A Way Into Scholasticism: A Companion to St. Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey into God by Peter S. Dillard

It is my pleasure to post the following book promotion for my very good friend and colleague, Peter S. Dillard. Below is Peter’s brief academic biography and a short summary (originally posted here) of his recently published book on St. Bonaventure. You may purchase the book from the Wipf & Stock website or from Amazon.com.

Academic Biography

Peter S. Dillard received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania. He is the author of Heidegger and Philosophical Atheology: A Neo-Scholastic Critique (Continuum: 2008) and The Truth about Mary: A Theological and Philosophical Evaluation of the Proposed Fifth Marian Dogma (Wif & Stock: 2009), as well as articles in philosophy and theology. Currently he is working on a book about the Christian Platonism of Hugh of St. Victor.

Brief Book Summary

St. Bonaventure of Bagnoregio’s The Soul’s Journey into God is a masterpiece of thirteenth-century Scholasticism. Unfortunately no comprehensive analysis of Bonaventure’s seminal treatise exists that is accessible to contemporary audiences. Reinvigorating the medieval tradition of critical commentary for the twenty-first century, Peter Dillard’s, A Way into Scholasticism: A Companion to St. Bonaventure’s The Soul’s Journey into God, introduces readers to basic Scholastic concepts and arguments by expounding and evaluating Bonaventure’s speculative system. Dillard also highlights the relevance of Bonaventure’s thought for contemporary philosophical theology. The book will appeal to a wide audience including seminarians, clergy, brothers and sisters of religious orders, students at the advanced undergraduate or graduate levels, professional scholars, and anyone seeking a better understanding of the Scholastic intellectual tradition.

The Anticipatory Corpse: Medicine, Power, and the Care of the Dying by Jeffrey P. Bishop

Is it possible that death in some significant way constitutes the core, the very heart of contemporary medicine? Jeffrey P. Bishop argues in his recent book, The Anticipatory Corpse: Medicine, Power, and the Care of the Dying, that such is not only possible but is in fact the case. As both a physician and a philosopher, Bishop offers not only a philosophical analysis of how we have come to view death and the body, but he also unmasks—as an insider to the world of medicine—the violence present in contemporary medical practices.

In chapters one and two, Bishop elaborates the historical and philosophical basis of his critique of medicine. In chapter one, “Birthing the Clinic,” Bishop presents Foucault’s analysis of how in contemporary medicine the dead body becomes epistemologically normative. The new epistemology of death coupled with a metaphysics shorn of final and formal causes provides an ideal framework for viewing the “living body as a machine, as dead matter in motion” (60). In chapter two, Bishop shows how medicine and the state are intimately connected. As we move into the 19th century, the state is more and more focused upon protecting public health.  Once the categories of “normal” and “pathological” are taken up in various knowledge-networks (e.g. psychology), the role of medicine in the state is sealed. Chapters three through seven then deal more concretely with how this new logic plays itself out in contemporary practices concerning end of life care. In these chapters, we find such topics as physician-assisted death, how brain death has been redefined, the “real story” about organ transplantation, and debates over how to care for patients in a persistent vegetative state. In the final chapter, Bishop offers an alternative epistemology—an epistemology of life wherein theology plays a central, saving role. Here Bishop takes Foucault’s call to imagine ourselves otherwise quite seriously. Rather than viewing the body as dead matter in motion, perhaps we should not so quickly write off the religious communities whose narratives and traditions are “informed by a different understanding of space and time, where location and story provide meaningful contexts to offer once again hospitality to the dying as both cura corporis and cura animae” (313).

Medicine is one of the most important and powerful institutions in the contemporary West. Yet, The Anticipatory Corpse is not only a book about medicine. Rather, medicine serves as an occasion for Bishop to examine the metaphysical and epistemological assumptions that animate much of modern Western technoscience, and thus much of Western culture. The book’s interdisciplinary nature, along with its careful analyses combined with concrete stories of real human struggles with death and dying , no doubt, will be of interest to those engaged in medicine, bioethics, philosophy, theology, and debates concerning public health policies; but all those interested in the place of the body in modern technoscientific culture will find it engaging and cogent.

Look, a White! Philosophical Essays on Whiteness by Professor George Yancy

Look a WhiteFor those interested in critical race theory and “whiteness” studies in particular, Professor George Yancy’s new book, Look, a White! Philosophical Essays on Whiteness, is a valuable resource.  Dr. Yancy is an associate professor of philosophy at Duquesne University. He is a well-known scholar in critical race theory and has written, edited, and taught on the subject of race for several years. As his institutional website notes, Dr. Yancy “is particularly interested in the formation of African-American philosophical thought as articulated within the social context and historical space of anti-Black racism, African-American agency, and identity formation. His current philosophical project explores the theme of racial embodiment, particularly in terms of how white bodies live their whiteness unreflectively vis-à-vis the interpellation and deformation not only of the black body, but the white body, the philosophical identity formation of whites, and questions of white privilege and power formation. He is also interested in the intersection between philosophy and biography, and how this intersection implicates normative issues at the level of praxis.”  Not only is Dr. Yancy an excellent scholar whose passion for justice and desire to allow marginalized voices speak is abundantly evident (just check out his CV), but he is a kind, approachable, and generous person.

The following summary of Professor Yancy’s new book is taken from the Temple University Press website:

Look, a White! returns the problem of whiteness to white people. Prompted by Eric Holder’s charge, that as Americans, we are cowards when it comes to discussing the issue of race, noted philosopher George Yancy’s essays map out a structure of whiteness.

He considers whiteness within the context of racial embodiment, film, pedagogy, colonialism, its “danger,” and its position within the work of specific writers. Identifying the embedded and opaque ways white power and privilege operate, Yancy argues that the Black countergaze can function as a “gift” to whites in terms of seeing their own whiteness more effectively.

Throughout Look, a White! Yancy pays special attention to the impact of whiteness on individuals, as well as on how the structures of whiteness limit the capacity of social actors to completely untangle the way whiteness operates, thus preventing the erasure of racism in social life.

Dr. Yancy’s book is available for purchase at Amazon.com. I encourage you to order your copy now!


Part I: Begbie on Re-Sounding God’s Truth in the World of Music

I recently read yet another excellent book by Jeremy S. Begbie, Resounding Truth:  Christian Wisdom in the World of Music.  Once again Begbie brings music into conversation with theology-a conversation that continues to yield fresh insights.  One of the goals of Begbie’s book is to explore how Christians might “re-sound” God’s truth in the world of music, as well as to help us “re-think” our own pre-conceived views of music. The book as a whole is divided into three parts.  Part one provides an overview of the way music is practiced in Western culture and attempts to clarify the meaning of the term, “music.” In this section of the book, Begbie considers the ways that marketing and selling shape how we understand and practice music and how innovations in sound technology have distanced music from its “physical roots” (56)-topics particularly relevant to contemporary discussions in the sociology of music.  Likewise, Begbie argues against the trend to focus exclusively on (static) works-an approach that has characterized musicology in the West.  Instead, “it is best to think of music primarily as an art of actions,” the two chief actions being music making and music hearing, both of which are “socially and culturally embedded” (57).  Yet, Begbie also stresses that “music is embedded in a sonic order-it involves the integrity of the materials that produce sound and of sound waves, the integrities of the human body, and the integrity of time” (57).  In other words, though he gives full weight to the constructive and culturally conditioned aspects of music, Begbie likewise wants to do justice to the givens of music, or as he puts it, to “music’s embeddedness in a cosmos created out of the inexhaustible abundance of the Triune god” (58).

In part two, Begbie examines how music was understood and practiced by representatives of the “Great Tradition” (e.g., Pythagoras, Plato, Augustine, and Boethius), selected Reformation thinkers (Luther, Calvin, and Zwingli), and three modern Protestant theologians (Schleiermacher, Barth, and Bonhoeffer).  The final chapter of part two concentrates on the lives of two contemporary Roman Catholic “theological musicians,” Olivier Messiaen (1908-92) and James MacMillan (1959-). Begbie’s analyses of these two musicians are particularly helpful, as his explications and musical examples enable us to see how bringing music into dialogue with theology opens up “new spaces” for re-sounding God’s inexhaustible truth in a polyphonic mode.

Turning first to Messiaen, Begbie focuses on his treatment of time and eternity.  In contrast with the harmonic structures that characterize and dominate traditional Western music, structures that constantly move from tension to resolution and create a “dynamic of desire,” Messiaen’s music is permeated with harmonic sequences that remain unresolved for several passages (e.g., a long series of dominant seventh chords which fail to reach an expected tonic chord).  In combination with his atypical harmonic choices, Messiaen also employs innovative rhythmic techniques in order to create a musical impression of eternity.  For example, by using nonretrogradable rhythms, that is, “rhythms that sound or play the same backward as they do forward,” Messiaen’s music has a circular feel rather than a sense of linear, forward movement (however paradoxical that may seem in light of the temporal nature of music).  As Begbie explains, “[j]ust because they do not sound different when reversed, they present a kind of fusion of past, present, and future in which beginning and end fold into each other” (170).  Of course, Messiaen’s music does not completely lack traditional harmonic and rhythmic elements; however, when joined with his non-standard harmonic and rhythmic practices, a mysterious, bewitching effect is produced, which he believed particularly fitting for “embodying the truths of the Catholic faith and above all the truths of eternity” (170).   Though at times, Messiaen appears to overemphasize eternity to the detriment of created time, Begbie provides several examples to assuage such concerns.  For instance, Begbie highlights Messiaen’s view that our future life with God will not be a static existence but will involve movement of some sort.  In other words, when temporal creatures, as it were, enter into eternity, this should not be understood as “time’s destruction and the end of all movement and dynamism but the fulfillment of time, a kind of time in which past, present, and future can no longer be separated” (174).   Here Begbie distinguishes between temporality characterized by “transience and decay” and a more positive sense of dynamic, eternal existence-the latter set in sharp contrast with any idea of eternity as “nothing but pure stillness” (174).

Turning next to MacMillan, we find a composer, who unlike Messiaen, does not sense the need to abandon or subvert the traditional tension/resolution harmonic patterns of Western tonal music.  Instead, for MacMillan, such techniques “are a compelling means of keeping a composer in touch with a world that, though created good, has been so severely marred and disfigured” (176).  Conflict and struggle characterize MacMillan’s music, as his theological vision takes seriously the harsh realities and injustices so prevalent in the world.  A severe critic of the “modernist myth of progress,” MacMillan embraces extremes and is not afraid to give expression in his music to the messiness of embodied existence (178).  Rather than reproduce the saccharine sentimentality present in much Christian music today, MacMillan’s “pieces frequently display the dialectics and juxtaposition of extreme violence and extreme tranquility, the confrontation of dissonance and consonance” (179).  As Begbie notes, what seems to motivate MacMillan’s opposition to “monodimensional” (music lacking the conflict and struggle of reality) and overly sentimental expressions of music, is his embrace of our embodied existence and specifically, Jesus’s “flesh-involved engagement with the world in its fallenness” (180).  In other words, MacMillan is not driven by a nostalgic conservative impulse to return to a perceived Golden Age of music; rather, his desire to continue and expand the tension/resolution patterns of the Western tradition comes from his deep ties to the Christian narrative-a narrative whose center involves the crucifixion and resurrection of a God made flesh.  In short, although both Messiaen and MacMillan are committed to the same Christian story, each has a different “center of gravity.”   “[F]or MacMillan it is God’s cross-shaped involvement with this world of time, for Messiaen it is the joyful eternity that the timeless God has promised and secured for us” (180).