Roman Amerio's Iota Unum is a big doorstop of a book, one that covers a sprawling territory. But surprisingly, the brief section that I think best captures and communicates the difference between today's Catholic 'theology' and the perennial wisdom of the Church is the item on "The Church and Youth." Or maybe this is not surprising, since usually what we communicate to young people is a good indicator of what we truly value and find important. I think this is the case here. Can you imagine any speaker sharing any such words at one of today's World Youth Days? "My topic for today is 'Lighten Up or Grow Up?'" Ha-ha. I think not. Maybe there is some possible sort of fusion, a la inverting Dorothy Day or John Piper's idea of 'The Duty of Delight" into "The Delight of Duty"? But either way, as for Amerio, good stuff for kids and a strong reminder for adults. With a nice dose of impressive-sounding Latin.
The Church and Youth
There are other aspects of human life that the Church views differently since the council. The deminutio capiris based on age, which was imposed by Paul VI in his decree Ingravescentem aetatem, was an indirect sign of the new attitude it has adopted towards youth. The new view is directly expressed in other documents.
From ancient times down to our own, youth has been regarded by philosophy, ethics, art and common sense as a time of natural and moral imperfection, that is, incompleteness. St. Augustine goes so far as to call the desire to return to childhood stupidity and folly and writes in this sermon Ad iuvenes flos aetatis, periculum tentationis, insisting on youth’s moral immaturity. Because his reason is not yet settled and is liable to go awry a young man is cereus in cereus in vitium flecti, and in his youth needs a ruler, adviser and teacher. He needs a light to see that life has a moral goal, and practical help to mold and transform his natural inclinations in accordance with the rational order of things. All the great Catholic educators from Benedict of Nursia to Ignatius of Loyola, Joseph Calasanz, John Baptist de la Salle, and John Bosco made this idea the basis of Catholic education. The young person is a subject possessing freedom and must be trained to use his freedom in such a way that he himself chooses that one thing for the choosing of which our freedom has been given us; namely; to choose to do our duty, since religion sees no other end to life than this. The delicacy of the educator's task comes from the fact that its object is a being who is a subject, and that its goal is the perfecting of that subject. It is acting upon human freedom not in order to limit it but to make it really free. In this respect the act of educating is an imitation of divine causality which, according to Thomistic theory produces a man’s free actions even in their very freedom. The Church's attitude to youth cannot ignore the difference between the imperfect and the relatively more perfect, the ignorant and the relatively more informed. It cannot set aside the differences between things and treat young people as mature, learners as experts, lessers as greaters and (here the fundamental error returns) in the final analysis, the dependent as independent.
Character of Youth and a Critique of Life as Joy [Say what?!]
The profound Thomistic theory of potency and act assists a student of human nature in considering the nature of youth, by supporting him in seeking out the essential characteristics of that stage of life, and by stopping him being led astray by prevailing opinion.
Given that youth is the beginning of life, it is important that a view of the whole of life ahead be presented to it and that it keep that view in mind; a view of the goal in which the beginner’s potential will be realized, the form in which his powers will unfold. Life is difficult, or, if you prefer, serious. Firstly; this is because man’s nature is weak and in its finitude it collides with the finitude of other men and of the things around, all these finitudes tending to trespass on each other. Secondly it is part of the Catholic faith that man is fallen and inclined to evil. Man’s disorderly propensities mean that he is beset by opposing attractions and that his condition is one of struggle, of war, even of siege. That there is a potency within life which must be brought out means that life is not only difficult but interesting, since interest consists in having something lying within (interest). This does not mean, however, that man should realize himself in the current phrase, but rather that he should be transformed by realizing the values for which he is created and which call him to that transformation. It is curious that when post-conciliar theology so often uses the word metanoia, which means a transformation of the mind [or repentance], it should go on to put so much emphasis on the realization of the self. It is pleasant to go with one's inclination, and rough to resist one’s own ego in order to mold it. The difficulty of it is recognized in philosophy, poetic adages, politics and myths. Every good is acquired or achieved at the price of effort. The Greek sage says the gods have put sweat between us and excellence, and Horace says: multa tulit fecitque puer, sudait et alsit. lt was a commonplace of education in ancient times that human life is a combat and an effort, and the letter upsilon became a symbol of the fact, but not the upsilon with equally sloping arms, Y, but the Pythagorean one with one arm upright and the other bent, P. Antiquity also applied to life the much told tale of Hercules at the fork in the road.
Life is today unrealistically presented to young people as joy, taking joy to mean the partial sort that comforts the soul in via rather than the full joy which satisfies it only in termino. The hardness of human life, which used so often to be referred to in prayers as a vale of tears, is denied or disguised. Since the result of this change in emphasis is to depict happiness as a man's natural state and thus as something due to him, the new ideal is to prepare a path for the young man which is secura d'ogn'intoppo e d'ogni sbarro. Thus every obstacle they have to overcome is seen by young people as an injustice, and barriers are looked upon not as tests, but as a scandal. Adults have abandoned the exercise of their authority through a desire to please, since they cannot believe they will be loved unless they flatter and please their children. The prophet’s warning applies to them: Vae quae consuut pulvillos sub omni cubito manus et faciunt cervicalia sub capite universae aetatis.
All the themes of the juvenilism of the contemporary world, in which the Church shares, come together in Pope Paul’s speech to a group of hippies who had come to Rome for a peace demonstration in April 1971. The Pope sketches and enumerates with praise those “secret values” young people are searching for.
The first is spontaneity, which doesn’t strike the Pope as being at odds with searching, even though a sought spontaneity ceases to be spontaneous. Nor does spontaneity seem to him at odds with morality even though the latter involves considered intentions, superimposes itself upon spontaneity and can clash with it. The second value is “liberation from certain formal and conventional ties.” The Pope does not specify what they are. As for forms, they are the substance itself as it appears, that is as it enters the world. And as for conventions, they are what is agreed upon, that is they are consents, and are good things if they are consents to good things. The third value is “the need to be themselves.” But it is not made clear what self it is that the young person should realize and in which he should recognize his identity: there are in fact many selves in a free nature, which can be transformed into many guises. The true self does not demand that the young person realize himself any old how but that he he transformed and even become other than he is. The words of the Gospel, furthermore, will bear no gloss: abneget semetipsum. The day before, the Pope had been exhorting to metanoa. So then, is it realize yourself or transform yourself? The fourth value is an enthusiasm “to live and interpret your own times.” The Pope, however, offers the young people no interpretative key to their own times, since he does not point out that from the religious point of view, man must seek out the non-ephemeral among the ephemeral things of his own time, that is, seek out the last end that perdures through it all. Having thus developed his argument without any explicitly religious reference, Paul VI somewhat unexpectedly concludes by saying: “We think that in this interior search of yours you notice the need for God.” The Pope is here certainly speaking speculatively rather than with his authority as teacher.
The interpretation of youth the Pope gave in his speech of 3 January 1972 is even more openly at odds with the traditional one. In it he describes a “natural detachment from the past,” a “quick critical spirit” and "intuitive foresight” as positive qualities of youth. These qualities do not really fit with a true psychology of youth, and they are not positive. To detach oneself from the past is a moral, historical and religious impossibility: one need only remember that for a Christian the direction of the whole of one’s life follows from one’s baptism, which is antecedently there, and baptism depends on the family, which is antecedently there, and the family depends on the Church, which is a massive antecedent reality That young people have a critical spirit, that is, a discerning judgment, is difficult to maintain if one recognizes the element of growth there is in man’s makeup, that is, if one distinguishes between his mature and immature state and admits that at the beginning of life a person finds himself under an obligation to become what as yet he is not. Lastly, foresight is a very new discovery in the youthful psyche, which has always been seen as a tardus provisor, someone who is slow to foresee not only events in the outer world, but his own good. ln fact, temeritas est florentis, prudentia senescentis.
But this enthusiasm for Hebe [the goddess of youth] drives the Pope to declare that “young people are the prophetic vanguard of the joint cause of justice and peace,” because “first and foremost they have a greater sense of justice than others,” and “adults are on their side,” obviously as reserves while the young are the front line troops. It is not difficult to detect in Pope Paul's speech a peculiar reversal of roles, by which those who ought to follow are followed and the immature are made examples for the mature. Attributing an innate sense of justice to youth finds no support in any Catholic interpretation of life. It would seem that the Pope was carried away by an enthusiasm contracted from the youthful energy around about and lapsed into a sort of doxology of youth. This same lapse into youthful enthusiasm made him on another occasion change the letter of Scripture to read "young people” instead of “children” in support of his assertion that “it was young people who recognized the divinity of Christ."
To prove that this cult of Hebe is not confined to the papacy but spread through every level of the Church, l will not cite the almost infinite writings of priests and laymen, but a document produced by the Swiss episcopal conference for the national day in 1969. It says that “youthful protest advances the values of authenticity, availability, respect for man, impatience with mediocrity and the denunciation of oppression, values which on closer inspection harmonize with the Gospel.” It is easy to see the Swiss bishops are rather vague in their logic. Authenticity, in the Catholic sense, does not consist in putting oneself forward as one naturally is, but in becoming what one ought to be, that is it consists ultimately in humility. Availability is in itself neutral and becomes good only through the good for which a man makes himself available. Respect for man would exclude despising the human past and repudiating the historical Church. lmpatience with mediocrity, besides being vague, (mediocrity in what?) is opposed to the wisdom of the ancients, at odds with the virtue of being content with what is available, and incompatible with poverty of spirit.
That we are “in the presence of new human and religious goals” is a statement that privileges the new simply because it is new and forgets that there is no new creation apart from the one re-founded in the God-Man, and there are no goals other than the ones He prescribed. When the bishops go on to point to young people “as a sign of the times and as the voice of God himself” to the whole of contemporary Christendom, their choice of words is absurd because of its undue adulation; even more absurd than saying vox populi vox Dei, because it makes the largely unreflective voice of youth an organ of the divine will and almost a text of divine revelation. To praise the fact “that young people want to be protagonists” clashes with the Catholic principle of humility and with obedience, since the Church does not belong solely to the young and everyone cannot have first place: this protagonism fails to recognize the role of other people, to recognize their rights is part of both religion and justice.
In concluding this analysis of the new attitude the world and the Church have towards youth, we note that here too there has been a semantic shift, and that the words paternal and paternalistic have become terms of disapproval, as if a father’s education, precisely as a father, were not a commendable use of his wisdom and love, and as if the whole method of instruction were not paternal. But then, anyone can see that in a system in which worth is judged in terms of self-expression and a refusal to imitate anything, the first thing to be rejected will be paternal dependence. Setting aside the claims made by some people, whether clergy or laity, the truth is that youth is a time of potential and incompleteness that cannot be held up as an ideal state or taken as a model. ln fact youth is much directed towards the future and its hopes, which can only be realized as youth vanishes and is lost. The myth of Hebe turns into the myth of Psyche. If youth moreover is divinized, the young are driven to pessimism by being made to want a perpetual youth they cannot have. Youth is directed towards non-youth, and maturity must be modeled not upon it, but upon an achieved wisdom. No stage of life has another stage of its own, or anybody else’s life, as the model for its own development. The model for any stage is provided by the deontological, or duty orientated nature of man, which must be grasped and lived out at every stage of life, irrespective of age. Here too a dizzy spirit has turned the dependent towards independence and the insufficient towards self-sufficiency. [emphasis added]