By Paul Tuns
Wisdom and Wonder: How Peter Kreeft Shaped the Next Generation of Catholics edited by Brandon Voigt (Ignatius Press, $23.95, 197 pages)
There are two great living pro-life philosophers Donald DeMarco and Peter Kreeft. They are similar in many ways: orthodox Catholics with a way of thinking and words that help lesser mortals to see what is often in plain sight but obscured by numerous modern maladies. They share another similarity: I made a serious mistake with both of them. At Waterloo, for whatever reason, I never took a course with Professor DeMarco. Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of reading his many books, conversing with him in person, exchanging emails (with gentle ribbings about how the Red Sox are doing better than the Yankees), and regularly publishing his essays in The Interim. My mistake with Kreeft was not reading him sooner in life than I had. I did not read Kreeft until I was about 30 and only then when my friend Stephen insisted I read The Three Philosophies of Life. I was hooked before I was done the first paragraph. I have read only about half of Professor Kreeft’s 80 books, but I’m pacing myself so I can continue to read him for a long time.
Ignatius Press has assembled a festschrift in honor of Kreeft, Wisdom and Wonder: How Peter Kreeft Shaped the Next Generation of Catholics edited by Brandon Voigt, who has collected nearly 20 appreciations of the Boston College professor of philosophy and Catholic apologist. Many contributors relate stories of how Kreeft’s writings and lectures helped them return to the faith they were brought up in or deepened their understanding of their theology and morality. All note how accessible Kreeft is to the general reader, with Michael J. Gormley saying, “Kreeft is a philosopher who preaches to the people.” Matthew Becklo writes about a Kreeft lecture on Walker Percy’s Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book in which he, Becklo, found a “wry Kierkegaardian.” Trent Horn in his essay “Peter Kreeft and the Pro-Life Persuasion” explains how the Socratic dialogue in The Unaborted Socrates is an excellent medium to explore the issue of abortion, to break down the nonsense that surrounds its many justifications, and how to approach discussions on the topic (“our goal is not to destroy the other person’s arguments,” writes Horn, but “to plant a seed and to make the interaction as pleasant enough for the person to be willing to return in order to pursue the truth when he is ready to receive it”).
Kreeft is often compared to C.S. Lewis but I think of him more as G.K. Chesterton for reasons that Becklo states: Kreeft has a “knack for clever turns of phrase and surprising reversals” that “is unmatched today among Christian apologists.” While I might disagree and contend that DeMarco is Kreeft’s equal in this regard, Becklo’s broader point is that Kreeft’s cleverness is used to help us, his audience, to see things in new light, not to show off. It is both delightful and insightful; seeing the obvious truths and beauties for the first time makes one joyful, as should be being disabused of lies.
Frederic Heidemann in his essay on “Conveying the Church’s Sexual Teachings to a Hostile Crowd” notes that “Kicking off a discussion about sexual morality means grounding it in its proper place,” which means discussing sexual ethics in the context of sin, pride and our relationship with God. Heidemann quotes from Kreeft’s second-best book, Back to Virtue: “(Pride is) the desire to be like God, over the Law rather than under it.” Kreeft quotes C.S. Lewis that our age – Lewis was writing more than 60 years ago, but it still applies today, probably more so – has fallen victim to the “poison of subjectivism” and much of Kreeft’s work makes the antidote perfectly clear: faith in Jesus Christ as the Risen Lord. But first we must empty our minds of the poisonous rot. Gormley says in his essay on “The Three Philosophies of Life,” that we should not spend our lives “pursuing purposeless knowledge” that is often a replacement for the space that used to be filled with God and God’s laws, that we create noble-sounding purpose for ourselves such as the ignoble pursuit of unmoored knowledge when we lack the meaning to life that a loving God provides. This is the proper aim of philosophy, which should be grounded as much in Ecclesiastes as it is Aristotle or Plato. Kreeft is a master teacher because he teaches the masters, from Scripture and Socrates to Pascal and Lewis, always with an eye heavenward.