University, Fairfield, Conn.