Monday, June 3, 2019
I've recently been re-reading parts of Martha Nussbaum's The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics. Its treatment of many of the topics and themes within the book's scope is outstanding, on a par with the quality I associate with her magisterial book, The Fragility of Goodness: Luck and Ethics in Greek Tragedy and Philosophy. Turning the page in the former book yesterday, I was jolted when I reached footnote thirty-one on page 372, specifically this sentence:
The substantial literature on the possible differences between Zeno and Chrysippus is summarized in Inwood (1985). Substantial contributions are Pohlenz (1938, 1970), Voelke (1965), Rist (1969), Llloyd (1978).
The jolt came from recalling that I had read the other day that Rist, John, favorably cited by Nussbaum (in that footnote and elsewhere), had recently been banned from entering pontifical universities worldwide. There, then, was John Rist, now the ecclesiastical "criminal," still lurking in Nussbaum's footnote as an example of first-rate, "substantial," contemporary work on Greek philosophy.
According to Rist himself, as I proceeded to discover on the Internet, he went to fetch his car at the Augustinianum, across the street from the Bernini colonnade where he had been conducting research and supervising a graduate student, and was denied access. Rist had received no advance notice, let alone a hearing. As far as Rist and others have been able to make out, the offense for which he was banned was his being a signatory of the "Open Letter" accusing Pope Francis of the delict of heresy.
I don't know Professor Rist personally, although years ago I had the pleasure of interacting with him at a couple of academic conferences, where he was much appreciated by everyone for his vast learning and generosity of mind. Some years earlier, Rist had been teaching at the University of Toronto when I was a student there and in the Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, and I heard him lecture many times great erudition, insight, and care. During the years I was in Toronto, in addition, Rist and I also attended the same parish served by the Toronto Oratory, where I saw him at prayer Sunday after Sunday. Now Rist has been uncivilly banned from pontifical faculties. Will Rist's status as "emeritus" at The Catholic University of America, where he taught after retiring from the University of Toronto, soon be removed?
The Open Letter has many shortcomings, in my estimation, but the fact of Rist's having been banned from pontifical faculties, and without so much as notice or a hearing -- let alone something that would satisfy Mathews v. Eldridge! -- constitutes part of the puzzle of how things are going for some faithful Catholics in the Catholic Church today. Perhaps the Open Letter was imprudent, perhaps it was even very imprudent, though I doubt that. But what are the good and sufficient reasons, both of fact and of ecclesiastical law, that John Rist, a scholar of impeccable academic achievement and a faithful Catholic, is no longer permitted to go about his scholarly work the way he was until the week before last? No reasons have been publicly adduced. The Open Letter obviously struck a nerve somewhere, yet we can hope that the tolerance and desire for "encounter" promoted by the Holy Father will be extended to Professor Rist.
The process-less exclusion of Professor Rist from Catholic institutions of higher learning sadly provides arms to those who wish to find fault with the Church, something Professor Nussbaum herself has occasionally done. Sadly, Rist's lawless exclusion finds some support in the remarkable ultramontanism, recently remarked upon by Philip Lawler, of Pope Francis's Veritatis Gaudium No. 26.2 (2018).