Man - "a Design towards something Terrifying". Romano Guardini's view of Christian Anthropology

From 31 May to 1 June 2024, Trumau Castle and Hochschule Heiligenkreuz hosted a conference on Romano Guardini's Christian anthropology. The jointly organized conference was a further step in deepening the cooperation between the Hochschule Pope Benedict XVI Heiligenkreuz and the Catholic University ITI (Trumau). More than 100 participants gathered in the Heiligenkreuz Kaisersaal and at Trumau Castle to explore the anthropology of one of the great theologians of the 20th century via lectures and discussion. The participants included students from both universities, professors, priests and many other interested parties. The two organizers of the symposium, Prof. Dr. Hanna-Barbara Gerl-Falkovitz (Heiligenkreuz) and Dean Prof. Dr. Michael Wladika (Trumau), took turns moderating the event.


Abbot Dr. Maximilian Heim OCist (Heiligenkreuz) was delighted to open the joint event of the two universities on Friday morning and welcomed the organizers, speakers and guests to Heiligenkreuz. According to the Grand Chancellor of Heiligenkreuz University, the fact that Guardini is still being read today can be understood from the fact that he allowed his thinking to be shaped by his faith.


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Klausnitzer, Rector of Heiligenkreuz University, spoke of the conference as a fruit of the cooperation between the two universities, which are so close to each other in Lower Austria. He highlighted Guardini as a prime example of a universal scholar who understood how to bring together theology, philosophy, art and literature.


After these opening words, Prof. Gerl-Falkovitz began the lectures. In her programmatic lecture, she traced Guardini's fundamental decision to think about man from the perspective of God. According to Guardini, God is to be understood above all as the Living One, who himself has three beginnings (creation, redemption, return of Christ). It is only thanks to God's initiative that man becomes revealed to himself. Called by God, the life of faith consists of living in unity with Christ. This co-responsibility of man happens in freedom and means a struggle, because "love wants us to fight with it".


Based on the current legal situation with regard to the protection of human life, Dr. Albrecht Voigt (Dresden) elaborated on the sanctity of human life with Romano Guardini, Robert Spaemann and Joseph Ratzinger. By breaking with the principle (so clearly formulated by Spaemann) that there can be no good killing, the door would have been opened to utilitarianism also in German legislation in questions of human life as well. In Guardini's anthropology, on the other hand, it was an outstanding aspect that he knew acts that were purposeless but nevertheless very meaningful in their actualization.

Seizing the opportunity for such a meaningful act, many joined the midday prayer in the collegiate church before the lunch break.


In the afternoon, Prof. Wladika explored Guardini's treatment of the figure of Socrates in three steps. First, Socrates' questions about the nature of things would purify mythical ideas. Then, as a man who lived entirely according to the time-free and transcendent, Socrates lived exemplarily, his life was an intensive participation in the universal and eternal. As he represented the eternal to such a high degree, Socrates was a forerunner of Christ, but of course he remains a forerunner, he is not of the same nature as God.


To conclude the afternoon session, Prof. Dr. Domenico Burzo (Bari), whose Italian presentation was translated into German by Joseph Wladika, spoke about the layers of human nature in Romano Guardini and Pavel Florenskij. Both understood the human being as a totality of different layers. The peculiarity of man is that he is a body-soul unity, with the heart forming the center, which forms the organic and the spiritual into a unity. The inner-outer layer formed by the organic-spiritual structure of the human being is widened by the inner-upper dynamic, in which the human being indwells himself and at the same time stands above himself, as it were. Finally, in the transempirical point, man finds a deepest inside, which, however, is experienced as transcendent. In relation to this, everything else appears as outside. Inasmuch as he can ultimately only reach perfection in this deepest layer through the encounter with God, the transempirical point is paradoxically also to be understood as an outside. At the core, man is thus a gateway, an opening, directed towards God.


After participating in the monks' vespers prayer, the first day of the conference ended with dinner.


After arriving at Trumau Castle, the Rector of the ITI, Prof. Dr. Bernhard Dolna, gave a welcoming address in which he referred to a sermon by Guardini tracing a similarity between Thomas Aquinas and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. They shared a very open view with which they looked at the world without wanting anything. However, there was nothing naïve about this attitude, rather it was a 'child's eye in the eye of the mature'.

Due to illness, Prof. Dr. Harald Seubert (Basel) was unable to give his planned lecture. Prof. Gerl-Falkovitz stepped in with a lecture on the question of technology in Guardini. For Guardini at his time, the machine was no longer an immersion in the thing in order to cultivate it. Rather, technology had become a 'disposing of', even art was no longer created, but rather a 'making of'. Even art is no longer created, but produced. One would be grossly misunderstanding Guardini if one were to understand him as being reactionarily closed to technology. Just as the Baths of Caracalla or St. Peter's Basilica broke down boundaries and led to a change in man, a new shaping of man is needed in the face of technology, of which more - but more Christian - is needed. Christianity is facing a challenge that will lead to a religiosity of a time yet to come.


P. Philemon Dollinger OCist (Heiligenkreuz) addressed the topic of language with Guardini. With regard to the essence of language, Guardini emphasized the difference to animal sounds; language emerges from the recognition of essence. Moreover, language is not simply a means of communication for humans, rather speaking is life, every thought is already an inner speaking. Truth is the backbone, marrow and awareness of direction of language; exaggeration and lies do violence to it. With regard to religious language, Guardini distinguished between genuine religious language, through which the speaker speaks from his own experience, and incorrect religious speech, when religious words are used for social or political purposes or pseudo-religious sentiments are expressed or triggered. For Guardini, speaking only exists in combination with silence. Only those who are able to remain silent can truly speak. Silence would consist of becoming open to the meaning that presents itself, ultimately to the Logos of God.


At midday, Eminence Christoph Cardinal Schönborn, Grand Chancellor of the ITI, celebrated Holy Mass. In his sermon, he reflected - based on the saint of the day, the martyr and philosopher Justin - on Christian philosophy (such as that of Guardini) and its scope for speculation, which must remain aligned with the magisterium of the Church. With regard to questions raised in the context of the world church synodal process concerning the sacramental ordination of women, the Archbishop of Vienna considered whether the bride-bridegroom symbolism (Christ as bridegroom and his bride, the Church) was not in fact significantly more than a purely disciplinary (and therefore easily overridden) reality. The sacrament of Holy Orders, which is thus reserved for male believers in Christ, would stand in a larger theological context. This topic was to be essential to beconsidered.


The early afternoon session was organized in the form of a seminar. The as yet unpublished essay "Der Mensch. Umriss einer christlichen Anthropologie [Man. Outline of a Christian Anthropology]" (1937) by Guardini formed the textual basis of the reading unit led by Prof. Gerl-Falkovitz and Dean Prof. Wladika. The text led to the theologian's fundamental anthropological statements, in particular the starting point of God's revelation. Guardini diagnosed a strongly functional character in today's image of man. Psychology and sociology paint a determined picture of man, while other schools of thought understand him as a demiurge. The decided turn towards revelation in Guardini's anthropology culminated in his conviction that man only truly recognizes himself in Jesus Christ.


In the final lecture, Rector Dolna spoke about Guardini's conversion, which had prompted him to give his life to the Church (and therefore to God, but as the Church understands him). A kind of conversion would also be necessary for humanity by looking away from the modern age and its subjectivism and towards the Middle Ages (in the sense of a search for a non-subjective truth). In the process, God would move back to the center of theology in his attitude of attracting man (not so much in his omnipotence). For anthropology, this view means not only seeing man as the image of God, but also understanding that God wanted himself to be the archetype of man and thus opened up the possibility of becoming man.


"Many things are terrifying, nothing is more terrifying than man." (Sophocles, Antigone, 332-333) This oft-quoted sentence from Sophocles' Antigone, which was also used in the course of this symposium, was a kind of secret companion throughout the lectures, seminar unit and discussions. For man is called into a struggle with love, is worthy of purpose-free actions, called to lead an exemplary life like that of Socrates, and yet is able to go against the sanctity of his life. This happens when his heart closes its focus on God. The 'monster' machine (i.e. technology) presents him with a huge challenge that will require an unimagined reshaping of man. Man is gifted with true (objective) knowledge of the nature of things and if he does this with a clear view, he can encounter God. Of course, it is only in Jesus Christ that the height of the human is revealed.

Walther H. Wladika