Editor’s note: I have been reading Rev. Schall since I discovered his works about 5 years ago. The good priest died at the age of 91 years of age on April 17 of this year, the following is an excerpt from his last essay, published by the Russell Kirk Center. I have included a typical eulogy for a priest that the Reverend Alban Butler, author of Butler’s Lives of the Saints, included at the end of his many, many hagiographies. It is fitting for so dedicated a servant of God as the Reverend Schall was, requiescat in pace. – Mike Church, Editor
“[Samuel] Johnson was particularly adept at keeping the man of many talents humble. Essay 75 of Tuesday, December 4, 1751, begins: “Sir: The diligence with which you endeavor to cultivate the knowledge of nature, manners, and life will perhaps incline you to pay some regard to the observations of one who has been taught to know mankind by unwelcome information and whose opinions are the result not of solitary conjectures but of practice and experience.”
We more commonly prefer to know our fellow man by his virtues and the deeds that proceed from it. Yet, quite clearly, we can also “know mankind” by “unwelcome information” about the character of what we see that they do. Whether we like it or not, the downside of human existence cannot be ignored. Johnson is careful to distinguish himself from guesswork. He bases himself on experience and practice. Men do these things. It is folly to deny it.
This means that, to have a full picture of man, we must account for the “unwelcome information” that our practical living brings forth about how men live. Johnson does not intend to be morbid here. Facts, including moral facts, need to be known and dealt with.
Johnson has already touched on the Augustinian view of original sin. He notes that the goods of the world are not evenly distributed. He also notes that publicly manifested prosperity might well hide a deeper sorrow than we at first could imagine. He advises us to keep our own judgment even when our famous teachers beckon us to follow them. The experience and practice that we garner from our own experience will make us “guests” and not just solitary speculators with no handle on what mankind really does to itself.” – The Reverend James V. Schall, Unwelcome Information
From The Rev. Butler’s Lives of The Saints, Saint William – Confessor, January 10.
If we look into the lives of all the saints, we shall find that it was by a spirit and gift of prayer that the Holy Ghost formed in their hearts the most perfect sentiments of all virtues. It is this which enlightens the understanding, and infuses a spiritual knowledge, and a heavenly wisdom, which is incomparably more excellent than that in which philosophers pride themselves. The same purifies the affections, sanctifies the soul, adorns it with virtues, and enriches it with every gift of heaven. Christ, who is the eternal wisdom, came down among us on earth to teach us more perfectly this heavenly language, and he alone is our master in it. He vouchsafed also to be our model. In the first moment in which his holy soul began to exist, it exerted all its powers in contemplating and adoring the Divine Trinity, and employed his affections in the most ardent acts of praise, love, thanksgiving, oblation, and the like. His whole mortal life was an uninterrupted prayer; more freely to apply himself to this exercise, and to set us an example, he often retired into mountains and deserts, and spent whole nights in prayer; and to this employment he consecrated his last breath upon the cross. By him the saints were inspired to conceive an infinite esteem for holy prayer, and such a wonderful assiduity and ardour in this exercise, that many renounced altogether the commerce of men for that of God, and his angels; and the rest learned the art of conversing secretly with heaven even amidst their exterior employments, which they only undertook for God. Holy pastors have always made retirement and a life of prayer their apprenticeship or preparation for the ministry, and afterwards, amidst its functions were still men of prayer in them, having God always present to their mind, and setting apart intervals in the day, and a considerable part of the nights, to apply themselves with their whole attention to this exercise, in the silence of all creatures.