Michael Novak's Faith and Sense

By Juraj Kohutiar

Originally published on February 2, 2018 on Dennik Postoj (Slovakian Website)

On Saturday will be the year since the death of the American Catholic philosopher of Slovak origin, Michael Novak.

The memorial prayer cards given at his funeral had an unusual design: alongside the silhouette of the crucifix, they were dominated by the archery drawing, which focuses on the shot with the taut.

The author of the drawing is Karen Laub Novak, the artist and Michael's beloved wife. Michael liked to explain that the inspiration of this portrayal stems from Aristotle'sNikomach's ethics and is related to the achievement of practical wisdom. This can be gained by a long experience associated with a purposeful intellectual effort.

The shooter gains experience with thousands of shots that he evaluates and learns to correctly judge and match a large number of parameters: bow and tee strength, bow stretching force, gravity, wind, distance and goal movement, smoothness and arrowhear operation, and more. There are a number of ways to break the shot, and little to exactly hit the target.

It was Aristotle's time to hit the bull's right eye. Target intervention can be a metaphor for successful completion of every major human activity, but also a whole human life project.

The life and work of the caliber of Michael Novak, philosopher, Catholic theologian, professor, diplomat, book writer, adviser to US presidents, can hardly be fairly embedded in one article. I only limit myself to a few of us with less known hints about his perception and the survival of faith. Faith in God was the axis and the binders of almost all his actions, but also the virtue he cultivated in connection with knowledge, like Aristotle the archer cultivated his mastery.

Second Vatican Council period

Little Michael has been more faithful to his mother than his mother, and he has gained more critical thinking from his father. A deep religious impression was left to him by an old father who sat daily in the kitchen under the picture of Jesus in the Garden of Getseman and intensely prayed the Slovakian rosary. Michael, in the eighth grade, decided to become a priest. He studied at the American Stonehill College and the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, but right before the end of his studies, he concluded that the priesthood was not his profession, but the writing of books. Later authorship of more than forty-two books of diverse focus shows that it was not an excuse.

Michael loved Rome and his artistic wife Karen, whom he married at the time of the Second Vatican Council. Both of them enthusiastically accepted the opportunity to go to the Eternal City, where Michael worked as a correspondent on the conciliaries.

The whole (not only) Catholic world watched with interest the struggle between progressives and conservatives, also with a peculiar touch of traditionalists or fears. Michael had the advantage over other correspondents that the representatives of the two streams were still his professors.

The sympathy of Michael Novak, a thirty-year-old, was on the progressive side. In the book The Open Church, 1964, the "conservative and abstract" conservative theology called "non-historical orthodoxy," which touched upon their too narrow understanding of the tradition of the Trident Council and the following centuries. George Weigel writes about this same period as a time of "anti-reformist Catholicism," when some healthy elements of spiritual life were suppressed in a strong reaction against Protestantism. Progressors at the conciliaries, according to Michael, sought to return to the beginning, applying slow evolutionary steps to find answers to the questions of the New Age, and therefore in that sense were true traditionalists.

After the end, the space of "non-historical orthodoxy" in the American Church took on another type of progressive who, with enthusiasm for everything new, made tremendous damage. Michael Novak was increasingly getting into situations where he had to react more and more negatively to a large part of the "progressives", not understanding the conservative dimension of the council.At the end of his life, he said to them: "Today's progressive I can not understand that Bishop Karol Wojtyl or priest-theologian Jozef Ratzinger belonged among the deepest and most influential progressives in the counties."

In this sense, Michael has gained some recognition for the "side of fear" at the conciliaries, because, as time has shown, was predictable. Some of his courts were shamed back. Nevertheless, the council and its conclusions considered the work of the Holy Spirit.

Let's add that the period after the end of the council is overlapping with changes in the American and Western societies that are not related to the Council. Since the mid-sixties of the 20th century, US student, riotous, hippies, drug and sexual revolution have begun in the US. The modern world has begun to move into the postmodern world.

Michael Novak the intention of Pope John XXIII. to open the windows of the Church to the modern world, compared to opening the train windows "just as the train entered the tunnel full of toxic gases." At this time, Michael addressed an honest analysis of basic philosophical questions in Belief and Unbelief (1965) and later Experience of Nothingness (1970) in a religiously indifferent and increasingly nihilistic academic environment.

Contribution to Catholic Social Science

The American Catholic Church has been adversely affected by the historical, but inadequate, proximity to the Democratic Party. This is particularly true after the violent turning of the party to the left of the 1970s and the adoption of a strongly pro-abortion and pro-LGBT policy.The Catholic hierarchy was getting more and more often into very strange positions.

As an illustration, the argument of the cardinal and archbishop of Chicago (1982-1996), Joseph Bernardino, chairman of the pro-life commission of the American Bishops' Conference, on "unbounded garments," which was to express the integral pro-life attitude of every Catholic. According to the cardinal, pro-life, in addition to the resistance to abortion, meant a correct attitude towards military spending, health insurance, minimum wages, environmental pollution, and other points, the calculation of which was only duplicated by the electoral program of the Democratic Party. This category also included the negative attitude of the cardinal towards the threat of nuclear weapons use.

Cardinal Bernardin, with this attitude, was not alone in the episcopal conference. In the atmosphere when several liberal politicians demanded unilateral US nuclear disarmament against the Soviet nuclear weapons, the US Episcopal Conference in the early 1980s gave a public debate on the draft of the pasteurized Letter on War and Peace , which questioned US nuclear deterrence, President Reagan's policy and demonstrated pacifist and defeating tendencies.

Michael Novak responded to the bishops' invitation to the discussion, but also pointed to Council documents empowering laymen to express themselves on issues that are within their competence. His two essays on national security have been nationalized and subsequently published in Moral Clarity in Nuclear Age (1983) . The title is echoed by Michael, often quoted by Blaise Pascal: "The primary moral duty of man is to think clearly."

Michael, in co-operation with experts of many specialties and religions, has compiled a document that has sounded more competent in matters of morality and the theory of just war than the suggestion of bishops, not to mention the military-political and geopolitical context. The documentary was signed by hundreds of Catholic lay people.

The bishops, on its basis, corrected their proposals to such an extent that after the publication of the third draft of the pasteurized letter, the pacifists who had collected their signatures in support of the bishops and the traditionalists who collected the signatures against the letter almost replaced the parties. The Vatican discreetly supported the attitudes expressed in the Novak document.

It is also worth mentioning that Michael preferred a strategic defense against offensive deterrence. It was before President Reagan announced his Strategic Defense Initiative, also known as the Star Wars, which forced the Communists to negotiate and made a major contribution to the Cold War's victory in the West.

A very similar situation arose in the drafting of another passport letter to the American Episcopal Conference"Economic Justice for All" in 1984-1986. Parallel to the work of bishops, the Laic Commission for Catholic Social Teaching, founded in 1984 by Michael Novak and the former Minister of Finance, entrepreneur and philanthropist William E. Simon.

The Laic Commission has agreed that bishops should declare moral principles governing economic life, but questioned the wisdom of enforcing concrete practical economic steps on the part of bishops. Michael later looked back at the glance that "a clergyman is often so ignorant of economic issues that it is hard to hear them."

On the draft of a pastiersheet, wary of criticizing the American economic system, and especially of Reagan's economic policy, which soon became very successful, Michael Novak said, "We live in a country that has raised more people from poverty than any other country in the history of humanity. How can anyone be blind to the fact that American capitalism is incredibly successful in fighting poverty? "

Michael Novak, with Archbishop Weakland, chairman of the Bishops' Commission, agreed that the lay people publish the text earlier than to express themselves as a direct critic of the pastoral letter. The Laic Commission appreciated that the final proposal of the Episcopal Conference noted many of its proposals, on the other hand, still had too much of the expectation of government intervention.

Michael Novak's greatest contribution to Catholic social education is indisputably related to the encyclical of John Paul II. Centesimus Annus (1991) . This encyclical for the 100th anniversary of Rerum Novarum (1891) , in which Pope Leo XIII. prophets warned of the consequences of communist delusions, was generally expected. Michael had been preparing for her about ten years earlier. He held seminars on this subject and asked them the question: "If you were asked to advise what would you suggest encyclopedias?"

Michael Novak has repeatedly stated that he is not entirely free to speak of his contribution to Centesimus Annus . But between him and St. John Paul II. there was a direct personal relationship. Pope Michael called "a friend," they had dinner together a dozen times, the Pope read Michael's works published in Polish and there was an indirect relationship over a third party.

When the pope sent a emissary to the United States in 1991 to discuss the main topics of the encyclical with Catholic thinkers, Michael Novak had two long interviews with him.According to Michael, his three comments on the points that could have led to misconception in the US were fully accepted in the Encyclical.

In particular, however, the encyclical clearly reflected the three-part definition of a free system (built on the pillars: democratic, market-economic and cultural-religious-value) from Michael Novak's most famous book The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism (1982) . The American liberals of the encyclical thoughts barely breathed and blamed the neo-conservatives for its "kidnapping."

This is why Novak's contribution to the social worship of the Church is not over. Catholic Ethics and the Spirit of Capitalism (1993) , in which he analyzes the circumstances of the origin and content of papal papers in 100 years from Rerum Novarum, can be read by Catholic Social Students.We could continue with Michael's works criticizing the Latin-American theology of liberation by developing the themes contained in the encyclical Centesimus Annus as a right to "economic initiative" and "human capital" or subjects of business ethos, morality and community, which are found in, for example, mission (1998) .

On two wings

After gaining recognition in the field of social education, numerous titles and awards, after having attended many and intensive lecture tours, not least in Slovakia, Michael began to feel fatigue and the desire to return more back to questions of faith and relationship with God.

Michael believed in the biblical God with whom he had a lively personal relationship. He lived in full communion with the Church, drawing on his great intellectual and cultural heritage. He has continually subjected his faithful exploration, correction, and refinement. It was the strange blind faith of some Christians who never ask questions and only receive ready answers. Similarly, they were strangers who "think scientifically ... and see no reason to ask where everything comes from, where the world is heading, what makes sense".

Michaela well characterized the introductory phrase of the encyclical, Fides et Ratio (1998) : "Faith and reason are two wings that make the human spirit elevated to the contemplation of the truth." From here he borrowed the title of On Two Wings (2002) in which he analyzes the rational and profound Christian motivation of the founding fathers of the United States - against the widespread conviction that these were predominantly deties.

Michael Novak and William E. Simon Jr. (the son of the aforementioned minister) in Living the Call (2011), note a radical change in the perception of laymen in the post-concocted Church. The status of laymen in the Church before the Council shook the slogan "pray, pay and obey" (English pray, pay and obey).

Novak and Simon report a decrease in the number of priests in the US since the time of the council by nearly 30,000 while more than 30,000 laymen were employed in parishes and church institutions during the same period.They have abolished priests from many administrative duties, but also apply to the functions associated with catechetical or spiritual guidance.

Laity and Deacon change the demographics of the American Catholic Church. In 1965, there was no single permanent deacon (now more than 18,000), and almost no layman employed full time in evangelistic work. The active involvement of laymen in the parish life of Michael better reflects their human and Christian dignity and the vocation to use God's talents.

Michael Novak, in several books, calls for a civilized debate between ideological adversaries. He himself enjoyed the invective of his political conversion from a leftist to a neo-conservative, but also from a range of converts when he was swimming upstream. At the end of her autobiography, Writing from Left to Right (2013) sadly notes how few people really try to understand the opponent's motivation, such as pro-life activists for pro-choice activists and vice versa.

Michael has made such a thoughtful exercise several times, not least to "new atheists" in the book of God, no one sees - the Dark Night of Atheists and the Faithful (Slovak version - 2014). In the final book, he asks the atheists to stop "despised literature," trying to exclude the faithful from any serious discussion, but asks the faithful to acknowledge the atheists as their brothers and sisters who sometimes "express ideas hidden in the affairs of our soul."

Such a challenge stemmed from his vision of Caritapolis, asociety of love. According to her, Michael was a link that repeated in the last hours before death to all visitors: "God loves you. You too must love yourself. That's the only thing that matters! "

This article I mentioned by reference to the design of the memorial prayer cards at the funeral of Michael Novak. On the other side, there is the prayer of Cardinal John Henry Newman: "May [the Lord] be our support all day, until the shadows are extended, the evening comes, the world is quaking, the excitement of the day will cease, and our work will be finished. May He give us in His mercy a safe haven, a sacred rest, and finally peace. "

When I read the words of this prayer, I say to myself: "Great work, Michael! Full intervention! A good and faithful servant, the army to the delight of your Lord! "