March 21, 2017

Louis Bouyer and the Gift of Good Teachers

"In learning, it seems to me, that the greatest thing that can happen to one is to sit a the feet of a great teacher. I've had that good fortune a few times...."

So begins the paper that Fr. Giles Dimock, O.P. delivered at Saint John's Seminary's Miller Symposium this evening. The presentation was on the great Oratorian Louis Bouyer. Fr. Bouyer is one of several professors who formed Fr. Dimock as a teacher of liturgy, spirituality and the Church for the Domincan Order. Yet, especially in this case, it was not only Bouyer's brilliance, but the wisdom of his faith that made a lasting impression.  Fr. Dimock's first encounter with the great Oratorian was at Brown: As Fr. Dimock explains:
He offered a graduate seminar on Lumen Gentium of Vatican Council II.  The text was still in Latin because it was so "hot off of the press" that it hadn't yet been translated.. all very exciting.
All these years later, it is nearly impossible to imagine the excitement and enthusiasm of the period immediately after the council. The hope was that the teachings of Vatican II would spur a deeper renewal of the faith in the Church and strengthen Catholics in their witness in the modern world.  Louis Bouyer's familiarity with some of the discussions of the council offered an insider's view of its teaching. In another course in ecclesiology that he went on to audit, Fr. Dimock came to see Bouyer's theology of the Church as speaking into the contemporary need to better connect with the tradition of the Church:
So, in his black corduroy suit and Roman Collar, sitting at a desk and reading in a monotone voice from a neat little notebook, he gave me the most exciting course of my academic career. The ideas of our heritage, the Sacred Scriptures, and the Fathers as understood by the Church, medieval doctors and modern theologians came alive as he unpacked their understanding of the Church.  This was a life-changing course.   
Fr. Bouyer, as did Fr. Dimock, also came to love the Church through the influence of good teachers. Even before he became Catholic Louis Bouyer's circle of friends considered themselves "Evangelical Catholic Lutherans." As a protestant scholar in Strasbourg, he wrote a paper on "Newman and the Alexandrian Christianity." At l'Institute Catholique, Lambert Beauduin, O,S.B. and Yves Congar helped him question whether his inclination toward "Evangelical Catholicism" might mean he was Catholic.  It was in the years just before World War II that he entered the Catholic Church and he eventually joined the Oratorians. It was after this that many of his ideas began to influence the Church's understanding of the liturgy and ecumenical discussions.

Fr. Dimock's favorite memory of Louis Bouyer is a very humble one. He had a meeting with Fr. Bouyer in his academic office at Brown. He opened the door a little too quickly after he knocked and found Fr. Bouyer praying the Rosary. In his final years, Fr. Bouyer continued his quiet life of piety at the Little Sisters of the Poor. Fr. Dimock reflects on this:
His short-term memory failed, but not his long-term.  He lived more in previous epochs of history than his own. He constantly prayed the Eastern Jesus prayer and the Rosary with the Sisters, thus confirming one of my fondest memories of him.
If "the greatest thing that can happen" in learning is "to sit at the feet of a great teacher" Fr. Giles Dimock, O.P. has blessed many students with this opportunity through the years. His stories about the great Louis Bouyer -- the powerful content of his lectures, his sense of humor, and his humble devotional life helped many of us understand that truly great intellects are those that are bowed before the glory of God. To see this is to love the Church and such love for the Church inclines the heart to the same humble movement of prayer that all good teachers want us to share.