Book Review: “Small Books on Big Ideas III” – by Dr. Christopher Thompson
The Dearest Freshness Deep Down Things: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Being. By PIERRE-MARIE EMONET, OP. Translated by Rober R. Barr. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1999. Pp. 147.
This slender volume by the late Dominican Fr. Pierre-Marie (†2000 A.D.) is the first in a trilogy, designed to introduce an “average” person into the profound subjects of metaphysics, human nature, and God.
Emonet’s genius, his truly pastoral concern, is precisely for those “beginners” whose wisdom has not yet been “formed” by professional, academic study. His is a tender meditation, a gentle commentary on the experience of living, designed to lead, indeed invite, the reader to enter into the deep waters of philosophical reflection.
Like a teacher who coaxes the new swimmer, one hand at a time, away from the edges of the pool, Fr. Emonet in this volume leads us into a series of meditations on the essential outlines of a philosophy of existence. By way of poetry (the title is a reference to a famous poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.), Fr. Emonet creates the space, if you will, in which the mind can consider the perennial wisdom of ancient philosophy and its claims.
The tour is not merely historical, however, but is ordered to an intellectual conversion, to seeing the world as the philosopher and poet does, “pregnant with the most profound truths.” Emonet’s genius is to discover the affinity between the labor of the poet and the philosopher, the task of moving from intuition to expression.
The work itself is poetic in tone, terse in its expression, an economy of aphorisms. Chapters are very brief, sometimes only a few pages in length, and often open with some poetic allusion or reference. The overall tone is contemplative in design and to read it thoughtfully is to engage in its task.
Other reasons also impel me to bring it to your attention. In the first place, no adequate Catholic stewardship of creation will unfold until we can develop, at least as beginners for this generation, a distinctively Catholic stance toward creation. That will not be achieved in the academy of modern science, which by definition excludes a religious posture. Instead, it will be philosophy, specifically, a philosophy of nature–a metaphysics–that will provide the impetus capable of sustaining the intellectual conversion necessary for our flourishing.
There is a universal consensus that a cultural change concerning our attitudes toward nature is necessary. But what will drive cultural change? Marxists would have us believe it is class war. Darwinian social theorists point to dominance. Scientific materialists point to technology.
But Catholics point to Jesus Christ, the Logos, and the Holy Spirit who meets us in our search for meaning and draws us into the communion of divine persons—and all of this because we are created by the one God, the Father almighty, creator of all things visible and invisible.
In other words, we believe that existence itself points us to God. And reflection upon the nature of things—metaphysics—is a handmaid, a teacher capable of drawing us into communion with this very God.
Fr. Emonet has done an invaluable service in providing, at least for some readers, a means of entering into that philosophical wisdom. He provides, in my view, an entry for the beginner (the learned, too) to undergo the intellectual conversion that will be necessary if we are to turn things around. Stewardship cannot be practiced unless creation is grasped — more properly, beheld.
Fr. Emonet’s brief meditations are an excellent means of learning to let go, letting the deep waters of truth behold us.