Here is a letter I have written to Fr. Robert Shanley, President of Providence College, and who is currently presidentially presiding over the very dignified and collegial lynching of a great scholar, a devout Catholic defender of the Truth, and a good and decent man. I imagine him in his robes of office: aloof, yes, compassionate, of course, aware of all the necessary facts, without question, and deeply concerned for the lives, and souls and the, well, the reputations about to be supported or sacrificed for the greater good of the school and benefit of all mankind. It is what presidents do…when not playing golf or hosting benefactors, delivering speeches and looking magisterial and compassionate, wise and consoling, boundlessly merciful and intuitively practical; when being, in a word, godly:
Rev Robert Shanley, O.P.
1 Cunningham Square
Providence, RI 02918 USA
Dear Father Shanley,
You have been described to me by people better informed than I am as a philosopher, an art of which I have only a passing knowledge. And as a priest, and a Dominican at that, I am reasonably sure that you are more than well versed in Catholic theology. Indulge me in a little bit of my own background, stories from my youth about philosophy and theology.
Father Anthony Rubsys, who went to Heaven, I am sure, in August, 2002, was a refugee from Communism who came to America during the Hungarian uprising. He was a biblical scholar fluent in seven languages, a good and gentle, a loving, man. He taught me in class and counseled me out of it. He was extremely intelligent, extremely gentle and deeply concerned for The Good. Why else not, I have often wondered while thinking about and praying for him; a man who saw and suffered much, all of it the result of when and where he lived before coming to this country, through the horrors of Nazism and the Second World War and the soul sickening weight of post-war Communist rule.
As an assignment in one of his classes, I wrote a paper on Thus Spake Zarathustra. I was taken then with the Strauss tone poem, and stupid student stuff. So I wrote the paper and handed it in. Several days later Father Rubsys returned it with this note in his handwriting above my title, which was something like Superman, “Why do you waste your time on this when the faith has so much more to offer, to study?” I cannot remember much beyond the title of the thing I wrote about. Nor can I remember much about the music, except what bit of it opens that film by Stanley Kubrick. Few, I suspect, will remember much about it, if anything at all in another hundred or so years. Almost no one knows the film’s music’s title.
Harry Blair was a much decorated World War II veteran, a tank commander in Gen. Patton’s Third Army, a tragic man, and a Shakespeare and Renaissance scholar. I took every class of his that I could and got to know him very well. He drank too much; but, I suppose, he had every reason to do that. When he taught King Lear his classroom was filled beyond capacity. His rendering of the King’s speech in the storm on the moor brought more than one student to tears, myself included, as we listened to an old man pour out his grief at having given his life to his children and been misunderstood, spurned, betrayed, cast away.
I once had a letter published in the school’s newspaper…the editor was a friend of mine…and Harry read it, of course. The letter called for the “aggiornamento” underway in Rome to be extended and applied at the school, for there to be a radical change in, well, just about everything. I remember I called not only for windows to be opened but walls to be demolished and ended with “I would have no church at all!” Brave words, I have thought more than once since. Brave words for the inferno we face, now. We sat together, Harry and I at the bar in the Pinewood drinking an afternoon beer and he showed me the issue of the paper with my letter, quietly asking me what had possessed me to write it. Seriously I answered at length about all of the things I saw that were wrong and needed changing. “You are very young,” he answered, and then we went on to talk of other things, though I do recall him wondering aloud about the lady I was soon to marry and asking how she felt, how I might feel when I was a father. But, there he left it.
Bear with me, please, Father. I do have a point.
There is no doubt that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was a philosopher like yourself, and a great and good man. Were he a Catholic, I suppose his cause would already have been introduced. In many ways he was a martyr for the truth, and a lover of the beautiful in people, in society and in all of creation; even when found in the Gulag, anterooms to hell built and maintained by hell’s servants here on earth. Maybe that’s overly dramatic, but, nevertheless… Joseph Pearce, who wrote an excellent biography of Solzhenitsyn, has written his own story, and a fascinating one it is. He calls it Race With the Devil, and discusses his descent into violent racism and hate, and ascent from it through the grace of God. Indulge me in a quote from Pearce’s book:
“My descent into delinquency was aided and abetted by the progressive philosophy adopted by the school. No effort was made to impose discipline, which resulted in the triumph of anarchy in the classroom… (The) disruptive elements made it difficult, if not impossible, for teachers to teach and for students to learn.”
I apologize for the size of the quote. I cannot figure out how to change the font. Nevertheless, it’s the sad truth and the tragic cause of the matter at hand, and the inevitable result of the choice in this matter (and in how many others?) you and the faculty quislings who brought this complaint against Professor Esolen to you seem, for all of your wisdom, training, education and Catholicity, to have made. That the “death” of one man is necessary.
And, I cannot understand why you did what you did; a great disservice to the students , confirming them in their stupid and uncharitable, selfish and infantile behavior…at the same time causing pain, anxiety and worry to not only this good man and his family, but thousands of other people who have never yet met the man face to face but know and treasure him through his prolific good works, his brilliantly clear and consistently charitable mind, and his reliably masterful scholarship.
You are a priest and pastor, too, finally much more important callings than mere president. Have you acted in this instance as either one?
I expect that Caiaphas was thought a wise and good man, a president, so to speak, who gave no help when help was needed. And, of course, we all know what to think of Pontius Pilate, who simply gave up before the angry mob.
Which of the two should one say best describes you in this matter?
PS: I only know of one other person named Shanley, a fellow I came across many years ago when I was working. He was a Wormtongue, covert slave to Saruman. In other words a coward and a traitor.