Saturday, April 7, 2018

Re: Gender Gnosticism

Fruit of Lips is Rosenstock-Huessy’s short monograph on the Gospels (Pickwick Publications, Eugene, Oregon, @1978). Like everything he wrote, the book is pregnant with insight and what could be called the simplicity of depth. There is a lot more that could be said about this “simplicity,” such as how difficult it is to achieve, how rare it is, what it is (a moral rather than intellectual condition?), how we have no “measure” or I.Q. for it, why people avoid it like the plague or misunderstand it, willfully or otherwise. But all those questions will have to wait for another time.

  I want to focus solely on what Rosenstock writes about gnosticism, for I think the implications unspool down to our very own time. He characterizes the gnosis as “speech without experience” or “speech to no purpose.” This is in sharp contrast to the language of the Gospels, which, he says, corresponds to the grammar of the Cross:

" In our modern terms, we may say that each Gospel is aware of the perfect cycle of this life from Imperativus personalis to Subjunctivus Lyricus to Narrativus Historicus to Indicativus Abstractus. But each Gospel writer was stirred up by one especially: Matthew who had experienced the violence of a a sudden order: Follow me, took his clue from the Imperativus personalis; Mark wrote for and with the prince of the apostles, took his clue from the fellowship of the twelve, a strongly lyrical note; Luke, who was Paul’s companion…wrote from Christmas on, as any narrator who has a particular time span in common with the events he narrates. And John… took his clue from Jesus’s victory over the endless cycles of ritual, of eons, of revolutions which engulfed the ancient world. He began with the progress brought on by the power of the Word, in his Indicativus Abstractus: In the beginning was the Word. ..”

Then Rosenstock uses the term beloved of spiritual scientists: initiation. He says: ”But until a man is initiated into the cross of grammar as a citizen who listens to the call of duty, as a lover who hears the soul of his life call upon his name, as the patient who sees his chance to get well, as the thinker who realizes the category of freedom for himself despite the laws which his mind thinks up for nature – not until [he] has had at least one of these four experiences, does he use speech to a reasonable purpose.”

Thus he defines the gnostics as people who began to “dabble” with the new facts brought into being by the church, by Christianity: “People tried to think the new life without being touched by it first in some form of call, listening, passion, or change of heart.” He comments that “gnosticism is all over the world today.”

What arrested my attention in particular was this: “During the last century, our last ramparts against the relapse into gnosis have been the earthly love of man and wife.” Dr. Rosenstock could not have glimpsed  the decadent hollows of our current moral and political disorder, with gender now having become the latest serpent sliding out of the shallows—comprised of “fictions, myths, repetitions, suspicions, when words have lost their meaning. We move in a vacuum.” Apparently, physical, incarnated life no longer suffices for people to have the sense of reality. It is simply tossed overboard like so much extra baggage. Truth to say—the metaphor is for a sinking ship.

These thoughts came to mind as I read the latest online issue of The American Conservative, where even a Democratic National Committee true believer is floored by how much gender madness has overtaken Democratic party politics. Correct thinking about gender has come to reign supreme, even usurping the place where the kind of work that must be done to maintain the Democratic Party as a viable political entity is to be done. The article can be read here:

Also in this same issue there is an article reporting on the firing of the local Lutheran Seminary president, Theresa Latini, just a few weeks ago. Twenty years ago Latini had worked with an organization sponsored by the Presbyterian Church, that counselled people dealing with sexual and gender issues. Apparently such mainstream views were no longer welcomed in the Lutheran Seminary, which has seen a 50% enrollment decline in a single decade. The article:

Even the editor of the extreme-left Chestnut Hill Local, which caters to one of Philadelphia’s best neighborhoods, admitted in March 22 editorial, that “We need a better way to reconcile people with their pasts.” Pete Mazzaccaro noted the irony that Christianity had been founded by Paul, one of the persecutors of the early Christians. Yet Paul had been forgiven. Why could not the so-called Christians at the Lutheran seminary figure out a way to forgive their president, Theresa Latini, for her past “mistake” i.e., working with an organization that held mainstream views about gender? New Gender Orthodoxy is unforgiving indeed!

“The grammar of the Cross”: is the signal contribution needed today. May we raise it to stand alongside the grave of civilization that we keep digging. May it stand in the hope that the honor of speech will be reborn in us before we succeed in destroying the world.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

A Champion of Logos

[This is a portion of an essay published by CJ on Rosenstock-Huessy in the June, 2016, issue of Culture Wars magazine, South Bend, Indiana. It has been lightly edited.]


“War and marriage are the two cornerstones of serious life with which we cannot experiment.”

Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy


Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy could not have foreseen the awful and ironic resonance his words would have for us today. Born July 6, 1888, in Berlin, Eugen Rosenstock grew up in an assimilated German Jewish family. (Upon his marriage to Margrit Huessy, in the Swiss custom he added her name to his.) At about age 17 he became a Christian. Of scholarly bent and with an aptitude for languages,[1] Rosenstock received his doctorate in law, and later in philosophy, and became a professor of medieval constitutional law. In the First World War he was an office in the German army. The war experience shook him to his roots and he believed that “never again can we do things the same way” again. The appearance of a new imperative in individual or social life became an important theme of his writings.  “The future is reached by imperatives,” he wrote. And in his book The Christian Future (1946), in response to William James’ 1910 call for the “moral equivalent of war,” he wrote that “When a new imperative is given and goes unheeded, the results are much worse than they were in the days before the new way into the future was proclaimed.” For James’ call went unheeded and was followed by two devastating world wars. [2]


In 1933 Rosenstock emigrated to the U.S. He had a teaching post at Harvard. It was not a successful match because Rosenstock had a way of taking God’s presence in history seriously, and Harvard didn’t know what to do with that. They stowed him away in the theology department for a while. Not long, because he found a better position at Dartmouth, where  he would sometimes ride to his classes on horseback and where he taught until his retirement in 1957. He gained a devoted following amongst his former students, some of whom have recorded and transcribed his lectures, published his works in English, or translated some from the German, and established societies and conferences for the dissemination of his ideas.


This brief biographical sketch barely suffices to introduce one of the more interesting thinkers of our time. I  had stumbled upon The Christian Future  some time ago  and used a quote from it for my book, Stewards of History.[3] There, apparently, the matter rested for some years. I don’t recall what it was that sparked my interest to find out more about this author. But I did some internet research, eventually became a member of the Rosenstock-Huessy Society and started this blog in response to his work.  


What is it about Rosenstock’s thought that inspired my interest and the devotion of so many of his former students and colleagues? The short answer is that Rosenstock’s “speech-thinking”   affirmed and renewed the Logos – the Word from the beginning. And further, he found a new home for the Logos, so to speak. It is grammar, which can become the method for a new understanding of social relations. “The fundamental classifications of grammar and the fundamental classifications of social relations coincide,” he wrote.[4]  But there were other insights, extraordinary in their simple and compelling nature. Most striking among these was his distinction between formal and informal speech – a distinction I have not read in any other commentator on language. But it seems evident that while communication exists among bees and dolphins, and indeed the language of the quantum says that intercommunication is a property of universal life and matter. But only human beings bestow proper names and possess formal speech. The informal and the casual depend upon the formal and the specified. Thus, “new speech is not created by thinkers or poets but by great and massive political calamities and upheavals.” “What a great day!” Rosenstock says, depends upon “The heavens declare the glory of God.”   And: “…we shall have a science of speech or of language as soon as we have penetrated to the hell of non-speech.”[5]


Rosenstock had high words of praise for the Catholic liturgy. While not himself Catholic, he was sometimes considered Catholic in attitude, and collaborated with Joseph Wittig, a priest and author, in the writing of his three-volume Der Alter der Kirche (The Age of the Church – not yet translated.) [6]   In writing of the liturgy, Rosenstock commented:  “It always has aroused my attention that the preface of the Christian Mass, which is one of the most perfect documents of human speech,  should begin with adjectives and, what is more, with a considerable list of adjectives. It runs: Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare, nos tibi semper et ubique gratias agere, Domine sancte... This prayer … is historical and adjectival language at its apex. … in the perfect form of one special style.” [7]


Christianity, and specifically Catholic Christianity, has historically been the vehicle of the Logos.[8]  In its classical meaning Logos means ‘word, speech, reason, proportion, intelligence, measure, means,’ etc. In the Gospel of John, Christ is the Logos: the Word became flesh. A contemporary definition of the Logos was offered by the reviewer of E. Michael Jones’s book, The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit, and published in a letter to Culture Wars: the Logos “…[is] the rational universal order, personified in Jesus Christ, incorporating the earthly political and social order that He embodied in his human nature…” [9]. I would like to offer a slightly different characterization: Logos is how we become cognizant of the realm of moral intelligence.   This moral intelligence may be seen in a threefold dimension, including the physical, [10] comprising the intelligence or laws of nature, the best practices of society which foster civilization and productivity, and the means of intercommunion or communication between the two.  In a manner of speaking this threefold description is a restatement of the Trinity: the realm of the Father being the Law, the realm of the Son being Society, and the realm of communication being the province of the Holy Spirit. Man participates in the Logos by means of language, specifically grammatical language. Semantics, meaning, symbolism, biology, genetics: all these play a role in language.  But it is actually by means of grammar that we become oriented in  space and time, society and world. [11]


How, then, does Rosenstock elaborate the Logos of grammar? He diagrams the persons of grammar (you, I, he, she, it, etc.) in what he calls the “Cross of Reality,” first adding to the spatial continuum of the Cartesian Subject-Object (inner space of self-consciousness and external objectified space)  with a temporal axis embracing Future and Past. The temporal axis has, as its future pole, the Imperative voice  (addressed to You: “You must do this!” “Sing to the goddess, O Muse, of the wrath of Achilles!”) which is the grammatical person that  demands action and creates future. At the other end of the temporal pole is the ‘We’—the narrative mode, historical remembrance, and ritual -- the community remembering, consecrating and commemorating. The spatial and temporal dimensions form the intersecting poles of the Cross.


It is thus that we are conjugated through our human experience: first as “You,” then, thanks to being spoken to, enjoying the privileges of individual self-consciousness (“I”) then as part of a larger community (“We”) and finally, as possessors of “It” – facts, experiences, discoveries, statistics. “Its” are the indicatives; they have been “indicated,” decided, and accounted for. In this manner human life represents and re-enacts this conjugal relation of grammar. Perhaps it is this idea that underlies the significance of marriage, and war, for the serious life. The fact that  today virtually everything in America has become unserious, if not unhinged, underscores the promiscuous nature of our wars and the dissolving character of our marriages.


                         Rosenstock’s Cross of Reality

Note: See also: where Mr. Gardner’s article, “Speech is our Matrix,” is reproduced and  describes the Cross of Reality in detail.



Grammatical health, Rosenstock believed, comes from being able to circulate fully among the four grammatical  poles and to do justice to each of them. In this respect America is seriously unbalanced. We certainly have no deficit of the “I”—the “selfie” pole. Nor any deficit  with “it.” Indicative, that is, scientific and factual statements,  are for the most part the only kinds of statements considered true. Where we have deficits is in the cross pole, Future and Past, Imperative and Remembrance. For example, in 2013 Patrick Smith published Time No Longer: Americans after the American Century,  which argued that we can no longer afford to indulge the idea of American exceptionalism.  It has been the ideology of incessant and ruinous wars and has fostered a spirit of national complacency regarding our politics, schools and quality of life. Has anyone noticed? Have there been any effects from this book?  Aside from a few reviews here and there, the book disappeared without a sound. But the pattern repeats itself again and again. For a nation that prides itself on progress and innovation, the United States is remarkably resistant to dynamic change. This provides an illustration for Chesterton’s quip, that to have anything sudden, you must have something eternal. It is the deficiency in history, in historical memory, that leads to a kind of hermetic stagnation – an inability to hear, to act, and to change appropriately.  Rosenstock often alluded to a kind of “presentism” in the United States:  “The power to connect more than one generation is not given in nature.  In 1702 Cotton Mather complained that America was in danger of res unius aetatis, a matter of one age, and by 1922 Chesterton thought so again. The U.S. has always had trouble living in many generations. ..” [12]


“Presentism”  may indicate a stagnation of history, a breakdown of the full circulation of the Cross of Reality. To have history, three generations are necessary. And the Christian story – death precedes birth – is the paradigm of dynamic change.  Is not an accident that the word “paradigm” is a term of grammar specifically, though it is often used as a synonym for “structure.” We must let the idea of American exceptionalism die. Then, in a mood of repentance, we can move forward. But I don’t see the possibility of that happening any time soon.


It can be beneficial to look back on the course of one’s life, noting the imperatives in particular. How often it is that it is through the sense of urgent having-to-do something, we have learned to know ourselves.  From such moments that we have spun our destiny, if we were able to wait and to suffer with the threads we hold. That waiting and suffering is important, for  Rosenstock noted that the great temptation of our time is impatience: “We seem unwilling to pay the price of living with our fellows in creative and profound relationships…To be non-committal means to keep all relations without important consequences, to rob them of their reproductive, fruit-bearing quality.” [13] What is unique in Rosenstock’s thinking is the emphasis upon fruitfulness. This concern distinguishes his approach from Western rationalism’s search for truth. It also divides him from the academics who, once they forsook truth, did not find the way to fruitfulness but instead to power, celebrity, and influence, hatching numerous academic fads along the way. .


We can only out-think and out-argue this system by finding the words that will awaken the “You” in the human heart. We must awaken conscience through living streams of words. For man alienated from commanding language becomes a beast—or worse. He becomes a heartless predator. But productivity and fruitfulness stand at the gates of  the language  of good will, the speech that has responsibility for truth and for the future. If we cannot awaken language at this level we will have no future. For “the flow of vital speech is the sign of living Christians…A Spirit of Pentecost has become our immediate political necessity.” [14]  We are buried under words today, counterfeit speech—slogans, advertising, political harangues paid for by professional agitators. Have we lost the ability to participate in genuine speech? Rosenstock’s writings provide an important source for social awakening. To be able to respond to genuine speech, to generate it and participate in it: this is our human necessity, and if we lose this, we lose our humanity.


[1] He was apparently proficient in Gothic, Latin, Greek, Lithuanian, Russian, Polish, Czech, Serbian, Celtic, Armenian, Persian, Sanskrit, Icelandic, Swedish, Danish, Dutch, French, German, English, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, and all other Indo-European languages. All Semitic languages, Hebrew, Syrian, Arabic, Egyptian. Fifteen Finno-Ugaric languages. Twenty African languages. 
[2] James made the call in the context of endorsing Voluntary Poverty. He made a startling proposal: ‘What we now need to discover in the social realm is the moral equivalent of war... May not voluntarily accepted poverty be 'the strenuous life’ without the need of crushing weaker peoples?” This imperative seems remarkably prescient in the light of subsequent events.
[3] “Jesus… proved that every end could and should be turned into a new beginning, that even absolute failure and death could be made fertile. Herewith the last frontier of the soul was conquered…Death became the carrier of life between souls.”  Harper Torchbooks, p. 66. The quote referenced my ancestor’s loss of his beloved wife, and how his active participation in the anti-slavery movement dates from this period.
[4] “How Language Establishes Relations” an essay in Speech and Reality (Argo Books, Vermont,  1970).
[5] The Origin of Speech, p. 9.
[6] Father Wittig’s stories  were considered  heretical in part and he was excommunicated in 1926. Later study of his case failed to find any objectionable material, and Pope John XXIII  once declared that, had he been Pope at the time, there would have been no “Wittig case.” In 1946 Wittig was restored to full communion with the Church. The third volume of The Age of the Church deals with the Wittig case.
[7] From “How Language Establishes Relations,” in Speech and Reality, Argo Books, Vermont, 1970.
[8] “…the Church, which in spite of everything, is still the only viable vehicle which Logos has left in this world.” From a letter to a reader from E. Michael Jones, Culture Wars, February 2016.
[9] Quoted by John Beaumont in “The Church and the Jews,” Culture Wars, March 2015.
[10] I see “moral intelligence” as including the physical dimension as its means of commission or action. But the physical dimension, in modern philosophy at least, is more often viewed reductively and lacking in any moral dimension. In classical languages, the moral and the physical are not as widely divergent as in modern speech: for example, “pneuma” meant ‘wind’ as well as ‘spirit.’
[11] There is little connection between Noam Chomsky’s “deep grammar” and Rosenstock’s “grammatical method.” While not claiming any extensive familiarity with Chomsky, even a cursory reading of the Wikipedia entry on him reveals a highly academic approach to linguistics, e.g. “The basis to Chomsky's linguistic theory is rooted in biolinguistics, holding that the principles underlying the structure of language are biologically determined in the human mind and hence genetically transmitted.”  Rosenstock’s work deals not with language as academic theory but as “question marks of political history.”  His thinking is rooted in social history and in the real life of peoples, tribes, and nations. 
[12] The Origin of Speech, 78
[13] The Christian Future, p. 19.
[14] The Christian Future, p. 4-6.