Saturday, August 29, 2009

Classes Begin: Yeshiva University & John Paul II Institute

In some ways these two institutions of higher learning: Yeshiva University & John Paul II Institute couldn't be more different. An Orthodox Jewish university and an institute dedicated to the study and evangelization of the ideas and writings of Pope John Paul II. The institute describes it this way:

A longtime philosopher-friend of Karol Wojtyla once said that Wojtyla had always been occupied with understanding the human person in terms of love. The mission of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute, in a profound sense, begins here, in this abiding conviction of the Holy Father that love reveals the meaning of the person and, through the person, of all 'flesh'—the whole of creation.

However, they are two organizations that I am interested in and whose classes I often feel I would enjoy taking.

On Thursday, August 27 Rav Michael Rosensweig's Talmud shiur for this school year began. It will be covering the third chapter of Bava Basra, which primarily covers what is called, chazakah. This term covers the issue of disputed ownership regarding both articles or land. As I began listening to this first shiur this morning I was really excited because, as anyone who has read this blog knows, I greatly admire Rav Rosensweig. And beginning something new is always a great joy.

What is interesting is that I also received some information about a class at the John Paul II Institute in which I was interested. It is called "Truth & Freedom in Benedict and Balthasar" -- that is of course: Pope Benedict XVI and Hans Urs von Balthasar. I had seen the book list for the class and since I owned most of the works and they were works that I would love to dive into more deeply, I am very happy to receive the syllabus. It describes the course this way:

This course begins with an exploration of the root presuppositions and theological implications of contemporary "currents of thought which end by detaching human freedom from its essential and constitutive relationship to truth" (Veritatis Splendor, 4). Drawing on the writings of Joseph Ratzinger and Hans Urs von Balthasar, this course will argue that an adequate response to the "crisis in the history of freedom" requires (i.) a renewed understanding of the ontological roots of freedom in light of the transcendental properties of being, (ii.) an account of the unity of theology and anthropology within the Person of Jesus Christ; and (iii.) a reflection on the unity of truth and freedom within the Trinity.

So, I have a dilemma. Which class do I try to follow and keep up with? I can't honestly do both. The Rav Rosensweig shiur is at least 4.5 hours of MP3s (3 x 1.5 hours) of very involved, Hebrew-rich lectures every week covering vast parts of the Talmud. While the Benedict & Balthasar class covers a number of quite complex writings of both men, though sadly no MP3s.

As I was saying to my wife this afternoon, though I love to listen to Rav Rosensweig, I often am just letting the words flow over me, since I cannot understand very much of the Hebrew AND of course, no matter how much I admire the tradition, I am not Jewish and have no plans on converting.

On the other hand, there is the Benedict & Balthasar course. Over the years I have read 4 out of the 7 books already (though not necessarily understanding or integrating everything I read) and it is ALL IN ENGLISH, and it is the tradition I have been raised in. While I certainly have some conflicts with certain teachings of the Church (I do as well of course with Orthodox Judaism), I am feeling like it is a moment in my life (50 years old with much time on my hands), that taking the time to "surrender" to the depths of my tradition and to two thinkers whose work I greatly admire (I remember when I first read Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's work, who at my rather liberal graduate school and church where I worked was seen as the Enforcer, etc., how much I enjoyed and respected his style and message).

Therefore, as I write this post, it is clear to me that I will commit myself to the Benedict & Balthasar course and see where such a commitment leads.

I will keep you posted.

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