R.R. Reno, Essayist

Russ Reno, the Senior Editor at First Things, a clear Roman Catholic and catholic voice, opines regularly in the pages of the magazine and its online site. Someone had the good idea of gathering up a few of Reno’s pieces into a little book called Fighting the Noonday Devil – and Other Essays Personal and Theological. He’s an intellectual essayist, never hitting ground for too long at a time, which made his essay on his conversion into the Catholic Church, after he had announced in another book that he was staying put in spite of the liberalism of his Anglican Communion, a little difficult to read for this blogger’s routine reading of conversion stories (see Finding Faith, Losing Faith: Stories of Conversion and Apostasy).

But his essay on the intellectual life was a treat, among which I found his contention that university professors are not so much against truth (while chasing progressivism and political correctness with utter certitude) quite on the mark. It led him to this scintillating observation:

The crisis of reason in the West has more to do with the fragmentation or diminishment of truth than its outright rejection. We do not so much deny truth as retreat from what Benedict [XVI] calls its ‘grandeur.'”…

Expertise with facts, we assume, is quite separate from competence in virtues. In this way, reason has not been denied: it has been demoralized. Our universities are less hotbeds of relativism and nihilism than places were moral and spiritual questions go unasked and unanswered.

He is an advocate for docilitas, the classical virtue of having the capacity to be led by the “competent teachers of our tradition.” In this, Reno is right, and his piece would be even more convincing had he dug deeper for he would have found the same in the great biblical tradition of wisdom, beginning with Proverbs 1:3-4 where receptivity to wisdom is tied both to God and to the wise who have gone before us. It undergirds all he has to say about the tradition.

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  • JMB

    “Docilitas” is the term John Calvin used to describe his conversion when recounting it in the preface to his commentary on the Psalms. For Calvin it was a gift from God, a kind of “teachableness,” although perhaps more in immediate relation to the Holy Spirit than Reno describes.