Concept of the Absurd and Its Theological Reception in Christian Monasticism

Author: Sawicki, Bernard L.
Two poles orient and organize both the content and form of this study, namely the idea of the absurd, and that of Christian monasticism. These poles delineate three different but complementary dimensions of the work: the analysis and description of the very idea of the absurd, an attempt at a general survey of the idea of Christian monasticism, and the correspondence between them rendered by the notion of theological reception. The goal of this study is to compare the theoretical vision of monasticism with some aspects of modern philosophical thought. Here the form of presentation is as important as the material presented ,and their mutual dependence and correlation defines the character of the work. At times, it is an explanatory text, descriptive and speculative in character (Part One), and at other times we enter into documental, reflexive and even meditative areas (Part Two and Three). Many of the same issues, ideas and problems recur in different contexts, as if viewed and exposed from different angles and perspectives. The discourse as a whole is crafted in a kind of spiraling movement, inviting the reader to various resumptions, retrospectives and returns.


“A study entirely out of the common run, yet in its own way attractive and approachable. It comes forth as an ardent challenge from a profound perspective that is profoundly unsettling: the absurdity of the world and the stance that sees it all as absurd may find their salvation in the still greater absurdity of Christianity, that is, in the abyss of its mysteries and the message of the Cross; in the mystical theology of penetrating perceptions and radically inverted insights; in the extravagant practices of an archetypal and anonymous monasticism that finds its model in the Desert Fathers and its realization in so many self-consciously marginal figures of twentieth century spirituality … With, as traveling companions, unconventional churchmen the likes of Merton, de Certeau, Panikkar, Dossetti we move closer to a new rereading of the Desert Fathers, discovering in them our allies in the experience of the absurd and in overcoming it with mirth, effort and courage, on behalf of a new intuition of the Christian faith which in our age needs to be rediscovered and re-explored. A study, yes, but still more a map of a journey in the infinite landscape of existence and of the mystery of living and believing. – Elmar Salmann, O.S.B., Professor of Theology and Philosophy, Gregorian University and Athenaeum of Sant’Anselmo

“This book is an original, stimulating and provocative discussion of the absurd, and its importance for theology in the light of monastic tradition and reflection. ...Apart from the breadth of the writer’s philosophical culture, and capacity for precise theological investigation, I would suggest that the main importance of the work lies in his presentation of the theme of the absurd and its importance, as a mode of dine disclosure in the variety of individual literary figures whom he has placed under his analytical microscope. The work is fundamentally about the hidden action of God and the implications of the Christian doctrine of the incarnation. Sawicki sets out by tracking the traces of the Word, especially, but not exclusively, in those regions into which official Christianity seems not yet to have entered, but where, in and through the paradox and perplexity of the absurd, Christ’s saving grace has been manifested and experienced, even if only anonymously … Sawicki’s densely constructed work runs in its more than five hundred pages, from an evocative hermeneutic of the ‘The Little Prince’, a kind of leitmotif for the entire work, through a phenomenology of human experience based on categories such as ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, to an opening to transcendence and a phenomenology of monasticism. The category of the ‘outside’ opens with a consideration of Camus and, in an exercise of cultural and ethnic ecumenism, leads to detailed discussion of the Romanian Emile Cioran, the Italian Sergio Quinzio, the Germans Reinhold Schneider and Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the French Maurice Blondel. Not least among the merits of this book is the fact that analysis of some of these writers is being brought for the first time before the English-speaking world.

The book is a continuing, and highly stimulating attempt, to reflect theologically on the phenomenon of Christian monasticism, a project initiated in the 20th century by writers like Panikar, Thomas Merton and Paul Evdokimov. Thus it aims to rescue monks from a cultural or spiritual ghetto, by demonstrating their connections with the fundamental human experience of the absurd. It is worth mentioning that the entire work is carefully constructed according to a musical plan, reflecting the fact that the writer is himself an accomplished musician and concert pianist. This book is therefore essential reading for a variety of students. It will interest those concerned with the meaning of monasticism and mysticism, fundamental theology, the relationship between faith and culture and between spiritual experience and literature. It will stimulate further reflection on the possibility of dialogue between the absurdity of the human condition, and the redeeming word of God mediated through the cultural complex of modern Christian monasticism.” – Gregory Collins, OSB, Director of the Monastic Institute, Pontifical Atheneum of Sant’Anselmo

“This is a work that helps to open up, almost to launch, an intelligent re-reading of the category of the ‘absurd’, that does not exploit it theologically, but promotes it so as to draw near to the experience of faith and theological reflection. It makes an objective and valuable contribution to theological study which demonstrates the level of maturity reached by the author both in research and thought. It bears witness also to a cultural and monastic sensitivity of great refinement, which can and should be developed in future theologico-philosophical work, and not only in the author’s native Poland.” –Andrea Grillo, Doctor of Theology, Ph.D., Doctor of Law, Professor Coordinator of the Specialization of Dogmatics and Theology of Sacraments, Athenaeum of Sant’Anselmo, Professor at the Institute of the Pastoral Liturgy, Padua

Table of Contents

Part One: A phenomenology of the Absurd
1. The Structure of the Absurd
2. The Dynamics of the Absurd
3. The Personal Undertone of the Absurd
Part Two: Experience of the Absurd
Part Three: Reception of the Absurd – Explicit Monasticism