Our late editor Michael C. Jordan did not fit any of these stereotypes. He was neither unkind to writers nor a failed writer. As managing editor Elizabeth Kelly recalled, "Michael's rejections were so beautiful and so graceful, authors hardly felt rejected. There was a great grace in him that way." (1) Just so with accepted pieces that needed editing. Jon Balsbaugh, a student of Michael's from the 1990s who helped out in the early days of Logos, recalled being tasked with converting citations to Logos' format for international writers because Michael wanted to make them feel welcome in the journal. Michael would himself work hard at helping international authors make their pieces fluent and smooth in English. For pieces that had promise but needed substantive revision, Michael worked with the other reviewers to give precise requests for revision that authors would often thank him for. Pamela McClanahan, Logos's first managing editor, recounted coming to her job from a stressful management position and discovering "the kind of editor every writer would like to have on his or her side, one who illustrated daily that paying close attention is the best example of generosity that anyone of us can give." He made good pieces better and, on at least one occasion, made a bad piece good. About ten years ago Michael admitted that he had mistakenly sent an acceptance note for a piece that had been roundly rejected by the editors, himself included. Rather than going back on his word, Michael felt obligated to work with the writer to bring the piece up to standard without indicating to the writer what had happened. In the end, Michael fulfilled the writer Blake Morrison's assessment of the work of editors: "Editing might be a bloody trade, but knives aren't the exclusive property of butchers. Surgeons use them too." When Michael said "it will only hurt a little" to his authors, it really did.
As a writer, one might simply take the graceful essays he wrote as prefaces to each issue of Logos, all of which, from 2001 until the one you are reading, were written or co-written by Michael. While the prefaces of editors are often a perfunctory affair--after all, no one wins a reputation for articles with titles such as "Preface to 12:3"--Michael never treated them as such. Filled with beautiful and careful prose, often filled with references to music, literature, philosophy, theology, art, and architecture they not only summarized the themes in a particular issue but provided a model for what readers and prospective writers should understand as "a Logos piece. "We editors would periodically send out a short questionnaire to readers asking for feedback from the reader. What received the highest approval rating? The prefaces. One of Michael's last prefaces, for our Fall 2015 issue (18:4), analyzed Pope Francis's treatment of human ecology and the difficulties in our age of forming a proper and holistic view of reality in the recent encyclical Laudato Si. Michael connected the difficulties to a topic not touched on by Francis, namely the challenges to universities "to take up again from a fresh perspective the challenge to make the university a place in which the cooperative pursuits of scholars and students in all academic disciplines create new structures of knowledge and action sufficient to meet the challenges of the day." As one correspondent wrote, the essay was a piece of "genius."
If it was a piece of genius, it was also an example of hard-won wisdom and a life of assuming and pursuing the reality of the union of faith and reason as well as the unity of knowledge that are hallmarks of the Catholic intellectual tradition. Michael was born in Philadelphia, the second of six children. At Michael's memorial his older brother recounted how his brother had wide-ranging interests and worked hard at seeing, understanding, and excelling at all his activities from sports to music (Michael played a number of instruments, with violin being his best) to academics. His youngest sister testified to a lifetime of being "mesmerized" by a brother who could impersonate a dog on the living room floor and teach her about art, literature, and music. As an undergraduate at St. John's College in Annapolis, Michael devoured the great books that formed the curriculum and still managed to play music and sports on the side (he was MVP of St. John's baseball team). After finishing his MA and PhD in comparative literature at the University of North Carolina in 1982, Michael and his bride, Brenda Powell, took positions in the English department at St. Thomas.
Michael's career at St. Thomas was similarly marked by a capacity for doing it all. A productive scholar and a beloved teacher, he attained to the rank of full professor before the age of fifty, teaching over twenty different classes and speaking and writing in his varied areas of expertise: literary theory, classical Greek literature, philosophical anthropology, theological aesthetics, and the history and theory of liberal education. He was remembered by students for beginning class sessions with meditative pieces of music by favorite composers like Arvo Part, Olivier Messiaen, or Henryk Gorecki. He ran his classes as seminars in which he patiently guided students to the central themes and questions of the texts at hand. He was so successful a guide because of his rare ability to listen carefully to what students said. Elizabeth Kelly, who experienced Michael as a professor before coming to work for Logos, observed that very few instructors "made me feel more seen, more heard, better understood." Colleagues felt the same way. Professor of Catholic Studies and Logos associate editor John Boyle recounted participating in a number of faculty discussion groups and finding ancient texts come alive in conversation with this colleague with an affinity for Socrates and socratic inquiry: "Michael was the kind of intellectual I had once thought populated universities and who, when I was young, inspired me to pursue an academic life.... Michael was a lover of wisdom."
While many teachers and scholars assiduously avoid the task of academic administration, Michael served in a variety of roles doing important but also thankless tasks because he felt he could serve and help shape undergraduate education. Michael was a key architect of the core curriculum at St. Thomas, a chair of the English and history departments, and eventually Associate Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies. Theology department colleague Bernard Brady recalled in a tribute to Michael upon stepping down from his administrative position that Michael actually liked meetings because he understood that they brought together different people on campus to "unify; they aim to actualize what we aim to be--a university." Meetings also unify because they have (when done properly) a goal. Michael Naughton, director of the Center for Catholic Studies, thought one of Michael's key goals throughout his time as an administrator was to harmonize the different conceptions of education that make up a full university education.
He wrote an important article in a Faculty Seminar on the History of the College of St. Thomasin 1987 entitled "The Tension Between Liberal Education and Career Education." He was concerned about the lack of interaction between liberal and professional education, which has created a segmented curriculum that has lost, he wrote, a "vision about ways to achieve 'an amalgamation of the two.'" He recognized the concern that students may be left with an uneasy sense that they participate in two types of education: one that makes them more human, another that makes them more money, but they are unclear about how--or whether--the two fit together. Michael's leadership both as a faculty and administrator sought to find ways to overcome the fragmentation of the curriculum and find ways to see how disciplines are in relation with each other.
In The Idea of a University, Blessed John Henry Newman described the ideal product of liberal education as "the gentleman." As learned and sophisticated as he was, Michael understood that with Newman even "learning for its own sake," a traditional description of liberal education, was geared at something else--living a truly human life that included work, family, friendships, and ultimately friendship with God. He was, as Center for Catholic Studies colleague Maureen Huss recalled, both a "gentleman and a gentle man." Michael's own 35-year marriage was marked by a tenderness and gentleness that is uncommon. Colleagues remember that his wife and English department colleague Brenda would find her backpack leaning against her office door every morning, having been brought in by Michael so that she could enjoy her walking trip to work with one burden fewer. In an article about Michael upon being named St. Thomas's professor of the year in 1997, Michael was quoted concerning his two daughters Julia and Amelia, "They are the joy of my life." While Michael could sometimes be quiet in person, no conversation could fail if one brought up his wife or children's latest triumphs and activities.
At his memorial service, Michael's spiritual director spoke about the thirst to receive more from God in his life: to experience deeper love for his wife and children, to experience deeper friendships, and to experience the love of God more fully. Michael was a lifelong Presbyterian, but his knowledge and personal application of distinctively Catholic theology, culture, ways of thought, and spiritual practices was much greater than most Catholics in the pew. Several years before his death he began to pray the Liturgy of the Hours, finding a new comfort in the Psalms as he did.
Michael had been experiencing a number of health problems when he received a definitive diagnosis of late-stage pancreatic cancer in December of 2015. His response to such news was typical of him. He expressed gratitude for the opportunity to prepare for his death. Even as his body wasted, his soul seemed to be expanding with the love of God, telling his pastor on a visit shortly before he died that he sensed the communion of saints supporting him through it all and giving him happiness. He died as he lived. Ann Serdar, who worked with Michael both in academic administration and at the Center for Catholic Studies, recalled the approach of a very stressful meeting when Michael was director of undergraduate affairs. Michael brought a sense of peace when he strode into the office humming "O God, Beyond All Praising." Michael had learned not only to give soft answers in tense meetings, but also to rejoice in all circumstances.
This is the last issue for which he exercised his editorial authority for most of the articles. He was associate editor of the journal for the first two years of its existence and co-editor or editor for nearly eighteen more. He died on January 24, 2016, at the too-young age of 63. It is fitting to close this remembrance of a Christian gentleman with a poem written by frequent Logos contributor H. Wendell Howard.
Michael C. Jordan, requiescat in pace.
In the first article of the issue James M. Jacobs argues that the malaise of so much contemporary art, exemplified by artists either turning art toward solely political ends or reveling in kitsch and even ugliness, comes from a disconnection between truth and beauty as transcendentals. "Beauty as an Excess of Intelligibility" argues that the "contemplative appreciation" to which beauty calls observers has a distinctly intellectual cast but "it results not in cognitive certainty, but in the satiation of the appetite characterized by joy." The perception of beauty is a recognition of being that goes beyond the conceptual. It is an appreciation for order and harmony in the world that leads us to divine beauty. "Given this power of beauty, art should not leave us speechless because it fails to live up to reason; rather, it should leave us astounded and awed because of its ineffable excess of intelligible being, as excess that alone in this world satisfies man's thirst for the infinite."
In "Virtue Ethics in Michelangelo's The Last Judgment: Christ as Severity and Mary as Clemency," David Beauregard examines a particular piece of art from precisely the standpoint of beauty united to truth. While conventional interpretations have seen the figure of Christ as typifying justice and Mary mercy in Michelangelo's masterpiece, Beauregard looks closely at the medieval virtue ethics, rhetoric, and conventional symbols that stand behind the artist. Rather than simple generic mercy, what Mary represents "exactly in historical terms is the virtue of clemency, that is, the moderation and sweetness of soul that is reluctant to punish, and so is given to pardon and mercy." And rather than a generic justice, Christ's impassive face and gesture represent "severity moderated in the act of punishing in accordance with the virtue of temperance, the judgment of reason and the requirements of the law." The precision allows the excess of intelligibility of God's full mercy and justice together to emerge.
"Tracing Fraternity in the Social Science and Catholic Social Teaching" draws out the developing concept of fraternity in the Catholic Social Tradition (CST) and cognate terms in social science in order to build bridges between various fields. In the article Rodrigo Mardones and Alejandra Marinovic look at: social scientific concepts of social cohesion, trust, and social capital; the legal and philosophical terminology of community and solidarity; and also the terms of civic friendship and fraternity found in political theory. The coauthors draw connections between various disciplines and CST, especially as represented by twentieth-century papal and conciliar documents. They end with three particular challenges to social science and political theory that can be found in CST regarding anthropology, the status of fraternity as duty or virtue, and the scope of fraternity.
H. Wendell Howard returns to our pages with an intellectual mystery--that of the place of J. F. Powers and his 1963 National Book Award Winner Morte D'Urban in literary culture and Catholic history. "J. F. Powers's Morte D'Urban" asks both how it is that the novel defeated works by Nabokov, Updike, and Katherine Anne Porter and why Powers largely went into eclipse with periodic retrievals but no clear place in the literary canon. Howard does not settle the question once and for all of how to think of Powers, but probes the spare, evasive technique of this quintessential "writer's writer." He suggests that Powers's ability to turn "the quotidian into something strange" allowed Catholic writers to write and be judged as writers rather than as Catholics while telling Catholic tales of midwestern American priests.
Pope Benedict XVI's "Regensburg Address" was famous (or infamous) for his inclusion of some medieval lines about the nature of Islamic religion, but what many missed were his perhaps more provocative statements about the providential nature of Christianity's origins in a Hellenistic world. Peter Moody's "Word and Tao: Thoughts on an Attempt at Conceptual Translation" examines the translation of logos into Chinese and the ways in which Taoist, Confucian, and other strands of Chinese philosophy have been brought to bear on teaching Christian doctrine and theology in a place in which none of the cultural elements that formed a back ground to its development are present. If Benedict was correct that Hellenism was providentially placed in the early development of Christian doctrine, Moody cautions that it still cannot be regarded as an absolute since development is not complete. "Chinese ways of thinking might have alternative ways of expressing the same reality, or supplement some areas where the Hellenistic approach is misleading or limiting."
What James Jacobs explores through a philosophical lens is explored by Carolyn Pirtle through a theological lens, namely how "Beauty will save the world," as Dostoevsky's Prince Myshkin so famously declares. In "The Via Pulchritudinis, Faure's Requiem, and the Eucharist," Pirtle focuses specifically on the experience of music in both concert and liturgical settings to show how one may be prepared for a deeper experience of the presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Because of its home in both concert halls and cathedrals, Pirtle uses Faure's Requiem, Op. 48, to show how a piece of music that by itself provokes prayer can be supercharged by its place in the Mass. "Because the Eucharistic liturgy comprises the culminating step on the pathway of beauty, music heard within this context transcends itself and contains within it seeds for conversion and transformation that are nourished by the Eucharistic presence of Christ."
In "'I Become a Thousand Men and yet Remain Myself': SelfLove in Joseph Ratzinger and Georges Bernanos," Andrew T. J. Kaethler uses Joseph Ratzinger's account of the intrinsically relational nature of the self as an exegetical tool for reading Bernanos's Mouchette and the more-widely known Diary of a Country Priest. In these somewhat tragic tales of a young woman who is abused and a young and holy priest who is disrespected, Bernanos paints in between the lines pictures of true love as well as failures to become human through failing to see others. Self-love, self-control, and self-denial all fit together in the Christian vision Bernanos and Ratzinger share, a vision that says, "I look out at and, in so doing, realize that we--and thus I--amount to a lot, for we are hid with Christ in God (Col 3:3)."
Finally, in Reconsiderations, we present John Marson Dunaway's beautiful translation of Paul Claudel's (1867-1955), "The Way of the Cross," a series of poems dedicated to the traditional fourteen stations of the Cross in which, as Stephen E. Lewis explains in his introduction, "Claudel's Way of the Inexhaustible," the poet attempts to perceive the beauty of the infinite through a precise accounting of the mysteries of the journey to Golgotha. In the poetic balance are such details as the measurement of Christ's body to fit the cross and the numbering of spikes (4!) used to pin the God-man to the Cross. The mystery of the Incarnation is such that God became a man of specific measurements only in order to "fit himself to any cross and allow his wounds to correspond to any sin. Claudel's poem has led us to rediscover God's inexhaustible mercy."
David Paul Deavel
(1) Kelly Engbretson, "Please Remember in your Prayers Dr. Michael Jordan," January 27, 2016. http://www.stthomas.edu/news/please-remember-prayers- dr-michael-jordan
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|Author:||Deavel, David Paul|
|Publication:||Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2016|
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