Via Media

Via Media

Why Via Media

How about….because I’m lame and hate thinking up titles to things?


Okay…how about…St. Benedict?

Yes, yes, I know the association with Anglicanism. That wasn’t invovled in my purpose in naming the joint, but if draws some Googling Episcopalians, all the better.

To tell the truth, you can blame my friend Matthew Lickona, author of Swimming with Scapulars, and co-commiserator on the miseries of the publishing world, both Catholic and secular.

We brainstormed on titles – well, actually, I asked him to brainstorm for me – and “The Middle Way” was one he came up with on my behalf and I think this is why, as I recall from what he has said in regard to my writing before: It’s not about an ideological middle road – at all. It’s about this drive I have to dig into arguments that are offered from any side of an issue and to try to understand the gist and essential point of what people are saying, to pull it out and try to make sense of it and understand it at the most basic level.


What I think I hear you saying is…

Ew. Maybe not.

Once I started thinking about it, though, I looked into Benedictine monasticism, because I knew there was an association there, and there is:

Via Media, The Middle Way of Measure and Discretion

Compared with the tradition and especially with
the Rule of the Master, Benedict
legislates for a monastic life that has rhythm, measure,
and discretion.
His monks are not overdriven by austerities in
fasting and night vigils. They do not own anything
personally, but they have enough to eat and to drink
(even wine when it is available) and to clothe
themselves. They work with their hands about six hours a
day but they also have leisure for prayerful reading
and common prayer. Their sleep is sufficient and
they may even take a siesta in summer if needed.
The young, the sick, and the elderly are cared for
with compassion and attention. The abbot, while he
directs all aspects of the common life, must seek
counsel from the monks; and the Rule makes
provision for his limitations and failings. In short,
RB arranges for a monastic life in which the monks may
seek God in prayer and reading, in silence and
work, in service to guests and to one another. 

I’m not claiming deep meaning here, folks. Maybe there is more meaning than my conscious self even knows – that the road ahead – the Via  – is going to be on that requires me to stay centered and grounded and be wary of lurching, careening, charging recklessly or attempting u-turns.

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posted March 4, 2009 at 9:37 pm

Two thoughts come immediately to mind. The first is the Aristotelian idea of virtue as a balance between two extremes, the mean. The second is the Chestertonian idea of the Church careening and tipping to each side in order to, in the end, remain upright. I know you just said that perhaps it’s not about careening, at least not right now, but that thought struck me, that sometimes a middle way can seem to be not-so-middle when you’re in the thick of it.

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Jim McCullough

posted March 5, 2009 at 7:26 am

Anglican angle, got it. Benedictine moderation, got it. Looking at all sides, got it. But what I like best about it is the pun on use of modern “media” to spread the Gospel.

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Dennis Martin

posted March 5, 2009 at 8:58 am

What is the source of the quote about the via discretionis of the monastic tradition?
Characterizing it as the middle way is a gloss, a not entirely helpful gloss, on discretio in the monastic tradition. If it’s not too late, you might consider “royal way” or via regia. That’s one of John Cassian’s terms in his conferences on discretio. He may also use “middle way”–I no longer recall for sure. But if he does, he does not mean it so much in the sense of staying in the middle or splitting the difference as in the sense of using discretio to discover when one is going off the path into a detour.
Gregory the Great “wrote the book” on discretio in his Pastoral Rule. That’s the best gloss on John Cassian (and Cassian lies behind Benedict and most of the monastic movement through the Middle Ages, including the mendicants). In the Regula Pastoralis, he basically says that sometimes discretio requires that a prelate (he’s writing for bishops, for leaders, but we all are leaders in one way or another–parents to children, teachers to pupils, pastors to parishioners, pundits to readers) be as tough as nails, be extreme–if what the person the prelate is responsible for needs a swift kick in the you-know-what. On other occasions, Gregory says the leader should discern that the person needs gentle encouragement. But most of all, the leader must be brutally honest with himself, recognizing when he’s being tempted to pander to the powerful or tempted to avoid confrontation in order to be well liked etc.
This is a kind of “middle way,” but given the way most people think of middle way today, I think it’s potentially quite misleading. One of our big problems, it seems to me, is that especially the chattering classes, the educated elites, pride themselves on not seing things merely in black and white terms, like those rubes on the turnip truck do. They see shades of gray. They stay in the middle. (And among the rubiest of the rubes are, of course, those black-and-white Catholics who are so intransigent on abortion and contraception and embryonic stem cells.)
In fact what they are doing is defining the extremes from their vantage point (usually well to the left) rather than truly from the full spectrum. This is how we got to the situation where what is “centrist” today would have been radically Leftist only a generation or two ago. The “middle,” defined relativistically, shifted steadily toward the left. No one wanted to be called “an extremist,” and if it’s a relatively liberal media defining who’s extreme and who’s “moderate,” the middle keeps shifting leftward.
I know this is emphatically NOT what Amy has in mind with “the middle way.” But how to explain that it’s not to those who happen upon the blog?
Via regia?

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Dennis Martin

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:11 am

Well, I clicked on the link and see that I’m picking a fight with Jerome Theisen, former Abbot Primate of the global Benedictines.
But not really. I’ll stick by what I wrote. But I need to do some “‘splainin'”
I wonder if Amy’s post doesn’t consist of two distinct themes that still need to be integrated.
a. The Abbot is glossing the opening lines of the RB and he’s right about that–the RB was intended to be moderate compared to some of the other rules and it is, in the matters Abbot Theisen mentions.
b. But that’s not the same as discretio. The beautiful thing about discretio in the monastic tradition is that relies half on human intelligence (clinical psychology as the spiritual father listens to the monk’s manifestation of thoughts and then analyzes them drawing on his years of experience of gathering similar data from others) and half on God’s freely given supernatural gift of discernment. Sometimes that combination leads to extremes of one sort or another.
It seems to me from Amy’s description of the way she probes and seeks to understand what’s going on, she is truly seeking discretio.
The Golden Mean, the virtue of temperance etc. are centrally Christian (as well as Aristotelian, indeed universal) but even the basic principle of “in all things moderation” has to be tempered precisely by discretio. Cassian’s main point is that discretio is he moderatrix of all the other virtues, even the virtue of temperance and moderation. That’s what makes discretio the via regia for him.

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Your Name

posted March 5, 2009 at 9:27 am

Middle way means a lot of things. Sometime middle is good. Sometimes not so much. Essentially when choosing between good and evil then we must choose good and avoid the middle because that is where the great temptation lies. Very few embrace evil but many choose the mushy middle.
Then there are choices between goods. That is where the middle thing seems right. We don’t want to be extreme about anything except God. Everything else must be kept in balance. For example, too much theology can be bad if there is not enough prayer, fasting, and almgiving.
The last kind of choice is the false choice. Where some say you must have A or B and Catholicism says we must have both. What Pope Benedict calls the “et et” or the “both/and”. We say yes to creation and yes to evolution. We say yes to salvation by grace and yes to savation through sacraments. The examples keep multiplying.

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Chris Sullivan

posted March 5, 2009 at 5:00 pm

Thanks for that.
The quote from the rule of St Benedict is very apt and helpful to me.
Having been raised Anglican, the Anglican connection speaks very powerfully to me. Very powerfully.
Will keep you all in our prayers.
The Via Media.
God Bless

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